Duties which the mysterious nature of the gospel imposes on believers.
Be thankful that ever God revealed it to thee. O what a mercy this is, that thou hast ‘life and immortality brought to light,’ that thy ears hear this joyful sound! The gospel indeed was early preached in the world. Adam had it soon after his fall; but a short gospel, a mystery, indeed, to him, wrapped all up in one promise, and that a dark one. But now that one wedge of gold is beaten out into the whole Bible—a gospel written at length, and not in figures. But especially bless God for any inward light and life thou hast received from this gospel. God hath done more for thee in this, than for thousands thou livest among, and those no means ones either. To this day God hath not given thy carnal neighbours eyes to see, nor hearts to perceive, that mystery which is unfolded unto thee.
The gospel is a mystery, therefore rest not in thy present attainments; either in thy knowledge, as it is a mystery of faith, or thy practice, as it is a mystery of godliness.
(1.) Rest not in thy present knowledge. It is like thou knowest much to what once thou didst; but thou knowest little to what thou mayest. Some books are learned at once reading, but the gospel is a mystery that will take up more than thy lifetime to understand it. Mysteries are here sown thick; thou diggest where the springs rise faster upon thee the further thou goest. God tells not all his secrets at once—‘here a little, and there a little;’ ‘many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased,’ Dan. 12:4. The merchant’s ship takes not all in her lading at one port, but sails from one to another for it; neither doth the Christian enrich himself with this heavenly treasure all at one time or in one ordinance. The true doctor studies harder than the freshman, because, as he knows more of learning, so by that knowledge he understands his own deficiency better; for the higher he ascends the hill of learning, the more his prospect enlargeth, while the other, standing at the bottom, thinks he knows all in his little.
(2.) Rest not in thy present practice, as it is a mystery of godliness. Let not a little grace serve thy turn, when thou mayest have more; which that you may do,
Compare not thyself with those that have less than thyself, but look on those that have far exceeded thee. To look on our inferiors occasions pride, ‘I am not this publican,’ saith the Pharisee; but look on other more eminent than ourselves will both preserve humility, and be a spur to diligence. The progress that some have made in grace—didst thou but keep them in thine eye—would not suffer thee to be quiet, who art now lagging so far behind, till thou hast overtaken them. May be thou hast got some victory over thy passion, and art not such a bedlam in thy fury as others; but didst thou never hear how meek a man Moses was, that could bear the murmurings of the multitude, yea envy of his brother and sister, and yet his heart not take fire? Thou hast some good affections towards God, but how far short of holy David’s zeal, whose heart did run out to God as soon as his eyes were open in the morning? ‘When I awake I am still with thee.’ Thrice a day, yea seven times a day, he would praise his God. Thou hast some patience, but hast thou learned to write after Job’s copy? Thou art not without faith, but art thou like Abraham—strong in faith to follow God when thou knowest not whither he will lead thee?
It is the design of the gospel to give grace in great measures. Christ gives life, ‘and that more abundantly,’ John 10:10. Now shall the fountain be so large, and the pitcher we carry to it so little? Wherefore doth God open his hand to such a breadth in the promise, but to widen our desires and encourage our endeavours? The more grace thou hast got, the easier it will be to add to it. A little learning with more difficulty by a young scholar, than a great deal more afterwards.
Bear with one another’s imperfections. You see the gospel is a mystery, do not wonder therefore that any are not presently masters of their art. Christ bears with the saints’ imperfections; well may the saints one with another. How raw were the disciples in their knowledge—how long did they stand at one lesson before they could learn it! ‘Do you now believe?’ says Christ, John 16:31. He had borne with them long, and inculcated the same thing often, before it entered their minds; yet, alas! we can hardly have a good opinion of, or hold communion with, those that are not every way of our judgment, and cannot see things so clear as ourselves. Surely we mistake the nature of the gospel, as if there were none but plain points in it. Blessed be God, as to the principles necessary to salvation, though their nature be high and mysterious, yet they are clearly and plainly asserted in the word. ‘Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness,’ I Tim. 3:16. Godliness is a mystery, but it is ‘without controversy.’ As to the main fundamental points and practices of it there is no dispute among the faithful; but there are some points more remote from the vital parts of religion that have knots not easily untied, which makes some difference of judgment.
Again, bear with weaknesses in the practical part of religion. Godliness, as well as the doctrine of our faith, is a mystery. All the servants in a shop cannot work alike. Some bungle at more than other—as their parts and experience are less. All saints are not of a height. Christ hath some children in his family that are led with strings, as well as others that go strongly without such help. Some act more upon pure gospel principle—love, and a spirit of adoption; others have not yet worn off their legal fears and terrors. Some are got higher up the hill of faith, and have clearer apprehensions of their spiritual state; others are nearer the bottom, who, as the sun newly risen above the horizon, are wrapped up with many clouds of perplexing fears and doubts. In a word, some are got further out of their passions, have greater mastery over their corruptions, than other of their brethren. Pity thy weak brother, and take him by the hand for his help; but despise him not, God can make even him stand, and suffer thee to fall. Christ doth not quench the smoking flax, why should we? The weak Christian is welcome to his heavenly Father, as well as the strong;
Is the gospel a mystery? Then Christian, long for heaven; there, and only there, shall this mystery be fully known. The great things which were spoken concerning the gospel church made many saints and prophets before Christ’s time desire to see those happy times wherein such revelations should be made; how much more should we long for heaven, where this great mystery shall be fully opened, and every box of this cabinet unlocked, in which lie so many precious jewels to this day unseen by any saint on earth! Then it will be said, ‘The mystery of God is finished,’ Rev. 10:7. Here we learn our knowledge of it by little and little, like one that reads a book as it comes from the press, sheet by sheet; there we shall see it altogether. Here we get a little light from this sermon, a little more from the next, and thus our stock increases by the addition of a few pence thrown in, some to‑day, and more to-morrow; but there we shall have all at once. Here we learn with much pain and difficulty; there without travail and trouble. Glorified saints, though they cease not from work, yet rest from labour. Here passion blinds our minds, that we mistake error for truth and truth for error; but then these clouds shall be scattered and gone. Here the weakness of natural parts keeps many in the dark, and renders them incapable of apprehending some truths, which other of their brethren are led into; but there the strong shall not prevent the weak, the scholar shall know as much as his master, the people as their minister. Here the squabbles and contentions among the godly do leave the weaker sort at great uncertainty what to think concerning many truths; but there they shall all agree—which comforted that holy man on his death-bed, that he was going thither where Luther and Calvin were reconciled. Here we are disturbed in our inquiries after truth—one while the necessary occasions of this world divert us, another while the weakness and infirmities of our bodies hinder us; but in heaven our bodies will call for none of this tending, we shall need provide neither raiment for the back nor food for the belly.
O happy death, that will ease us of all the aches of our bodies and conflicts in our souls! Thou art the only physician to cure all the saints’ distempers in both. When that blessed hour comes, then lift up your heads with joy, for it will lead you into that blissful place where you shall see Christ, not a great way off, with the eye of faith in the optic glass of an ordinance or promise, but, with a glorified eye, behold his very person, never more to lose the sight of him. Thou shalt not taste his love in a little morsel of sacramental bread and sip of wine, but lay thy mouth to the fountain, and from his bosom drink thy full draught. Thou shalt no more hear what a glorious place heaven is, as thou wert wont to have it set forth by the sorry rhetoric of a mortal man preaching to thee of that with which himself was but little acquainted; but shalt walk thyself in the streets of that glorious city, and bless thyself when thou art there, to think what poor low thoughts thou and thy minister also had thereof, when on earth thou didst meditate, and he did preach, on this subject. One moment’s sight of that glory will inform thee more than all the comments and books written of it were ever able to do. And dost thou not yet cry out, How long will it be, O Lord, most holy and true, before thou bringest me thither? Is not every hour a day, day a month, month a year, yea age, till that time comes? As Bernard, upon those words, ‘A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me,’ John 16:16, passionately breaks forth, holy Lord, dost thou call that a little while in which I shall not see thee? O this little is a long little while!