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pose of His Will; and whom he employed to make known these communications to the men of their own generation, and to record them in various modes for the benefit and guidance of posterity." “God spake at sundry times and in divers manners unto the fathers by the prophets." They “prophesied of the grace that should come" unto humanity in the fulness of time, and they " testi. fied beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." One after another they appeared, each contributing to the general treasury of truth the portion with which he had been entrusted ; reviving the failing expectation and the flagging hope of men in the dimness of bygone ages. The early patriarchs, the hoary fathers of our race preserved for their descendants the few imperfect intimations which were given to themselves. Then came, in their order, the various members of “the goodly fellowship of the prophets.” Moses proclaiming the advent of a Prophet like himself; David predicting a Monarch and a Conqueror, and pouring forth the enchanting strains of his harp to celebrate his greatness; Isaiah fortelling his humiliation and sacrifice, and representing with his gorgeous imagery the scenes that should follow, and the sublime history of the Church ; Jeremiah uttering his plaintive cry over the sin
of Israel, and speaking of One who should come, and who should be called “ The Lord our Righteousness ; Ezekiel, with his dazzling splendour and the fiery glow of his inspiration; Daniel calculating the period of Messiah's appearance, and pointing out those grand occurrences in human history, which seem like the halting-places of Jehovah as he marches onward to the accomplishment of his will. And the minor prophets, one telling of the birth-place of Christ; another speaking of him as the smitten Shepherd ; another preaicting that brict hour of enthusiasm when the multitude gathered round him as he entered Jerusalem for the last time, and shouted their welcome, “Hosanna, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest ;” and another, the last of that “goodly fellowship” closing up, not only his own prophecies, but the whole series of Old Testament predictions, by declaring the coming of Messiah's herald; and, then, leaving the deep hush of expectation to settle down for centuries upon humanity at large, until it should be broken by the voice ringing through the solitudes of Judea, startling the entire population, and proclaiming, "I am not the Christ, I am sent before him. He standeth in the midst of you.”. And when the whole series of ancient prophecy was complete, it constituted a mass of testimony to which appeal might be successfully made in the opening of the Christian economy, and men could say, when they became acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth, as Philip said to Nathaniel, “ We have found him of whom Moses, in the law and the prophets, did write ;” and they could say, when the facts of his history were told them, and the purposes of his enission were disclosed, as he himself said to his disciples, just before his departure from them: “ Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
But notwithstanding the fulness of Old Testament prophecy, concerning the Gospel, and the clearness (to our minds) of many individual predictions, yet the prophets themselves did not fully comprehend them. The grand design of prophecy when given, and so long as it remains unfulfilled, seems to be to excite and sustain expertation and hope. It is only in the light of history that the meaning of prophecy can be accurately seen.
There therefore necessarily much darkness resting upon the minds of the prophets, as to the signification of their own predictions. “Many prophets and kings, said our Lord to the men of his own day, “Many prophets and kings have desired to see the things which ye see and have not seen them, and to hear the things which ye hear and have not heard them." Faint outlines of the future shaped themselves before their minds, symbolic visions of the future rose up before them, strange and mystic dreams visited them in the stillness of the night, the shadows of coming events flitted across their path, and some general impression and idea of the future were formed within them; but they could not see with that clearness which would satisfy the eager desire of their souls to understand the mind and the purposes of God. With great earnesto
ness and devout meditation they enquired into the significance and import of their predictions, comparing prophecy with prophecy, noting the signs of the times which were passing over them, marking the illustration and interpretation of the Divine purposes which history and providence and religious institutions afforded, and from whatever sources of light and knowledge were open to them obtaining enlightenment and information. Still they could be but partially successful, and they had to rest satisfied with the assurance that they were preparing the way for the future; that they were the heralds and harbingers of glorious things to come, and that they were ministering to the spiritual welfare of generations unborn. Noble and faithful men! they uttered forth the messages with which they were charged from heaven, and while they felt that they could not themselves penetrate to the heart of the mysteries which they preached, and that they would not see the glorious realities which they predicted, while they knew that the dim shadows must linger around them so long as they lived, yet they rejoiced in the prospect which lay before humanity, and felt themselves unspeakably honoured in being ministers of preparation for the auspicious future; and the inspiring doxology with which the royal bard and prophet closed his prophecies, might have been appropriately sung by each of the prophetic choir as he closed his mission. “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory.” The great themes of Christianity were the subject
II. Of Apostolic Announcement. The intimations which were given concerning the facts and purposes of Christianity before the coming of Christ, were (as has been already observed), intended to keep alive the expectation and hopes of mankind. The prophetic ministry was a ministry of preparation. Then, “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.”—“ The desire of all nations” appeared, and the clearly-expressed prophecies of the Old Testament and of the Jewish people, and the vague foreshadowings which were scattered throughout the Gentile world, received their full accomplish
“The Only Begotten of the Father” tabernacled amongst men, shewing forth the glory of the Father, faithfully executing the Father's will, patiently undergoing the sufferings which were predicted, and achieving the grand undertaking and triumph which the prophets foretold. Then the prophetic ministry passed away. These morning-stars of redemption faded before the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. A new order of agencies was instituted in relation to the development and completion of the Divine plan. The ministry of preparation was succeeded by the ministry of publication and accomplishment. Preaching superseded prophecy. Apostles and Evangelists were called forth and commissioned to proclaim the same facts and truths which had been the themes of prophetic song; and the harmony subsisting between the old ministry and the new was emphatically declared by St. Paul when he stood before King Agrippa and said, “Having obtained help of God I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which Moses and the Prophets did say should come : that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and that he should shew light unto the people and to the Gentiles.” The old ministry spoke of the future, the new ministry spoke of the past.
Preparations for this new ministry were made by our Lord himself. He chose witnesses who should accompany him during his active course, who should observe the facts of his life, who should be intimately acquainted with his whole career and with all his movements, who should be taught the elementary truths of the new era from his own lips, who should become attached to his person and his cause, and thereby be qualified for the mission which lay before them. These men accompanied him while he was upon the earth. They saw his miracles. They heard his discourses. They were acquainted with the facts of his life and death. They were witnesses of his resurrection, and they stood gazing up after him into heaven, when he rose from the Mount of Olives and ascended, as in a chariot of triumph, to the throne of his Mediatorship. Shortly before he ascended he said unto them,
is given unto me in heaven and in earth._Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost : teaching them to observe all things' whatsoever I have commanded you : and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Acting on this, the parting charge of Christ, the anointed ministers of the Word soon after entered upon their glorious mission. “ Beginning at Jerusalem,” according to the instructions of their Master, they made it the grand sphere of their labours, until persecution arose and scattered them abroad. Then new fields were continually opening. New centres of evangelic influence and power were continually being formed ; until, at length, the whole world rang with the tidings of salvation, until the nations stood up in amazement at the deserted temples and the falling idolatries which surrounded them, and a moral revolution swept over humanity such as the world had never seen.
Throughout this evangelic enterprise, but one system was pursued by those who were employed in it—that system was the distinct announcement of the great Christian themes, the most marked and prominent of which are indi. cated in our text, “ Grace and Salvation ”—“the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow;" not that these are the sole topics which Christianity contains and which the Apostles preached ; far from it, but that they are its central themes, the solid, massive, primitive formations on which all other parts of the system rest. The mission of Apostles and Evangelists was specially ordained to “report” these things unto men; to publish to the ends of the earth the tidings of God's " " towards men, to make known that great cardinal truth of revelation that “God is Love ;" to make known “the sufferings of Christ” as the demonstration of the righteousness and the love of God; to proclaim a full and free salvation to our guilty and perishing race, and to disclose to the eyes of men the sublime issues of the Gospel, in “the glory that should follow.” And if you track their course amongst the nations, you find them fulfilling their mission. If you stand with Peter in Jerusalem, when he opens the new dispensation to the Jews, as he comes forth fresh from the Spirit's
baptism on that glorious Pentecostal morning ; or if you accompany him to the house of Cornelius the Centurion, where he opens the new dispensation to the Gentiles, after witnessing the marvellous vision of the sheet ; if you go with Philip to Samaria, and listen to that preaching which filled the city with joy, or if you accompany him on his way toward Gaza, to meet the Ethiopian ; if you enter the Jewish synagogue at Ephesus, and listen to the commanding eloquence of Apollos ; or, if you follow in the footsteps of Paul, and attend to the utterances of his manly intellect, and his fervent spirit, whatever diversity you may perceive in the style of their address, or in the cast and clothing of their thoughts, you will find that the topics of their speech are the same. We may take the statements of Paul, in reference to his own ministry, as a faithful portraiture of that of his brethren :-"I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you—how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” And we may take the teaching of Paul as a clear illustration and example of that of his fellow-workers in the faith, and we find that the topics referred to were ever prominent. Not, we repeat, that these were the sole topics of the Apostolic ministry. No; the Christianity of Paul was a broad and expansive thing. It was not a narrow, soul-cramping system like the theologies and creeds of men. It was wide and comprehensive in its sweep. It was a very universe of truth in which the mighty soul of the Apostle could expatiate, and to the utmost verge and boundary of which even an angel's pinion would not have strength to bear him. The ministry of the whole company of Apostles and Evangelists was characterised by breadth and fulness. Starting from the facts of the Gospel history, and the primary ideas of grace and salvation they expounded, but they could not exhaust the great Christian themes. And wherever they went, they felt
that they were called to be witnesses for Christ, and preachers of the truth. The great Christian themes were the subject
III. Of Divine Attestation. Throughout the history of the world, and under every dispensation of his mercy which God has vouchsafed to men, the presence of the Holy Ghost has been with them, and his influence and power have been at work. One of the principal manifestations of his presence and agency has been the communication of the successive portions of Divine truth to the world. "No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The anointing and influence of the Divine Spirit were essential to the true prophets in ancient times. From him proceeded the light which filled their souls. He gave them that power of vision which enabled them to penetrate the shadows of the future; he raised them to the lofty elevation from which they could survey the scenery and transactions of coming ages; he touched their lips with the hallowed fire; he imparted power to the rod of Moses ; he breathed melody into the soul of David; he gave Isaiah his eagle eye; he rapt Ezekiel in the fierce frenzy of inspiration. Whatever anticipations and foresight or foreknowledge which the ancient prophets possessed as to the future it came from him. It was “the Spirit of Christ which was in them,” which “testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” As time passed on, and the Redeemer's advent drew nigh, the Spirit shone into the minds of the prophets, until the period arrived when the page of prophecy caine to a close. But during the prophetic age, the Spirit was not given in the fulness of his power, that fulness was reserved for the coming dispensation.
When that dispensation came, and its preparatory arrangements were over, the Spirit of God was poured forth with unmeasured copiousness. The manifestations of his presence and power became more marked and signal than ever ; clearer light shone into the souls of men; a more abundant revelation of the mind of God was given; the mysteries of the past were mysteries no longer ; a wider diffusion of the Spirit's influence and gifts took place; men rose to a loftier spiritual elevation than had ever been attained by humanity before ; tongues of fire rested upon the Apostles, and they became Divinelyqualified for the stupendous task assigned them; and the presence and fulne-s of the Spirit became the common heritage of the Church. A new era opened upon the world ; a new life was breathed into humanity; and the overflowing riches of the Divine benevolence were poured out at the feet of mankind. “ The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" was the crowning manifestation of the love of God.
When the first preachers of the Gospel went forth, according to the commission which they received from Christ, they did so under the immediate influence of the Divine Spirit. As the Lord himself had beeen "anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power," so was it also with his ambassadors. They were clothed with “power from on high.”. The Spirit accompanied them and rested upon them, not merely to qualify them for their work, and to sustain them in its performance, but also to give forth demonstration of the divinity of their message, and the transcendant importance of the truths which they preached. And wherever they went, and amongst whatsoever people they laboured they could invariably point to the results and say “our Gospel came not untoʻ you in word only, but in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." The manifestation of his presence and power confirmed their testimony. The testimony of Peter at Jerusalem, the testimony of Philip at Samaria, the testimony of Paul throughout the Gentile world were thus corroborated. "God was working with them, confirming their word by signs following." The Gospel-the great salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord was confirmed by them that heard him. God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost according to his own will.” This corroborating testimony of the Spirit, this Divine attestation to the Apostolic ministry and the great Christian themes which that ministry proclaimed, was borne, not so much by the outward miracles which the Apostles wrought, as by the spiritual results which followed their labours. The grandest signs which accompanied them were those which took place in the region of the soul. Through the word of the Apostles, mighty spiritual works were accomplished. Hearts were changed. Consciences were purified. Sins were washed away. Spiritual life and freedom were imparted to myriads. The victims of superstition and idolatary and sensuality were rescued. Character and conduct were sanctified. Peace and blessing and hope were breathed into the dark and despairing souls of men.
Multitudes were “ translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son; “and were made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light.” Thus was attestation borne to the preaching of the Apostles. Thus was the Divine seal affixed to their labours. They "preached the Gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” Their speech and their preaching were in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." O that the baptism of fire which rested upon them might rest upon the Church and ministry in our own day, and that similar signs of the presence of God and demonstrations of his power, might be made manifest in the earth! The great themes of Christianity are subjects
IV. Of Angelic Study. "Which things," writes the Apostle," the angels desire to look into.” We are here introduced, my brethren, to an order of intelligences with whom we have no conscious intercourse or contact, of whom we can form very imperfect ideas, but the reality of whose existence is clearly indicated in Scripture, and whose position and occupation in the universe are somewhat disclosed. They are the servants of God doing his will.” “ He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” They are oc. casionally employed in executing the high behests of their Sovereign in various parts of his unbounded empire. They have been employed at various times in executing the purposes of God in relation to mankind. Sometimes they have come forth from that invisibility which is their normal state of being, but, in general, their ministry has been fulfilled unseen. That the affairs of men awaken interest amongst them was clearly stated by our Lord when he said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth ;” and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, that they are all “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who are heirs of salvation.” The visions of the heavenly world which are laid open to us in the Apocalypse, represent them as constituting a vast and united choir, presenting before the throne of God and the Lamb, their lofty adoration and worship, filling the gorgeous temple of the invisible world, and making it vocal with their praise. And again, they are represented as engaged in contemplating the acts and movements of Jehovah in the different departments of his rule. Thus, when the universe gradually arose into being, and shewed forth the might and skill of the Creator, and the angelic spectators witnessed the stupendous deed, "the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy.” The progress and history of the Church of Christ are themes of their contemplation ; for “unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly place is made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God;" and our text declares them to be interested and engaged in the study of the glorious facts and truths to which the Church owes its being. Their employment in the universe of God is not active and missionary service orly, nor praise and worship in the upper sanctuary only, but deep, devout, and earnest study too—" which things the angels desire to look into.”
The revelation of the Divine - grace" to the world—the multiplied bless. ings which constitute the one great boon, “salvation "—the marvellous sacri. fice and sufferings of the Son of God—the glorious results that follow, these, with the other connected themes of Christianity, possess an entrancing interest and fascination for the angels of God. We remember how some of them were employed in ministering to Christ-how a great multitude of the heavenly host accompanied the honoured messenger who was sent forth to announce to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, and with what rapture they sang “ Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men.” member how angels were charged to warn Joseph of the purposes of Herod and to intimate his death. We remember how they came and ministered to the Son of Man in the wilderness after his fasting and temptation, and how