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But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
UPON what hath been so largely discoursed to you from the immediately foregoing words, I know not how to over look these, that are so immediately and apparently sub joined. Though they have much of terror in them, they may have much use, and may be useful (even as they are terrible) to promote and help our escape from that most terrible issue of things that they import. The reasonableness of their connexion with the foregoing words, is obvious to every eye: “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” The reason of the thing speaks itself. If we do insist upon such matters as do carry in them a convictive self-recommending evidence to every man’s conscience; if we do directly and immediately apply ourselves to the very consciences of men, in all our ministrations; if we endeavour to draw them into the Divine presence, and manage all our transactions with their very consciences, under God g immediate eye, and debate matters with their consciences before the throne of God; if this be our way of treating with the souls of men, so as that when they do not hear us,—will not listen to us, we do arrest them, we do arraign them; Come, I must have you into the presence of God, and debate the matter with you, under the eye of him that made you, and that made me: if this be the course of our dealing with souls, and they will not hear, and our gospel remains to them yet an hidden thing, it is all one to them, as if we had said nothing; if it “be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” This is the plain series of the discourse in this context.
And so the import of the words, in themselves, is as plain 124as any other words a man can make use of. This is the doctrine.
Doctrine. They to whom the gospel of Christ is an hid den gospel, they are lost souls.
In speaking to this, we are, 1st, to open to you the meaning of the gospel’s being hid, the thing supposed here; and, 2dly, to shew what is meant by being lost, the thing asserted upon that supposition; and then to show, 3dly, the connexion between the one and the other of these, upon which the use of the whole will ensue.
1. What is meant by the gospel’s being hid? It may be said to be hidden several ways, according to the several ways wherein it may be said to be revealed. And there is a fourfold gradation to be taken notice of in the revealing of the gospel, or the things contained in the gospel, unto men, as there is a fourfold principle that is herein to be applied unto. As,
(1.) There is the principle of external sense, unto which the gospel is first to be brought. “Faith comes by hearing,” (Romans x. 17.) as the apostle tells us. And then,
(2.) There is the principle of understanding and intellect, unto which that hearing is subservient and introductive: men are to hear, that they may understand; and it is a plague and doom upon them, when they hear and do not understand. And,
(3.) There is a principle of conscience, which is the mind and understanding, as it hath to do with practical matters; (as we have formerly told you;) being to judge concerning them, either as things to be done, or as things that have been done. And so we judge, either by way of prospect, or retrospect: as you have heard, conscience is the principle, and as such a principle, it is to be applied unto: so much we have lately insisted upon to you. And then,
(4.) Another principle is the heart, at which the gospel revelation doth finally and terminatively aim. It aims more immediately at conscience, but ultimately, and finally, at the very heart, as you see afterwards in this very context: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them.” But how should it shine into them? or what of them should it shine into? The sixth verse tells you, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, 125hath shined into our hearts to give us the light;” so that there are these several steps in the revelation of the gospel, or of the things contained in the gospel, unto men.
1. By the external sense, that by which that discovery is to be transmitted to the mind or understanding. And that it may be excluded, and shut out from thence, the god of this world is mightily industrious to blind men’s minds, that the gospel may meet with a stop there; not make its entrance so far. And then,
2. It is further aimed at to be revealed to men’s consciences, that through the mind it may strike conscience, and fasten convictions, upon men there, concerning what they are to do, or what they are not to do, or what they have, or what they have not done, or what they are there upon to expect God to do, or not to do, against them, or for them. And then,
3. Finally, the gospel is to be revealed to the very hearts of men. He that hath made the light to shine out of darkness, hath shone into our hearts, wherein the design of the god of this world is defeated and disappointed; so that the beams of gospel light do strike through, (notwithstanding all the resistance and opposition he makes in the minds and consciences of men,) and, at length penetrating to the heart, hath shone into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And, accordingly, these several ways may the gospel be said to be hid. As,
1. When it is never preached to a people at all; so the great things that it contains, and unfolds in itself, they remain a great and continued secret, as they may have done long to many a people, and yet do to very many. In that sense, for several foregoing ages, the gospel had been an unrevealed thing, as we are told by the apostle, Romans xvi. 25. “Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” That gospel which had been so long kept secret, it became then revealed, when the preaching or it was set on foot, even in all the several nations, by permission, there being no restraint, no prohibition, to preach it to any nation; no nation being excluded, but a commission given to preach it to all indefinitely; 126that is, to any, as there should be opportunity. Now, it is said to be, in that sense, an hidden gospel, the same thing that we have elsewhere: “The mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, but is now made manifest to the saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, (Colossians i. 26.) which is Christ in you, (or among you,) the hope of glory.” That is one sense wherein the gospel is an hidden gospel. Where it is not so much as preached, nor hath been; where the external dispensation of it hath never come, there hath been no application made to men’s external sense by it, or concerning it. This is not the direct intendment of the apostle here; he speaks to them whom he supposeth to have had the gospel hitherto, and at this time to have it. We are, in the gospel dispensation, actually applying ourselves to the consciences of men in the sight of God, and yet he supposeth the gospel to be hid. It is not hidden, therefore, in that sense; or its being so hid, that is here meant.
2. It may be hid when it is (though preached) not under stood: and though it be revealed to the external sense, it is not revealed to the minds of men: and so, though there be an external light, there still needs an internal one, to make it, in the useful and designed sense, a revealed gospel. So it often is, that men may sit very long underneath the dispensation of this gospel, and yet remain very ignorant of the true import and meaning, even of the most principal and noble part of it, and which it is of the greatest concern for them to understand. The frame and scheme of gospel truth and notions, it may have found no place in the minds of many that have long sat under the dispensation of it. They may have been yet ignorant (as the apostle speaks to those Christian Hebrews) which be the first principles of the oracles of God, though they had the gospel long with them, whose design it is to acquaint them with, and instruct them in, these things. They may be such as the apostle elsewhere speaks of, as are ever learning, and never come to the knowledge of the truth. And though they have this gospel among them,—they have this book in their hands, yet it is a sealed book, and they have never concerned themselves to get it unsealed: they read it, and yet it is sealed; they open it, and yet it is shut; really shut up. If one say to them, Understandeth thou what thou readest? they do not. They hear the word as a tale that is told, that passeth through their ears, but enters 127not into their minds; so may things be said to be hid that get not so far; they pass not the tegument or involucrum of a dark mind, a blind mind that admits them not. The expression is of that import, in reference to a particular thing, that our Saviour had been discoursing of to his disciples often, when he was among them. It is said, that the saying did not enter into their minds, for it was hid from them: “They understood not this saying, and it was hidden from them, that they perceived it not.” Luke ix. 45. The business was what he had foretold them of again and again, touching his own approaching sufferings: it met with obstructed minds; they could not endure to hear with that ear. There was the same sense latent with them all, which Peter was more alert and open in owning and speaking: “Master, favour thyself, these things shall not be unto thee.” They who had so high an expectation of his temporal reign and kingdom, such a thing as this, though he had told it them over and over, and told them again, in this chapter, upon his transfiguration, or a little after, that such and such things he must suffer, such and such things should be done to him, it entered not into their minds, they perceived it not, it passed as water glides over a rock, that admits it not. And so it is with the greatest and most important truths of the gospel that can be spoken about, that can be brought under their notice. Commonly they do give them the hearing when they come to such assemblies: they hear of the lost undone state of sinners, as they are such, and that there is reconciliation to be had by a Redeemer; but that Redeemer must and will have the throne; have their hearts changed, and their natures renewed. God’s kingdom must be set up in their souls, and in its power take place in them; and sensual lusts and inclinations must go down, be subdued, and brought under. Men hear such things, but they do not enter into their minds, they will not allow them to sink into their minds; and so they hear them as if they heard them not. It can not be said, they were never told them, that they never heard them. The first passage towards the heart, the ear, there the word goes through; but at the mind, there, with many it stops. They do not, that is, they will not, bend their minds and understandings to take in so plain and so important things. And,
3. The gospel, it may be hid from conscience; so, as though it do enter into the mind, there it meets with another obstruction; conscience excludes and shuts it out. 128Many will not allow themselves so much as to understand any thing of it; as many, too, will not allow themselves so much as to hear it,—keep quite out of the hearing: but if it be heard, and if it be understood, yet here, at this third passage, which it should have to the heart, it meets with obstruction; that is, conscience doth not admit of conviction about it, a conviction of what is to be done, or what hath been misdone, or unduly omitted to be done, and what is due hereupon in point of vindication of the jealous holy God. In this respect, the gospel may still be an unrevealed gospel; that is, that it doth not get into the consciences of men, so as to strike them with conviction about these things, and to make them see and determine, and pronounce a judgment within themselves: This and that, and the other thing, an holy righteous God hath required me to do, that I might live, is all equal, and righteous, and good. It is so far an unrevealed gospel to them, that men will not be brought to see this, though it be never so plain; or again, to see that what I ought to have done, in order to my being in a reconciled state, and a safe and happy state, towards God, I have hitherto not done. I have not exercised repentance towards God; I have not believed on the Son of God; I have not come to a covenant closure with God in Christ; one thing or other, from day to day, hath shifted these important matters off: though I have heard, indeed, such and such things should be done, yet so much of life-time is worn away with me, and I could never find the hour, the leisure time, when to get into a corner, to enter into my closet, and shut myself up with God, and say, I am now come to thee about the affairs of my soul; to make over a soul unto thee, according to the tenor of thine own covenant, and there solemnly to take hold of that covenant, and give up that soul. “They gave themselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” 2 Cor. viii. So plain a thing as this is, the yielding themselves unto God, conscience will not see it, and be convinced, that thus it ought to be; but days, and months, and years, are worn out under the gospel, and so great things as these omitted. Men are continually called upon to turn, that they may live; but they never find a time to turn. They will not settle this judgment with a convinced conscience, I must break off this course, or I am undone; that is, a course of estrangement from God, a living without God in the world. The gospel is, in this sense, a hid and unrevealed gospel; it doth not go so far 129as to take hold of conscience, though conscience is applied and appealed unto, from time to time. And then,
4. It is hid from their hearts, and that is another sense wherein the gospel may be an unrevealed gospel, as it is not yet effectually discovered; or the great things contained in it, are not with a penetrating light pierced into the heart, which is the thing the gospel dispensation doth finally aim at. As you have it in this very context, the thing designed is, that through the ear, and through the mind, and through the conscience, the heart may be at last invaded, and the light of the gospel may seat itself there, in that very centre of the soul, and so there become vital light, diffusive of power, and influence through the whole man: and this is yet an heavier case, when conscience is convinced, and yet the hearts of men are not struck, not struck through; the word doth not strike into them, as our Saviour said to the Jews: “My word hath no place in you:” you do not give it a place, it cannot find room; there is a resisting heart, that excludes and shuts it out.
It is in these latter senses that the gospel must be under stood to be spoken of as an hidden gospel here, as the mind understands it not, or as the conscience is not convinced of it, or as the heart doth not entertain or give reception to it. You find, in the foregoing chapter, that the case of the Jews being spoken unto, upon the occasion of that comparison, which the apostle had been making, in the whole of that chapter, between the Mosaical or Judaical, (2 Cor. iii.) and the evangelical dispensation, he gives the preference (as there was cause) to the evangelical dispensation, far above the Mosaical and Judaical, in this respect, that there was a clearness which went with the gospel dispensation, which did not accompany the Mosaical one; and, likewise, that there was a power and efficacy that went with the gospel, that went not with the law. Towards the latter end of the foregoing chapter, he discourseth to them, that, in opposition to the former dispensation, there was a clearness of light in the latter dispensation. Whenever the law was read among the Jews, it was a veiled thing: he refers to that which is an usage among them, at this day, when the law is read, to have a veil covering them, as I have seen, (and it is like many of you have seen,) looking into their synagogues: but the apostle, you see, speaks there of the veil on the heart; which, as the former doth import opposition to the clearness and perspicuity of light, that did shine in the gospel dispensation, this speaks somewhat 130opposite to that efficacy and power upon the heart, which did accompany that dispensation too; so as that souls should be transformed and changed by it, into the image and glory of it. “We all with open face, beholding, as in a glass; so we read it, and we read it with disadvantage, considering i he similitude that he had made use of before: for the word we read open, signifies unveiled, he having been, a little while before, speaking of the veil. “We all, with unveiled face, (so it should be, to make the matter clearer, though the sense be the same,) behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord:” but, for that poor people, they had. a veil not only upon their faces, but a veil upon their hearts, so as that nothing should enter there. But when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away: when it shall, the expression is impersonal; when there shall be a turning to the Lord; when the season of the general turning of that people to the Lord shall be, the veil shall be done away. And now we, for the present, with unveiled face, behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image. And when the gospel is hid in this sense, it is a very dismal thing; that is, that it should go through the ear, and through the mind, and through the conscience, and, after all this, stop at the very heart. A veil enwrapping the heart, shuts it up: light shines, shines round about in the external dispensation, shines into the mind, things are competently understood; shines into the conscience, and that is convinced that those things are true and right which the gospel doth hold forth; and my practice, in reference thereunto, hath been wrong, injurious, altogether inexcusable, and, consequently, unsafe: and yet the heart holds out; this last fort yet surrenders not, is not taken; the glory of the gospel is not revealed there, doth not shine into the heart, so as there to take in the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; as the 6th verse of this chapter speaks.
You may be sure, if there be a revelation in the last sense, there is a revelation in all the foregoing senses. If the gospel be thus revealed in the very heart, then we may be sure it was in the conscience, it was so in the mind and understanding, and it hath been so in the external discovery and dispensation of the gospel to the ear and outward sense. But if it hath not been revealed in the first of these senses, it is in none of the rest. If you speak by way of affirmation, the affirmation of the last implies the affirmation of all the former; if you speak by way of negation, the negation 131of the first implies the negation of all the consequents.
But as was told you at first, on this occasion, that it is not the hiddenness of the gospel, in the first sense, as having never been heard and preached, that is intended here; but in the latter sense it is chiefly meant; that is, if persons who hear this gospel, never understanding it; or, understand it, but are never convinced of it; or are convinced of it, and their hearts are never altered, never effectually changed by it,—then is the gospel an hidden gospel to them in the sense here meant.
And so the hiddenness of the gospel, in the intended sense, may be two-fold; or may be considered under two distinct notions, either as sinful, or as penal.
1. As sinful. And in the first sense, (which I have told you is not meant,) ordinarily, the gospel cannot be said to be hid in a sinful sense. Those that live in the remotest parts and quarters of the world, it is not their sin that they have not the gospel, while there was no means or opportunities of their ever having it; nor will it be charged upon them, where there was a simple impossibility or coming by that knowledge, which the gospel contains, or is the means of; it will never be imputed as their sin, that they had it not. As it is said in reference to the law, (and indeed, by the law there is meant the whole revelation of the mind and will of God;) “They that sin without the law, shall be judged without the law; and so, they that have sinned without the gospel, shall be judged without the gospel; they that have sinned with the law, shall be judged by the law; and they that have sinned against the gospel, shall be judged by the gospel.” Law is there taken in that sense, for that revelation of the mind of God, which is superadded to natural light; “They that have sinned without this, shall be judged without this; and they that have sinned under it or against it, shall be judged by it.” There will be no excuse to them from punishment, if they have violated and resisted that law and light which they had; if they go about to excuse themselves, any of them that way, I had not an express written law; when you sinned without law, you shall suffer without law. It will be but a like case with that of the soldier’s excuse to the commander, Pericles, the Athenian General, when he charged him with a fault, and asked him how he came to 132do it, invitus feci, invitus ergo poenas dabis. “I did it unwillingly,” and you shall, therefore, suffer unwillingly.
But the great iniquity is, or then is the gospel hid in a sinful sense, when men have it among them, or may have it, and will not hear it; or do hear it, and never understand it; that is, never apply or set themselves to understand it; or receive no conviction from it, or receive no suitable impression on their hearts from it. Thus, all the while, is the gospel hid to them by their own iniquity, that they do voluntarily make resisting efforts against it, as every thing of sin must have somewhat of voluntarium in it; it supposeth, that otherwise, a brute agent might be as capable of sin as a rational one, and that cannot be. But here lies the iniquity, that men might understand, and they will not; might consider and be convinced, and they will not; and there is a natural faculty that should turn them, even in their very hearts, but there is a sinful disinclination, and they will not turn: for it is the will that is not turned; “You will not come to me that you might have life.” And so, when the gospel is hid, it is hid, not because men cannot see, but because they will not; they do (as it were) pretend the veil; stretch forth the veil before their eyes, or bind it close over their own eyes, hoodwink themselves that they will not see.
As the case is stated by the apostle: “Alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them; and because of the blindness of their hearts, through the ignorance that is in them.” Ephes. iv. 18. But what kind of ignorance is that? See how it is paraphrased,—it is a blindness of heart,—it is a blindness, because they will not see, a voluntary affected blindness: and this makes the hiddenness of the gospel to be so in a sinful sense, for here is voluntarium in the case; the same thing that we find spoken in reference to natural light in the pagan world; that is, that there was that which might be known of God among them, it was manifest in them, for God had revealed it to them, or among them, as the particle there used may signify: but they liked not to retain God in their knowledge. Rom. i. 20-28. As it there follows; “That knowledge was ungrateful to them, and an unwelcome thing to them; and, therefore, they fence against it, and exclude it from among them, what they can, as a man, would keep off fire from his bosom; such was the light of 133God which shone to them; “Light shineth in darkness, but the darkness will not comprehend it.” John iii. 19. The minds of men do fortify themselves against this light, as much as in them is: so in reference to gospel light too, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world.” John iii. 19. Here was supervening light, accessary light, come into the world; “But men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” And so the gospel is an hidden thing to them, because they do exclude it, even to the very uttermost; stop it where they can stop it, either by not understanding it, or not considering it, or by not admitting conviction about it, or by not obeying from the heart. And then,
2. Being thus far sinfully hidden, it comes also to be penally hidden by a nemesis, hidden by a just vindicta; ye will not understand, then ye shall not understand; you will harden your hearts against light, against grace, and against the design of the gospel, and they shall be hardened; that is, God doth only say, “I will let you have your own design:” he doth harden, non pertirudo Malhiham, sed non impertiendo gratiam; as Austin’s apt speech was of old, to that sense; you do make it your business to harden your hearts, and fence and fortify them against the light and grace of the gospel; and since you will have it so, so let it be. So long (it may be) a contest hath been driven on with such souls; but at last, God sees fit to recede, to retire, to give off; now you have conquered, enjoy your victory: these are victories, that undo men, that tend to their ruin. We are never to suppose, that the doom passeth before the desert, such a doom as that especially; “Let them that be filthy, be filthy still; they that are unjust, be unjust still.” Rev. xxii. “And when I would have purged you, and you would not be purged, your iniquity shall not be purged from you till you die.” Ezekiel. But when that hath been persisted in long and highly, as the case was, in reference to the old world, it comes to this at last, “My spirit shall not always strive with men.” Gen. vi. 3. God did contend long, even by his Spirit, against the wickedness of an apostate world, till at length, a deluge and flood comes; and a little before that, the determination goes forth; “My Spirit shall no longer strive with man:” I see men are intent upon perishing, they will be lost, let them, be lost: I have been striving with them, so long, and they will have that course that ends in perishing; 134my Spirit shall give them obstruction in their way no longer.” And this was the determination, at length, in reference to that people of the Jews, that peculiar people that he singled out from the rest of the world; he bore their manners long, he contended with them long, while they always resisted the Holy Ghost; (as Stephen tells them;) “As your fathers did, so do ye.” Acts vii. 51. Implying this to be, with that people, an intailed war upon their posterity, with the Spirit of God: you do but keep up a war against the Divine Spirit from age to age, as your fathers did before you; “They rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit, till he turns and fights against them, and becomes their enemy.” Isaiah lxiii. 9. But what did things come to in this contest, between the Spirit of God, and the fathers of this people, to whom Stephen speaks? Why, in reference to them, it comes at last to that terrible doom, which we have in the 6th chapter of Isaiah, and 10th verse. All that goes before in that chapter, is nothing else but a terrible preparation for that awful solemnity, of pronouncing this doom. Here is a glorious appearance of the great God in the temple, in the very year of King Uzziah’s death, of which you may read in the known story; “I saw” (saith the Prophet) “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple; above it stood the seraphims, each of them had six wings; with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” One of these seraphims crying to another, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, the whole earth is full of thy glory.” Here is a most magnificent, splendid, and glorious appearance; And what was it for? What was the design of it? The prophet is called forth, he is astonished at the sight, and cries out, “Woe is me, I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Well, he is fortified, being almost sunk in his spirits upon the terrible majestic glory of this appearance. One of the seraphims flies to him, with a live coal in his hand, lays it on his mouth, toucheth his lips, tells him his iniquity is purged away. Well, what is after all this? Now, saith God, “Thou art thus prepared, I have a message for thee to go upon.” And what is that? Why, saith he, “Go and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not; see ye indeed, but perceive not; make the heart of this people fat, and their ear heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with 135their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and be converted and be healed.” This is the design of this glorious appearance, and this solemn message, after this august manner; a thing, that might even shake the foundation of heaven and earth, to have the case represented and in view, as really it was: and you find that this very thing, this passage in this chapter, it is with the greatest awfulness imaginable, reiterated again and again in the New Testament: several times by our Saviour, and at length by the Apostle Paul, when finally testifying at Rome against that more perverse infidelity of this people, than ever he met with among Pagans; as indeed, it was always observable of them, they were more high, and haughty, and peremptory, and malicious, in their unbelief. Some, indeed, (when the apostle had convened them together at his dwelling house in Rome,) believed the things that were spoken, and some believed not. “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed.” (Acts xxviii. 25, 26, 27.) After the apostle had spoken our word; and it is this terrible word repeated and recollected; “Well spake the Holy Ghost, by Isaiah the Prophet, to our fathers; Go unto this people, and any, Hear ye indeed, but understand not, and see ye indeed, but perceive not; for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts, and they should be converted, and I should heal them.” This the matter may come to, conversion and healing; and I am speaking to you, to represent it to you, that it may come to this, on purpose to prevent (if God will) the other ever doing so; and if it be considered seriously, and taken to heart, as the importance of such a case doth require; it will never come to this sad issue among you. If there be none of you that do bend your minds, and fortify your consciences, and obdure your own hearts against the truth, and against the grace, and against the gospel of our Lord, things will have a better issue with you; they shall issue in things “that accompany salvation, though I thus speak.” Heb. vi. 9.136
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