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fitness and propriety. In this manner is Job's commendable behaviour in the time of his pros perity described: "I put on righteousness, and it clothed me, and judgment as a robe and diadem," Job xxix. 14. The Psalmist wishes eminent degrees of holiness in these words: "Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness," Ps. cix. 17. And describing the transcendent greatness and glory of God, he says: "The Lord reigneth. He is clothed with majesty. The Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he has girded himself," Ps. xciii. 1. And, "O Lord my God, thou art very great, thou art clothed with honour and majesty, who coverest thyself with light as a garment," Ps. civ. 1, 2. God's appearing for the deliverance of his people, and the destruction of his enemies, is represented by the prophet in this manner: "Then his own arm brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breast-plate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head. And he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak," Isa. lix. 16, 17. Of such as prosper in their evil designs the Psalmist says: "Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain, violence covereth them as a garment," Ps. lxxiii. 5, 6. And men of a malevolent spirit are said to "clothe themselves with cursing," Ps. cix. 17.
Thus we see that the dispositions and qualifications of rational agents, with their corresponding behaviour, are often emphatically set forth by images, borrowed from the attire and covering of the body.
II. I am now to show distinctly what is intended by "white raiment."
And it is manifest, that hereby is not to be understood an outward profession of religion: for this there was among these persons. Our Lord had no need to counsel them to buy this of him. They were a church, and had an angel among them. So far from needing to inculcate upon them a profession of religion, it should seem that they were already too much opinionated upon that account. For which reason they are introduced as pleasing themselves therewith, and saying, that they were "rich, and increased with goods:" though they were indeed "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and naked.”
In a parable of our Saviour, where "the kingdom of heaven," or the state of things under the gospel dispensation, is likened to a marriage feast which a certain king made for his son, he who had not on a "wedding-garment," Matt. xxii. 11, is manifestly one who made a profession of religion, and of faith in the gospel; otherwise he had not come to the feast, nor appeared among the other guests. But he wanted holiness of life, or that true faith which produces good works.
Nor are we hereby to understand barely an observation of the positive rites and institutions of the Christian religion. For that may be reckoned to be included in what has been already mentioned, a full profession of religion, in which this church does not appear to have been defective. It cannot be supposed, that by "gold tried in the fire," or a "white raiment,” our Lord should intend no more than the observation of some external rites and ordinances. For in the course of his preaching he solemnly and distinctly declared, that "unless men's righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, they shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven," Matt. v. 20. And if religion consist in external rites: if the observation of any positive appointments be that " wedding-garment," which renders men fit for the kingdom of heaven: it may be said, that our Lord has but indifferently consulted the honour and interests of religion, by substituting a small number only of such appointments, and those very plain and simple, in the room of the numerous, expensive and showy ceremonies of the law of Moses. Nor would it then be so hard to be saved, or so difficult to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and to walk in the way to life, as he continually represented it to be in his most excellent discourses.
What is this "white raiment," or the "wedding-garment," we are expressly told in the eighth verse of the nineteenth chapter of this book of the revelation, where it is said to be “the righteousness of the saints."
That is a summary and general description of this "white raiment." And from the many exhortations to virtue, in the New Testament, conveyed under this similitude, it appears to be composed of all the virtues and excellencies that can adorn the life of a Christian. It is there
That is, "the righteous acts of the saints." So dixanpara evidently signifies.' Doddridge upon the place.
fore very frequent for the apostles to speak of "putting off," or laying aside "evil works" and habits, and "putting on Christ," the habit or dress of a Christian: which is the "white raiment" here recommended.
So says St. Paul to the Romans: "The night is far spent. Let us cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour," or dress," of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day," with a becoming decency: "not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof," Rom. xiii. 12-14. And to the Galatians. "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," Gal. iii. 27, the habit of a Christian. To the Ephesians in like manner. "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts: and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," Eph. iv. 22, 24. And very particularly, and at large in the epistle to the Colossians: ch. iii. 8-10, and 12-14.
St. Peter has an exhortation to Christian women in this allusive way: "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning, of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel. But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible; even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves.' 1 Pet. iii. 3, 4; comp. 1 Tim. ii. 9, 10. And he has an exhortation to all in general; " And be ye clothed with humility," 1 Pet. v. 5.
This is the "white raiment, the wedding-garment," recommended to Christians, sobriety, modesty of speech and behaviour, tenderness of spirit, bowels of mercy, humility of mind, gentleness, meekness, forbearance, forgiveness, love, and all its works and offices, which are so agreeable and ornamental.a
III. Which brings me to the ground and reason of this allusive way of speaking.
But precise exactness in accounting for such a form of speech should not be expected. Let then these few following thoughts suffice for showing the reason and origin of it.
1. The allusion is partly founded in the ornament that clothing gives the body. In like manner the temper, or the practice of virtue, is exceeding amiable and ornamental, and puts a grace and lustre on men. In places before cited, Job speaks of his putting on righteousness as a diadem. And St. Peter recommends meekness and quietness of spirit as ornamental. Solomon speaks of Wisdom's rules, and obedience to them, as an " ornament of grace unto the head, and chains about the neck," Prov. i. 9.
2. This allusion is founded in the fitness and disposition for society which clothing gives to any person. Man, by his reasonable nature, is designed for society. And the first foundation of politeness is laid in the garments that cover nakedness. Without clothing no one is fit for society. A rich and becoming dress procures admission into the best company: nor is one in filthy garments dressed for a wedding feast, or the entertainment of a prince. In like manner envy, pride, conceit, and other evil affections, make men unsociable: whereas humility, meekness, gentleness, and mildness, render men agreeable and entertaining.
Consequently this allusion serves to shew, in a lively and affecting manner, the necessity of real holiness, in order to delightful fellowship with God, and admission to his presence, and the glorious entertainment he has prepared for his people.
As he, who in an improper dress intrudes into a royal entertainment, is turned out for that very reason; so all, destitute of righteousness, will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. A profession of religion, or a desire of glory and happiness, is not sufficient. Any one may wish to partake in a princely entertainment: but with such wishes there should be also some care to be a worthy and acceptable guest. If we "follow peace with all men, and holiness, we shall see God,” Heb. xii. 14, not otherwise. They who add works to faith, and they only, are justified in the sight of God. And, as St. Peter assures us, if we " give all diligence to add to faith virtue, and knowledge, and brotherly kindness, and charity, an entrance will be ministered. to us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," 2 Pet. i. 5-11.
They who find this sermon too long to be read at once, may make a pause here.
IV. APPLICATION. I come now to the application, which will be in these three particulars : that we should hearken to the counsel in the text, and buy of Christ this white raiment. They who obtain this raiment ought to prize it, and likewise to keep it well.
1. Let us hearken to the counsel here given by Christ, and buy of him this white raiment. Let us view him in his life, and in his death. Let us be at the pains of considering seriously the spiritual and heavenly nature of his doctrine, the concern he has shown for our welfare, and the end of all his humiliations and sufferings, which is, that he might "purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. If we attend to these things, we shall be convinced, that he who is destitute of virtue and good works, ought to reckon himself as wretched and miserable in a spiritual sense, as he who is destitute of necessary clothing; and that we must add to a fair and open profession of the principles of religion the lustre of a holy life and conversation.
Let us observe St. Paul's exhortation to the Colossians, where he recommends so many virtues: and let us see how we may learn them of Christ, or buy of him this white raiment.
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness,” Col. iii. 12. Labour after a kind and merciful disposition, and let every virtue appear in your conversation. Put them on as your clothing, without which you would not willingly be at any time surprised. And for this end consider that you have experienced great mercy from God, through Christ Jesus. He has brought you out of a state of darkness into great light, and has made you his people, who once were far off. God clothes himself with goodness, as his garment. And the ordinary course of his providence is beneficial to the human race in general: but you have obtained some distinction by being brought into the fellowship of his son Jesus Christ. And are therefore under especial obligations to do those things which are agreeable to his will.
"Put on," particularly, "bowels of mercies." If any among you are afflicted and distressed, do you, who are at ease, and have ability, sympathise with them, bear their burdens, tenderly compassionate their case, and afford them help and relief, proportioned to their exigence.
"Put on" also "kindness." Be not fierce and severe towards any, but be affable in your discourse, courteous in your behaviour: show, in all things, such mildness and tenderness, as by no means to discourage and grieve those you converse with, especially such as are of a broken and afflicted spirit.
"Humbleness of mind." Be willing to condescend, and to behave, as inferiors, toward those who ought to serve and honour you: even as Jesus Christ was among his disciples, and others, "as one that serves," Luke xxii. 27.
"Meekness:" Not resenting every injury done you, but quietly submitting to some ill-treatment, rather than disturb the peace of your society.
"Long-suffering:" Enduring many and repeated offences, without being provoked to wrath and revenge.
"Forbearing one another:" Mutually bearing with one another's failings and weaknesses, from which none are entirely exempt.
"And forgiving one another if any have a quarrel against you:" And even forgiving and forgetting injuries, and being willing to be reconciled again, though differences may have arisen, and subsisted for some time. Of this also, however great the condescension may seem, you have a pattern in God's dealings with you. And no more is expected from you to others, than you have experienced from Jesus Christ. "Even as Christ forgave you, so do ye."
"And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection:" And upon all these put true, and undissembled, and ardent love; which, as a girdle, may encompass and bind you all about, as one body, and secure a complete and amiable harmony and union in the several parts of your society.
By humble and earnest prayer, by a sincere resolution to deny yourselves, as to some present advantages, by often and carefully viewing the example of Jesus, and the whole of his transactions from the beginning to the end, in his humiliation, and abasement on earth, and in his glory and exaltation in heaven, you may buy and obtain of him this white raiment, that you may be clothed, and may walk with him in white, and be among the noble and honourable of his kingdom.
2. They who have obtained this "white raiment," the wedding-garment, ought to prize it. Never therefore suffer yourselves by scoff and ridicule to be put out of countenance in it. A rich and costly dress may be depreciated by those who want it. And it may excite the envy
of some others, But it fails not to procure respect from many. By this clothing you are in some measure fit for fellowship with God, and Christ, and for the society of perfect spirits.
It will never cause pride in your own hearts, nor excite to a lofty deportment toward others. But the real excellence of it may fill you with a modest consciousness of the worth and dignity which God has put upon you. It is a garment properly your own, which no one can deprive you of without your consent:. which you have obtained by prayer and meditation, watchfulness and circumspection, abstinence and self-denial: which therefore you have received from Christ himself. And by wearing it, and appearing in it, as his disciples, you will do him honour and respect, which he will accept and reward hereafter.
3. Lastly, they who have received from Christ this white raiment, should be careful to keep it well.
Amidst the representation of great afflictions and trials it is said in this book: "Blessed is he that keepeth his garments," Rev. xvi. 15. He who is richly clad, is under especial obligation to a strict care of his garment, that it may be unsullied. In our conversation in this world, without particular care, this garment will contract some disagreeable defilement. And in so rich a dress it cannot be overlooked. As a little folly is observed in him, who is in reputation for wisdom, so every the least spot is discernible in a white garment.
In our walk in this world, amidst a variety of characters, we must have our eye about us, and take heed to ourselves, that our meekness be not tarnished by hastiness of speech or action, and that no spot of pride or ambition, or inordinate affection for earthly things, stain the purity of this raiment.
This may be thought difficult; but it is not impossible. It is taken notice of at the beginning of this chapter, to the advantage of some: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments." It is added: "And they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." Which also shews, that care and watchfulness, on which so much depends, though somewhat tedious at present, will be fully rewarded in the end.
Well then, "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame," Rev. xvi. 15. Blessed is he who maintains his watch in every station and condition, and in all the dangerous temptations of this life.
In the warm beams of prosperity this white raiment is very apt to fade: and it can scarcely bear them in an intense degree, especially for a long season, and without interruption. In some easy circumstances likewise extraordinary care may be needful, that it be not lost in a deep sleep of security. Happy is he who then "watches, and keeps his garments," that no man rob him of that which is his chief glory and ornament, and which he cannot lose without being filled with shame and confusion.
Happy likewise is he who is provided with the double clothing of fortitude and patience: so that he is not afraid for the cold of adversity, nor for the tempests of affliction and persecution. That is another very dangerous circumstance. But it usually awakens attention, and is often cleansing and purifying. And our Lord adds immediately after the words of the text: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."
In fact, many "have gone through great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," Rev. vii. 14. By a steady faith in their great Lord and pattern, whom they have been made to resemble in sufferings, they have become like him in meekness and patience. And in those suffering circumstances, the most displeasing and affrighting to carnal apprehensions, their robes have become resplendent: a part of the heavenly glory has seemed to descend upon them: the beams of which have enkindled a flame of divine love in the hearts of others, which has inspired them with a holy ambition of sharing with those followers of the Lamb in sufferings, and resembling them in virtue: that they may also partake of their uncommon comforts here, and their peculiar rewards hereafter.
THE GREAT MYSTERY OF GODLINESS.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.—1 Tim. iii. 16.
OR discerning the coherence we need look no farther back than to the fourteenth verse. "These things," says the apostle, "write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know, how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."
This clause seems to be added with a view to excite the care, circumspection, and diligence of Timothy: considering the vast importance of the doctrine of the gospel committed to him. Which also justifies the concern of the apostle for the right behaviour of this evangelist, and the care he took to send him proper advices and directions, and engage his due regard to them.
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness." As if he had said: Do not therefore think me too minute and particular, or too earnest and importunate in the directions ' which I send unto you. For it is confessed, and acknowledged by all who are acquainted with it, "that the mystery of godliness is very great," weighty and important.'
Thus we are coming to the difficult part of our undertaking to explain these words: and indeed it has no small appearance of difficulty. But yet I would suppose, and am apt to think, that the things here intended by the apostle are clear and obvious points, often said in the books of the New Testament, in other places: and understood and acknowledged by all, who are well acquainted with the Christian doctrine, and its evidences, as contained in the scriptures. The obscurity therefore of this text, I presume, arises from some particular expressions here made use of.
It appears to me very likely, that by "the mystery of godliness" is meant the gospel-dispensation, or the doctrine of the gospel in its extent and purity: as containing the design of God concerning the salvation of men, in and through Jesus Christ, without the works, or the ritual and peculiar ordinances of the law of Moses.
We may be confirmed in this interpretation by observing some of the many places, in which the word "mystery" occurs in the epistles of this apostle. Rom. xvi. 25, 26. "Now unto 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."
Eph. i. 9, 10. " Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he had purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ.'
Eph iii. 2-5. "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery,which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." And afterwards in the same chapter, ver. 8, 9. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God."
These texts plainly shew, that by the "mystery," the apostle often means "the" whole "dispensation of the gospel," with its unsearchable riches, and abundant grace and mercy: