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Some general Observations on the Redemption of Man.
1. WE depend wholly on divine revelation for all we know concerning the redemption of man. By this only we learn, that it is possible that man may be recovered from a state of sin and ruin; and that God has determined to redeem man, and is prosecuting this design. And by this only we can know what is implied in this, and what is the way and manner in which it is effected.
Man might justly be left to endless destruction, without any remedy, having fallen under the curse of the divine law, which is righteous and good. And that he could be saved consistent with this law, and the maintenance and honour of divine government, could not be known by any creature. And if it were known that it was possible for man to be delivered and saved, consistent with the honour of the divine law and government, it could not be known that God would see fit to do it, until he revealed his will and design in this matter. God was infinitely far from being under any obligations to show favour to man; it depended upon his sovereign will to determine whether man should be redeemed, or not: and if he were redeemed, it must be by the most free, undeserved sovereign mercy. Therefore that God Would show any mercy to sinners, could not be known 304by men or angels; or that this was possible, consistent with the holy law of God, and with wisdom and righteousness. This was hid in God from all creatures, until he was pleased to reveal his design. This indeed was done immediately upon the apostasy of man; and this important and glorious purpose of God has been opening more and more from that time to this: Which has been suited to excite and increase the attention and wonder of men and angels, through all ages.
In this revelation is comprehended what God has made known by declarations, promises and predictions in the holy scriptures, and by his providence, in ordering the events recorded in the historical part of scripture, and accomplishing many things which he has promised or predicted; by which the declarations, promises and prophecies are opened and explained, and light is thrown upon this grand design; while the word of God, and his providence in governing the world, and ordering all events, do most exactly agree and illustrate each other.
And the providence of God, as it respects the natural world, considered by itself, unconnected with his word in the holy scriptures, in preserving mankind, and giving them ease and health, and so many comforts and good things in this life, carries a language in it, and is a kind and degree of revelation of the disposition and will of God, declaring not only the being of God, and his universal and particular providence, and care of all his creatures; but also that he is good and kind to man in a sense and degree which is inconsistent with his being cast off without hope; and is a standing evidence to all who have proper discerning, that God is propitious to the human race; and that there is some way in which he may be reconciled, and show mercy to sinners. This seems to be the sentiment expressed by St. Paul in the following words. “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”208208 Acts xiv. 16, 17.
The witness or testimony of which the apostle here speaks, which was given to mankind in general by God, 305in his doing them good, and which was constantly held up in divine providence, was not merely of his existence, but of his kind care of man, and his readiness to be reconciled to him, without particularly pointing out the way and method in which this could be effected. This was a sufficient ground to excite their hope, and induce them to seek after him, and make all possible inquiries and search after the way in which they might obtain mercy; and to find what was necessary in order to their being saved. And God has so ordered the situation and bounds of mankind, both under the Mosaic and christian dispensation, that all who would take proper notice of this witness in divine providence, and improve it as they ought, and might do, might come to the knowledge of the truth They who lived before the incarnation of Christ could not fail of coming to the knowledge of the revelation given to the Israelites. And all mankind who have lived since might have come to the knowledge of the truth revealed by Christ and his apostles. This is asserted by St. Paul. “And hath made of one blood all nations of men, to dwell in all the face of the earth; and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him.”209209 Acts xvii. 26, 27.
Many who pay no regard to a written revelation have supposed that the dictates of reason, without any particular revelation from God, did assure them that he must pardon and receive to favour every penitent sinner, as it would be inconsistent with his goodness not to do it; therefore mankind want no other revelation from God to give them a certainty of this. But they have never been able to give any satisfactory evidence of this to those who properly attend to the matter; and what they call reason, appears to be presumption, when examined by impartial enlightened reason. There is nothing within the reach of the reason and knowledge of creatures that can afford the least evidence that God will pardon the penitent sinner, merely because he repents; or that this could be done consistent with the most perfect moral 306government; but the contrary appears most reasonable, viz. that the repentance of the criminal is not sufficient to give him any claim to forgiveness. And it is very evident and certain that such an opinion is inconsistent with real repentance; and that while a sinner thinks that his repentance will give a claim to forgiveness and favour, he is a stranger to true repentance, and never will repent, until he gives it up. Nor can he have the least evidence that any of mankind will ever repent, if left to themselves, and are not the subjects of those divine influences to which they have no claim, and which they have no reason to conclude God will grant. But this matter will be made more evident as we proceed on the subject of redemption.
II. Redemption does not extend to all sinful, fallen creatures, but many are left to suffer the just consequence of their rebellion, in everlasting punishment. No mercy has been extended to the fallen angels, of whom there are vast numbers. “For God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and hath reserved them in everlasting chains of darkness, unto the judgment of the great day,”210210 2 Peter ii. 4.—Jude 6. when they are to receive their final sentence to eternal punishment.211211 Matt. xxv. 41.—Rev. xx. 10. And it is expressly and repeatedly declared in divine revelation that a part of mankind shall also be punished forever. To which they shall be sentenced, together with the fallen angels, at the judgment of the great day.212212 Matt. XXV. 41. 46.—Rev. xx. 10, 15.—2 Thess. i. 8, 9.
This distinction, made between the fallen angels and mankind, and in favour of the latter, is not because man might not have been justly left to eternal ruin, or because he was less unworthy of mercy, and not so ill deserving, as the apostate angels; but for reasons in the view of infinite wisdom, which may, at least the most of them, be wholly out of our sight at present. As light and knowledge shall increase in the churchy the wisdom of God in this dispensation of sovereign grace will be more and more seen; and there will be an increasing discovery of this to angels and the redeemed in the eternal kingdom of God.307
We are also certain that infinite wisdom saw it best that redemption should not extend to all mankind, so that every one of the human race should be actually saved, though we were not able to see the reason of this, and the contrary should appear to us to be most wise and best; for we are infinitely far from being competent judges in this case; and there is the highest reason that we should acquiesce, and be satisfied with the declaration and conduct of the infinitely wise and benevolent Being, who is able, and to whom it belonged to determine whether all the human race should be saved or not. For we are sure that it is determined perfectly right, and that all mankind could not be actually redeemed, consistent with the good of the whole, or consistent with wisdom and goodness.
It also belongs to the supreme, infinitely wise and benevolent Being to determine what number and proportion of mankind shall be saved, and fix upon every individual person, since all this depends upon him, and he has a right to do as he pleases, and he only knows what is most wise and best. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”
We are not in express words of revelation informed what proportion of mankind shall be saved, whether the greater or less part of them, on the whole. But perhaps more is revealed with respect to this than has been supposed, and which is contrary to what has been generally thought to be asserted in the scriptures. It has been thought by many, that when Christ says, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Many are called, but few chosen. Fear not little flock,” he declares that but few, a very small part of mankind, shall be saved. But when we attend to these words of Christ, we shall find that they are spoken of the then present time; and nothing is asserted concerning that which shall take place in future ages; and therefore have no relation to the point before us, and determine nothing about it. When this question was put to him, “Lord, are there few that shall be saved?” He did not think proper to answer it then, by expressly affirming or denying; but 308only said, that many should not be saved; and improved this truth to excite all to secure their own salvation, without delay: Which is consistent with there being many more saved than lost.
When we attend to the many predictions of the flourishing, greatness and extent of the church and kingdom of Christ in the last days, so as to fill the whole world, when “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;” and are assured that this state of prosperity shall continue, at least a thousand years, we shall find no reason to conclude that but few of mankind will be saved, in comparison with those who shall perish; but see ground to believe that the number of the former will far exceed that of the latter.213213 The reader may see this more fully considered in Dr. Bellamy’s discourse on the Millennium. Some attention is also paid to this point; and the reasons are suggested, why redemption does not include the salvation of all men, in “An inquiry concerning the future state of those who die in their sins.” Page 182, &c. But were there nothing revealed by which we could determine any thing with respect to this, we might well rest satisfied that God, who is infinitely wise and good, has fixed the number of those who shall be saved, and of those who shall not be saved, so as exactly to answer the best end, and promote the greatest general good; and may be as certain that many of mankind w ill perish forever, as we can be that the Bible is a revelation from God, since this is there so expressly, abundantly, and in such a variety of ways declared and established.
III. The Redemption of man is the greatest instance of the exercise and manifestation of the benevolence, or the love and goodness of God, that ever took place, or that ever will. It is the greatest possible exercise and display of divine benevolence; in which there is the best and most ample ground and scope for the highest increasing and endless discovery of the love and goodness of the infinitely benevolent Being.
The benevolence of the Deity is exercised, and appears in all his works; but in the work of redemption is the fullest, most perfect and bright display of the divine 309love, as all the works of God have reference to this as their result and end, in which his design in all is manifested. This is every where set in this light in the Holy Scripture. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”214214 John iii. 16. God is love. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Behold! What manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”215215 1 John iii. 1, 4, 8, 9, 10.
Thus the sacred oracles celebrate the work of redemption as the highest and most remarkable instance of divine love, and direct us there, to behold it acted out in the highest degree, and to the greatest advantage, to be seen and admired by creatures; as an inexhaustible and endless object of gratitude and praise.
The reason and propriety of this representation in divine revelation, and that the work of redemption is infinitely the greatest instance and display of divine benevolence, will in some measure appear, if the following things be well considered.
1. Benevolence exercised in the bestowment of favour, is greater or less, according to the greater or less unworthiness and ill desert of those who are the objects of the benevolence. If those on whom good is bestowed, be worthy or deserving, the granting that good or benefit, is really paying a debt, and is an act of justice. And though benevolence may be exercised in doing this, as it is contrary to benevolence not to give what is deserved; yet the goodness exercised in this case is not so apparently disinterested; nor does it require so great a degree of goodness, as it does to bestow favours on the unworthy and ill deserving. The latter is free grace, sovereign, disinterested goodness: the former may not be so. And the more unworthy and ill deserving they are to whom favour is shown, the greater is the degree of benevolence exercised in granting 310the favour: For it requires a greater degree of benevolence to shew kindness to those who deserve no good, but evil, than to be kind to those who have no ill desert; and the degree of benevolence exercised in granting favour, is in proportion to the degree of ill desert of those who are the subjects of it.
In this respect the divine benevolence appears to be unbounded and wonderful in the redemption of man. Man, by rebellion against his Maker, is become infinitely unworthy and ill deserving, as he is infinitely criminal. And he does not only sin in one, or a few instances, but is wholly a rebel, and become a total enemy to God. Mankind have taken up arms against Heaven, and they are universally and constantly acting out their opposition and enmity against God, with great strength, obstinacy and violence. “Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart, while they live. There is none that doeth good, no, not one. They are all gone out of the way. Their throat is an open sepulchre. The poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” They will not be reclaimed from their rebellion and enmity against God by any methods that can betaken to bring them to submit and return to obedience, short of taking away their rebellious heart by almighty power immediately exerted, and creating them anew. But the more favour is shown to them, and the greater the kindness is which they receive, the more will they rebel and act against their greatest benefactor, abusing, despising, and trampling upon all his goodness to them; they being “desperately wicked,” and wholly irreclaimable by any means, provoking their Maker to destroy them, to the utmost of their power. This was all seen by the omniscient Jehovah. And no benevolence short of infinite could be disposed to spare, and show favour to such infinitely criminal, ill deserving, odious, and God provoking, obstinate enemies as men were. Therefore the redemption of such creatures calls for the strongest exercise, and gives the brightest display of divine, infinite 311 benevolence or goodness. St. Paul sets it in this light in the following words. “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet, peradventure, for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, and when we were enemies, Christ died for us.”216216 Rom. v. 7, 8, 10.
2. The greater the evil is from which any one is delivered by undeserved goodness, the greater and the more perspicuous is the benevolence which is exercised in such deliverance; and the more gratitude to the benefactor is due from him who is delivered. In the case before us there is the most ample room for the exercise and display of benevolence, in this respect. Man was fallen into a state of infinite misery and wretchedness, under the curse of the divine law, which implies separation from all good and happiness, and the suffering all the evil of which he is capable, without end. This man must have suffered forever without the least mitigation or relief, had not redemption taken place. By his apostasy man was become a vassal to Satan, and his heart was wholly under the power of moral depravity, from which nothing could deliver him but the mighty arm of Omnipotence. From this complicated, infinitely evil state, every one is completely delivered, who shares in redemption by Christ. Nothing short of the exertion of infinite, omnipotent, all sufficient benevolence, is sufficient to rescue man from this infinitely guilty, miserable state.
3. The exercise and expression of benevolence is strong and great in proportion to the degree of positive good and happiness which is bestowed.
Deliverance from evil is a benefit, and may be called a negative good; and this benefit is great in proportion to the degree of evil from which deliverance is granted. And the degree of benevolence expressed in such deliverance is great, in proportion to the greatness of the evil from which the miserable subject is delivered. This has been considered under the foregoing particular. What is now brought into view is the degree of positive good which is bestowed by benevolence. A less degree of benevolence may procure and give a small benefit, 312which is insufficient to prompt to bestow a much greater benefit. Therefore the greater the benefit is, which is given, the greater is the exercise and manifestation of that goodness which wills and procures it. In the redemption of man, the positive good procured and bestowed is infinitely great, being great and increasing in degree, and in duration endless. It is everlasting life, in the most happy and honourable circumstances possible. Nothing short of the infinite love of the omnipotent, all sufficient jehovah, can give such infinite good to infinitely ill deserving rebels. In this view, infinite benevolence is exercised and most conspicuously displayed in the redemption of man. Inspired with the view and sense of this, St. John exclaims, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” In the redemption of man an unbounded field is opened in which divine benevolence is displayed to the best advantage, and God “fulfils all the good pleasure of his goodness,” in bestowing infinite happiness and glory on the redeemed; unspeakably greater than man could have enjoyed, had he not sinned, and rendered himself infinitely unworthy of the least favour; and infinitely more “to the praise of his rich and glorious grace.”
4. The greater the difficulties and obstacles are, which must be removed or surmounted, in order to bestow a favour, and the greater the expense, cost and trouble, which are necessary, in order to procure it, the greater and more strong is the exercise of goodness in procuring: and bestowing the benefit. This is so evident that no proof or illustration is necessary.
There were difficulties and impediments which must be removed, and such infinite expense and sufferings were necessary, in order to redeem man, which could not be effected by any thing short of infinite power, wisdom and goodness. Man had fallen under the curse of the righteous and perfect law of God. It was inconsistent with rectoral righteousness, and infinite goodness; to set aside, or disregard this law, in favour of rebellious 313man, so as to pardon and receive him to favour, without paying any regard to the execution of the curse threatened, in any sense or degree. It was of infinite importance that the law and moral government should be maintained, and the curse threatened, properly and fully executed. This put man out of the reach of divine infinite goodness, Unless some expedient could be found, some way be devised, in which the law of God might be regarded and maintained, and the penalty of it executed, consistent with pardoning and shewing favour to man. This rendered it necessary that God himself, in the second person of the adorable Trinity, should assume human nature into a personal union, so as to form one person, who is both God and man; and that this person should, in the human nature, be made under the law, and support and honour it by obeying the precepts, and suffering the curse of it, in the room and stead of man. In this way only could man be delivered from the curse of the law, and obtain complete redemption, consistent with divine truth, rectoral righteousness, wisdom and goodness. Had not all this been necessary in order to redeem man, and might he be saved consistent with the divine law, without such a Mediator, doing and suffering all this, the love and grace exercised in redeeming and saving him would have been infinitely less, and as nothing compared with that benevolence which is expressed in the incarnation, humiliation, death and sufferings of the Son of God, which are necessarily implied in this redemption. God the Father giving his Son, and the Son of God giving himself, to suffer an ignominious, cruel death, and be made a curse, that sinners, his enemies, might be redeemed from the curse, and have eternal life, is an infinitely greater gift, and higher exercise and expression of disinterested love or benevolence, than merely to save man from eternal destruction, and give him endless life, could the latter be done without the former.
This is the light in which the holy scripture sets this matter. There this is represented as the greatest, most remarkable and glorious instance and display of divine benevolence, that God has given his Son to die, and Christ has given himself unto death as a ransom, to deliver 314sinners from hell, and procure eternal life for them. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”217217 John iii. 16. “God commendeth (displays in the most amiable, and brightest light) his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”218218 Rom. v. 8. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love! Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.”219219 1 John iii. 16. iv. 9, 10.
5. There is something yet farther necessary in order to the salvation of men. Though by the atonement which Christ has made by his death, a way is open for the pardon and salvation of sinners, consistent with rectoral righteousness, and- the honour of the divine law; yet man is so obstinate in his rebellion, and such an enemy to God, that he cannot be persuaded to embrace the gospel; but will dislike and oppose Christ and the way of salvation by him, unless his heart be renewed by the omnipotent influences of the holy Spirit. Christ has therefore obtained by his obedience and sufferings, the holy Spirit to be given unto men to recover them from their total depravity, and form their hearts to true holiness. This is an infinite gift. It is no less than God giving himself to men, in the third person of the adorable Trinity; uniting himself to them, and dwelling in them, as the principle and author of all their holiness and happiness forever. Did man need no such gift and grace, the divine goodness and beneficence in his redemption would be unspeakably less, and would not be so gloriously displayed, as now they are. In order to redeem man, God not only delivers him from infinite wo, and gives him infinite happiness and glory, when man in himself is infinitely odious, guilty and ill deserving; but, in order to this, gives himself repeatedly, and in different ways. He gave himself to die on the cross, a ransom for man, to be a propitiation for their sins. The Father gave the 315Son, and the Son gave himself. He gives himself also in the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, in renewing and sanctifying the redeemed, and dwelling in them forever. The Mediator said, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth.”220220 John xiv. 16, 17. And God, in a Trinity of Persons, gives himself to the redeemed as their infinite, everlasting portion and happiness. Thus divine benevolence is exhausted, and gives all away: Infinite goodness can give no more. God gives himself, and all he has for the redemption of man! This is, in the highest degree, an “unspeakable gift.”
6. This benevolence and goodness appears greater, and is more illustrious in the salvation of man, in that all is given freely, without money and without price, as man is infinitely unworthy of it; and, as such, receives this redemption as a free gift, the whole being offered and given to every one who is willing to receive it. Men obtain an interest in this salvation, not by works of righteousness which they do; not by any worthiness in them, or by any thing they offer, as the price of the divine favour; but by believing in the Mediator, receiving the record which God has given concerning his Son, and accepting salvation, as it is freely offered and given, trusting wholly in Christ, and receiving all from him, as a free gift, to such who are not only wholly without any desert of the least favour; but are infinitely odious and ill deserving. This is to be saved by faith, by which the free grace of God in the salvation of sinners is exercised and displayed to the highest degree, as is abundantly represented in divine revelation. St. Paul insists much upon this. He having proved from scripture that all men are sinners, consequently infinitely ill deserving, says, ”Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God, without the law, is manifested, even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in 316Jesus Christ: Whom God hath set forth a propitiation, through faith in his blood. Now to him that worketh, (that is, in order to offer his works as the price of God’s favour,) is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, (that is, has nothing to recommend him, and acknowledges he has done nothing by which he deserves the divine favour, more than any other man,) but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.”221221 Rom. iii. 20, &c. iv. 4, 5, 16. “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”222222 Eph. ii. 8.
The above particulars, put together, and taken into one view, serve to illustrate the observation, that the redemption of man is the highest instance of the exercise of the love of God, in which divine, infinite benevolence has an object equal to itself, and is acted out and displayed to the highest degree, and best advantage to be seen and celebrated by the redeemed and all holy creatures, with increasing views and happiness forever and ever. In the redemption of man, the infinitely benevolent Jehovah, “fulfils all the good pleasure of his goodness,223223 2 Thess. i. 11. and mercy is built up forever.”224224 Psalm lxxxix. 2. In this work God shows his glory by causing all his goodness to be displayed before the redeemed; while his name is proclaimed and celebrated. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”225225 Exod. xxxiii. 18, 19. xxxiv. 6, 7. This goodness, this love of God, is in scripture celebrated as great love. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love, wherewith he loved us, &c. Love which passeth knowledge.”226226 Eph. ii. 4. iii. 19. It is called the riches, the exceeding riches of his grace. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus. That in the ages to come, he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Jesus Christ.”227227 Eph. i. 7. ii. 6, 7.
The love of God is exercised in the redemption of man in its infinite strength, in overcoming difficulties and obstacles infinitely great, which were in the way of the exercise of it towards man, and opposed it; in delivering from infinite evil, and giving him infinite good. This benevolence is infinite mercy and compassion to the infinitely miserable. It is exceeding rich, free and sovereign grace, which gives such deliverance, such salvation, not only to the undeserving, but infinitely guilty, vile and ill deserving.
IV. This design and work, the redemption of man, has been gradually introduced and opened from the first apostasy to the coming of Christ, and from that time down to this day; and w ill be carried on until it shall be completed, at the end of the world, and the day of judgment.
Every thing, and all events which took place in the world, from the beginning of it, during four thousand years, were preparatory to the coming and incarnation of the Redeemer; while other ends, respecting redemption, were in view, and answered. And since that event, and the resurrection and exaltation of Christ to the throne of his kingdom, what has taken place is to be considered as the first fruits of redemption, and preparatory to much greater things, which are yet to take place in the accomplishment of this great work, which will not be completed till the day of judgment. This has been represented by our Saviour in a number of similitudes, such as the following. “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree: So that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. He spoke another parable. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”228228 Matt. xiii. 31, 32, 33. “And he said. So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself, 318first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear: But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.”229229 Mark iv. 26-39.
V. The work of redemption is the greatest and most glorious work of God, and, indeed, the sum and end of all his works.
This is abundantly evident from divine revelation; which revelation itself originated from this design, and has been formed and given to man, in order to promote and accomplish it. It is of no importance or worth, any farther than it answers ends which respect the redemption of man. This asserts that the new creation, by which is meant the work of redemption, or the church of the redeemed, which is the New Jerusalem with the inhabitants, is so superior to the old creation, or the natural world, and so much the end of it, that the first creation shall be swallowed up and forgotten, in the existence and glory of the latter. “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: And the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be you glad and rejoice forever, in that which I create: For behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.”230230 Isaiah lxv. 17, 18. This is most expressly asserted in the following words. “For by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: All things were created by Him, and for Him.”
All the created universe, containing every creature and thing, visible and invisible, greater and less, are here said to be created for Christ, considered as God, Man, and Mediator, the Redeemer of man; for in that character and capacity he is considered, described and spoken of in these words, and the context, as being “the head of the body, the church, who have redemption through his blood.” For Him, as the Redeemer of the church, and for the sake of the work of redemption; for Christ, the Son of God, and his redeemed church, were all things made, and to this end they are all subordinated, in the works of creation and providence. He is therefore “appointed the heir of all 319things,”231231 Heb. i. 2. and made head over all things to the church; all things being put under his feet.232232 Eph. i. 22.
It is hence most certain, that all the works of God have reference to the work of redemption, as their end, being all subordinated to this, in order to promote and perfect it, and really belong to it, as parts and appendages of it. All things are created for the sake of Christ and his church, and therefore they are all used and improved for this end in the course of divine providence; which consists in ordering and disposing all events, and using all things so as completely to answer the end for which they were made.
And that the work of Redemption is the greatest and most glorious of all the works of God, and the end of all, will be evident, if we consider what it is, and the things which it comprises. To this belong the character and works of the Mediator. There could have been no such character as this, and no such works as he has done, had there been no redemption of man. And his character, and his works, are infinitely greater and more glorious than any could have been, had not redemption taken place. There is an unspeakably greater and more illustrious display of the divine character and perfections in “God manifest in the flesh,” than could have been in any other way. And to redeem the church by giving himself a ransom for it, even his life on the accursed cross; to recover man from the power of sin and Satan; to sanctify the church and make it a perfectly holy and most beautiful society, is, beyond all comparison, a greater work of power, wisdom and goodness, than creating and upholding all worlds, or the government of all possible moral worlds, exclusive of this. Therefore in this work is the proper and full display of the divine perfections, which is the highest end of all God’s works.
And by the redemption of the church and the eternal kingdom of Christ, the greatest possible happiness of the creation is effected, as an eternal monument of the infinite power, wisdom and goodness of God. All intelligent creatures who are friends to God, will be, beyond expression, more holy and happy, than they could have been, had there been no such person and character 320as that of the Redeemer, and no redemption. Though holy angels be not redeemed, yet they behold the works of redemption, and the Redeemer with holy love, admiration and joy; and see and enjoy unspeakably more of God, than otherwise they could have done, and are happy in their activity to promote it. “Into this the angels desire to look.”233233 1 Peter i. 12. “To the intent that now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God.”234234 Eph. iii. 10. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”235235 Heb i. 14. By this they have a song to sing which otherwise they never could have known. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.”236236 Luke ii. 14.
Thus we have abundant evidence from scripture, and from the reason and nature of it, that the work of redemption is not a secondary purpose, detached from the original plan of divine operations; but is itself the first and original design and end of all the works of God, to which all things in creation and providence, in the divine purpose, have respect, and are subordinated. “Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, was himself foreordained before the foundation of the world.”237237 1 Peter i. 20. And all the favour, good and happiness bestowed on the church, was, by the divine purpose and decree, “given to them, in Christ Jesus, before the world began;”238238 2 Tim. i. 9. they being “chosen in him, before the foundation of the world, according to the eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”239239 Eph. i. 4.—iii. 11.
I. We learn, particularly from the third observation, what an ample foundation is laid in the work of redemption, for the highest and endless gratitude of the redeemed.
As in the work of redemption is the highest exercise and most perfect and glorious display of divine, infinite benevolence, in delivering from infinite, deserved evil, and bestowing infinite, undeserved good and happiness; 321 by such infinite labour, cost and suffering’s of the Son of God, the redeemed are laid under infinite and endless obligations; suited to excite the highest exercise of that gratitude which consists in a proper view, sense and admiration of this benevolence and goodness of God, and in feeling and expressing their obligations to him, in eternal thanksgiving and praise. And in this a great part of the beauty, glory and happiness of the redeemed church will consist. In order to raise creatures to the highest happiness, there must not only be objects in the best manner suited to excite the exercises of benevolent and complacential love; but they must be in circumstances suited to call forth the warmest, and most sweet exercises of grateful love to him, who by his sovereign goodness has laid them under the greatest obligations. The work of redemption is in the highest degree suited to this; and the redeemed will be forever immensely more happy in the exercise of this sweet happifying love, than any creatures could have been had not the redemption of man taken place. This will be the sweet, animating subject of the new song which none but the redeemed can learn, and which they will sing with increasing delight forever. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”240240 Psalm cvii. 1, 2. They will say so forever with unceasing, growing pleasure. In this, in a great measure, the happiness of heaven will consist.
II. We also learn from the fourth particular, and what has been said to illustrate it, that they have made a great mistake, who have thought that the divine goodness and grace do not appear so great in the pardon and salvation of sinners for Christ’s sake; it being obtained and procured by his suffering in their stead, and hereby making atonement for their sins; as it would, had pardon and salvation been granted without any such consideration, as that of the atonement and merits of Christ.
It appears from what has been said above, that the salvation of sinners by the obedience and sufferings of Christ, is so far from rendering the benevolence and 322grace of God less in saving them, that it enhances and magnifies the divine goodness to an amazing degree. Could sinners have been saved without such a Mediator, and such atonement as he has made, consistent with the honour of divine government, and the greatest good of the universe; their pardon and salvation would have required and manifested very little benevolence, compared with that which is exercised and appears in their salvation, when it could not be effected consistent with wisdom and righteousness without the humiliation, obedience and sufferings of the Son of God; as has been observed and shown above. How contrary to all reason and truth, how very absurd is it to assert or suppose, that divine grace in the salvation of men, is greatly lessened and obscured by the Son of God suffering the curse in their stead, and making atonement for them that they might be delivered and saved, consistent with rectitude and wisdom!
A number of the subjects of a certain king rebelled against him, were apprehended, and justly condemned to die for their crime. The circumstances of the case were such that they could not be pardoned consistent with the proper support of government, and the good of the kingdom, unless the king’s only son, who was the most honourable and excellent person in the kingdom, and whom he loved as himself, should willingly take their place, and die in their stead. The son consented and chose to do it, in order to obtain pardon for them. The king himself made the proposal, and was well pleased with his son’s readiness to die for them; and freely gave him up to the most ignominious and painful death, that he might, consistent with propriety and wisdom, pardon those rebels, who deserved themselves to die.
An equal number of the subjects of another king were condemned to a deserved death for rebellion. But the case was such that they might be pardoned and restored to favour, consistent with the support of government, and the highest good and happiness of his kingdom, without any one dying in their stead. He therefore gave them a free and full pardon, and restored them to the enjoyment of life and liberty in his kingdom.323
Shall it now be asked, Which of these kings exercised and expressed the most, the highest degree of benevolence or grace towards the rebels, in pardoning and saving them from deserved death? It is presumed no . rational creature, who will properly attend to the case, can possibly hesitate a moment; but must pronounce the former to have exerted and discovered unspeakably more benevolence and goodness, than the latter; and that die latter is inconsiderable and as nothing, compared with the former.
How then can any one, in the instance before us, which is in all respects infinitely more grand, clear and striking, say or imagine there would have been more grace manifested in the pardon and salvation of sinners, if this could have taken place, without an atonement by the Son of God dying for them, and no such sufferings had been necessary! How can any man suppose this without contradicting the reason of man, and the clearest dictates and feelings of common sense!
III. How great is their guilt who slight and oppose the great and wonderful works of God in the redemption of man; who neglect this great salvation, and abuse this highest and most astonishing instance of the goodness of God! All are under this awfully aggravated guilt, who do not thankfully embrace this salvation which is freely offered to all. And this is the great and chief aggravation of all the sins of men under the gospel, that they express or imply a rejection of Jesus Christ, who has procured, and offers salvation to them; and a refusal to believe on him. Therefore he says, when the Holy Spirit reproves mankind of sin, he discovers that it all consists in unbelief, and is an expression of that, and because they believe not on him.241241 John xvi. 8, 9. Every sin is a sin of unbelief, as it opposes the Saviour, and is a rejection of him, and in this the great and chief criminality of it does consist. Had there been no Saviour for man, and no redemption, he would be justly punished forever for his sin against God, as his rebellion deserved this infinitely great evil. But the sins of man in this case would have been as nothing compared with what their sins now are who live under the gospel, and oppose, 324slight and abuse all that astonishing benevolence and grace of God and the Redeemer, which is exercised and expressed in the work of redemption. The rebellion and obstinacy of a creature is aggravated and rendered more criminal by every instance and degree of benevolence and kindness exercised towards him by his Creator, as every instance of his goodness increases the obligation of the creature to love and obey him, and that in proportion to the greatness and degree of that goodness. Hence it follows that man is laid under the greatest obligations to love and obedience by redemption, and the benevolence of God exercised therein; which is by far the greatest, and most remarkable and affecting instance of love that has been shown to creatures, or of which we can have any conception; consequently an obstinate refusal to embrace this salvation, and abuse of all this goodness, is the greatest and most aggravated crime that men can commit, and swallows up all other supposeable crimes, as nothing in comparison with this.
And this discovers the great and total depravity of man, and the exceeding wickedness of the human heart, in that it has so much enmity against God and his laws, and is so hard and obstinate, as not to be won by such love and kindness; but is disposed to slight God the more for all his love, and to abuse and trample upon Christ, and all the grace discovered in the gospel. Scripture and experience join to teach us that man can do this, and that all have done it, who have had opportunity; and that all would persevere in this most aggravated wickedness, whatever methods were taken to reclaim them, did not God by his immediate, almighty power interpose, and take away the rebellious heart, and give a new obedient heart.
IV. From this subject, and particularly from the foregoing remark, we are led to reflect upon the ignorance and insensibility of persons who live under the gospel, of their greatest crime and guilt. They in general will acknowledge that they are sinners; some are led to this acknowledgment from their living and being educated where it is granted and inculcated that all men are sinners, and this confession is constantly made 325in public; and where particular practices, of which they know they are guilty, are considered and condemned as wrong and sinful. Others are convinced in their consciences that they are guilty of many actions which are forbidden in the Bible, and that they live in the neglect of many duties which are there commanded; and that therefore they are criminal. But few have any conviction of the evil nature of sin in general; and especially of the greatest sin, and which is the chief aggravation of all their sins, viz. their opposition to Jesus Christ, and constant abuse of the grace revealed in the gospel. Most men who live in gospel light are so far from feeling themselves guilty of any crime by not embracing the Saviour, that they have not the least idea of this, and stand ready to oppose it, and to exculpate themselves, when they are charged with it, and the magnitude of the crime is laid before them: And they cannot be brought to a proper conviction of their crime and guilt in this, by any arguments and light which may be set before them; or by all possible means that may be used with them. This leads to another inference.
V. Hence we see the reason why our great Prophet and Teacher has represented it as the work of the Holy Spirit to convince men of this sin, and cause them to be thoroughly reproved for it. He says, “And when he (the Holy Spirit) is come, he will reprove the world of sin, because they believe not on me.”242242 John xvi. 8, 9. Nothing short of the almighty agency of the Holy Spirit, renewing the heart, and forming it to true discerning in spiritual things, can produce this conviction and efficacious reproof. The criminal darkness and delusion which is essential to the reign of sin in the heart cannot be removed by any agent but the Holy Spirit giving a new heart which admits the true light, and sees and confesses the exceeding sinfulness of the human heart, this being the fountain and seat of all sin; and especially the great sin of all sins, the chief of all crimes, the sin of unbelief, in rejecting and abusing Jesus Christ, and the love and grace exhibited in him. When men have such an heart given them, they will submit to the divine reproof: confess this sin, and feel and own that they are wholly 326 without any excuse for not believing on Christ: That in this they have been monsters of wickedness, which has been expressed in all the sins they have committed; and thus they will humble themselves in the sight of God, and fly to the Redeemer for refuge, for pardon and redemption.
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