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THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL.
PREACHED ON SUNDAY EVENING, JANUARY 3, 1858,
THE REV. JAMES SPENCE.
"Tho glorious gospel of the blessed God.”—1 Tim. i. 11.
It is beautiful to see age and experience affectionately giving wise and holy counsel to youth and inexperience: and it is perhaps more beautiful to see youth, full of manly vigour and buoyant energy, humbly and gratefully receiving the counsel of hoary hairs, and striving to follow it. At the time when St. Paul wrote this epistle, he must have been considerably advanced in life, while Timothy was still comparatively a young
The relationship between them was spiritual, and therefore sacred and tender. The Apostle looked upon the youthful evangelist as his son, cherished him, counselled him, and encouraged him as his own son; and Timothy looked up to the Apostle, and loved him as a father. Thus the religion of Jesus ever hallows the ties which bind human hearts together; adopts, sanctifies, and ennobles the influence of true friendship.
St. Paul had been driven away from Ephesus before he had fully accomplished all that he had designed and wished to do. Timothy was left in that city for a time, and the Apostle took the earliest opportunity of giving suitable instructions how to complete the work which he himself had begun. This epistle contains these instructions. He warns him against false teachers, and certain errors which they had introduced in opposing the Gospel under a pretended zeal for the Law. The Apostle reminds Timothy, that whatever they might teach or say about the Law, there was no opposition, and could be none, between it and the Gospel
. The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to prophecy, promise, and fact, is the only means of enthroning God's law in the sinner's heart; and the grand characteristic of Gospel times, is the putting of the laws into the mind, and writing them in the heart. Whatever the Law forbids, that the Apostle declares the spirit of the Gospel also forbids, and what the Law cannot do, the Gospel can do, in showing a man how to obey, and in putting within him the only efficient principle of obedience, which is love.
But we have to do this evening, my friends, in the words of the text, with "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God." May the Divine Spirit help us rightly to understand and appreciate them. We have been spared through God's good providence to enter upon another year. Its influence upon us, whatever it may bring, and our history throughout its course, will mainly depend upon our apprehension and treatment of this Gospel. The words suggest to us for consideration, the import, the character, and the design of the Gospel.
I. THE IMPORT OF THE GOSPEL AS HERE CONVEYED.—You are all, doubtless, aware that the meaning of the word Gospel is glad tidings, or good-news. “Behold,” said the
angel in announcing to the shepherds in the fields at Bethlehem the advent of the Saviour, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people." And the preaching of the Gospel is the proclamation of these good tidings. The news of the Saviour's advent to our sinful world was joyous tidings, and the Gospel is really intelligence about Him as the Son of God and the Redeemer of men. The Gospel, therefore, may be regarded as the burden of the Seriptures, for from beginning to end, by prefiguration, or prophecy, or history, they are full of Christ, and testify of /im. The Word of God in its different parts contains one mighty moral drama, if we may so speak, stretching from the song of the morning stars at creation, onward to the trumpet blast of the judgment day, and Jesus Christ is the master-spirit of the the whole. The Gospel tells us of the grace and love of the Father, of the condescension and sacrifice of the Son, and of the mission and influence of the Holy Ghost. It tells us of a law as perfect and pure as the character of God, of a holiness that cannot look upon sin, and of a mercy too great to endure that any woe should continue to exist for which Divine wisdom could find, and Divine righteousness permit a remedy. It tells us of a love that brought the living Author of moral law, down to the region where it had been violated, that He might take upon Him the nature in which it had been transgressed, and die, the just for the unjust, that the transgressor might be brought unto God. It tells us that He,
"Strong Son of God, immortal Love," came thus into the world to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, to show us what God the Father is, and to make a way for the return of his fallen children to his confidence and love. “God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is good news for all men, and this is the Gospel.
Let us illustrate this a little more fully. We all like to hear glad tidings. The recent intelligence of the relief of Lucknow, and the salvation of our country-women and children, sent a thrill of joy and gratitude throughout the country, --it was good news. But no tidings ever proclaimed to men can equal in sublimity, and joyousness, and importance, the good news of the Gospel. Man may be regarded in all the aspects of his being and character, and this Gospel is found to be good news to him in them all.
1. The Gospel is good tidings to man as a rational and intelligent being. The possession of a thinking soul is the distinction and glory of man, and knowledge is necessary for the welfare of his soul. The desire of knowledge, under various modifications, is one of the natural desires of the human heart. In every age, men have sought for information, and indulged in speculation regarding their origin, their nature, and their destiny. In every age, and most in those ages when mind reached the highest culture, have men asked, Whence are we? What are we? Whither are we going The burden of ancient philosophy was in connexion with such themes as these, but it was very little that human reason or research could accomplish. The light of nature was feeble, and when followed, afforded no certainty or satisfaction. To man, then, searching after knowledge and craving for information, the Gospel is indeed good news. It reveals to us the being and character of that infinite Father to whom we owe our existence and our powers. “Man by searching could not find out God,” but the Gospel makes Him known in the majesty of His dominion, and the perfection of his nature, declaring to us his creating power, His providential goodness, and his redeeming grace, and bringing before us all that we need to know here about the Almighty Ruler, " in whom we live, and move, and have our being. “So also does the Gospel throw heaven's light upon ourselves, upon our own position, and character, and prospects, telling us not only where we are, but what we are, what we ought to be, and what we may become. Nowhere is there such a treasury of the highest knowledge for man as in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the loftiest and most important themes, it yields the surest information--the only information which can fill and satisfy the human soul; throwing the purest light on the pilgrimage of man; unfolding his dignity, his duty, and his danger; dispelling doubts, dissipating darkness, and offering certainty on questions about which men have perplexed themselves in vain. Nowhere else but there do we learn, in all its majesty and attractiveness, the Fatherhood of God, and, in all its momentousness and responsibility, the filial relationship of man. Truly, then, the Gospel is glad tidings to a being capable of knowledge, and craving for it.
is a moral being, and everywhere gives evidence of the possession of a moral nature. In all countries, amongst all peoples, there are moral judgments, distinctions between right and wrong, or between what is believed to be right and wrong. The function of conscience is universal. This is, perhaps, the most important aspect of man's nature, and that which specially removes him far above all the lower creation ---that he can distinguish between good and evil. Nor is this all. How comes it that every where man has more or less the consciousness of evil, the feeling of guilt and shortcoming, and of moral distance from the Deity? Infidelity tells us it is not so; says that this is an idle, superstitious dream, but the universal struggling and heaving of the heart of humanity tells us that infidelity is a lie. Look where you will, in the regions where the untutored savage roams, or the lands where a literary and partially civilized paganism reigns, and how is it that every where men act as if they were guilty, and seek to propitiate their godsBy the smoke of hecatombs, by the offering of sacrifices, by personal mortifications, cruel ceremonials, and long pilgrimages, men manifest the notion that their deity is their foe and must be propitiated. Thus they seek his favour. There is scarcely a glen or a copse that has not been sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice-scarcely a mountain or a valley that has not echoed the cry of the bleeding victim offered to avert the wrath of the gods that have been worshipped. Ay, and far away from the regions of paganism, here, in the sanctuary of many a heart now before me, does not the very thought of God produce unhappiness? and does not the prospect of death and judgment excite terror? and does not conscience speak of a moral condition that is not at peace with God! It is a sad and solemn truth that man is a sinner, and that he is guilty. But the Gospel brings good news to him. It tells him of a Divine provision by which he may be pardoned and saved. It tells him of a sacrifice which has been offered for sin-a sacrifice of boundless value, which has met all the requirements of righteousness, and laid the foundation for mercy. Christ, the Son of God, came into the world and died, the just for the unjust,--died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. Thus the character of the Father is honoured. His government in the universe is upheld, and the sinner may be free. Do not suppose, however, that the Son changed the Father's mind, and placated or appeased an angry God. It was the Father, loving the world, who sent his Son to make this way for his righteousness and mercy, for mercy without righteousness would be no mercy. No need, then, for pilgrimages, or mortifications, or bleeding victims now; they are vain, and worthless, and wrong. The one sacrifice of Christ has been offered and accepted; and on the ground of it alone man may be forgiven and saved. How glorious the news for a guilty soul !
And this is not all. Man, as a sinner, is not only guilty, but polluted, more or less under the power of sin. How shall he be purified from this pollution, and rescued from this dominion? The same Gospel that tells him of pardon, tells him also of purity. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” It breaks the power of iniquity in the soul ; shows that, by the influence of the Holy Ghost applying it to the heart, darkness and evil are dethroned, and man is restored to the image of his Maker and his God. Thus it preaches free pardon, and promises a perfect purity to those who have rebelled against Jehovah, and broken his law. What better news could be had or heard in a sinful world than this ? Verily, the Gospel is glad tidings of great joy to
And further :3. It is good news to man as a social and a suffering being.-Man's life here is, more or less, in company with others, a pilgrimage of sorrow. He is born to trouble. You do not need any one to illustrate this to you, my friends. In your hearts and in your homes you have often the practical experience of it. You know what it is to toil and weep; you know what it is to sorrow and to suffer; you know what it is to bear affliction, and to struggle with difficulty and endure trial. And perhaps sometimes you are perplexed, and strange thoughts come into your mind; so that you call the proud happy, and the wealthy blessed, and wonder what kind of a Being it is that governs the world with such apparent inequality. There, at one time, is war with its blood-thirstiness destroying its myriads; here, at another time, is famine,
that meagre fiend Blasts mildew from between his shrivelled lips," and desolates the fairest regions; here, at another time, is pestilence, walking at night and at noonday, and causing multitudes to fall before it. Is this world left to chance, or left to be the sport of fiends? The Gospel comes to our relief, and tells us that an
Almighty Father governs all, that he numbers the very hairs of our heads, and that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without his permission. It tells us, that now we are in state of probation and discipline for a coming future, and provides the richest consolation, with the assurance that God is too wise to err, and too good to be unkind. Now, amidst all the mysteries of Providence, so many of which are too deep for us, when you are borne down perhaps by affliction, and fighting with difficulty, and struggling to provide things honest in the sight of all men, is it not good news to be told that a Father's eye is upon you, and that a Saviour's sympathy is with you, and that the blessed Spirit's help may be enjoyed by you? And is it not good news to be assured that whatever may be your trials and sorrows now, they are but part of that Father's discipline, intended to prepare you for a home in a region beyond the reach of affliction and sorrow for ever; so that the very tears and toils of your life may be turned into means of holy and eternal triumph. It is the Gospel only that tells us this, so that we may truly say it is good news. And once more :
4. The Gospel is glad tidings to man as a dying and immortal being.–Dying, and yet immortal. Yes, both. We know that we must die, although the tendency is to forget it, so that
u All men think all men mortal but themselves."
We stand on the threshold of another year; the past is gone, and we are carried down the deepening stream of time towards eternity. We stand upon the dust of ages. Every where there are around us the tokens of death, and the emblems of mourning. We must die, and we know not when we may be summoned into an unseen world. Many of our friends and acquaintances, who began last year with us in health and vigour, have left us, and their bodies have been laid in the narrow house appointed for all living. What is to become of us ? The soul shrinks from the thought of annihilation. Is there any shore to the ocean of futurity? Is there any morning to break upon the long night of death? Who can tell? Not human reason, nor human philosophy. Many a time have they lighted their tapers to look into the tomb, but its noxious vapours have extinguished them. Man may speculate, and hope, and long, but he cannot of himself reach certainty. Socrates, the prince of heathen philosophers, when about to take the cup of poison, said to his friends, as he took his farewell of them, “ I go to die, you go to live; which is best the gods only know!” But certainty comes to us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It brings life and immortality to light, and tells us that the Saviour has abolished death and opened the kingdom to all believers. It tells us that he vanquished death in his own domain, rose from the grave, and planted the standard of hope on the very citadel of our foe, and that as he overcame so may we. It dispels darkness from our horizon, throws the light of heaven upon our earthly pilgrimage, and beckons us to life and glory beyond the grave; thus assuring us of resurrection and immortality. Is not this glorious news, in a world where all men die, and where we do not know how soon we may individually receive the summons to depart? It is the Gospel only,—not philosophy, not reason, not infidelity, not atheism,-but the Gospel of Christ alone that can teach us to say and sing, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?"
Such, my friends, is the Gospel. Look at it in relation to yourselves, in relation to every aspect of your condition, and you will find that for the present life, as well as for that which is to come, no news like it has ever been proclaimed to men. It is indeed glad tidings of great joy~"the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.”
But we have to consider,
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL AS HERB GIVEN.-It is glorious—"the glorious Gospel.” Few descriptive terms are more commonly used, and yet, perhaps, none more difficult of exact definition than "glorious." There are many kinds of glory recognized and spoken of in the world, and many things called glorious. There is regal glory, military glory, political glory, intellectual glory. We speak of a glorious day, a glorious scene, a glorious achievement, a glorious victory. It is expressive of lustre, excellence, and beauty. Glory belongs to God; and that which belongs to Him, or comes from Him is alone truly glorious. Nowhere has the word so fitting and true an application as in reference to the Gospel of God. It is the expression to us of the supremacy, greatness, moral excellence, and perfection of the Almighty Father, and is especially glorious in two respects :—as a Revelation, and as a Remedy.
1. The Gospel is glorious as a Revelation. It makes known to us, as we have already seen, what we nowhere else can learn--the loftiest truths connected with the character of God, and with our relationship to Him. It is the highest revelation of God, and of his law, of his government, and grace. It throws the pure and certain light of heaven upon our path, meeting us with truth that bears authoritatively upon our daily duty, as well as on our everlasting destiny. If we would know God as our God, not only as the Almighty Architect of the universe, but as our Divine Father, and gracious Friend, we must see Him in the Gospel of his Son. Nature speaks of Him, and providence speaks of Him, but it is the Gospel only that fully unfolds his moral character, and reveals his grace. There, too, we see,-as nowhere else can be seen,—the value of man's soul, the terrible evil of sin, the majesty of moral law, and the glory that may yet be ours. By the revelation of such momentous truths, the Gospel may well be designated “glorious."
But it is not only in the truths revealed, but in the manner or mode of the revelation, that the Gospel is especially glorious. "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” It is not a mere proclamation from heaven, nor a Divine theory, nor a set of holy doctrines, but a revelation of facts--facts the most wonderful and glorious in the world's history. It is this especially that constitutes the distinction and grandeur of the Gospel : “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.” “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." Even the history of the gradual development of God's purposes before the advent of Christ, was a history of facts in connexion with that remarkable people the Jews, and the revelation of the deepest spiritual truths to them was by a system of acted symbols and significant rites. But the full and final revelation is in Jesus Christ, in what He was, and in what He did. In his life and ministry, in his death and resurrection, we have facts which at once show us the Father, and come home to the bosom and business of every one of us--facts that can never be modified or successfully deniedfacts that are as impregnable, and strong, and blessed now, as when they first occurred.