« PreviousContinue »
On account of the agency of the Holy Spirit, in applying the benefits of the Saviour's death, the Gospel is called “ the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus ;” and, in our text, “the ministration of the Spirit.” Under the olden dispensation, the principal predictions concerning the blessedness of the Messiah's kingdom related to the copious and extensive effusions of the Holy Spirit. He was to rest in his fulness upon Messiah himself. (Isai. lxi. 1–3.) Rivers were to be opened in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. (xli. 18.) The Spirit was to be poured out from on high, the wilderness was to become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Then judgment should dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. Then the work of righteousness should be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. (xxxii. 15–17.) The Spirit, also, was to be poured out upon all flesh. (Joel ü. 28.) In accordance with these predictions, the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus without measure. (John iii. 34.) His disciples were endued with miraculous gifts ; and, on his ascension to heaven, he directed them to tarry in Jerusalem until they should receive the promise of the Father. This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, by the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit, by which they were made rich partakers of those blessings which Christ died to procure; and in the enjoyment of which they saw the important bearings of the Gospel upon the temporal and eternal condition of their fellow-creatures. Then did they receive the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind, which emboldened and directed them to preach Jesus as the only Lord, and Saviour, and Judge,-in Jerusalem first, and then to all nations; and to be his faithful witnesses before High-Priests, Governors, and Princes, notwithstanding the cruel sufferings inflicted upon thein for his name's sake. The gift of tongues was also conferred, by which they were enabled, in the first instance, to declare the wonderful works of God in the languages spoken by the Jewish strangers who had come to Jerusalem to attend that festival, and afterwards to the natives of every country which they visited. They were likewise inspired to write the Seriptures of the New Testament, which complete the revelation of God to man, and which show how much the Gospel excels the law in conspicuity and precision. The great end of all these extraordinary gifts was to promote the success of their ministry in the conversion of men. To this important work they were devoted. They compassed sea and land; they were in labours unwearied, in persecutions and dangers undiscouraged; "they counted not their lives dear unto themselves, so that they might finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts xx. 24.) In all their toils, and dangers, and afflictions, the IIoly Spirit comforted and supported them; so that they triumphed, in every place, over multitudes to whom their ministry was “the power of God unto salvation.”
These were formed into Christian churches, which adorned the doctrine of God their Saviour by holiness and righteousness of life. The aspect of society was changed throughout the Roman empire. The system of ancient idolatry was shaken to its base ; and even their enemies acknowledged that they had “turned the world upside down.” In this triumphant progress of righteousness, what a pitiable contrast to these devoted men was the Iligh-Priest of Jupiter, with his oxen and garlands, about to offer sacrifice unto them as gods ; (Acts xiv. ;) and the Pythoness of Philippi, as she impiously attempted to identify herself with them! (xvi.) IIow inferior was the Jewish priesthood, with its solemn rites and habiliments of office, surrounded by their bleeding victims and flaming altars, to the Apostles, as they brought thousands to God by preaching Christ crucified! Truly the fishermen of Galilee, and the tent-maker of Tarsus, were Ministers of a glory far excelling!
Although the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church when the divine authority of the Gospel had been sufficiently attested, his gracious and saving influences, which are confessedly the most important, still remain. In the hearts of true believers he dwells as the Comforter, and as a Spirit of power, of holiness, and of love, whereby they bring forth the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise and glory of God. The richness of his influences exceeds what was generally experienced under the law, the promises of which were chiefly of a temporal character. The obscurity of that dispensation was typified by the veil on Moses's face, which veil is done away in Christ ; so that “we all with open” (or unveiled) “ face may now behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Believers are the temples of the Holy Ghost, which are to be filled with the Spirit, to have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith; that they, “ being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; that they might be filled with all the fulness of God.” They are all one in Christ Jesus, a holy brotherhood, composed of the faithful of all nations, climes, and colours ; by their love to each other, and their zeal for the salvation of the world, they prove their relationship to the Saviour of the world, and the God of love. There are, indeed, professing Christians who manifest a different spirit; “but if any have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;" for all who truly believe in him are thus enriched with the grace of the Spirit, the glory of which
inay be hidden from the world; but the Lord knoweth them that are his, and in due time all shall witness their gracious influence when Jesus shall come as the Judge, to be admired in his saints, and to be glorified in all them that believe.
4. Another part of this glory is displayed in the permanency of the Gospel. The law, as a divine institution, had long existed : it had now served its day, and was abrogated, when the Lord of the temple rejected its worship, and, retiring from its courts, said, “ Behold, your house is left unto you desolate !” Although the sacrificial victims for a season continued to bleed, nevertheless, in the eye of Heaven, the offerings were disregarded ; and the Apostle foreseeing that these would soon cease, declared the dispensation “done away." A few years subsequent to the writing of this Epistle, this fact was acknowledged by the world in the destruction of the city and nation, when the foundations of the temple were ploughed up, and the wretched survivors were scattered among all nations, where they still wander, unchurched and disowned, veiled in unbelief, following the shadow of the ministration of condemnation and death, until the veil shall be taken from their heart, and they shall turn, and shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn. Meanwhile the Gospel remains the same in the truth of its facts and doctrines, in the glory and power of its great High-Priest and living Head, in its spiritual worship and service, in the energy of the Spirit's influence, in the richness and faithfulness of its promises, and in the unalterable character of its privileges and hopes, as a ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness to man.
As it rose superior to the fading dispensation of the law, and extended its benefits to all around, the wisdom of this world assailed it with contempt and scorn, denouncing its Ministers as babblers and fools ; and then with those arguments which it could furnish. Its hostility, however, was powerless. The Preachers of the cross were soon warranted to ask, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world ? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Ancient philosophy passed away as a meteor of the night, but the Gospel “remaineth.”
The idolatry of the times had long existed, and had planted itself deep in the affections and prejudices of the people. It was interwoven with the government and laws of the Roman empire, and seemed secure against any hostile influence. The power and spreading glory of the doctrine of the cross soon aroused its jealousy and its ire. But, feeling its inherent impotency, it invoked the aid of the mighty arm of civil authority. That arm had crushed all other earthly powers ;
and imperial Rome rose in its strength to destroy this hated system of righteousness and truth. Fearful were the effects produced by its violence and cruelty. Thousands and tens of thousands, in passive meekness, perished for professing faith in Jesus; but they conquered as they died ; and the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church. Where is that persecuting monster now? The throne of the Cæsars is in the dust ; their empire is riven to pieces ; and the idola
try which they invoked their giant energies to support and defend is vanished; but the Gospel still remains.
Another power arose out of the ruin of the Roman empire. It professed friendship to the Gospel, and assumed to be its chief patron, its protector, and its head : it was a wolf in sheep's clothing: a lamb in appearance, but in nature a bear, a tiger. It re-modelled the ancient mythology under Christian disguises ; it deluded and darkened the nations by its heathenish superstitions, and reduced them to a bondage more servile and base than that of heathen Rome. All this had been foretold : “the man of sin, the son of perdition," was to be revealed, who should “
oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped ; so that he, as God, should sit in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thess. ii. 3, 4.) The woman was to flee into the wilderness from the wrath of the dragon ; (Rev. xii.;) and the witnesses, during this period, were to prophesy in sackcloth. (xi.) Under the withering influence of this “mystery of iniquity," to human appearance, true Christianity had well-nigh perished; but it was only undergoing the trials allotted to it, and foretold by its divine Head. The gates of hell could not prevail against it. There was still a “handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains: the fruit thereof” was to “shake like Lebanon, and they of the city flourish like grass of the earth.” (Psalm Ixxii. 16.) This shall be fully accomplished. The days of Antichrist are numbered. Its glory must fade; and though there may be an apparent revival of its influence and power, it is probably suffered, to allow all kindred agencies, and, probably, all other hostile systems, to unite with it, to make the complete overthrow of all opposing will, and powers, and interests the more conspicuous and complete ; and to bring in universal righteousness with even greater glory. Papal Rome, too, shall, ere long, be “done away;” and the saints of God on earth shall unite with the hosts of glory above in praising God that “ Babylon is fallen,” as a millstone cast into the sea. But the Gospel shall remain, to shed forth its lustre in increasing prosperity. We allude to,
5. Its universal triumphs,-another design of its permanency, and which may be regarded as another ray of its glory. “Every plant," saith Jesus," which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." (Matt. xv. 13.) By the Spirit of his mouth, and the brightness of his coming, shall he destroy " the man of sin.” (2 Thess. ii. 8.) By the power of his truth shall he enlighten, and purify, and unite his whole church in holiness and love. (John xvii. 19–21.) His glory shall be seen upon her, so that the Gentiles shall come to her light, and Kings to the brightness of her rising : the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto her, with the forces of the Gentiles ; and the nation and kingdom that will not serve ber shall be utterly wasted and destroyed. (Isai. Ix.) Israel, also, shall return, and be restored to the land of their fathers, and to the favour of God. (Ezek.
Ixxvi. 24—29.) All civil governments shall then be conducted on righteous principles; for “ the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (Dan. vii. 18.) To accomplish all this, the Gospel is divinely suited. Although the law admitted proselytes, distant nations could not come up to Jerusalem at the annual feasts ; and its Priests had no authority to offer sacrifices out of Judea. Its ritual was not intended for uniFersal use. But the Gospel is preached to every creature; its truths are adapted to remove all religious ignorance and error; its promises meet all the wants of fallen man; its worship can be adopted by every nation, in every grade of society: the merits of the Redeemer are sufficient for all; the mercy of God is unrestrained; and the energy of the Spirit, as the Lord and Giver of life, is infinite. Throughout the history of the church, the influences of the Holy One have attended the faithful ministry of the Gospel ; and, on many occasions, remarkable revivals of vital godliness have taken place, which have brought to the remembrance of the faithful his pentecostal power, and revived their expectations of the mighty manifestation of the latter-day glory. During the last century, especially, these gracious visitations have been frequent, and extensive in their effects. Every section of the true church is now, in a less or greater degree, honoured with them; and, consequently, every believing heart sends forth ardent prayer that the Spirit may be poured upon all flesh, until the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Amid all the painful and discouraging aspects of the times, there are not wanting signs which indicate that this glorious consummation is rapidly approaching. All power in heaven and in earth is given to Jesus: the “residue of the Spirit" is with him. Nothing, therefore, can withstand, when he arises to maintain his cause. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together ; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
In improving this subject, the Apostle himself leads us to consider,
1. The duty of Christian Ministers. “Seeing, then, that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech.” This hope appears to refer to the perpetuity and triumphs of the Gospel, as the last and most perfect dispensation of God's mercy to man, as the instrument by which the Head of the church shall subdue the world to himself, and by which all men shall finally be judged. In this view, the office of Christian Ministers appears of momentous importance. They must either be “ the savour of life unto life, or of death unto death," unto their hearers. Placed between the living and the dead, -having the everlasting condition of their fellow-men depending (humanly speaking) much upon the fidelity with which they discharge their trust,-it is necessary that they be “ instant in season, and out of season,” in declaring “ the whole counsel of God.” “ We use," said St. Paul,