« AnteriorContinuar »
LECTURES ON THE ROMANS.
It is possible to conceive the face of our be a twofold process begun and carried world overspread with a thick and mid- forward, and at length brought to its full night darkness, and without so much as a and perfect termination. Light must be particle of light to alleviate it, from any poured upon the earth, and the faculty of one quarter of the firmament around us. seeing must be conferred upon its inhabiIn this case, it were of no avail to the tants. One can imagine, that, instead of people who live in it, that all of them were the light being made instantaneously to in possession of sound and perfect eyes. burst upon us in its highest splendour, The organ of sight may be entire, and yet and, instead of the faculty being immedinothing be seen from the total absence of ately bestowed upon us in full vigour to external light among the objects on every meet and to encounter so strong a tide of gide of us. Or in other words, to bring effulgency-that both these processes were about the perception of that which is with- conducted in a way that was altogether out, it is not enough that we have the gradual-that the light, for example, had power of vision among men; but, in ad- its first weak glimmering; and that the dition to this, there must be a visibility in eye, in the feebleness of its infancy, was the trees, and the houses, and the moun- not overcome by it-that the light adtains, and the living creatures, which are vanced with morning step to a clearer Low in the ordinary discernment of men. brilliancy; and that the eye, rendered But, on the other hand, we may reverse able to bear it, multiplied the objects of the supposition. We may conceive an its sight, and took in a wider range of entire luminousness to be extended over perception-that the light shone at length the face of nature-while the faculty of unto the perfect day; and that the eye, sight was wanting among all the indivi- with the last finish upon its properties and duals of our species. In this case, the its powers, embraced the whole of that external light would be of as little avail variety which lies within the present comtowards our perception of any object at a pass of human contemplation. We must distance from us, as the mere possession see that if one of these processes be graof the sense of seeing was in the former dual, the other should be gradual also instance. Both must conspire to the effect By shedding too strong a light upon weak of our being rendered conversant with the eyes, we may overpower and extinguish external world through the medium of the them. By granting too weak a light to eye. And if the power of vision was not him who has strong eyes, we make the faenough, without a visibility on the part of culty outstrip the object of its exercise, the things which are around us, by God and thus incur a waste of endowment. saying let there be light-as little is their By attempering the one process to the visibility enough, without the power of other, we maintain, throughout all the vision stamped as an endowment by the stages, that harmony which is so abundhand of God, on the creatures whom He antly manifested in the works of Nature has formed. and Providence, between man as he actually is, and the circumstances by which man is actually surrounded.
Now we can conceive that both these defects or disabilities, in the way of vision, may exist at the same time-or that These preliminary statements will we all the world was dark, and that all the trust be of some use for illustrating the people in the world were blind. To progress, not of natural, but of spiritual emerge out of this condition-there must light, along that oath which forms the suc
est character lay upon the first moments in the history of sinful man; and which required both light from Heaven upon his soul, and 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 over 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, ere 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, and 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 finished 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 other, 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 nurnber 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.
cessive 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 nad formed; and rejoiced over them so long as he saw that they were good. But 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, haye 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 an 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 Those truths, which make up the body beset and closed and shrouded in thickest of our written revelation, may be regarded darkness, the understandings of those as so many objects, on which visibility who had just passed out of innocence into has been conferred by so many successin. Till God made this first communi- sive communications of light from Heaven. cation, there was no external light, to They were at first few in number; and alleviate that despair and dreariness these few were offered to mankind, under which followed the first visitation of a the disguise of a rather vague and exfeeling so painful and so new as the con- tended generality. The dawn of this exsciousness of evil. And, if the agitations ternal revelation, was marked by the of the heart have any power to confuse solitary announcement, given to our outand to unsettle the perceptions of the un- cast progenitors, that the seed of the woderstanding-if remorse and perplexity man should bruise the head of the serand fear, go to disturb the exercise of all pent. To this, other announcements were our judging and all our discerning facul- added in the progress of ages-and even ties-if, under the engrossment of one the great truth, which lay enveloped in great and overwhelming apprehension, the very first of them, had a growing illuwe can neither see with precision nor mination cast upon it in the lapse of genecontemplate with steadiness-above all, rations. The promise given to Adam, if, under the administration of a righteous brightened into a more cheering and inGod, there be a constant alliance between telligible hope, when renewed to Abraspiritual darkness and a sense of sin un- ham, in the shape of an assurance, that, pardoned or sin unexpiated-then may through one of his descendants, all the we be sure that an obscurity of the deep-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 reconciliation 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 companied 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 regeneration, 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, that no man shall add thereto, and that no man shall take away from it.
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. 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.
This forms but a faint and a feeble out- The first passage is in 1 Peter i. 10-12. line of that march, by which God's exter-"Of which salvation the prophets have nal revelation hath passed magnificently enquired and searched diligently, who onwards, from the first days of our world, prophesied of the grace that should come through the twilight of the patriarchal unto you. Searching what, or what ages and the brightening of the Jewish manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which dispensation, aided as it was by the secon- was in them did signify, when it testified dary lustre of types and of ceremonies- beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and and the constant accumulation of Prophe- the glory that should follow. Unto whom cy, with its visions every century becom- it was revealed, that not unto themselves, ing more distinct, and its veil becoming but unto us, they did minister the things more transparent-and the personal com- which are now reported unto you, by munications of God manifest in the flesh, them that have preached the gospel unto who opened His mouth amongst us, but you, with the Holy Ghost sent down from still opened it in parables-insomuch that heaven; which things the angels desire to when He ascended from His disciples, He look into." This passage sets the old prostill left them in wonder and dimness and phets before us in a very striking attitude. mystery-till, by the pouring forth of the They positively did not know the meanHoly Spirit from the place which He had ing of their own prophecies. They were gone to occupy, the evidence of inspira- like men of dim and imperfect sight, whose tion received its last and its mightiest en-hand was guided by some foreign power largement, 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
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 which had arisen on the outward page of power of discernment, as well as set be- revelation, had also dawned and arisen fore them the objects of discernment-upon their own hearts-not, in short, till their attempts were nugatory. And in- the great agent of all revelation, even the deed they were sensible of this, and ac- Holy Spirit who had already furnished the quiesced in it. It was told them by reve- object of perception in the word, had also lation, that the subject matter of their pro- furnished the organ of perception in the phecy was not for themselves, but for understanding—not till then, were the inothers-even for those to whom the gospel quirers after the truth as it is in Jesus should be preached in future days, and effectually introduced, to a full acquaintwho, along with the ministration of the ance with all its parts,-or to the full beexternal word, were to receive the minis-nefit of all its influence. tration 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 his 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 also 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
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, 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 information 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 had 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 another1