"God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto ths fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." Heb. I. 1, 2.
To come now to the other part of the words, 'in the last
days he hath revealed himself unto us by his Son, &c. The first thing
we may observe hence is, why they should be called 'the last days'? These times
of the gospel are called the last days
First, That which is last implies more than one period to have gone before, for where there is ultimus there must be primus et medius at least; and therefore there were more periods than one that went before the revealing of the gospel; there were two eminent ones. The first was from the creation to Moses, when the law was given on mount Sinai, and the word committed to writing; the second was from Moses to Christ. These are days that are first and middle, and in comparison of those he calls these days 'the last days.'
Secondly, These are called 'the last days,' because 'upon us the ends of the world are come;' as 1 Cor. i. 11. All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends or the perfection of the world is come. All the days that went before were but types, and all the passages were but types; and those things that have been done in the times of the gospel have been the perfection of those things that went before. Was there wickedness before in the world? These last times shall be the perfection of the world in regard of wickedness; all the sins that were committed in the old world are but the praludiums to that villany that shall be hereafter. Was there grace stirring in the world before? It is but a type of that grace which shall be in the new world, in these last times. This is the last time, because it is the perfection of the other. So did God send judgment upon sin and sinners, they were types of what more eminent judgments he would bring upon men in these days. It is the harvest of the world; all that went before was but the sowing, this .the ripening both of wickedness and grace. As the last act that is in a tragedy hath more in it than all the acts that went before, then comes in all the killing and butchering, and the plot doth then unfold itself; so all the other scenes that were upon the stage of the world make all way, to unfold this last; then comes in the bloody persecutions and heresies, and then comes sin and likewise grace to be at their full ripeness; and therefore the apostle saith, 'I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last,' &c. He doth allude to the last of the play, when they used at Rome their fence playing, they that came up last died for it; they went not off till one had killed the other. Now, saith he, 'I think that God,' &c., for the last time is the time wherein heresies and persecutions abound; then come in all the butchering, and all that went before was but a praludium of what was to come. Therefore ye shall find that the Revelation, which writes of the state of the church under the New Testament, alludes to passages in the Old, to shew that the Old was but a type of what was to be done under the New. As they had an Egypt and a Sodom, so we have a worse Egypt and Sodom, 'which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt.' And as they had a Babylon that oppressed the church, so we have worse Babylon, viz., Rome, that persecuted the saints. They which are acquainted with the blessed book (as 'blessed is he that readeth it') shall find this to be true. Again, the time of Noah is but a type of what shall be before the world endeth: 'men shall eat and drink, and be given in marriage;' and as the flood came upon them, so fire and brimstone shall come upon men's heads in the end. Thus the last days are the perfection of time. These are perilous times, where men are most wicked; and as they are the worst days, so they are the best days in those that are good. Take them therefore which way you will, and they are the perfection of days.
Thirdly, They are called the last days, because we must not look for any more alteration or change of things in the world, in regard of God's revealing himself. When the law was given there was an alteration made, there being a covenant made under types; but when Christ comes, he tells us, Heb. xii. 26, 27, 'Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.' The apostle speaks it in regard of an alteration of doctrine that our Saviour Christ was to bring into the world; he was to abolish the former types, and to bring in new forms, new sacraments, spiritual worship. He shook the heavens, whose voice shook the earth when he gave the law. 'And this word, yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made.' He pulled the world of the ceremonial law about the Jews' ears, and shook it all down, 'That those things which cannot be shaken may remain.' That religion which is now established in the church, and those truths which are revealed to us, there will be no alteration in them; the gospel is eternal, and it will eternally remain.
Fourthly, They are called the last days, because in the end he will shew us that these last days shall have an end. He puts his people in comfort with this, for they are not called the last days, because the day of judgment shall presently come, for it is 1600 years ago since he called them the last days; but to shew that these days in the end will have an end, these days, I say, of sin, and wickedness, and oppression of the church. The angel in the Revelation swears that 'time shall be no more.' The time will come when 'the heavens shall be no more;' and if not the heavens, which are the measure of time, that spins out time, much less time.
Use 1. 'Lift up your heads, therefore, for your redemption draweth nigh. It is 'nigher than when ye first believed;' these days will have an end, and the longer you live, and the more you grow in grace, the nigher you are to the end. The apostle useth this as an encouragement, we shall not always stay for the day of judgment, every day speeds upon it. Those that have been in heaven, as Abel, that have been there for so many thousand years, have stayed a long time for the day of judgment; but our redemption is nigh, we are fallen into the last days.
Use 2. We should provoke one another so much the more, because these are the last days: Heb. x. 25, Exhort one another to be more faithful in the word, because they are the last days. The devil, the shorter his time is, the more he rages, and therefore seeing these are the last days, the nigher the day approacheth, the more shall we endeavour to do God service. And we that live in these last days, are so much the more engaged to do this, because God, out of the riches of his patience, hath suffered this wicked world, that is lost unto him, to stand so long, that we in these last times might be brought forth; he hath built a world and before that we came on it there were many stages removed. He hath borne with many wicked men before us, that at the last these last days may come, wherein he hath still a people to bring home unto himself. A man that goes to a fair or market, and hath set up a shop, and took little for the whole day, desires and expects customers to come in at last; he hath been at the pains to stand there all the while, and he expecteth something at last. So God hath built this world, and hath set up his shop (for Christ is said to set up his shop), and he hath invited men to come in and deal with him, to receive him and salvation; but he hath had but little custom in the world, and he hath suffered the world to stand still till these last days, and now he expects the more to come in.
Use 3. If they be the last days, look for perilous days, look for more opposition of godliness, worser enemies than the Pharisees were, if worser can be; look for as bloody persecutions as there have been, as damnable heresies. As there hath been Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, so there shall be the spawn of these in those days, for those are the last days. And as in the kennel, the lower it is the more dirt is swept down into it, so all the sins of our forefathers are swept down to us. The world is now more wicked, they are the last days, and more perilous; and therefore look for such times, though in the end there are great promises of great prosperity to the church. For therefore the apostle saith, that 'in the last days he hath spoken to us by his Son;' for all the promises by the prophets ran into the latter days, and therefore the apostle mentions it; and happily in the latter of the last days, there may be better times, wherein the Lord may more fully reveal and discover himself to the church, though not with so great an alteration as Christ when he came. There are better days coming, for the last days are the perfection of the former days, they are the perfection, as of sins and wickedness, so of grace and godliness, and happily of peace and prosperity. What God hath to do in the end we know not; there are great promises made of making 'a new heaven and a new earth,' which signifieth the bringing in of the Jews and Gentiles; these things are to be done in the last days, and these we are to expect.
Having thus explained what is meant by the last days, I am now to give the reasons why the coming of Christ was deferred to those last days.
First; Christ was to come last, after all the prophets, because he was the great promise.
Secondly; As also to convince the world the more; as it is in the parable in Matthew, 'The lord of the vineyard sent forth his servants to the husbandmen: them they slew; then he sent forth other servants, more than the former' (for God will increase means to convince a people): 'and last of all he sent his son.'
Thirdly; When all other wisdom failed, then Christ came, there being but one remedy, to magnify it; it was fit that all other means should be tried first, therefore for 4000 years God let them try what philosophy could do, and natural conscience, and the law. 'When the world in wisdom knew not God,' then he sent 'the foolishness of preaching,' 1 Cor. i. 21, the subject of which is, Christ crucified, ver. 23, 'When we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly,' Rom. v. 6; the world was without strength before, but God would have them know it fully, and then was a fit time for Christ to come.
Fourthly; To shew God's faithfulness: Rom. iii. 25, 'Whom God hath set forth a propitiation, to declare his righteousness, for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.' The meaning is this God hath pardoned many a sin under the Old Testament, through his forbearance, for as yet he had received no satisfaction, but was long out of purse, and trusted Christ upon his bare word 4000 years; therefore Christ came, 'in the fulness of time,' to shew his own faithfulness, God having trusted him so long, and his Father's faithfulness also, having promised his Son so long.
Fifthly, and lastly; Because the last revelations are always the clearest; so God deals with particular men. Upon your deathbed it may be God will speak more to you, by his Son and Spirit, than in all your life before. God revealed himself more fully to St Paul than to all the rest, because he came last; God's last works put down his former: 'They shall remember no longer their deliverance out of Egypt, but of the north country;' -'88 was a great deliverance,( from the Spanish Armada) but the gunpowder treason was a greater.
He hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. The general observation from hence is this-
That our condition under the New Testament is much better than theirs under the Old. So that though they be here called fathers, yet they are elsewhere called children: Gal. iv., 'Blessed are the eyes that see the things,' &c.; therefore our times are better.
First, In regard of the things revealed, they are more and more excellent.
Secondly, The things revealed to them were not so clearly revealed, neither did they so clearly understand them, 1 Peter i. 10, 12. The prophets are there said to inquire by prayer, search by reading, &c., concerning the glory which should follow upon the suflerings of Christ; when many glorious truths were to be revealed unto the church, and all that they could get after their inquiry was this, 'that not unto them, but unto us, they did minister the things which are now reported,' &c.; -that is, they in their own writings did reveal many things unto us which they themselves did not understand, therefore, Mat. xiii. 8, 5, it is said that 'Christ taught things which had been kept secret from the beginning of the world.'
Thirdly, As in regard of knowledge, so in regard of grace, our times are more excellent, there being a greater dispensation of grace now than there was under the Old Testament: Zech. xii. 8, 'The feeble shall be as David;' that is, so great an improvement there shall be when Christ shall come, that the feeble under the New shall be as those that were strongest under the Old.
Use 1. Labour then to make this good in your lives. Look unto the holy men in the Old Testament, and consider there is more grace expected of you, as there is more grace promised to you, than there was to them, therefore labour to shew in your lives.
Use 2. If your condition be better in regard of knowledge and grace, then we may well content ourselves, though it be outwardly worse. Many of them had great prosperity joined with their profession of the truth, as we see in Abraham and David; though we want this and suffer persecution, yet let us be content, because our spiritual condition makes us amends, even as times of the gospel hath brought forth more grace and knowledge, so more persecutions, than ever were in the time of the law, as butcherings in the primitive times.
Now we will shew wherein our condition is better than theirs; and it is better in three regards, as it is implied by the opposition in the text.
First, Under the Old Testament God spake by the prophets, now by his Son.
Secondly, Under the Old Testament he spake by piecemeal, now he hath spoken all at once.
Thirdly, He did it obscurely divers ways, bat now he hath done it plainly and clearly; therefore our condition is better.
1. First, under the Old Testament be did it by piecemeal, now but once; therefore Jude ver. 3 calls it 'the faith once revealed unto the saints.' Under the Old Testament the fathers received truths by retail, but we by wholesale; yours is a new edition of truths come forth in folio. John i., the apostle, comparing Christ and Moses, saith, 'The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ;' that is, yours is as much grace, so much truth, that Moses revealed not, that hath been since brought to light, which the corrupt church of the Samaritans had no inkling of, John iv. 25, where though the woman was ignorant of many things, yet she referred it to the times of the Messias, who, 'when he comes, would tell them all things.' 'In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' Col. ii. 3, which treasures were then brought forth. False teachers would have drawn them away by the knowledge of angels and philosophy, he. No, saith the apostle; study Christ, 'for in him you are complete;' nothing can be added to the knowledge of him, 'in whom are hid the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' John xv. 15, 'Whatsoever I have heard of my Father,' &o. You have now the original copy; the prophets were but transcripts out of Christ, now a leaf and then a leaf; but saith he, I am the original copy, and 'whatever I have heard of my Father,' necessary to salvation, 'I have delivered unto you.'
Use 1. Adore then and admire the doctrine of the gospel, and the perfection thereof; for it is delivered but once, not as it is with the papists this truth discovered in one pope's days, another in another; but be hath done it once. The Scripture is said to make the man of God perfect, which cannot be said of any science in the world. There is not philosophy enough in all men's books to make a man a perfect philosopher, but there is Scripture enough to make a man a perfect divine.
Secondly, Contend for it, for it was but once delivered. St Jude exhorts to contend for it upon this ground: if all, both magistrates and ministers and people sell the truth, it is gone, for it is as in a lease in which three have share; if one will not consent, it is not sold; so if any of these hold the truth it shall not depart; therefore contend for it; if you lose it, you will never have it again, for it was given but once, as Esau when be sold his birthright.
Thirdly, Study the word, let it dwell plentifully in you, for it is the word of Christ: P. cxix. 96, 'The law is exceeding broad,' but the gospel is much broader; the vast treasures of wisdom and knowledge are laid up in it. St Paul had abundance of that knowledge, it is all hid in the word. Christ had a world of knowledge: be hath hid it in the word; therefore never think you have knowledge enough; study the word more fully, for there is no truth laid up in t but shall be revealed in it before the day of judgment. 'No man lights a candle and puts it under a bushel.'
2. In the time of the gospel he hath revealed himself, one way; before, he did it by visions and dreams and types, etc., which were very obscure; for thus we have the things and see them fulfilled, yet how hard are they for us to understand them; and if we do not, who have all fulfilled before our eyes, much less they; but God hath laid all these ways aside, and hath revealed himself only by the word and sacrament unto the hearts of men and this be hath done clearly, 1 Cor. ii. 18, 'Suiting spiritual things with spiritual;' that is, we speak to them plainly in their own notions; we do not give them riddles, but speak of things in their own expressions, suitable to them, 2 Cor iii. The ministry of the law was a veil over Moses's face, which argues his ministry was very dark; but under the gospel we 'with open face behold the glory of the Lord. There are two ways to represent a man, one by his picture, another in a glass; that under the law was a representation of Christ by pictures, but in the gospel by a glass. In the law there were but shadows of Christ, but now the shadows are gone, and we see his person in a glass; they saw him through a veil, we with open face; the veil being taken away, we look with a broad eye upon Christ, God having betaken himself to one ordinance, thereby to reveal himself to the sons of men.
Use 1. Ministers should endeavour therefore to speak plainly to the people, because ye are ministers of the gospel, 2 Cor. iii., 'Seeing we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech,' and 2 Cor. iv. 3, we speak so plainly, saith the apostle, that if any man perish through ignorance, it is because he is a lost creature.
Use 2. This condemns all ignorance likewise, for under the gospel we have no cloak for it, Christ having spoken so plainly, as he hath in comparison to what he did under the law.
3. He speaks now by his Son, whereas he spake then only by the prophets; then the stars shined only, but the Sun of righteousness shining, he hath put all the stars down; hence we will show,
First, How he speaks.
Secondly, Why he speaks by his Son.
First, How he speaks; he is said to speak by his Son. First, as Christ is the matter itself delivered, therefore, Rom. i., it is called 'the gospel of Christ,' because he is the subject of it; whereas the prophets were not the matter of what they delivered.
Secondly, Christ himself is the immediate speaker; he came from heaven on purpose to preach the gospel; we had never had it else; and though he be not here bodily present, yet he is said to preach unto this day, Eph. ii., though he never preached at Ephesus in person, for he was not sent, that is, to preach, 'but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;' yet he preached peace not only to the Jews that were near, but also to the Gentiles that were afar off. And that,
(First.) Because be brought the gospel which we deliver to light; it was spoken first by the Lord, Heb. ii.; and we in his stead, 1 Cor. v. 20. (Secondly.) Beause he is with us ministers in delivering of it to the end of the world; yea, Jesus Christ hath his pulpit in heaven to this day; therefore it is said, 'refuse not him that speaks from heaven,' Heb. xii. 25.
(Secondly), Why God speaks by his Son? First, Because he is the Word of his Father, John i. 1, therefore he is a fit messenger to interpret his Father's mind; as Christ was his Word in the creation of the old vorld, for by him were all things made, so it was necessary he should be his Word likewise in the creation of the new. Secondly, He is the Wisdom of the Father; and we all desire to have wise speakers, as kings in parliament choose able speakers; therefore God chose Christ, his own Wisdom, to express his mind, that there might be no mistake, but that he might express it as fully as he himself would do.
Thirdly, He is the idea and platform of all truths. Moses saw all in the mount, and according to the pattern he was to frame all things; herem he was a type of that prophet that was to be raised up like himself, who had a pattern of all in heaven, John iii. 11, 18. Whatever Christ speaks, he speaks by experience, for he speaks nothing but what he hath seen, which no man could have said, for he must have had them at second-hand; but Christ had them immediately, for he knew all the counsels of his Father, being in his bosom: 'No man hath ascended up into heaven but he that came down;' that is, why do I tell you of heavenly things, but because I came down from heaven, which no man else could have done.
Fourthly, Because Christ is next the Father, though the Holy Ghost see all things in the Father, yet Christ must teach; this reason is given by. our Saviour saying, 'When the Spirit is come, he shall lead them into 'all truths, for he shall not speak of himself, but shall take of mine and shall shew it unto them.' Christ being next the Father, therefore came first himself and set all truths abroach; and then he tells them that the Holy Ghost shall come and more cle!rly reveal to them what he had said.
Fifthly, Because God would have his Son all in all, therefore there is no office to be borne but he must bear it, not only to be our king and priest, but to be our prophet also; and that not to sit in heaven only and give out truths, but to come down and preach them to us.
Use 1. If God now speaks by his Son, then hear him: 'This is my beloved Son, hear him.' If a king sent his son ambassador, shall he not be heard? God hath now sent the heir at last, saying, 'Surely they will reverence my Son;' let us not therefore send Christ away without his errand, refuse not him that speaks from heaven.
Use 2. We see then the calling of the ministry is an honourable calling; Christ himself took it upon him to be the minister of the circumcision. Gentlemen's sons scorn to be ministers, but Christ the Son of God did not.
Use 3. If God speaks by his Son, and his speaking is better than of all the prophets, then never rest till you hear Christ speak to you; you may hear the minister long enough, but labour to get Christ to speak to your hearts.
Use 4. Seeing God speaks by his Son, then call no man Rabbi upon earth; addict yourself to no man's opinion because of the high esteem you have of his learning or grace; let it be the doctrine of Christ before you entertain it, Mat. xxiii. 10. Upon this ground Christ bids them call no man Rabbi.
Use 5. Seeing God hath spoken in the last days by his Son, therefore let your last works be better than your first, Rev. ii. 18. If God will be daily a better master unto you, be you better servants unto him.
Use 6. God speaking in the last days by his Son; we see that the more God reveals himself in Christ, the more clear it is; under the Old Testament they knew as much of God's attributes as we, but to know all these over again in Christ, that he is the power of God, and the wisdom of God, &c., this is the excellent knowledge, The world before Christ knew God in his attributes and in his creatures so fully, that philbsophy hath not been more perfected ever since; yea, Aristotle revealed that to the world then that they have been studying ever since. Labour therefore to know God in Christ. What is the reason we have more grace than they? But because we know more of Christ who reveals the Father; the knowledge of God the Father simply, doth not raise a soul so much as knowing of him in Christ, therefore he is said to speak in a glass by his Son (that is) clearly, 2 Cor. iii. 18. 16
From Vol.5 of Works.
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