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Gospel is preached in its purity. Such being unquestionably the dispensations of God's providence, we must not wonder if a similar exercise of sovereignty appear in the dispensations of his grace. To draw the precise limits, where human agency concurs with the operations of God's Spirit, or where it resists and frustrates them, is beyond our power; but of this we may be well assured,—that all evil is from man; all good from God. We shall have strong evidence of this in the passage before us; in which we see the difference that exists between different men, I. In their regard for Christ
Mankind may be divided into two classes ; believers, and unbelievers.
Now of all the things which may serve to distinguish these, there is none more decisive than their different regard to Christ. To the believer, Christ is “precious ”—
We need not enter into all the grounds of a believer's love to Christ: suffice it to say, that he feels himself indebted to Christ for all his hopes in this life, and for all his prospects in the next. He has washed in the fountain of the Redeemer's blood, and has been cleansed by it from all sin : he has lived by faith on the Son of God, and has received out of his fulness all needful supplies of grace and peace. Hence he looks upon Christ, not merely as a friend and benefactor, but as a Saviour from death and hell. He esteems him, not only as precious, but as preciousnessa itself. In comparison of him, all other things are considered as dung and dross b.]
To the unbeliever, Christ is “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence"
[Unbelief and disobedience are so nearly allied, that they are, in the Greek language, expressed by the same word Indeed unbelief is the highest act of disobedience; for “ this is God's commandment, that we should believe on name of his Son, Jesus Christ."
To exercise faith on Christ is the duty of all. He is “the stone which is laid in Zion," and on which we are to build all
b Phil. iïi. 8. cáñeldela. Compare Rom. xi. 32. with Eph. ii. 2. di John iii. 23.
our hopes. But “the builders themselves, the heads of the Jewish Church, rejected him:" and notwithstanding “he is become the head of the corner,"
" " the disobedient” still reject him. It was foretold that this would be the treatment shewn him by the generalitye: and the event has fully justified the prediction. The grounds indeed on which men reject him, are altered ; but their conduct towards him is the same as was observed in the days of old. The Jews were offended at his mean appearance, and his high pretensions; and particularly at his professing to supersede the Mosaic law: and, on these accounts, they crucified him as an impostor. We on the contrary, profess to honour him as the true Messiah; but are offended at the salvation which he has revealed: we think it too humiliating in its doctrines, and too strict in its precepts: we cannot endure to give him all the glory of our salvation : nor can we submit to walk in those paths of holiness and selfdenial which he has trodden before us. On these accounts many reject his Gospel : they cry out against it, as discouraging the practice of good works, as opening the very flood-gates of iniquity, and (strange as the contradiction is) making the way to heaven so strait and difficult that no one can walk in it. Thus, instead of building on Christ as the foundation-stone, they make him only “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence!")
How far this is to be traced to any antecedent purposes of God, will appear more distinctly, while we mark the difference between them, II. In their states before God
In the words of the text there is a double antithesis, which is rather obscured by the present translation, but which should be noticed in order to a clear understanding of the passages.
“ These (the unbelievers) stumble at the word, being disobedient”
[In what manner they stumble at the word, has been already noticed. We must now endeavour to trace their stumbling to its proper causes.
It is certainly, in the first instance, owing to their own "disobedience." Men are filled with pride, and are unwilling to embrace any sentiment that tends to abase them. They are also full of worldly and carnal lusts, which they cannot endure to have mortified and subdued. In short, their prejudices and their passions are altogether adverse to the Gospel : so that, when the word is preached to them, they instantly set themselves against it. In vain are proofs adduced ; in vain are motives urged; in vain are all human efforts to conciliate their regard to Christ: the language of their hearts is, “ I have loved strangers, and after them will I goh." The contempt which the Pharisees poured on Christ, on account of his prohibiting the love of money, is traced by the Evangelists to this very source; “ The Pharisees were covetous, and they derided himi” And our Lord expressly recommends obedience as the best preparative for receiving the knowledge of his Gospel; “ If any man will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of Godk."
e Ps. cxviii. 22.
f Isai. viii. 14. & The words in Italics, ver. 8. should be left out; and Oi be translated “these." The double antithesis will then be clear :'Yuiv, he is precious ; åretoñol čè, he is a stumbling-block. Oi, these, stumble through their own depravity ; 'Yucis iè, enjoy your privileges as a chosen generation.
But, according to the words of the text, it seems as if 'men's unbelief was to be traced ultimately to the decrees of God respecting them. We cannot however understand them as establishing so awful a doctrine: nay, we cannot think that the doctrine of absolute reprobation can ever be established, while those words remain in the Bible, “ As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner!." Nevertheless we are not disposed to explain away the words of the text; for they certainly have a very awful and important meaning, to which it becomes us to attend. God has decreed, that they who will not receive the Gospel for the illumination of their minds, shall eventually be blinded by it; that they who are not softened by it, shall be hardenedm; that they to whom it is not " a savour of life unto life, shall find it à savour of death unto death ." The Gospel is certainly so constituted, that it shall produce these effects. Christ is “set for the fall, as well as for the rising, of many in Israelo." “ He is for a sanctuary,” to protect and save the humble; but he is also“ for a stone of stumbling," yea, “ for a gin and a snare, that many (even all that are proud, perverse, and obstinate) may stumble and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken P."]
“ But ye" (believers) are exalted to the highest privileges by the Gospel —
[The various terms here used were originally intended to mark the privileges of the Jewish nation 9: but they are
h Jer. ii. 25.
i Luke xvi. 14. 1 Ezek. xxxiii. 11. m Isai. vi. 9, 10. o Luke ii. 34. p Isai. viii. 14, 15. 9 Exod. xix. 6. Deut. vii. 6.
k John yii. 17. n 2 Cor. ii. 16.
applicable to believers in a higher and more appropriate
Believers are" a chosen generation;" they have been “chosen of God from before the foundation of the world." Though the misery of unbelievers is owing, not to any absolute decrees of reprobation, but to their own pride and wickedness, we must not imagine that the happiness of believers is owing to their own inherent goodness: for they have no good qualities which they have not first received from God®; and consequently their good qualities are the effect, not the cause, of God's kindness to them. Though therefore we cannot accede to the doctrine of reprobation, we have no doubt whatever on the subject of election; since both by Scripture and experience it is established on the firmest grounds.
Believers are also " a royal priesthood:” they are now made both “ kings and priests unto Godt.” They are chosen of God to reign over their own lusts, and to have the nearest access to him in all holy duties. There is no difference now between Jew and Gentile, or between male and female: but all are permitted to approach unto the mercy-seat of their God, and to offer to him the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise.
Moreover, they are "a holy nation, and a peculiar people.” All are united under the same King; all obey the same laws; all participate the same interests. They are all separated by God, and “set apart for himself:” they are not of the world, though they are in it: they are mere "pilgrims and sojourners' here; and are travelling to "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
All these distinctions they enjoy; and they owe them all to the sovereign grace of God.] ADDRESS1. Unbelievers
[You need only to examine your regard for Christ, and you will soon find with which class you are to be numbered. You may easily discover whether Christ be supremely precious to your souls, or whether you are averse to the doctrines and precepts of his Gospel.
Think with yourselves, what guilt you contract, and to what danger you are exposed, while you remain insensible to all the love of Christ: your guilt is greater than that of the very persons who crucified him, because you sin against greater light, and contradict your most solemn professions. O provoke not God to give you over to judicial blindness; nor make God's richest mercy an occasion of your more aggravated condemnation!] 2. Believers
Eph. i. 4.
s 1 Cor. iv. 7.
t Rev. i. 6.
[You see in the latter part of the text how infinitely you are indebted to your God: once you were in darkness; now you are “ brought into the marvellous light” of his Gospel :
once you were not the people of God; now you are: once you had not obtained mercy; now you have obtained mercy.”
And for what end has God vouchsafed to make this alteration in your state, and to distinguish you thus from millions, who are still left in the very condition in which you so lately were ? Was it not " that you should shew forth the praises, yea the virtues u too, of Him that called you?” Entertain then a becoming sense of your obligations: and endeavour to “ render unto the Lord according to the benefits" conferred upon you. Shew forth his praises by frequent and devout acknowledgments; and shew forth his virtues by following his steps and obeying his commandments.]
1 Pet. ii. 13-17. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake : whether it be to the king, as supreme ; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them ihat do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
THE great duty of a Christian minister is, to exalt the Saviour, and to call men to submit to his government. But we must not imagine that this is neglected, when our minds are led to the consideration of human governments, and the duties we owe to them: for there is a manifest connexion between the two subjects; the latter being, in reality, a branch of the former. We cannot truly submit to Christ, unless we yield obedience to all his laws—to those which relate to our conduct in civil life, as well as