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The apostle in this verse goeth on with that doxology which he had begun in the former. Here you may take notice of—
1. The description of the person to whom the praise is given. He is described—(1.) By his excellency, the only wise God; (2.) By our interest and the benefit we receive by him, and our Saviour.
2. The ascription of praise, be glory, &c. There is—
[1.] What is ascribed, glory, majesty, dominion, and power.
[2.] The duration, how long he would have this ascribed, now and ever.
[3.] Manner, in what fashion it is ascribed, in the particle amen, with which all is sealed and closed up. This particle implieth—(1.) Our confidence that it shall be so; (2.) Our hearty affection that it might be so. Love saith, Let it be, and faith, It shall be; for faith is a prophetic grace. In prayer it answereth itself.
But let us go over these particulars more fully and distinctly. From the description of the person, to the only wise God our Saviour. That Christ is God we proved before on ver. 4, and that Christ is a Saviour, and how, on the same verse. I shall only now observe:—368
Obs. 1. (1.) That God is wise; (2.) That God is only wise; (3.) That Jesus Christ, as Mediator, hath a right to this attribute.
I begin with the first, that wisdom is ascribed to God. God’s wisdom is a distinct notion from his knowledge. He doth not only know all things, but hath ordered and disposed them with much counsel. The wisdom of God is asserted in the word, Job ix. 4, and xii. 13, and proved there by what he hath bestowed upon man: ‘He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?’ Ps. xciv. 10. Whatever man hath from God, God hath it in himself in a more eminent degree; and it is also evidenced by the works of God, as in the works of creation, providence, and the methods of his graces.
1. Much of his wisdom is seen in creation. There his wisdom is discovered in the excellent order of all his works, Ps. civ. 24, 1 Cor. i. 21. Their mutual correspondence and fitness for the several ends and services for which they were appointed. The order of the world showeth the wisdom of God, the order of placing the creatures: see Prov. iii. 19, 20, ‘The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth, by understanding hath he established the heavens, by his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.’ The earth is set lowermost as the foundation of all the rest, the sea pent up within its channels, the air above them both, and the heavens higher than all, the stars and planets placed in the firmament, and the fishes in the sea. The order of making, God proceeding from things imperfect to perfect; first the rude mass, then the heavens and the vast earth and glorious creatures, but without life; then the herbs and plants, that have life, but not sense and motion; then the brute creatures, that have sense and motion, but not reason; then man, with a reasonable soul, after his own image. In this order you may observe, first, the dwelling-place is appointed, then the food, then the creature that feedeth upon it, the beasts upon the herbs, and man upon the beasts. The Queen of Sheba was astonished at Solomon’s wisdom, when she perceived the well-ordering of his family. Certainly, if we did observe the order of nature, we would stand wondering more at the wisdom of God. Next observe the correspondence that is between all the parts of the world, compared sometimes to a building, wherefore God is called τεχνίτης, an ‘artificial builder,’ Heb. xi. 10. In this great house every part conspireth to the beauty, service, and decency of the whole. The roof is heaven; and therefore the spheres are called ‘chambers and storeys in the heavens,’ Amos ix. 6. The foundation is earth, Job xxxviii. 5, 6. The stars and glorious luminaries are the windows, the sea the water-course, &c. Sometimes it is compared to the frame and structure of man’s body Heb. xi. 3, ‘The worlds were framed.’ It is in the original, κατηρτίσθαι, set in joint, as all the members of the body are tied together by several ligaments, &c. Sometimes to an army: Gen. ii. 1, ‘The heavens were finished, and all the host of them.’ Order is necessary everywhere, but especially in a host. There every one must keep in his rank and station. Thus the stars have their courses, Judges v. 20, and the clouds their courses, Job xxxvii. 12, yea, the grasshoppers march in an army, Joel ii. 15. The next thing that showeth the wisdom of God is their fitness for use and service. The workman’s skill is as much commended in the use of 369an instrument as in the making and framing of it. The upper heavens fitted to be the everlasting mansion of the saints, the middle heaven to give us light and heat and influence, the air, the lower heaven for breath, the earth for habitation, the seas for navigation, the herbs and plants for food and medicine, &c. Look upon the bodies of living creatures, and tell me if there be not a wise God. Galen saith there are six hundred muscles in the body of man, and every one fitted for ten uses; so for bones, nerves, arteries, and veins. Whosoever observeth their use, situation, and correspondence of them, cannot but fall into admiration of the wisdom of the maker, who hath thus exactly framed all things at first out of nothing, and still out of the froth of the blood. The wisdom of men and angels cannot mend the least thing in a fly. The figure, colour, quality, quantity of every worm and every flower, with what exactness is it ordered! as if God had nothing else to do but to bring forth such a creature into the world as the product of his infinite wisdom.
2. Providence; God’s wisdom is much seen in the sustentation and governing of all things, Eph. i. 11. He ‘worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.’ Do but observe a little how all things are put into a subserviency to God’s purpose; sometimes the smallest things occasion events of the highest concernment. The occasion of Joseph’s greatness in Egypt was a dream; a lie cast him into prison, and a dream fetched him out. Sometimes the most casual things to us are the most necessary means to accomplish that which God aimeth at: ‘A certain man drew a bow at peradventure, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness,’ 1 Kings xxii. 34. Contingencies to us are infallible events as to the purposes of God. Voluntary things that depend upon the will of man, fall under the ordination of the will of God; there is more wisdom shown in ruling a skittish horse than in rolling a stone or dead thing. God showeth his wisdom in guiding the courses of the stars, but much more in disposing the heart of man, Prov. xxi. 1. There is nothing so confused but if you look upon it in its result and final tendency, there is beauty and order in it; the tumults of the world, the prosperity of the wicked, carnal men think them the disgrace and blemish of providence, whereas they are the ornament of it: Ps. xcii. 5, ‘Lord, how glorious are thy works! thy thoughts are very deep.’ Man is discontented because he cannot fathom the deep thoughts of providence. Nothing so opposite, so bad, but God can bring good out of it; the sins of men set forth the beauty of providence, as shadows and black lines in a picture set it off the more; see Acts iv. 28, and Job v. 12, 13. Christ hath been beholden to his enemies as much as to his friends; their potent opposition hath occasioned the further increase of his kingdom.
3. In the methods of his grace; so I call all the transactions of God about the salvation of sinners from first to last; the rejection of the Jews, and calling of the Gentiles: Rom. xi. 33, ‘Oh! the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God;’ the various dispensations used in the church, before the law, under the law, and time of the gospel, these are called πολυποίκιλος σοφία, the ‘manifold wisdom of God,’ Eph. iii. 10. Redemption by Christ, the great plots of heaven, called the ‘hidden wisdom of God in a mystery,’ and ‘without controversy 370a great mystery,’ 1 Tim. iii. 16; that which ‘angels desire to pry into;’ God’s masterpiece, wherein all things by a rare contrivance are ordered for God’s glory and man’s good, the wonder of it will take up our hearts to all eternity; to see the ruins of the fall so exactly repaired, the glory of God salved, the comfort of man provided for. ᾨ βάθος—oh! the depths of this glorious mystery.
Again, the various acts of love whereby God subdueth sinners to himself; this taking sinners in their month, and disposing of unthought-of circumstances and passages of providence in order to their conversion. Once more, the overruling of all events to further the eternal blessedness of the saints, Rom. viii, 28. In all these I have foreborne particular illustrations, that the discourse may not swell up into too great a bulk.
Now, whosoever shall seriously consider these things, will certainly conclude God is wise. But further, consider the usual concomitants of God’s wisdom, and then we may come to make some use of this meditation.
Wisdom in God is accompanied with immaculate holiness and in finite power. In the devils there is great cunning, great power, and much wickedness; in man there is much shame, little power, and less wisdom. God’s power and wisdom are often counted177177 Qu. ‘united’?—ED. in the expressions of scripture: Job ix. 4, ‘He is wise in heart, and mighty in power;’ so Job xxxvi. 5, ‘He is mighty in strength and wisdom,’ the two formidable properties in an adversary,178178 ‘Dolus an virtus quis in hoste requirit.’ and the desirable properties in a friend; so see 1 Cor. i. 25. Again, it is joined with holiness; he is most wise, and most holy, ‘glorious in holiness,’ and rich in wisdom.
Use 1. Well, then, let us often admire the wisdom of God; look up to the heavens, and what do you find there? The work of a wise God, Jer. x. 12. Look to the structure of all things round about you, and what offereth itself to your thoughts? ‘By his wisdom he hath established the world.’ Look within you, and you cannot choose but say, ‘O God! I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’ Ps. cxxxix. 14. Look into the scriptures, and consider the stupendous mysteries that are revealed there; of the Trinity in unity, God manifested in our flesh, a virgin conceiving, Christ dying; and can you hold from crying out, ‘Oh! the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ Rom. xi. 33. View these things again and again; we cannot take up all of God in one or many or all our meditations.
Use 2. Let not it be a bare speculation, but improve it. (1.) To quicken you to prayer; where should we go for wisdom when we need it, but to the wise God? See Job xxviii. 12, James i. 5, Job. xxxii. 9. Solomon asked wisdom and had it. (2.) Improve it to thanks, when you are able to discern your way and your work, Prov. ii. 6. (3.) Improve it to waiting: Isa. xxx. 18, ‘He is a God of judgment; blessed are all they that wait for him.’ When things grow cross, let the wise God alone till you see the end of his work; will you be his counsellor, and teach him how to manage his affairs? ‘He knoweth how to deliver the godly,’ &c., 2 Peter ii. 9. (4.) Improve it to patience and 371contentation; the wise God knoweth how to make use of thee in every condition; wherever thou art, say, I am there where God hath set me. God knoweth what is better for me than I do myself. He that hath put all things in their places hath put me in this place, and here I will glorify him, 1 Cor. xii. 20. Every cross is chosen and elected as well as your persons. There are ‘secrets of wisdom’ in providence, that are not always to be found in the surface and outside of it, Job xi. 6. Though it appear in a way of rigour, yet God may have a design in it of mercy to me and glory to himself.
Obs. 2. The next point is, that God is only wise: see the same expression, 1 Tim. i. 17, and Rom. xvi. 27. Why, you will say, this is a communicable attribute; God hath endowed man with a spirit of wisdom, and human prudence is an emblem and resemblance of divine providence, how then is God only wise? I answer—Wisdom in God is in such an infiniteness and excess that wisdom in man is but folly in comparison of it: there is none wise as he, there is none wise but from him; in short, God in three respects is only wise:—
1. Originally and independently wise, not by communication from another, but of himself. Our wisdom is but a ray communicated from ‘the father of lights,’ James i. 17, a drop from the ocean, a beam from the sun; the whole knowledge of the angels is but a spark of this light.
2. God is essentially wise, and so only wise. Do not understand God to be wise as if wisdom had made him wise, as it happeneth among the creatures; in them wisdom is a separable quality, distinct from their essence. Now God’s wisdom is himself, and himself is his wisdom. The perfections of the creature are like the gilding which may be laid on upon vessels of wood or stone, the matter is one thing and the varnish or ornament is another; but the perfections of God are like a vessel made of pure beaten gold, where the matter and the splendour or adorning is the same.
3. God is infinitely wise, and so only wise. As the candle giveth no light when the sun shineth, our wisdom is bounded within narrow limits, and extendeth but to a few things, but God’s to all things. We count them fools that can only manage petty matters, buy and sell and keep out of harm’s way. Such fools are all creatures to God, whose wisdom is unlimited and incomprehensible. They that can manage a small commonwealth with advice and counsel are cried up for wise men; but now God manageth the affairs of the whole world, both visible and invisible. He careth for all things, from the ant to the angels, nothing so small as to escape his knowledge, nothing so great as to burden his mind. The sun doth with the same easiness shine upon the whole world as upon one field, so doth God manage the government of the whole world as of one person or creature. Our wisdom is gotten by learning, but ‘who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord?’ Isa. xl. 13. Our wisdom is bettered by experience, therefore old men are most prudent; but God’s wisdom is incapable of increase, as being in an infinite fulness. We are often deceived. Men of the greatest sagacity and cunning fail in their plots and enterprises, and so their ‘wisdom is turned into folly;’ but it is not so with God, ‘his counsel shall stand,’ Ps. xxxiii. 11. There can no difficulty occur but 372what is foreseen. He goeth not upon probability and conjecture, but certain foreknowledge. Man can attend but upon one care at once; various thoughts scatter the mind, and weaken it; but God in one moment of understanding seeth all things, and wisely disposeth of all things. God’s wisdom doth not deliberate with hesitancy, or consult with doubt; his thoughts are simple, and not successive, and in the way of discourse. Thus you see what good reason there is why God should be said to be only wise.
Well, then, let not the creature seem wiser than God, and cavil at what he hath revealed, because we understand it not. We cannot know the nature of an ant, we are puzzled in the least creature; no wonder, then, if human reason grow giddy when it pryeth into the depths of God. There should be ὑπακοὴ πίστεως, ‘the obedience of faith,’ to all that is revealed; and divine truth, like pills, must be swallowed rather than chewed, received upon God’s single authority, when we see no reason for them, for God is ‘only wise.’ Again, when you think of the perfections of God, you must raise your thoughts above the law and manner of all created beings.
Obs. 3. The next point is, that Christ Jesus our Saviour is worthy to be accounted the only wise God. Christ is wise as he is God, and as he is man.
1. As he is God, so he is called ‘the wisdom of the Father,’ 1 Cor. i. 24, and represented to the ancient church under this title; as Prov. i. 20, and Prov. viii., per totum. Wisdom is there spoken of as a person, and the descriptions there used are proper to Jesus Christ. Some suppose the heathens had some traditional knowledge of this mystery and appellation; for as Christ, the wisdom of the Father, was eternally and ineffectably begotten in the divine essence, so they worshipped a goddess, whom they called the goddess of wisdom, and feigned that she was begotten by Jupiter, of his own brain, and they called her Ἄθηνη, which word is much like in sound with the Hebrew word, Adonai, Lord,
2. As he is man, he received the habits of all created knowledge and wisdom, as all other graces, without measure, John iii.; and so it is said, Col. ii. 3, ‘In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ Well, then, since Christ hath brought down wisdom to us in our own nature, let us be more studious to get it into our hearts. As Mediator, he is fitted to make us wise to salvation, and appointed by God to be wisdom to us, 1 Cor. i. 30.
Obs. 4. Once more note, from the other title that is here given to Christ, our Saviour. Those that have had any benefit by Christ will be very much affected with his praise. There is a double ground of exalting Christ—a sight of his excellency, and a sense of his benefits; and there is a double notion by which our honouring of Christ is set forth—praise and blessing. Praise hath respect to his excellency, and blessing to his benefits, Eph. i. 3. We may praise a man for his worth, though we have no benefit by him; and so we are bound to praise God for the excellency of his nature, though he had never done us good. But now, when he is ‘our God and our Saviour,’ and hath showed us so much of his goodness and mercy in Christ, we should be ever praising him: Phil. iv. 20, ‘Now unto God and our Father be 373glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ Glory is due to him as God, much more as our Father. His worth and excellency, though he were a stranger to us, doth deserve an acknowledgment; but when we consider what he is to us, and what he hath done for us, then we can hold no longer, the heart being affected with a sense of his kindness, breaketh out, ‘To our Father, to our Saviour,’ be glory for ever and ever. Well, then, consider the Lord’s excellences more, and observe his benefits, and work them upon the heart till you be filled with a deep sense of his love, and find such an impulsion in your spirits as you cannot hold from breaking out into his praise.
Obs. 5. I come now from the description to the ascription, to him be glory, &c. Can we bestow anything upon God? or wish any real worth and excellency to be superadded to him? I answer—No. The meaning is, that those which are in God already may be:—
1. More sensibly manifested: Isa. lxiv. 2, ‘Make thy name known among the nations.’ It is a great satisfaction to God’s people when anything of God is discovered; they value it above their own benefit and safety; see Ps. cxv. 1. They prefer the glory of mercy and truth before their deliverance.
2. More seriously and frequently acknowledged. It is a great pleasure to the saints to see others praise God: Ps. cvii. 8, ‘Oh! that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.’
3. More deeply esteemed, that God may be more in request, more in the hearts of men and angels. God’s children do not count it enough that God is glorified by themselves, but they desire also that God may be glorified by others. As fire turneth all things near it into its own nature, so is grace diffusive. Good men are loath to go to heaven alone, they would travel thither by troops and in company.
But let us more particularly take a view of this ascription, and so first what is ascribed, glory, majesty, dominion, and power. Let us open these words. Glory is clara cum laude notitia, excellency discovered with praise and approbation, and noteth that high honour and esteem that is due to Christ. Majesty is the next word, which implieth such greatness and excellency as maketh one honoured and preferred above all, therefore a style usually given to kings; but to none so due as unto Christ, who is ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords.’ The third term is dominion, which implieth the sovereignty of Christ over all things, especially over the people whom he hath purchased with his blood. The last word is power, which signifieth that all-sufficiency in God, whereby he is able to do all things according to the good pleasure of his will.
From hence observe:—
Obs. 6. A gracious heart hath such a sense of God’s worth and perfection, that it would have all things that are honourable and glorious ascribed to him; therefore are divers words here used. When we have done our utmost we come short; for God’s name is ‘exalted above all blessing, and above all praise,’ Neh. ix. 5. Yet it is good to do as much as we can. Love to God will not be satisfied with a little praise: ‘I will praise him yet more and more,’ Love enlargeth the heart towards God. If there be anything more excellent he shall have it. 374Well, then, it is a sign of a dead heart to be a niggard in praises, to be sparing, careless, or cold this way.
Obs. 7. When we think of God, it is a relief to the soul to consider of his glory, majesty, dominion, and power; for this is that which the apostle would have to be manifested, acknowledged, and esteemed in God, as the ground of our respect to him. It encourageth us in our service. We need not think shame of his service, to whom glory, and power, and majesty, and dominion belongeth. It hearteneth us against dangers. Surely the great and glorious God will bear us out in his work. It increaseth our awe and reverence. Shall we serve God in such slight fashion as we would not serve the governor? Mal. i. 8. It is a lessening of God’s majesty. You do not treat him as a ‘great and glorious potentate,’ Mal. i. 14. It inviteth our prayers. To whom should we go in our necessities but to him that hath dominion over all things, and power to dispose of them for the glory of his majesty? It increaseth our dependence. God is glorious, and will maintain the honour of his name, and truth of his promises. When we are daunted by earthly potentates, it is a relief to think of the majesty of God, in comparison of which all earthly grandeur is but the dream of a shadow. Again, God, that hath a sovereignty over all things, and such an almighty power to back it, will not be wanting to do that which shall make for his glory.
Obs. 8. The next consideration in this ascription is the duration, now and ever. Thence note:—The saints have such large desires for God’s glory, that they would have him glorified everlastingly, and without ceasing. They desire the present age may not only glorify God, but the future. When they are dead and gone the Lord remaineth; and they would not have him remain without honour. They do not take death so bitterly, if there be any hopes that God will have a people to praise him. And their great comfort now is the expectation of a ‘great congregation,’ gathered from the four winds, united to Christ, presented to God, that they may remain with him, and glorify him for evermore. It is the comfort of their hearts to see this congregation a-making up every day, that there are saints and angels to praise God, whilst others grieve and dishonour him. They prize their own salvation upon this ground, that they shall live for ever to glorify God for ever: see Eph. iii. 21; Ps. xli. 13, and cvi. 48. Now this they do, partly from their love to God’s glory, which they prize above their own salvation, Rom. ix. 3; partly in thankfulness to God for his everlasting love to them. God is from everlasting to everlasting, and his love is from everlasting to everlasting, Ps. ciii. 17. He was their God, and will be their God for ever and ever, and therefore they purpose to be his people, and to praise him for ever and ever. Well, then, get these large desires for God’s glory, that he may be honoured in all ages, and in all places, Ps. cxiii. 2, 3. What have ye done in a tendency hereunto, that posterity may praise God? Do you labour to promote the knowledge of Christ, and the succession of churches, all the ways that you can? Zeal in your place is a good argument that you are well-affected in this kind. As a master of a family, hast thou taken care to keep religion alive among thy children when thou art 375dead and gone? Gen. xviii. 19. As a merchant, hast thou promoted religion with thy traffic? Deut. xxxiii. 18, 19. As a magistrate, dost thou take care to secure the interest of Christ to posterity, that the succession of churches may not be cut off? Ministers, have you been witnesses for God to the present age, and behaved yourselves as trustees for the next age? have you taken care that God may be honoured then? that we do not transmit prejudices against the ways of God, and corruptions in doctrine and worship to posterity? Oh! where is this affection, this wishing, ‘To him be glory, now and ever?’
The last thing in this inscription is the particle, amen, which is signaculum fidei et votum desiderii nostri; it signifieth a hearty consent to God’s promise, and a steady belief that it will continue to all generations. This word is often put at the end of prayers and doxologies in scripture; see Rev. v. 13, 14, Rom. xvi. 27, Phil. iv. 20, &c.; and sometimes it is doubled for the greater vehemency, Ps. li. 13, lxxii. 19, lxxxix. 52; and it seemeth by that passage of the apostle that anciently it was audibly pronounced by the people in public assemblies at the conclusion of prayers, 1 Cor. xiv. 16, and since that Jerome telleth us that amen ecclesiae instar tonitru reboabat—that the amen was so heartily sounded out by the church, that it seemed like a crack of thunder.
Obs. 9. Certainly it is good to conclude holy exercises with some vigour and warmth. Natural motion is swifter in the end and close; so should our spiritual affections be more vehement as we draw to a conclusion, and when the prayer is done, put out the efficacy of our faith and holy desires in a strong Amen, that it may be to you according to the requests of your hearts, and you may come away from the throne of grace as those that have had some feeling of God’s love in your consciences, and are persuaded that he will accept you, and do you good in Jesus Christ.
Obs. 10. Again observe, there should be an amen to our praises as well as to our prayers, that we may express our zeal and affection to God’s glory as well as to our own profit. Many with the lepers will say amen to ‘Jesus, master, have mercy upon us;’ but we are not as ready to say amen to this, ‘To whom be glory,’ &c. Our hallelujahs should sound as loud as our supplications, and we should as heartily consent to God’s praises as to our own requests.
Obs. 11. Lastly, in desiring the glory of God to all ages, we should express both our faith and love—faith in determining that it shall be, and love in desiring that it may be so with all our hearts. Both are implied in the word amen; it will be so whatever changes happen in the world. God will be glorious. The scene is often shifted, and furnished with new actors, but still God hath those that praise him, and will have to all eternity. Well, then, let your faith subscribe, and put to its seal, To the glory of God in Christ; and let earnest love interpose: Lord, let it be so; yea, Lord, let it be so. Heartily desire it, and with the whole strength of your souls; set to your seals without fear, it is a request that cannot miscarry, and follow it with your hearty acclamations. The world shall continue no longer 376when God shall have no more glory by it. Here you may be sure you pray according to God’s will, and therefore may take it for granted; only follow it earnestly; say, Lord, whatever become of us and our matters, yet let thy name be glorified: Amen, Lord, let it be even so. Now ‘Blessed be his glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with his glory: amen, and amen,’ Ps. lxxii. 19.377
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