Excellency of the knowledge of Christ crucified
EXCELLENCY of the KNOWLEDGE
By the Rev. Mr Tho. Boston Miniſter of the Goſpel at Jedburgh.
Yea, doubtleſs, and I count all things but loſs, for the excellency of the knowledge of Chriſt Jeſus, Phil. 3. 8.
I Corinth ii. 2.
I(illegible text)he preceding words, the Apoſtle begins a vindication of the manner of his preaching, which he ſays, was not with excellency of ſpeech or of wiſdom. And, ver. 4th, he adds, "My ſpeech and my preaching was not with the enticing words of man's wiſdom but in demonſtration of the Spirit, and of power†" It appears there were in his days, as there are in ours, many who greatly admired a fine ſtyle; not ſo much regarding the ſubject matter of a ſermon, as the preacher's language and manner of addreſs. Of this ſort were they who had been inſtructed in the Platonic philoſophy before their converſion to Chriſtianity, and were for introducing among the preachers of that religion, what they called Plato's gracious manner The Apoſtle frequently in this epiſtle declares againſt this piece of vanity, as very much below the dignity of the Goſpel. He did not ſtudy pompous words curiouſly aranged, and rhetorical harangues, or nicely adjuſted periods, to tickle the car and pleaſe the fancy of thoſe who pretended to a refined and polite taſte in theſe matters. And the reaſon for this part of his conduct is aſſigned in the text: I determined not to know anything among you ſave Jeſus Chriſt, and him crucified.
In which words, two things are obſervable:
1. The ſubject matter of Paul's preaching, ⟨⟩, Jeſus Chriſtː I determined to know nothing ⟨⟩ ⟨⟩, ſave Jeſus Chriſt. This ſurely is not to be ⟨⟩ as if the Apoſtle ſimply condemned all other ⟨⟩ but that of Jeſus Chriſt. We find the Holy ⟨⟩ (illegible text) recorded it to the honour of Moſes, "that he was ⟨⟩ in all the wiſdom of the ." Beſides, Paul himſelf had a very liberal education before his converſion, being bred up at the feet of Gamaliel an eminent doctor of the law. Yea, he was not only acquainted with the Jewiſh laws, rites and traditions, but likewiſe with the Heathen poets and philoſophers, as appears by paſſages quoted from them in his writings*. However, he condemns all ſorts of knowledge, in ſo far as they come in competition with, or ſtand in oppoſition to, the knowledge of Jeſus Chriſt. Neither was this a warm flight of devotion, or a thought that ſuddenly ſtruck the (illegible text) the effect of the moſt attentive conſideration, (illegible text) the moſt deliberate and ſerious enquiry So (illegible text)rted in what is here rendered determined. (illegible text) he had ſaid, 'I have well weighed the caſe, I (illegible text)med it round, and balanced advantages and ⟨⟩, gains and loſſes;——I have endeavoured to (illegible text)n every thing that merits conſideration here;——after the moſt ſerious, deliberate and impartial ſcrutiny, this is my ſettled opinion, my fixed ſentiment, That no knowledge whatſoever is worthy to be once named with the knowledge of "Jeſus Chriſt my Lord, for whom I have ſuffered the loſs of all things, and do count them but dung," (or dogs meat, as the Greek word imports) "that I may win Chriſt, and be found in him, not having mine own righteouſneſs, ec.' (a)
Now, this being the great Apoſtle's judgment, we need not wonder that he determined to know nothing,
i.e. to make nothing known among the people, but Jeſus Chriſt. This excellent, this matchleſs One, ſhould be the ſubject of all his ſermons, diſcourſes and epiſtles. He would ſtudy firſt to know Chriſt for himſelf, and then to make him known unto the people— ⟨⟩ (illegible text)ing an example to miniſters of the goſpel in all ⟨⟩ ages, that they ſhould firſt be Chriſtians, and ⟨⟩ ⟨⟩—and further, that, however well they ⟨⟩ ⟨⟩ accompliſhed in the ſeveral parts of human learning, yet in their pulpit-miniſtrations, they ſhould diſplay nothing but the glory, the love, and the laws of the Lord Jeſus Chriſt. This is the mean appointed of God for the ſalvation of ſinners; and, though it be eſteemed fooliſhneſs by the witlings of the world, we may reſt ſatisfied in this, that the only wiſe God knows very well how to adapt the means to the end.
2. The ſpecial conſideration of Chriſt which he ſingles out from among all the reſt, to be the ſubject of his preaching, namely, Chriſt crucified. It is not Chriſt riſen, Chriſt aſcended, and ſitting at the right hand of God clothed with all power, that he pitches on, though theſe views of him were more likely to have recommended him to the world: but, behold! he ſingles out that very circumſtance concerning Chriſt, which, of all others, neither Jews nor Gentiles were able to endure: and that was, his being nailed to a croſs till he died! "Chriſt crucified was to the Jews a ſtumbling-block, and to the Greeks fooliſhneſs." And indeed he was ſo to Paul himſelf, as much as to any man, before his converſion; for he was, by his own acknowledgment, "a blaſphemer, a perſecutor, and injurious." Nay, we find, the diſciples could not bear the intimation of Chriſt's death when it was made to them by himſelf. Peter remonſtrates againſt it vigorouſly. The truth is, theſe good men laboured under the prejudices of a Jewiſh education; and they never awaked fully out of the dream of a temporal kingdom, until the day of Pentecoſt, that the Holy Ghoſt came down upon them, and cleared up the myſtery of the croſs unto them; and then, indeed, they went forth with boldneſs, boaſting and glorying in that very thing which the world thought a badge of ſhame and infamy.
And now, methinks, this determination of the moſt famous preacher and apoſtle of the Gentiles furniſhes us with a leſſon very ſuitable to the occaſion of our meeting here this day, namely, 'That the doctrine of Chriſt crucified, is that which miniſters of the goſpel ſhould chidily ſtudy to know and to make known among the people.'
In diſcourſing farther on this ſubject, we propoſe, through Divine aſſiſtance, firſt, To conſider what is that knowledge of Chriſt crucified which miniſters of the goſpel ought to have. Secondly, To ſhow how miniſters of the goſpel ſhould make Chriſt known among the people. Thirdly, To point out in ſome particulars the excellency of the knowledge of Chriſt crucified above all other knowledge whatſoever.
I As to the firſt thing propoſed viz. what is that knowledge of Chriſt crucified, which miniſters of the goſpel ought to have? we ſay,
1. All Chriſtians, but eſpecially miniſters of the goſpel, ought to have the ſpeculative knowledge of Chriſt crucified, as by their office they are bound to make him known unto others. They ſhould be "ſcribes well inſtructed unto the kingdom of heaven, and able to bring forth out of their treaſure things new and old." They ſhould know and underſtand the evidences of the Chriſtian religion, and likeways the particular doctrines and duties thereof; that ſo they may be able not only to inſtruct the weak and ignorant, but alſo to defend Chriſtianity againſt the attacks of Deiſts and Infidels, and all other enemies of the truth as it is in Jeſus.
Now, as he who would be maſter of any art or ſcience, will chuſe to read the beſt books written thereon; ſo theſe who deſire to make proficiency in the knowledge of Chriſt, would by all means ſtudy the holy ſcriptures of the Old and New Teſtament:—theſe, my brethren, are the grand charter of our ſalvation, and they are ſealed by the blood of our Saviour.——This ſame Jeſus is, as it were, the running title of the whole Bible. All the prophets ſpoke of him; all the prieſts in their ſacred ſervices were types of him, and pointed towards him.——Judaiſm was Chriſtianity under a vail, as Chriſtianity is Judaiſm unvailed. Therefore the Old Teſtament ought to be carefully ſtudied by miniſters of the goſpel, as well as the New; foraſmuch as Chriſt is the ſcope and ſubſtance thereof. And for the better underſtanding of both Teſtaments, it is quite neceſſary they ſhould be acquainted with the original languages in which they were written. The ſtrength and beauty of many paſſages in the Old Teſtament, and even the true ſenſe of ſome of them, cannot be diſcerned by ſuch as are utterly unacquainted with the Hebrew language. And I cannot but take notice of it, as what deſerves to be regreted, that the ſtudy of that language ſhould have gone to much into deſuetude in this nation, eſpecially among the Clergy, whole office it is to explain the ſcriptures unto the people, and therefore ought to be furniſhed with every thing neceſſary for their own underſtanding of them. But we have ſome ground to hope, that this error may in proceſs of time be rectified, as there appears a greater inclination for that ſtudy, both in this and in the neighbouring nation, than heretofore.
Ministers of the goſpel ought, like Appollos, to he mighty in the ſcriptures. Bonus theologus, bonus textuarius, was the ſaying of old. They ſhould read them regularly, frequently, and with great attention; and thereby they will be furniſhed with a better fund for preaching Chriſtianity, than by reading any other book, or all other books whatſoever that have been written on the ſubject;——though theſe alſo are very uſeful in their proper place.
2. They ought alſo to have the experimental and practical knowledge of Chriſt crucified; leaſt, while they preach him to others, themſelves be caſt aways, as the Apoſtle's phraſe is. The moſt precious truths fluctuating in the head, but not deſcending into the heart, nor ſanctifying it, prove no better than the manna of old, which when kept over night, ſtank and bred worm: however diſtinctly we apprehend evangelical truths, yet if they are unmixed with faith, and indigeſted by practice, they will breed the noxious humours and crudities of pride, ſelf conceit, hypocriſy and profaneneſs.
Real religion, my brethren, does by no means conſiſt in the merely ſpeculative knowledge of its truths; otherwiſe, the devils themſelves would have more religion than the beſt of us, for albeit they have loſt their purity and holineſs, we have no ground to think they have loſt their knowledge and ſagacity. The ſcripture ſaith, "They believe and tremble (d)," which implies their knowledge. As for carnal unregenerate men, what ever are their abilities natural or acquired, they know Chriſtianity only in a book; whereas real Chriſtians have felt the exceeding greatneſs of its power; they have ſuch ideas and ſuch impreſſions of ſpiritual things made upon their minds by the Holy Ghoſt, as the natural man knows no at all.
Suppose the picture of a man drawn as lively, and as near to the original as poſſible; yet they who have ſeen the man himſelf, and converſed with him, will have another ſort of idea of him than thoſe poſſibly can have, who never ſaw him but in the picture. A man who has read Geography, may deſcribe the complexion, religion, laws, cuſtoms, commodities, and curioſities of different countries which he never dwelt in, nor travelled through: but the man who has lived in thoſe countries, and ſeen all theſe things with his eyes, and often converſed with the inhabitants, muſt have an idea and an impreſſion of them, which the man who has only read or heard of them knows nothing about.
How neceſſary then is the experimental knowledge of Chriſt to miniſters of the goſpel? Let them have the richeſt cargo of gifts and learning you can ſuppoſe, yet, without this, they are but very poorly furniſhed for their office, and the diſcharge of it is more likely to be the drudgery of their lives, than the delight of their ſouls.
A preacher of Chriſt, yet not believer in Chriſt! a miniſter of Chriſt, yet a ſervant of ſin! what monſtrous connections are theſe? "Thou therefore which teacheſt another, teacheſt thou not thyſelf? Thou that preacheſt a man ſhould not ſteal, doſt thou ſteal (e) ?" In ſhort, thoſe who preach Chriſtianity, without real and ſaving impreſſions of it upon their own hearts, are no better than actors upon a ſtage, where a villain often perſonates the moſt virtuous character, and where all is mere fiction. But,
II. I proceed to the ſecond thing in our method, viz. To ſhew how miniſters of the goſpel ſhould make Chriſt crucified known among the people.
1. They ſhould make him known by preaching. To this purpoſe the reverend Apoſtle of the Gentiles tells us, "After that in the wiſdom of God, the world by wiſdom knew not God, it pleaſed God by the fooliſhneſs of preaching to ſave them that believe. For the Jews require a ſign, and the Greeks ſeek after wiſdom: but we preach Chriſt crucified, unto the Jews a ſtumbling-block, and unto the Greeks fooliſhneſs; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Chriſt, the power of God, and the wiſdom of God." And in another place, "For we preach not ourſelves, but Chriſt Jeſus the Lord (f)." &c. True it is, we are not apoſtles; this high title belongs not to them who are now miniſters of the goſpel; they have neither the call, nor the qualifications, nor the charge of ſuch Neither had theſe who were apoſtles and ſucceſſors in their office properly ſo called. At the ſame time, Jeſus Chriſt certainly deſigned there ſhould be a ſet of men ſucceſſively, who ſhould have it for their office to teach and preach his religion to the end of time. And as ſuch an inſtitution ſeems founded on common ſenſe and reaſon, and upon the univerſal practice of mankind in reference to religion;——ſo it ſeems to be very plainly intimated by our Saviour himſelf before his aſcenſion, when he ſays to his diſciples "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, ——teaching them to obſerve all things whatſoever I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (g) We all know theſe good men lived but ſhort while in the world: however, the promiſe originally made to them, extends to faithful miniſters of the goſpel in their ſeveral generations, to the end of time. Therefore, whatever be pretended, it appears to me a very unfriendly office to Jeſus Chriſt and his religion, to depreciate a public miniſtry——It is an attempt to blaſt what the Lord has moſt certainly bleſſed in all ages to the converſion of ſouls.
But then miniſters of Chriſt muſt be preachers of Chriſt; they ſhould make him known among the people, by preaching his doctrines, his inſtitutions and his laws and commandments. Under theſe three, I conceive, want is called preaching of Chriſt may be comprehended.
Ministers ſhould lay before their people the evidences of the truth of Chriſtianity in a way ſuited unto their capacities, that ſo they may be able to give a reaſon of the hope that is in them, and be fortified againſt the attacks of Deiſts and Infidels, who abound every where in this degenerate age. However, they ought not to inſiſt always upon theſe, but to open up the particular doctrines of Chriſtianity, ſuch as concern the perſon, natures, offices, and grace of the Lord Jeſus. They ſhould endeavour to convince ſinners of their loſt ſtate by nature, their abſolute inability to recover themſelves, and the indiſpenſible neceſſity of coming to Jeſus Chriſt as the one and only Mediator betwixt God and man. And, in order to obtain this good end, the law muſt be preached, its threatenings and curſes muſt be ſounded loud in the ears of ſinners;—they muſt be alarmed with the thunder and fire from mount Sinai "for the law is our ſchool maſter to bring us in to Chriſt†." They ſhould open up that grand tranſaction betwixt God the Father and God the Son, in behalf of mankind ſinners, called the covenant of grace, with all the bleſſings and benefits contained therein, as effectual calling, juſtification, adoption, regeneration, ſanctification, the inhabitation of the Spirit, perſeverance in grace, and the heavenly kingdom.
Farther, miniſters of the goſpel ſhould declare the ordinances and inſtitutions of Chriſt. Our Lord's laſt words, when he was leaving the world, were, "Teaching them to obſerve all things whatſoever I have commanded you," &c. The poſitive inſtitutions of Chriſtianity, for all the clamour and noiſe that has been made about them by Infidels, are but few in number, and of eaſy obſervation; eſpecially when compared with the Ritual of the Jewiſh church, once of divine inſtitution, and which the Apoſtle Peter calls "a yoke that neither they nor their fathers were able to bear."
But then miniſters of the goſpel muſt preach the laws and commandments of Chriſt. Hence we find the great Apoſtle of the Gentiles, in his epiſtles, always ſubjoins unto the doctrines of free grace, (which he had a particular talent of diſplaying), the warmeſt exhortations to piety, holineſs and righteouſneſs in their ſeveral branches. For he well knew how prone corrupt nature is to divorce comfort from duty, and to turn the grace of God into wantonneſs.
The goſpel is "a doctrine according to godlineſs," It is a moſt holy goſpel; and where it appears, it teaches to deny ungodlineſs and worldly luſts, and to "live ſoberly, righteouſly and godly in this preſent world. Whatſoever things are true, whatſoever things are pure, whatſoever things are lovely, whatſoever things are of good report; if there, be my virtue, and if there be any praiſe." the goſpel of Chriſt commands us to "think on theſe things (i)"
Therefore, when miniſters declaim againſt vice, either in general, or more particularly:—when they inculcate the duties of ſobriety, righteouſneſs and charity, the people muſt not call it legal preaching, or not preaching Chriſt; for he who preaches the laws of Chriſt, preaches Chriſt, as well as he who preaches the love of Chriſt. But, then faithful preachers of the goſpel, in urging duty and obedience upon the people, will be ſure to remind them of their utter inſufficiency of themſelves for ſo much as a good thought, and the neceſſity of an entire dependence upon the Spirit and grace of the Lord Jeſus, for aſſiſtance and acceptance in every good work. When theſe things are duly obſerved, duty cannot be too much urged, but the preſſing of duty without them a moſt criminal neglect of the grace of our Lord Jeſus Chriſt, and a piece of cruelty to poor ſinners; while they are craved hard, as by an Egyptian taſkmaſter, for duty and ſervice, and nothing afforded them wherewith to pay.
2. Minister ſhould make Chriſt known among theſe people by the ordinance of catechiſing. In the primitive church, catechiſing was very much the work of their paſtors, and many were ſet apart for that very purpoſe. Before perſons were admitted into full communion with the church, they were by catechiſing inſtructed in the principles of the Chriſtian religion; and, till ſuch time as they were judged fit to partake of the holy ſacrament, they were called Catechumens.
The Apoſtle Paul recommends it to the Galatians to give all due encouragement unto thoſe who laboured in the work of catechiſing among them: "Let him that is taught in the word,"—according to the original, it is, "Let him that is catechiſed in the word, communicate unto him that catechiſeth, in all good things (k)." Several great and worthy men, both in the earlier and later periods of the church, have employed much of their time in this ſort of exerciſe among the people, and have found it exceeding profitable unto them. And I apprehend, the knowledge of the principles of religion, which generally obtains amongſt the commonalty in Scotland is in a good meaſure owing to the laudable cuſtom of catechiſing practiſed by their miniſters: whereas in the countries where it is neglected, the commons are for the moſt part groſsly ignorant.
Sermons are addreſſed to a whole aſſembly, and by the far greateſt number of the audience very little attended unto. Beſides, the ſubject of a ſermon is probably but one ſingle point or doctrine of Chriſtianity; whereas, at a diet of catechiſing, one may hear the principal doctrines of the whole ſyſtems opened up: and the attention of the people is better kept up, when they are particularly called upon to give the reaſons of their faith and hope.
Let us, then, who are miniſters carefully diſcharge our duty in this particular, eſpecially among the younger ſort; and, through the divine bleſſing, it will have very good effects.
3. Ministers ſhould make Chriſt known among their people by occaſional inſtruction, exhortation, conſolation and reproof. Let us hear Paul's awful charge to his ſon Timothy:—"I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jeſus Chriſt, who ſhall judge the quick and the dead, at his appearing and his kingdom"—Strange! what muſt that be which the Apoſtle charges with ſuch an awful ſolemnity?—"Preach the word, be inſtant in ſeaſon, out of ſeaſon: reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longſuffering and doctrine (l)" Miniſters ſhould have a deep ſenic and impreſſion of the weight of their work always abiding upon their ſpirits, as alſo a tender concern for the ſtate of their flock; and then they will readily embrace every opportunity of promoting their edification in faith and holineſs Beſides the ſtated and conſtant parts of the miniſterial work, which ſhould be diligently attended unto; a faithful miniſter will find ſeveral occaſions of dealing with particular perſons, for their conviction in caſe of offence, for their direction in difficulties, for their clearance in doubts, or for the comfort in diſtreſs. And the word, thus particularly applied by one having "the tongue of the learned to speak a word in ſeaſon," has often been bleſſed with remarkable ſucceſs.
4. Ministers ſhould make Chriſt known among their people by exemplifying his life in their own lives. Paul tells the Theſſalonians,—"Ye are witneſſes, and God alſo, how holily, juſtly and unblameable we behaved ourſelves among you that believe (m)." Mankind have in all ages been more eaſily influenced by example than by precept. And this is thought to be one reaſon why the Heathen philoſophers had ſo little ſucceſs in reforming the world, viz. that many of them practiſed thoſe very vices in their lives, which they declaimed againſt in their public lectures. Therefore miniſters of the goſpel, above all men, ſhould be careful to "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour" by their holy works:—they ſhould not give the leaſt countenance to the vices, vanities and frolics of the age.—In any company where they happen to mix, they ſhould ſpeak and act in a ſuitableneſs to their ſacred and venerable character—they ſhould be as ſo many living Bibles ſcattered up and down the Chriſtian world, "that they who know not the word, may alſo, without the word; be won" by their holy and exemplary converſation (n)
It was ſaid of one of the miniſters of the primitive church, that he thundered in his doctrine, and lightened in his life. And a greater than he was called "a burning and a ſhining light," viz John Baptiſt—He called himſelf, in his great humility, a voice; "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderneſs, Prepare ye the way of the Lord." A voice! the loweſt of entities, which owes its very being to the breath of the ſpeaker. And, indeed, he was all a voice;—voice in his converſation. If, then, we who are miniſters would commend Chriſt and his religion to the people, let us walk before them as he alſo walked; and thus we will preach to them by our lives, as well as by our lips.
III. I proceed now to the third thing propoſed, viz. To point out the excellency of the knowledge of Chriſt crucified above all other knowledge whatſoever. On this head I offer the following particulars:
1. The knowledge of Chriſt crucified excels all other knowledge in point of certainty. That ſuch a perſon as Jeſus of Nazareth appeared in Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, is agreed by all:—The birth of this perſon, his manner of life, his doctrine, and his death, exactly correſpond with the prophetic accounts of the Meſſiah to be found in the ancient Jewiſh records. He proved himſelf to be the ſame Meſſiah, the Son of God, and a divine perſon, by his doctrine, and by a ſeries of inconteſtible miracles, not done in a corner or ſome ſmall inconſiderable village, but done in Jeruſalem the capital of the nation;——and not before friends only, or a ſelect number of witneſſes, but publicly, in the preſence of thouſands, the moſt of whom were his bittereſt adverſaries, and had all the inclination imaginable to diſprove them, had it been in their power. After they had murdered him, and laid him in his grave, under a triple ſecurity, the ſtone, the ſeal, and the watch; yet, according to his own prediction, he roſe the third day after his death. He did not indeed appear publicly before the Jewiſh nation after his reſurrection, as he had done before his death: but the whole college of the apoſtles, men of ſufficient abilities for diſcerning,——men of untainted candour and integrity, go to death, one after another, maintaining the ſame thing, viz. that they ſaw with their eyes Jeſus of Nazareth alive; that they eat and drank, and converſed familiarly with him, for no leſs than forty days after he had been both dead and buried. Thus the reſurrection of Chriſt, upon which the whole of chriſtianity depends, ſtands upon the moſt undoubted evidence*. Now, my brethren, beſides the external evidence for the truth of chriſtianity, ariſing from miracles and prophecies, which the acuteſt adverſaries have not yet been able to diſprove; real believers have the inward witneſs of the Spirit of God, convincing them of the truth of Chriſtianity, with a certainty beyond all moral f(illegible text)ſions or mathematical demonſtrations in the world.
2. The knowledge of Chriſt crucified excels all other Knowledge in point of eaſineſs and plainneſs. How difficult is it get any tolerable inſight into the moſt of ſciences! how much time is neceſſarily ſpent in the very rudiments and elements of them! and all this is but an introduction into them. How many years may a man live, and ſtudy hard too, and yet make but a ſmall progreſs in the knowledge of natural philoſophy? He may know much in reſpect of others who are ignorant in theſe matters, and yet know but very little in compariſon of what yet remains to be diſcovered in the vaſt continent of nature.
The honourable Mr Boyle, a great ſearcher into nature, a profound philoſopher, and at the ſame time altogether a Chriſtian, affirms, that the ſhortneſs of man's life makes it impoſſible for him to underſtand thoroughly any one thing in nature. Beſides, it is not the bulk of mankind, nay, it is only a few of them, that have capacity or opportunity for philoſophical enquiries. But Chriſtianity being deſigned for the benefit of mankind at large, it is plain and eaſy, and calculated for the weakeſt capacity: ſo that people of low life, and of little penetration, may make great proficiency therein. It is true, indeed, there are in the ſcriptures; things hard to be underſtood, difficulties that will exerciſe the judgment of the greateſt ſcholars: but then, theſe are remote from the eſſentials of Chriſtianity, and people may remain ignorant of them without endangering their eternal ſalvation: whereas the things abſolutely neceſſary to be know are expreſſed in ſuch plain terms, that he who runs may read them. There are in the ſcriptures ſhallow places where lambs may wade, as well as depths where elephants may ſwim: and while learned men and diſputers of this world contend about chronological difficulties, or critical nicities; the meaneſt and weakeſt of the houſhold of faith may reſt ſatisfied, yea, be full of joy, while they know nothing but Jeſus Chriſt, and him crucified.
3. The knowledge of Chriſt crucified excells all other knowledge in point of ſublimity. Hence, the Chriſtian joins iſſue with the devout Pſalmiſt, crying, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law (p)." What is the knowledge of languages, of arts and ſciences? what is the knowledge of nature or of mankind. when compared with the knowledge of "God in Chriſt. reconciling the world unto himſelf, and not imputing their treſpaſſes unto them? The whole ſyſtem of nature, which contains so many admirable curioſities, was deſigned chiefly us a theatre to diſplay the revealed ſyſtem upon for a while; and therefore muſt be as an inferior unto it, as the ſcaffolding is to the building.
The goſpel is the hiſtory of God acting in triune economy for the recovery of mankind:—it contains the grandeſt plot, plan, and contrivance that ever bred in the breaſt of God, and which lay hid there from all eternity:——it is "the myſtery God, and of Chriſt; even the myſtery that hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifeſt to the ſaints (q)." This glorious goſpel opens up unto us the love, grace, and manifold wiſdom of the Father:—the perſon, natures, offices, and grace of the Son:—the perſon, nature, operations, and influences of the Holy Ghoſt, as the prime miniſter in the mediatory kingdom: it ſolves the grand problem of the Heathen world, (illegible text). the origin of moral evil, and ⟨⟩ the ſame time discovers the only remedy, for it:——it points out the univerſal corruption of human nature, and the only mean of its renovation:—it brings life and immortality to light, and opens unto us a joyful proſpect beyond the gloomy ſhades of death and of the grave. Theſe grand and important things, which the very angels deſire to look into, are the ſubject of the goſpel; and therefore, in point of ſublimity, it excels all other knowledge.
4. The knowledge of Chriſt, crucified excels all other knowledge in point of extent and compaſs. In view of this, David ſays, I have ſeen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is exceeding broad. And the apoſtle Paul prays for the Epheſians, That they may be able to comprehend with all ſaints, what the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Chriſt, which paſſeth kwowledge (Pſalm cxix. 96. Eph. iii. 18. 19.) Other ſciences but ſhadows, the goſpel is a boundleſs bottomleſs ocean: it is the manifold wiſdom of God; a wiſdom of many plies and folds, as the word imports. It is an alluſion to a curious piece of needlework, wherein there are various expreſſions of art; and and ſo it is, as it were, the embroidered wiſdom of God. Angels, who excel in knowledge as well as ſtrength, delight themſelves at preſent, and will do ſo through eternity, in contemplating this wiſdom. It is in the ſtudying of Chriſt as in the planting of some new diſcovered country: at firſt men ſit down upon the ſhirts and borders, and there they dwell, till they ſearch farther into the heart of the country. And indeed, my brethren, thoſe who have made the greateſt progreſs in the study and knowledge of Chriſt crucifice; are but yet on the borders of this vaſt continent. For now we ſee as through a glaſs darkly; now we know in part, and we propheſy in part: But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part ſhall be done away. (1 Cor. xiii. 9. 10. 12.)
5. The knowledge of Chriſt crucified excels all other knowledge in point of profit and uſefulneſs: for godlineſs is profitable unto all things, having promiſe of the life which now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Tim. iv. 8.)— Arts and ſciences, it muſt be acknowledged, have their uſefulneſs; philoſophy is a valuable thing: but, alasǃ of how little account are they, when compared with the knowledge of Chriſt crucified? What though a man perfectly underſtand the heavenly bodies, in their nature, motion, and influences? yea, what though a man underſtand all the ſecrets of nature, and could unravel her from the ſcycamore to the cedar? If he is ignorant of Jeſus Chriſt, the Sun of righteouſneſs, the bright and morning ſtar, he with all his cargo of knowledge muſt be loſt and ruined for ever.
Carnal reaſon and philoſophy cannot give a ſatisfying anſwer to the weighty caſe of conſcience proposed by the Jaylor; "Sirs, what muſt I do to be ſaved?"—All the wiſdom of Egypt and Athens falls ſhort here, and leaves the inquiſitive mind fluctuating in painful uncertainty. But the Apoſtle, in very few words, fully anſwers the caſe: "Believe in the Lord Jeſus Chriſt, and thou ſhalt be ſaved. This anſwer, as one obſerves, is ſo old, that with many it seems out of date: but it is ſtill, and will ever be, new, and freſh, and ſavoury, and the only reſolution of this grand caſe of conſcience, as long as conſcience and the world laſts. Let this then commend the knowledge of Chriſt unto us, that it directs us in matters of the laſt conſequence and moment, viz. how we ſhall obtain the favour and friendſhip of God, and how we ſhould ſteer our courſe for a bleſſed and happy eternity. In fine, this knowledge is profitable unto all things:—it is profitable for proſperity, and for adverſity:—for ſickneſs, and for health:—for life, and for death;—for time, and for eternity.
6. The knowledge of Chriſt crucified excels all other knowledge in point of pleaſure and ſatisfaction: "Wiſdom's ways are ways of pleaſantneſs, and all her paths are peace (x). The diſcovery of truth, abſolutely conſidered, is accompanied with an intellectual, and therefore with a manly pleaſure, vaſtly ſuperior to all the delights of ſenſe: and the more important and intereſting the truth is which we diſcover, the joy ariſing from it is ſo much the greater. O then, how raviſhing, how tranſporting beyond all expreſſion, muſt the diſcoveries of Chriſt be to the gracious ſoul! 'Their money periſh with them,' ſaid the famous Italian convert, 'who think all the gold of the Indies worthy to be compared with one hour's communion with the Lord Jeſus.' Surely the Chriſtian who knows that God is his God in Chriſt, has infinitely better reaſon than Cicero, upon finding the tomb of Archimedes, to cry out, I have found it out! I have found it out!
Moreover, the joy ariſing from the knowledge of Chriſt abides with the ſaints in the day of diſtreſs, making them to glorify God in the fire, and to cry out in the dark and cloudy night, Hallelujah! he does all things well!'
However much people living at eaſe may be pleaſed with the fine diſcourſes of the Heathen philoſophers about bearing misfortunes; yet, when one is deeply plunged in diſtreſs, all the fine ſpeeches of Seneca, the ſmart ſayings of Epictetus, and the ſolemn counſels of Antoninus, prove but Job's comforters: and a ſingle ſentence of the Bible, ſet home upon the heart by the Holy Ghoſt, affords infinitely greater conſolation than all the philoſophers put together. The ſweet ſenſe and experience of this, made a great and good man expreſs himſelf after this manner, in a letter to a friend:—'I deſire to bleſs his holy name who has delivered me from the painful purſuit of what they call learning, and from the fooliſh pleaſure of venting the little of it that I know. I write it on all my books, and deſire to have it engraven upon my heart;—"I determined to know nothing, but Jeſus Chriſt, and him crucified."
7. Lastly, The knowledge of Chriſt crucified excels all other knowledge in point of duration and continuance. That head which carries the richeſt cargo of human learning, will very ſoon be emptied of all, and laid down, cold, and ſenſeleſs, and ſilent in a grave. The knowledge of policy, the art of war, languages, laws, cuſtoms and hiſtories, will be juſt as uſeleſs the moment after death, as the knowledge of the meaneſt mechanic: but the knowledge of Chriſt will go along with us into the eternal world; and the more it is improves here, it will be ſo much the more dilated hereafter. Now theſe things being duly conſidered, we need not wonder that Paul "determined to know nothing but Jeſus Chriſt and him crucified;" and that "he counted all things but loſs, for the excellency of this knowledge."
I conclude with a few practical inferences.
1. Here we may ſee the great worth and excellency of the Chriſtian religion. It clearly and fully aſcertains the terms on which God will treat with guilty ſinners, in order to pardon and reconciliation:—it gives a ſatiſfactory anſwer to that moſt important and intereſting enquiry, "What ſhall I do to be ſaved?" while it directs the anxious enquirers to believing on the ſlain Son of God, as the great ordinance of heaven for their reſtoration into the divine favour.—Chriſtianity tells us what Jeſus Chriſt has done for us and ſuffered for us;—and what account God the Father makes of all this;—and what God and Chriſt require and expect of us as an expreſſion of gratitude for all this love and kindneſs.
2. If the knowledge of Chriſt be ſo valuable, then ſhould not we lament the ſtate of thoſe nations that fit in the darkneſs of ignorance? My brethren, this goſpel is not the privilege of mankind all the world over: nay, the proportion which the Chriſtian world bears to the world at large, is computed but as five to thirty, which is a very ſmall one. Should not we then lift up a prayer for our fellow men, that the light of the glorious goſpel may yet ſhine upon them? Surely, if we love the Lord Jeſus, we will deſire an acceſſion to his kingdom; and therefore will, with a deep concern upon our ſpirits, put up the ſecond petition in the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come." Of ſix petitions that are in that prayer, the firſt three relate to the Redeemer's intereſt in the world "Hallowed be thy name;—thy kingdom come;—thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is common with us to bring in theſe great affairs towards the end of our prayers, as it were to ſpin out the time, when the warmth and vigour of our ſpirits are well nigh ſpent. But the friends of Jeſus ſhould not leave that laſt of all, which he has put firſt of all: at leaſt, whatever place they align it in their prayers, it ſhould have great room in their hearts, and never be mentioned but with (illegible text)vency of ſoul.
3. What a ſhameful thing is it that ſo many of the daily hearers of the goſpel ſhould be groſsly ignorant of Chriſt? Ah my brethren, great numbers among us "are deſtroyed for lack of knowledge!" and the caſe is not that they cannot get it, but that they are not for it. Their ignorance is not ſimple and involuntary, but willful and affected. The light is come unto them, but like bats and owls, they hate it, and "chuſe darkneſs rather becauſe their deeds are evil." They ſay unto God, "Depart from us; for we deſire not the knowledge at thy ways." (Job xxi. 14.) Well, remember, the day is faſt approaching, "When he will come in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all them that know not God, and obey not the goſpel."
4. The beſt among us, whether miniſters or private Chriſtians, have reaſon to lament and be aſhamed that we have made ſo little progreſs in the knowledge of Chriſt crucified. Alas! "we are yet but as babes in Chriſt, and ſuch as have need of milk and not of ſtrong meat, being unſkillful in the word of righteouſneſs." (Heb. v. 13. 14.) Let us then ſhake of ſloth and indolence;—let us ſequeſtrate ourſelves from the buſtle and noiſe to a vain vexatious world, and betake ourſelves more cloſely to the ſtudy and contemplation of the moſt glorious object; in other words, Chriſt and him crucified. Angels are our condiſciples and fellow ſtudents in this myſtery, though their concern therein be not equal with ours. It was our nature that he aſſumed, and not the nature of angels;—it was for us he laid down his precious life, and not for them;—we have the honour to be members of his myſtical body, not they!—unto us is the goſpel preached, not unto them. But they love to hear Chriſt preached, and therefore they attend our worſhipping aſſembles, and learn the manifold wiſdom of God from the church. So much the Apoſtle intimates, when he ſays, "To this intent, that now unto principalities and powers, in heavenly places, might be made known by the church, the manifold wiſdom of God." (Eph. iii 10.). Let theſe conſiderations excite us unto a more earneſt and diligent ſtudy of Jeſus Chriſt, (illegible text) whom to know is life eternal."
Lastly, We that are miniſters of the goſpel ſhould learn hence both the matter and manner of preaching. Let us preach Chriſt crucified. This was Paul's ſubject: and that man is certainly an ⟨⟩, proud and uſeleſs preacher, that refuſes to follow Paul's example, and manages his miniſtry as if he had determined to know any thing but Jeſus Chriſt and him crucified.—Let us endeavour to underſtand, and to make our people underſtand, how all the truths of the goſpel meet in Chriſt, as ſo many lines in their centre. And at the ſame time, let us be careful to urge obedience to all the laws of Jeſus, from ſuch motives & principles as the goſpel ſuggeſts.
And then, as to the manner of preaching, let us declare the truths of the goſpel in the ſtyle and language of the goſpel, which is certainly the true ſublime. The modern embelliſhments of ſtyle are as much below the dignity of the goſpel, as they are above the capacity of popular auditories, and ſerve only to display the pride, pedantry, and ſilly affectation of the ſpeaker. They may, indeed pleaſe ſuch as go to the church from the ſame motive they go to the play-houſe, viz. for their amuſement; but thoſe who attend ſermons that they may be built up in faith and in holineſs unto ſalvation, will not find their account in them.
I have often been much pleaſed with the character which Dr Bates gives Mr Richard Baxter as a preacher, in his funeral ſermon upon him. He ſays:—'There was a noble negligence in his ſtyle; for his great mind could not ſtoop to the affected eloquence of words: he deſpiſed flaſhy oratory: but his expreſſions were clear and powerful, ſo convincing the underſtanding, ſo entering into the ſoul, ſo engaging the affections, that thoſe were as deaf as adders, who were not charmed by ſo wiſe a charmer. He was animated with the Holy Spirit, and breathed celeſtial fire, to inſpire heat and life into dead ſinners, and to melt the obdurate in their frozen tombs.'
To conclude: In our preaching, let us accommodate ourſelves to the capacities of thoſe with whom we have to do: let us chuſe ſuch ⟨⟩ ⟨⟩ are adapted to the great end of preaching, which (illegible text)ing the hearer to the ⟨⟩ (illegible text) for Christ (illegible text)
- †A DIVINE of conſiderable note both in the learned and religions world, in his Commentary upon theſe words ⟨⟩ this objection; "Ought then miniſters to use no ſtudy, but talk whatſoever comes firſt into their heads?" His anſwer is; "By no means. It is one thing to ſtudy matter, another thing to ſtudy words: nay, it is one thing to ſtudy a decency in words, another to ſtudy (illegible text)ry of phraſe. It is an old and true ſaying, Verba ſequentur res, words will follow matter, if the preacher be but of ordinary parts. In the ſtudy of words we have but two things to attend. 1. That we ſpeak intelligibly, ſo as all the people may underſtand. 2. That we ſpeak gravely and decently. All other ſtudy of words and phraſes in a divine is but folly and vanity.'
- *There are three paſſages of this kind commonly alledged. The firſt is, Acts xvii. 28. "As certain alſo of your own poets have ſaid" He mentions many of them; becauſe in Homer, Heſiod, Menander, Callimachus, and Pindar, are ſome things which make to this purpoſe. But Paul being a Cilician, only the words of his own countryman, Aratus the Cilician:
For we are all his offspring.
This half verſe is read in Aratus his Phaenomena, the moſt eſteemed of all his works, and which were tranſlated out of Greek into Latin by Cicero, while he was but very young. See Dr Du Veil on Acts, xvii. 28.
The ſecond is, 1 Cor. xv. 33.
Evil communications corrupt good manners.
I wonder this Gentleman not with the ſame ſagacity diſcovered Paul's attachment to the Heathen deities, becauſe an inſpired writer tells us, "he was in a ſhip of Alexandria, whoſe ſign was Caſtor and Pollux." It is truly ſtrange to obſerve, what low, ſilly, and abſurd things will be ve(illegible text)ed by very ſenſible men to help them out with a beloved hypotheſis,
The third is, Titus 1. 12. "One of themſelves, even a prophet of their own, ſaid,
The Cretians are always liars, evil beaſts, ſlow bellies."
This character of the Cretians is in the original Greek on Hekametes verſe quoted from Epimenides the poet, whom Paul here calls "a prophet of their own," viz. the Cretians his countrymen, among whom he was held and reputed as ſuch, though he was not a true prophet. See Dr Hammond in (illegible text).
- (a) Phil, iii, 8, 9.
- (d) James ii. 29.
- (e) Rom. ii. 21.
- (f) 1 Cor. i 21, 22, 23. 2 Cor. iv. 5.
The apoſtles had four ſpecialities in their character and office. 1. They had an extraordinary call to their office. Paul ſlides himſelf "an apoſtle, not of men, neither by men, but by Jeſus Chriſt and God the Father." They took not the office upon them of their own accord nor were they called to it by the votes and ſuffrages of the people. It was a new religion they were to propagate in the world; therefore Jeſus Chriſt, the author of it, choſe a ſet of men whom he called Apoſtles, to preach it among all nations. 2. They had extraordinary qualifications for the diſcharge of that office They preached and wrote as the Holy Ghoſt inſpired them. They had the gift of tongues, which enabled them to make the goſpel known among all nations in a very ſhort time. They could heal the ſick, reſtore the lame, and raiſe the dead to life again; and, by the laying on of their hands, they could convey the gifts of the Holy Ghoſt unto others. 3. They were not confined to any particular church or congregation, but preached the goſpel all the world over according to the commiſſion Chriſt gave them before his aſcenſion, " Go, teach all nations; go, preach the goſpel to every creature under heaven." 4. They had ſeen the Lord Jeſus after his reſurrection; and ſo were well qualified to be witneſſes thereof unto the world. Paul was not called to this office till after the aſcenſion; nevertheleſs, be aſſures us that he ſaw the Lord Jeſus:"Laſt of all, he was ſeen of me alſo, as one born out of due time." And thus he could teſtify what he had ſeen, as well as the other apoſtles.
- (g) Matth. xxviii 19. 20.
- † How well this important point was underſtood by our Divines of the reformation, appears from the famous Mr Tindal, commonly called the Apoſtle of England, in his letter to John Frith, written January 1533 'Expound the law truly, and open the vail of Moſes, to condemn all ſuch, and prove all men ſinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy hath taken away the condemnation thereof, to be ſin and damnable; and then, as a faithful miniſter, ſet a broach the mercy of our Lord Jeſus, and let the wounded conſciences drink of the water of him. And then ſhall your preaching be with power, and not as the hypocrites. And the Spirit of God ſhall work with you, and all conſciences ſhall bear record unto you, and feel that it is ſo. And all doctrine that caſteth a miſt on theſe two, to ſhadow and hide them, I mean the law of God and mercy of Chriſt, that reſiſt you with all your power
- (i) Titus iii. 11. 12. Phil. iv. 5.
- (k) Gal. vi. 6.
- (l) 2 Tim. iv. 1. 2.
- (m) 1 Theſſ. ii. 10.
- (n) 1 Peter iii. 1.
- We are ready to think that the evidence of Chriſt's reſurrection would have been ſtronger, had he appeared as publicly after it, as he did before his death. Why, ſays one, did he not ſhew himſelf to the priests and elders of Jeruſalem? and then the whole city would have believed on him. And why, may another ſay, did he not go to Rome, and ſhew himſelf to the Roman emperor and the ſenate? And a third may aſk, why he did not appear in Britain? For when vain men begin with their preſumptuous whys and wherefores, there is no end of them. But the evidence we have of his reſurrection is ſuch as gives abundant ſatisfaction to candid and unprejudiced enquirers, and yet leaves room for thoſe to object who are willfully ignorant and obſtinate in their unbelief And this a fair trial, ſuited to the caſe of thoſe who are pr(illegible text)ationers. An overpowering and irreſiſtible evidence, clear of all difficulties and objections, would be no trial; and therefore, when we quarrel for the want of it, we forget who and where we are, namely, pr(illegible text)ationers, in a ſtate of (illegible text) and improvement for another world. To expect, ſays the learned Bp. Butler, a diſtinct comprehenſive view of the whole ſubject (viz. Chriſtianity) clear of difficulties and objection, is to forget our nature and condition; neither of which admit of any ſuch knowledge with reſpect to any ſcience whatever: and to inquire with this (illegible text), is not to enquire as a man, but as one of another order of creatures. Sermons at the Rolls, ſerm. 15. (illegible text). 309.
- (p) Pſalm cxix. 19.
- (q) Col. 1, 26.
- (x) Prov. iii, 17.