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lous works, his self-denying ministry and death, he has rendered all these ordinances of the law useless and unnecessary.
They had been of use formerly: by their number and variety, their shew and splendour, they were serviceable to engage and employ the Jewish people, and those who joined themselves to them, and to hinder them from revolting to idolatry, and taking up the customs of the people around them. But they are now no longer necessary. For by the perfect doctrine, the holy and exemplary life, and the painful and ignominious death of the Lord Jesus, such an argument has been exhibited for true holiness, heavenly-mindedness, the sincere and constant worship and service of God, that these ritual ordinances are no longer requisite or useful. There needs not now any great number of external, discriminating rites and ordinances, to keep the people of God distinct and separate from the rest of the world. For in the death and resurrection of Christ, are afforded such powerful inducements to virtue, as may effectually preserve men from idolatry and apostacy from God, without the guards and fences of ritual ordinances.
This then was one end of Christ's submitting to the fatigues and inconveniences of his laborious ministry, and to the pain and ignominy of the death of the cross: that he might deliver his people, and all who believe in him, from the numerous and burdensome appointments of the law of Moses.
He was "made a curse for us," he was exposed to the opprobrious death of the cross, and all the grievous circumstances of it, that we might be "redeemed from the curse of the law," and no longer fear any penalties for neglecting any of its unnecessary institutions: and that we might enjoy "the blessing of Abraham," that privilege which was promised to be conveyed to the world through him, and which himself once enjoyed in his own person, free from the appointments of the law, afterwards enjoined with assurance of the divine favour and acceptance, solely upon the ground of a reasonable and truly holy service and obedience.
III. Nothing now remains, but that I add a few remarks.
1. We may now distinctly perceive, for whom Christ was made a curse.
Christ says the text has redeemed us from "the curse of the law." Thereby some would understand particularly the Jews, who they say, alone were under the law. But I think it evident, that the apostle means Gentiles as well as Jews. For he here says, that "Christ has redeemed, [or delivered] us from the curse of the law, that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles." And our Lord himself, in the time of his own ministry, when the call of the Gentiles was not fully opened, expressly says, he died for all, and not for those of the Jewish nation only. "And I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring in," John x. 15, 16.
Indeed all were in some measure under the law till Christ came: obedience to it being the only way of obtaining a share among the professed people of God, or his visible church.
The Christians in Galatia were not Jews, but were converted from Gentilism. Yet the apostle writes to them in this manner: "But now, after that ye have known God,—how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye again desire to be in bondage?" Gal. iv. 9. They never had been Jews nor proselytes to Judaism. The sense of the apostle's words therefore is this: how can ye despise the freedom of the gospel, and approve of, and choose that state of things which prevailed before? When all were required to receive the law of Moses, as the external badge of relation to God, and his family.
And afterwards he says, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with that yoke of bondage," Gal. v. 1. Which expressions shew, that the apostle supposed Gentiles as well as Jews to have been by Christ set at liberty from the law of Moses: or, as in the text, that he had "delivered us from the curse of the law." For before that, according to the constitution of things introduced by the law of Moses, since the Abrahamic covenant, all were to be proselyted to the Jewish religion. There was no other way of admission to religious communion, or civil conversation with the people of God.
The character of Cornelius in the Acts, is, that "he was a devout [or good] man, who feared God with all his house," Acts x. 2. Nevertheless Peter, till farther enlightened, and better instructed in the Christian scheme, and particularly directed, scrupled to go to him. And when he came to his house, he said: "Ye know, how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come to one of another nation. But God, [through Christ,] has shewed me, that I should not call any man common or unclean," Acts x. 28.
2. We here see reason to admire the love of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ; and what a tribute of gratitude, respect and obedience is due to him who was "made a curse for us:" who, according to the will of the Father, resigned himself to a most painful, and above all, a most ignominious death: who suffered as a malefactor with men of the worst characters. How reproachful this in the eye of the world! How grievous an affliction must this have been to the Lord Jesus, after all the honours of his miraculous ministry! Here is every thing grievous and reproachful that can touch an innocent and generous mind!
Yet our Lord went through it patiently, and meekly, with a view to the great and desirable ends proposed by it: and therefore his death is indeed most glorious; and it has been greatly rewarded. But it was a mixture of very bitter ingredients which he tasted of: and it was for our sake; and in particular, that we might be delivered from the burden of the law, and from all the penalties annexed to neglect and disobedience to it. And it is through him, that we, who once were afar off, have been brought nigh unto God: that we, who before were aliens, are made heirs and fellow-citizens, and of the houshold of God, without any of the burdensome institutions of the law of Moses, which must still have been in force, and we must have submitted to them, in order to our being of the people of God, and members of his church, if Christ had not by his death given such attestations as he has done to the truth of that doctrine of pure religion which he had taught. And if he had not also thereby inspired his immediate disciples and followers with an invincible love and zeal for truth and virtue, enabling them to withstand and surmount the greatest allurements, and the most frightful discouragements of the present life.
3. A serious attention to this text, and argument, may assist us to understand some other texts, where Christ is said to have died for us, for our sins.
It seems that the death of Christ was not, properly speaking, so necessary on God's part as on ours. God never valued nor delighted in the external ordinances of the law of Moses. What he looked for, and required, chiefly, was "truth in the inner parts." He desired "mercy rather than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God the Lord more than burnt-offerings," &c.
He was not at all unwilling that men should be released from the obligation of numerous ritual institutions. Find but out a way to bring men to good understanding in things of religion, and a love of real holiness: so that they shall no longer be in danger of casting off the divine fear, and going after idols that are not able either to hear or save those who serve them: and he would be willing that ordinances of positive appointment shall be laid aside.
This way he has himself graciously discovered and approved of; sending his Son, the Messiah, and appointing the humiliation, as well as other circumstances of his life and death, in which he acquiesced. Whereupon the many peculiarities of the law of Moses were abolished and laid aside with the consent and approbation of him who had appointed them.
In like manner God was not unwilling to pardon sinners, if they could but be brought to repentance. For this purpose the life and death of Christ are admirably suited, by affording more forcible considerations to awaken and reclaim sinners, and confirm the virtue of good men, than all the discoveries of reason, aided by former revelations. God needed not to be appeased. But sinners needed to be amended. When they are so, he readily accepts them. God is in himself gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness and truth. He desires not the death of sinners, but their life and salvation. If sinful men will but be persuaded to forsake their evil ways, which are displeasing to a pure and holy God, the controversy between him and them will be made up. This is the doctrine of the Old and New Testament. Says God, by the prophet Isaiah: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Isaiah lv. 7.
It is the same under the dispensation of the gospel. There also forgiveness is annexed to repentance. This is the important doctrine preached by Christ himself, and his forerunner John the baptist, and his apostles after him.
Of John the baptist, St. Luke says: "And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins," Luke iii. S. The same is the character of our Lord's ministry, in all the Evangelists. "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." So in Matthew, ch. iv. 17. To the like purpose in Mark, ch. i. 14, 15. And our Lord, when risen from the dead, tells his disciples, that now "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, among
all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," Luke xxiv. 47. And after our Lord's ascension, when
St. Paul reminding the elders at Miletus of his past conduct among them, observes, "how he had kept back nothing that was profitable to them, but had shewed them, and taught them publicly, and from house to house: testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," Acts xx. 20, 21. And giving an account of his conduct, and the doctrine taught by him, since his conversion to the faith of Jesus Christ, he declares to king Agrippa, and the great company with him, how he had "shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance," ch. xxvi. 20.
Sincere repentance therefore is the condition, upon which sinful men may obtain the forgiveness of their past sins. Yea our Lord assures us, "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." He also says, that "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance," Luke xv. 7-10.
It is certain therefore, that God in his great goodness, will pardon and accept of penitent sinners. But the great difficulty is to bring men to forsake their sins, and return to the practice of virtue. This, and our great want of consideration, our affection for earthly and sensible things, the little regard which men have for the things of religion, have rendered the most awakening arguments necessary. These are set before us in Christ Jesus. And Christ has died, in order to bring us to God, and to induce us to continue in the ways of righteousness. "Who his ownself bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray: but are now returned unto the shepherd and bishop of your souls," 1 Peter ii. 24, 25.
4. And lastly. Our meditations on this text may assist us in discerning the divine wisdom in the time of the Christian revelation.
The apostle says, "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son-made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons," Gal. iv. 4, 5. The purpose was formed very early. And Christ is spoken of as "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world," Rev. xiii. 8. But the full manifestation of this design was deferred. The world was not sooner fit for the mild and gracious dispensation of the gospel. It is true, that Abraham, and the Patriarchs, were free from many incumbrances afterwards introduced. And for a while true religion, the worship of God, was upheld by the piety of the heads of that family. But when that family became a nation, it evidently appeared, that a number of discriminating rites was needful to keep them separate from their idolatrous neighbours, and to maintain true religion in that which was the only nation and people, that worshipped the only true God.
We ought not therefore to surmise, that the coming of the Messiah was too long deferred. If the expectations of men had not been raised beforehand, if there had not been great preparations made for his reception: the Christian revelation, and the death of Christ itself, might have been either in vain, or however, not to so good purpose, as it was.
Let us then acknowledge and celebrate the wisdom of the Divine Being in affording the world the advantage of so reasonable, so spiritual, and so gracious an institution. Let us be thankful, that the knowledge of it has been brought to us, and that the evidences of the divine original of this religion are still so clear and satisfactory.
And as we in these late ages of the world have the blessing of Abraham, which was so early designed, free from the incumbrances afterwards introduced, and imposed even upon his own posterity by nature; let us prize it, and steadily adhere to the essential articles, and indispensable laws of it, cheerfully "serving God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life," Luke i. 74, 75.
THE PROMISE ANNEXED TO GODLINESS.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 1 Tim. iv. 8.
THESE words comprise in them three propositions.
I. Bodily exercise profiteth little.
II. Godliness is profitable unto all things, having, particularly, promise of the life that is
III. Godliness has also promise of the life that now is.
I intend to consider each proposition, in the order just mentioned.
Bodily exercise profiteth little." Which words are differently explained by expositors. 1. Some interpret these words in this manner: all that men do outwardly in religion, though commanded by God, if it be separated from the devotion of the heart, profiteth little. This cannot procure acceptance with God, nor make amends for defects and miscarriages, in point of true holiness.
But there seems to be little ground for this interpretation. It is not favoured by any part of the connection, except that godliness, which is opposed to bodily exercise, does indeed undoubtedly include in it the devotion of the heart, as well as outward acts and performances of religion.
2. Some suppose the apostle herein to refer to the exercises of the Greeks, in their olympic and other games, and any exercises of the body preparatory to those public contentions.
This interpretation has an appearance of probability. St. Paul had just before exhorted Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness. And the original word for exercise is a technical word, often used concerning the preparatory exercises of the Grecian racers and combatants, and the vigour and activity which they exerted in the public contention.
The apostle then adds: for bodily exercise, such as that of those who contend for victory in the celebrated games of Greece, or polite parts of the world as they are esteemed, though it be very difficult, painful and laborious, profiteth little. It may conduce to the increase of bodily strength and vigour, and secure the victory in those combats, and the crown, and other honours, and temporal advantages annexed to it in this world. But all this is a trifling matter in comparison of the advantages of godliness. And after this manner St. Paul writes to the Corinthians.
3. Hereby some understand a severe and excessive discipline, practised by some persons, which is mere will-worship, consisting of long and painful fastings, and abstinence from things in themselves lawful and innocent.
Bodily exercise, says a learned expositor, is here bodily discipline, lying in abstaining from certain meats, keeping set fasts, watchings, lying upon the ground, going barefoot, wearing sack-cloth, or hair-cloth, abstaining from wine, or marriage: all this is of little advantage: the mind of man is not bettered hereby.
This interpretation seems to be not a little favoured and supported by the coherence. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, says the apostle at the beginning of the chapter, "that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith,-speaking lies in hypocrisy,-forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.-If thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ. But refuse profane and idle fables; and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: whereas godliness is profitable unto all things."
This sense is received by many expositors of good note: bodily exercise, says one, intends useless mortifications and macerations of the body, and other superstitious practices then in use
among the Jews and some other people. And, says another, by bodily exercise St. Paul means abstinences and austerities, which simple or hypocritical men had introduced. And he makes use of an expression, which properly signifies the combats or exercises of those who contended in the Grecian games: because those persons observed a certain diet, or regimen, to render themselves more fit for the combats. The apostle's observation in this place may be illustrated by what he says to the Colossians, ch. ii. 20-23. "Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world; why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? (touch not, taste not, handle not; which are all to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men:-which things have indeed a shew of will-worship and humility, and neglecting of the body, not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." A passage likewise of a polite Jewish writer, contemporary with our Saviour and his apostles, though no Christian, may cast some light upon this interpretation. If, says he, you see a man designedly mortifying himself with hunger and thirst when the circumstances of things lay him not under any such necessity, omitting the usual refreshments of bathing and anointing, greatly negligent, or even sordid in his dress, often lying upon the bare ground instead of a bed, and pleasing himself with such sort of temperance; have pity upon him, and shew him wherein that virtue (of temperance) consists: for all those exercises are useless torments of body and mind.
The apostle's design then is this: bodily exercise, such as is practised in the public games of Greece, or in the preparatory exercises: and that which some others observe according to rules and institutions of human invention, is of little advantage.
That is the first proposition.
II. The second proposition contained in the text is, that godliness is profitable for all things, having, in particular, promise of the life that is to come.
This indeed stands last. But I have chosen to invert the order, and speak of this first, because the promise, or happiness of the life that now is; as to godliness, or godly persons; very much depends upon the promise of the life that is to come: for which reason I hope this method will not be disapproved.
By godliness I think we are here to understand every branch of religion and virtue, which is reasonable in itself, or expressly required and commanded of God. Indeed the word is sometimes used in a more restrained sense, for that part of our duty which more immediately respects God: as when it is said, that we are taught by the gospel to live "soberly, righteously and godly in this present world," Tit. ii. 12. But at other times the word has a more comprehensive meaning. So at the end of the preceding chapter of this epistle to Timothy, ch. iii. 16. " And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness." Again, in another chapter, 1 Tim. vi. 3, 4. "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing."
What the apostle intends by godliness here we may learn from a parallel exhortation in the second epistle to this same evangelist: "Flee also youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart; but foolish and unlearned questions avoid," 2 Tim. ii. 22, 23. There he directs Timothy to follow the several branches of that godliness, to which here in the text he only in general exhorts him to exercise himself.
Undoubtedly godliness in the comprehensive, which is a just sense of the word, includes every thing holy and virtuous, the love of God and our neighbour, and all the duties included in these general precepts and principles of religion.
It includes the fear or reverence of God, trust in his care and providence, faith in his promises, and a readiness to bear and endure whatever he lays upon us.
It includes likewise the practice of truth, righteousness and goodness toward men. should also be meek, patient and long-suffering. And we are to govern and regulate our affections, senses and appetites, according to the rules of reason, using all the comforts and innocent enjoyments of this life with sobriety and moderation.
If we will complete the character of godliness, we should walk in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless, without any wilful, designed, or allowed exceptions and omissions, or presumptuous transgressions whatever.
And we should maintain and profess the truths, which God has made known to us, whether by reason or by revelation, whoever denies or opposes them.