The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
Thomas Brooks, 1655
"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!" Ephesians 3:8
I shall now proceed to the third doctrine, namely, Christ gives his best gifts to his best beloved ones.
We shall speak now to the word grace. The Greek word that is here rendered grace, has a twofold signification.
First, Sometimes it is taken for the gracious favor and good-will of God, whereby he is pleased of his own free love to accept and own poor sinners in the Son of his love, for his own. This is called the first grace, because it is the fountain of all other graces, and the spring from whence they flow. And it is therefore called grace, because it makes a man gracious with God.
Secondly, This word that is here rendered grace, is taken for the gifts of grace, and they are of two sorts, special or common. Common grace is that which hypocrites may have, and in which they may excel and go beyond the choicest saints, as in a gift of knowledge, a gift of utterance, a gift of prayer, a gift of tongues, etc. A man may have these, and many other excellent gifts, and yet eternally miscarry, yes, fall as low as hell; witness Judas, Demas, the scribes and pharisees, etc., Mat. 7:21-25.
Secondly, There is special grace, as faith, love, humility, meekness, which the apostle reckons up in Gal. 5:22-23.
Now here by grace you may either understand the gracious favor of God, "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this choice favor given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ," or else you may take it for the gifts of grace, both saving and common, which the apostle had given him, in order to the discharge of his ministerial office, which, by the special favor of God, he was advanced to.
The word grace being thus opened, we may from thence observe, that the Lord gives his best gifts to his best beloved ones.
"Unto me," says the apostle, "who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given."
For the opening and clearing of this point, I shall premise these four things.
I. To show you what those best gifts are, which God bestows upon his best beloved ones.
II. I shall show you the manner of his giving the best gifts to his beloved ones, or the difference there is between Christ's giving and the world's giving.
III. And then the excellency of those gifts which Christ gives, above all other gifts which the world gives.
IV. And lastly, The reason why Christ gives his best gifts to his best beloved ones.
I.For the first, What are those best gifts, which Christ bestows upon his best beloved ones?
I shall not instance in those common gifts which they have in common with others—but rather show unto you those special gifts which God bestows upon them; and of those I shall single out those which are most choice, and which carry most in them of the glory, favor, and "good will of him who dwelt in the bush."
And the first is this:
[1.] He gives LIGHT to his beloved ones."Light is a pleasant thing to behold," as the wise man speaks, Eccles. 11:7. He gives spiritual light, which is a mercy of mercies. Eph. 5:14, "Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light." [shine upon you. Life without light is but a lifeless life.] So John 1:7-9, "He was not that Light—but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light—which enlightens every man who comes into the world." He gives that light whereby his people are enabled to see sin to be the greatest evil, and himself to be the chief good. He gives that light which melts the soul, which humbles the soul, which warms the soul, which quickens the soul, which quiets the soul, and which gladdens the soul. Man is not born with heavenly light in his heart, as he is born with a tongue in his mouth. Until Christ comes and sets up a light in the soul, the soul lives in darkness, and lies in darkness, yes, is darkness in the very abstract: Eph. 5:8, "You were once darkness—but now are you light in the Lord." Saints are always in the sunshine, therefore they should be like a crystal glass, with a light in the midst, which appears in every part. "But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings." Mal. 4:2. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6
A Christian should be like the lamp in the story—which never went out. Were it not for the sun, it would be perpetual night in the world, notwithstanding all starlight, and torchlight, and moonlight. It is not the torchlight of natural parts and creature-comforts, nor the starlight of civil honesty and common gifts, nor yet the moonlight of temporary faith and formal profession—which can make day in the soul, until the Sun of righteousness rises and shines upon it. And that is the first thing he gives—light.
Now, the second thing he gives is,
[2.] REPENTANCE.Repentance is not a flower which grows in nature's garden. Acts 5:31, "Him has God the Father exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." So in 2 Tim. 2:25, "The servant of the Lord must in meekness instruct those who oppose themselves, if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." By these scriptures, it is clear that repentance is no flower that grows in nature's garden, though Arminians teach and print, that if men will put out their power and their strength they may repent, etc. [2 Cor. 3:5. If there be such a power in fallen man to repent and believe, etc., to what purpose was the coming of Christ into the world? 1 John 2:9; 3:8. And why do natural men, when their consciences are awakened, so cry out, that they are as able to stop the sun in his course, to raise the dead, and to make a world, as they are able of themselves to repent? etc.] But several that have been of this opinion, have experienced the falseness of it when it has been too late: "The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots," Jer. 13:23. And certainly, if there were such a power in man to repent, as some would make the world believe, man would never miscarry everlastingly for his not repenting. Oh, is it good dwelling with everlasting burnings, with a burning fire? Is it good being forever shut out from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power? Certainly, if there were such a power in vain man to repent, no man would go to hell for not repenting; and many who have boasted much of their abilities to repent, when they have been upon a dying bed, would have given a thousand worlds, were there so many in their power, that they could but repent.
Luther confesses, that before his conversion, he met not with a more displeasing word in all the study of divinity than this word repent; but after the Lord had converted him, and manifested himself to him, he delighted in this work; then he could sorrow for his sins, and rejoice in his sorrow.
Repentance strips the soul stark naked of all the garments of the old Adam, and leaves not so much as the shirt behind. In this rotten building there is not one stone left upon another. As the flood drowned Noah's own friends and servants, as well as strangers, so true repentance drowns all darling lusts. True repentance is the cutting off the right hand, and the pulling out of the right eye; and is this such an easy thing? Surely not! True repentance is a gift that is from above, and if the Lord does not give it, man will eternally perish for the lack of it. You may read much more of this in my treatise called Heaven on Earth.
[3.] Christ gives his SPIRIT.Romans 5:5, "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us." So in 1 John 3:24, "And hereby we know that he abides in us." How? "By the Spirit whom he has given us." So in chapter 4:13. The Spirit whom the Lord Christ gives—is an enlightening Spirit, it is the candle of the Lord set up in the hearts of the saints, to guide them in the way everlasting. It is a sanctifying Spirit, a Spirit of burning, Isaiah 4:4. He is a fire to enlighten the soul, and a fire to enliven the soul, and a fire to warm the soul, etc. Whatever is of the Spirit is spirit. It is nimble, and lively, and active, and full of life and motion, as the Spirit is. A man without the Spirit of the Lord is a dull, dronish creature. As the Latins call a dull, dronish man, a fireless man, so we may call a man who has not the Spirit, a spiritless man. The Spirit that Christ gives is a sealing Spirit, Eph. 1:13; and a leading Spirit, "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Romans 8:14. He leads from sin, he leads from wrath, he leads from the curse; he leads to God, he leads to Christ, he leads to the promises, he leads to glory, etc.
Again, this Spirit is a comforting Spirit, John 4:16; and a pleading Spirit, Romans 8:26. Every Christian has three advocates pleading for him: the first is, that divine love which is in the bosom of the Father; the second is, the Lord Jesus who is at the right hand of the Father; and the third is, the Holy Spirit who is one with the Father.
[4.] He gives his BLOOD. The blood of Christ is a gift of Christ to his beloved ones. Mat 20:28, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto—but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." So in John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep." His blood was the purest blood, his human nature being most pure. His blood was the noblest blood, and therefore called in Scripture, "the blood of God," Romans 3:25 and Acts 20:28, by reason of the conjunction of the divine nature with the human. It was his life-blood, his heart-blood which he gave. It was not the blood of his finger—but the blood of his heart; it was precious blood. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers—but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." 1 Peter 1:18-19
Three things are called precious in the Scripture.
(1.) Faith is called precious faith, 2 Peter 1:1.
(2.) The promises are called precious promises, ver. 4.
(3.) The blood of Christ is called precious blood, 1 Peter 1:19.
All your precious mercies swim to you in precious blood, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Romans 5:9; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:7, 26, 10:19; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5, etc.]
It was an excellent saying of Luther, speaking of this blood of Christ, One little drop of this blood, is more worth than heaven and earth! Your pardon swims to you in blood; your peace with God swims to you in blood; your reconciliation is made by blood; your acceptance is wrought by blood, etc. Christ's blood is heaven's key; Christ's blood is a preservative against the greatest evils. Christ's blood, as Pliny says of polium, is a preservative against serpents, etc.
[5.] Christ gives PARDON of sin.And do you know what a mercy that is? Ask the troubled soul, ask the soul who knows what it is to lie under the wrath of the Almighty, and he will tell you that pardon of sin is a gift more worth than a thousand worlds. Now that pardon of sin is a gift of God, you may see in Acts 5:31, "Him has God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." [To his right hand; that is, to honor and dignity, etc.] So in Acts 26:18. Ah, souls! of all mercies, pardoning mercy is the most necessary mercy. I may go to heaven without honors, and without riches, and without the smiles of creatures; but I can never to heaven without pardoning mercy. A man may be great and graceless, he may be rich and miserable, he may be honorable and damnable, etc., [As Ahab, Haman, Dives, etc.] But a pardoned soul must be a very blessed soul.
Psalm 32:1-2. "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him." [Blessednesses. In the plural, pardon of sin includes a plurality of mercies, a chain of pearls, a chain of blessings.] It entitles souls to all blessedness, it puts the royal crown upon their heads. Of all mercies, pardoning mercy is the most sweetening mercy; it is a choice jewel, and swims to the soul in blood, Heb. 9:22. It is a mercy which makes all other mercies to look like mercies, and taste like mercies, and work like mercies; and the lack of it takes off the glory and beauty of all a man's other mercies, and makes his life a very hell. Pardon of sin is a voluminous mercy, a mercy which has many, many precious mercies in its womb! You may well call it Gad, Gen. 30:11, for it ushers in troops of mercy. When you can number the sands of the sea, and count the stars of heaven, then, and not until then, shall you be able to recount the mercies which attend pardoning mercy. He who has this mercy cannot be miserable, and he who lacks it cannot be happy: get this and get all, miss this and miss all. Pardoning mercy is a gift conferred only upon Christ's favorites: "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you," Mat. 9:2. No mercy will make a man everlastingly blissful—but pardoning mercy. He has no reason to be sad—who has his pardon in his bosom; nor has he has any reason to be glad, who is upon the last step of the ladder, ready to be turned off without his pardon. And this is the fifth gift that Christ gives to his, namely, pardon of sin.
[6.] Christ gives precious PROMISES.2 Peter 1:4, "He has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises," etc. The promises are a precious book; every leaf drops myrrh and mercy. The promises are golden vessels, which are laden with the choicest jewels which heaven can afford, or the soul can desire. All our spiritual, temporal, and eternal good is to be found in the belly of the promises. [The promises are precious beds of spices; they are bottles filled with those heavenly dews that will never fail, like that of Hagar's—but will uphold and nourish the soul to life eternal, etc.]
Promises are big-bellied mercies. There is nothing you can truly call a mercy—but you will find it in the belly of a promise. Under all changes they are the comfort, support, and relief of the soul: Psalm 119:49-50, "Remember your word unto your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has quickened me." If the soul groans under the power of sin, then that promise relieves it: Romans 6:14, "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law—but under grace."
If the soul groans under the guilt of sin, then that promise relieves it: Jer. 33:8, "I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have sinned against me," etc. And that promise, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." Isaiah 43:25 "I, even I," whom you have offended; "I, even I," whom you have provoked; "I, even I," whose glorious name you have profaned; "I, even I," whose righteous law you have violated; "I, even I," whose holy covenant you have transgressed; "I, even I," whose mercies you have despised; "I, even I, whose chastisements you have slighted," will blot out your transgressions for my own sake." "I, even I," is a passionate and emphatic expression. God's goodness runs over to sinful creatures; and "where sin abounds, there grace does superabound."
If the creditor himself blots out the debt, and crosses the book—surely it shall never more be remembered. [Mat. 6:12, 14-15, and 18:24, 27, 33; Luke 7:41-48.] Our sins are debts, which God, who has the power of life and death, of heaven and hell, of condemning and absolving—has engaged himself to blot out as a thick cloud: Isaiah 44:22, "I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins." An under-officer may blot out an indictment, and yet the offender may be never the better for it; but if the king, who is the supreme judge, shall blot it out, then the offender is safe. The application is easy.
If the soul is deserted, then that promise relieves it: Micah 7:18-19, "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us," etc. If the soul is slipping and ready to fall, then that promise supports and upholds it: Psalm 37:24, "Though he stumbles, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." Deut. 33:26-27. The Hebrew particle notes a continued act of God. God has still his everlasting arms under his people, so that they shall never totally nor finally fall. And the root samach, from whence this word is derived, signifies to sustain or uphold, as the tender mother does the little babe. The safety and security of the child lies not so much in the child's hanging about the mother's neck, as in the mother's holding it fast in her arms. So our safety and security lies not so much in our weak holding upon Christ—but in Christ's holding of us fast in his everlasting arms. This is our glory and our safety, that Christ's "left hand is always under us, and his right hand does always embrace us," Cant. 2:6. "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." John 10:28
If the soul be forsaken by friends, then that promise relieves it, Heb. 13:5, 6, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." There are five negatives in the Greek to assure God's people that he will never forsake them. Five times this precious promise is renewed in the Scripture, that we might have the stronger consolation, and that we may press and squeeze it until we have gotten all the sweetness out of it. And truly many precious souls have sucked much sweetness out of the breasts of this promise, when their nearest relations and their dearest friends have forsaken them and forgotten them. God loves that his people should plead his promises; and he who does shall find God near him, though friends should leave him, and the world be in arms against him, etc.
If the soul be tempted, then that word of promise relieves it, 1 Cor. 10:13, "But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able," etc. The promises are a Christian's magna charta; they are his chief evidences for heaven. Men highly prize their charters and privileges, and carefully keep the titles and deeds of their lands. Oh! how should saints then treasure up and keep these precious promises which the Lord has given them, and which are to them, for their protection, maintenance, deliverance, comfort, and everlasting happiness! And thus much for the sixth gift the Lord gives, viz, the promises.
[7.] The Lord gives GRACE."Of his fullness we all have received grace for grace," John 1:16. The Lord gives that grace, the least grain of which is worth more than heaven and earth.
It was an excellent saying of one of Jerome, "I had rather have Paul's coat with his heavenly graces, than the purple robes of kings with their kingdoms." Grace is that which truly ennobles the soul; it raises the soul up to converse with the highest and with the noblest objects; and every man is, as the objects are, with which he converses. If the objects are noble—the man is so; if the objects are base with which a man converses—the man is base. [Not race or place—but grace, truly sets forth a man.] A man may better know what he is, by eyeing the objects with which his soul does mostly converse—than by observing his most glorious and pompous services: "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor," Proverbs 12:26. Abraham was a prince of God among the Hittites, Gen. 23:6. The Jews say that those seventy people who went down with Jacob into Egypt were more worth than the seventy nations of the world. Indeed, it is only grace which makes a man truly noble.
When one heard the king of Persia styled "the Great King," says he, I acknowledge none more excellent than myself, unless more righteous; nor none greater, unless better. Grace, as it is bred by the noblest means, so it is preserved and maintained in the soul by the choicest means—union and communion with God, etc. Grace is glory in the bud—and glory is grace at the full. Grace makes a man all glorious within and without. Grace is a ring of gold, and Christ is the sparkling diamond in that ring.
[8.] He gives PEACE.John 14:27, "My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world gives, give I unto you." Christ gives peace with God, and peace with conscience, and peace with the creatures. Dulce nomen pacis—the very name of peace is sweet, Romans 5:1, Hosea 2:21-23, Job 5:19-25.
The Hebrews, when they wished all happiness to any, used but this one word, "Peace be with you!" And the ancients were accustomed to paint peace in the form of a woman, with a horn of plenty in her hand—all blessings. Ask a soul who has been under terrors of conscience, and he will tell you, that of all gifts, inward peace is the most princely gift, etc. [Martinus the emperor's motto was, Give me peace, and let others quarrel.]
[9.] He gives GLORY.John 10:28, "My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life." Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death—but the gift of God is eternal life."
Now the glory which Christ gives is real glory: 2 Tim. 4:7-8, "Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of glory." The Greek word signifies two things: 1, a designation of a crown; 2, a reservation and safe keeping of it for him until the coronation day.
Again, the glory which he gives is soul-filling glory; glory which fills the understanding with the clearest and the brightest light; glory which fills the will with the greatest freedom; glory which fills the affections with the choicest joy and delight, Psalm 16:11, and 17:15, 2 Cor. 12:1-6.
Again, the glory he gives is incomparable glory: Romans 8:18, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us." The Greek word that is here rendered I reckon, is not a word of doubting—but a word of concluding. I conclude by arguments—that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to that illustrious and glorious glory "that is ready to be revealed on us," as it is in the Greek. I have cast up the account, says the apostle, as wise merchants cast up theirs, and I find in the balancing of the account—that there is nothing to be compared with that glory which shall be revealed in us.
Again, the glory he gives is unmoveable glory. All worldly glory is tottering and shaking. Princes' crowns hang now but upon one side of their heads. "The Lord Almighty has purposed to stain" (or pollute) "the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth," Isaiah 23:9. "The Lord has purposed it," and the counsel of the Lord shall stand! It is agreed upon in heaven, that the pride of all human glory shall be stained and polluted, or thrown down, as some polluted filthy thing that is trampled under foot. Oh! but this glory which Christ gives is unmoveable glory—it is permanent glory; it is glory which cannot be changed, stained, or polluted, Heb. 12:28.
Again, the glory he gives is suitable glory. It is glory which is suited to the backs, hearts, hopes, desires, and capacities of his servants, John 14:1-3.
Again, the glory he gives is never-fading glory; it is glory which fades not away. When a man has been in heaven as many millions of years as there are stars in heaven, his glory shall be as fresh and as green as it was at his first entrance into heaven. All worldly glory is like the flowers of the field; but the glory that Christ gives is lasting and durable like himself, etc. "And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." 1 Peter 5:4
[10.] Lastly, He gives HIMSELF.And truly this is a gift of gifts indeed, John 6:51, 63; so in Eph. 5:20. A saint may say, Methinks I hear Christ saying to me as Æschines said to Socrates, "Others," said he, "give you silver and gold, and precious jewels—but I give you myself." So the soul may say, One friend gives me bread, and another gives me clothes, and another gives me house-room, etc. Oh! but you give me yourself! Christ put into the balance will outweigh all other gifts which he bestows upon men.
Christ is the richest gift. Oh! there are unsearchable riches in Christ, as hereafter I shall show you. [Austin prays: Lord, whatever you have given, take all away; only give me yourself.]
Jesus is the choicest and the rarest gift; he is a gift given but to a few. Rich and rare jewels are not commonlygiven—but more rarely given; so is Christ. Though Israel be "as the sand of the sea—yet a remnant only shall be saved," Romans 9:17. "A garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed, is my well-beloved," Cant. 4:12. "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's pleasure to give you a kingdom," Luke 12:32.
Christ is a drawing gift, a gift which brings all other gifts along with him. "If he has given us his Son, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?" Romans 8:32. Christ is a drawing gift. When God the Father has cast this incomparable jewel into a man's bosom, he cannot deny him anything. Such a soul may well say, Has he given me a Christ? and will he not give me a crumb? Has he given me his Son, which is the greatest mercy? and will he stand with me for lesser mercies? Surely not!
In a word, Christ is of all gifts the sweetest gift. As the tree, Exod. 15:25, sweetened the bitter waters, so this gift, the Lord Jesus, of whom that tree was a type—sweetens all other gifts which are bestowed upon the sons of men. He turns every bitter into sweet, and makes every sweet more sweet.
And so I come to the second thing propounded, and that was,
II. The difference between Christ's giving and the world's giving.And this I shall show you in the following particulars:
[1.] First, The world gives—but they give grudgingly. But when Christ gives, he gives freely.lsa. 55:1, "Ho, everyone who thirsts, let him come, and buy wine and milk without money, and without price." So in Rev. 21:6, "I will give to everyone that is athirst of the water of life freely." To do good, and not to do it freely, handsomely, is nothing. A benefit given with grudging is a stony loaf, only taken for necessity. [2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Peter 4:9. No offerings compared to free-will offerings.]
[2.] Secondly, The world gives—but they give poorly, niggardly. But Christ gives plenteously, richly.1 Tim. 6:17, "Charge those who are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches—but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy." [Saul had but five-pence to give the seer; the seer, after much good cheer, gives him no less than the kingdom, 1 Sam. 9:8, 10. So God deals with his.]
When Caesar gave one a great reward, "This," says he, "is too great a gift for me to receive;" "But," says Caesar, "it is not too great a gift for me to give." So, though the least gift that Christ gives, in some sense, is too much for us to receive—yet the greatest gifts are not too great for Christ to give.
It is said of Araunah, that noble Jebusite, renowned for his bounty, that "he had but a subject's purse—but a king's heart." But the Lord Jesus has not only a king's heart—but he has also a king's purse, and gives accordingly.
[3.] Thirdly, The world give—but they give tauntingly, they give upbraidingly; they hit men in the teeth with the gifts they give. But the Lord Jesus Christ gives, and he gives willingly, he upbraids none with the gifts he gives.James 1:5, "If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives liberally, and upbraids no man." Where Christ gives, there he won't upbraid, neither with present failings nor former infirmities. Christ is not accustomed to reproach those to whom he gives the best gifts; he will not cast it in their dish, that he has been thus and thus kind to them—but will always "rejoice over them to do them good." But the world gives, and then reproaches the receiver for receiving, and this turns all into gall and wormwood, etc. [Jer. 32:40, 41; Proverbs 1:20-26; 8:1-13; and 9:1-7.]
[4.] Fourthly, The world gives—but they give more rarely. But Christ gives, and he gives frequently.He is every day, every hour, yes, every moment, a-giving of royal favors to his people. Here is peace for you who are in trouble, says Christ; and here is pardon for you who groan under guilt, says Christ; and here is comfort for you who are mourners in Zion, says Christ, etc. His hand is ever in his purse, he is still a-scattering pearls of glory, ay, the very jewels of his crown, among the beloved of his soul. [Augustus, in his solemn feasts, gave gold to some, and trifles to others. The Lord gives the gold, the best things, to his own; but the trifles of this world to the men of the world.]
[5.] Fifthly, The world gives—but they give the worst, and keep the best. But Christ gives the best, he gives the best of the best.He gives the best joy; the best comfort, the best peace, the best love, the best assistance, etc., he gives adoption, remission, justification, sanctification, acceptance, reconciliation, and glorification, etc. He gives the best. The world gives groats, ay—but Christ gives gold, 2 Cor. 9:15, 1 Peter 1:8, Philip. 4:7, Psalm 88:10-11.
[6.] Sixthly, The world gives a little, that they may give no more. But Christ gives—that he may give.He gives a little grace that he may give grace upon grace. He gives a little comfort—that he may give fullness of comfort, John 1:16. He gives some sips—that he may give full draughts, he gives pence—that he may give pounds, and he gives pounds—that he may give hundreds.
The third particular that I am to show you is,
III. The EXCELLENCY of those gifts which Christ gives, above all other gifts which the world gives.In this I shall mind brevity, and,
[1.] First, The gifts which Christ gives to his people, are SPIRITUAL and HEAVENLY gifts, as is most clear by what has been already said, and the spirituality of them does demonstrate the excellency of them. And doubtless the more spiritual any gift, any promise, any truth, any prayer, or any service is, the more excellent is that gift, etc. All Christ's gifts are like himself, spiritual and heavenly.
[2.] Secondly, They are pure gifts.Christ gives wine without water, light without darkness, gold without dross, and sweet without bitter, Rev. 22:1, James 3:17. There is much dross and poison in the gifts which the world gives—but there is none in the gifts which Christ gives. The streams are as the fountain is; the fountain is pure, and so are the streams. The branches are as the root is; the root is pure, and so are the branches.
[3.] Thirdly, The gifts which Christ gives are SOUL-SATISFYING gifts.They are such as are suitable to the soul, and therefore they satisfy the soul. Things satisfy as they suit. There is a good—and there is a suitable good. Now, it is only the suitable good which satisfies the soul of man. A pardon is most suitable to a condemned man—and therefore it best satisfies him. Health is most suitable to the sick—and therefore it satisfies when it is attained, etc. As bread satisfies the hungry soul, and drink the thirsty soul, and clothing the naked soul—so do the precious gifts which Christ bestows upon the soul satisfy the soul. The light, the love, the joy, the peace, the fellowship, etc., which Christ gives, does abundantly satisfy the soul, Jer. 31:15-16; Psalm 90:14, 36:8, 63:5, 65:4.
Oh—but the gifts which this world gives can never satisfy the soul: Eccles. 5:10, "He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance with increase." A man may as soon fill a chest with grace, or a quart-pot with virtue, as a heart with wealth. If Alexander conquers one world, he will wish for another to conquer. [The creature is all shadow and vanity; it is like Jonah's gourd; it is now nourishing, and now dying, etc.]
[4.] Fourthly, The gifts which Christ gives are most PERMANENT and lasting gifts.The grace he gives is called "an immortal seed," 1 John 3:9; and the glory he gives is called "everlasting glory," Romans 2:7. The gifts of the world are fading, 2 Peter 1:11. A false oath, a spark of fire, a storm at sea, a treacherous friend—brings all to nothing in a moment. Sad experience does every day confirm this.
[5.] Fifthly, and lastly, The gifts which Christ gives are the most USEFUL gifts.They are useful to the strengthening of the soul against temptations, and to the supporting of the soul under afflictions, and to the sweetening of all changes; health and sickness, strength and weakness, plenty and poverty, honor or disgrace, life or death. Oh—but worldly gifts cannot bear up the spirits of men from fainting and sinking when trials come, when troubles come. [The golden crown cannot cure the headache, nor the chain of pearl cannot cure the toothache. The monk rolled his hands up and down in a basin full of coins, thinking to cure his gout—but it would not do.]
The precious gifts which Christ gives his, will bear up their heads above all waters, etc. Of all gifts, they are the most useful for the producing of the most noble effects. There are no gifts which produce such effects—as the precious gifts which Christ gives. They raise men up to much life and activity; they make souls strong to do for God, to bear for God, to suffer for God; to be anything, to be nothing, that God may be "all in all." They raise the strongest joy, the most lasting comfort, and the purest peace. There are no gifts which draw out that thankfulness, and raise up to that fruitfulness, as the gifts which Jesus Christ gives. And so much for that third head, namely, the excellency of those gifts which Christ gives above all other gifts whatever.
I come now to the fourth head, and that is,
IV. The REASONS why God gives his best gifts to his dearest ones.
I shall only give you these six:
[1.] First, Because he loves them with the dearest, with the choicest, and with the strongest love; therefore he gives them the best gifts.
Christ does not love believers with a low, flat, dull, common love, with such a love as most men love one another with—but with a love that is like himself. Now, men will give as they love: 1 Sam. 1:4-5, "And Elkanah gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all his sons and daughters, portions—but unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion, for he loved her." In the Hebrew it is, "he gave her a gift of the face;" that is, a great, an honorable gift. Men look upon great and honorable gifts with a sweet and cheerful countenance; so the gifts which Jesus Christ gives to believers are the gifts of the face, that is, they are the greatest gifts, the honorablest gifts, the choicest gifts—gifts fit for none but a king to give.
Augustus, in his solemn feasts, gave trifles to some—but gold to others. The Lord Jesus scatters the trifles of this world up and down; as Luther well speaks, "The whole Turkish empire is but a crust that God throws to a dog." God scatters giftless gifts, namely, the honors, riches, and favors of this world, up and down among the worst of men; [The world is a carcass, and those who hunt after it are dogs.] but as for his gold—his Spirit, his grace, his Son, his favor—these are jewels which only casts into the bosom of saints, and that because he dearly loves them.
[2.] Secondly, Christ gives the best gifts to his people, because they are best principled and fitted to make a divine improvement of them.
There are no men on earth who are principled and fitted for the improvement of the special gifts which Christ gives, but his own people. [Wicked men are only principled to abuse mercy, which occasions God so often to rain hell out of heaven upon them, as he did once upon Sodom and Gomorrah for abusing of mercy.] None have such principles of wisdom, love, holiness, and faithfulness to make an improvement of the joy, the peace, the comfort, that the Lord gives as his people. Abraham gave unto "the sons of the concubines gifts, and sent them away; but unto Isaac he gave all that he had," Gen. 25:5. As Isaac was better beloved than the concubines' sons, so Isaac was better principled to improve love than they were. The application is easy.
[3.] Thirdly, He does it upon this account, that he may the more endear the hearts of his people to him.
The greatest design of Christ in this world is mightily to endear the hearts of his people; and indeed it was that which was in his eye and upon his heart from all eternity. It was this design which caused him to lay down his crown—and to take up our cross, to put off his robes—and to put on our rags, to be condemned—that we might be justified, to undergo the wrath of the Almighty—that we might forever be in the arms of his mercy. He gives his Spirit, his grace, yes, and his very self—and all to endear the hearts of his people to himself.
When Isaac would endear the heart of Rebekah, then the bracelets, the jewels, and the earrings are cast into her lap, Gen. 24:53. So the Lord Jesus casts his heavenly bracelets, jewels, and earrings into the laps of his people, out of a design to endear himself unto them. Proverbs 17:8, "A gift is a precious stone in the eyes of him who has it; whithersoever it turns, it prospers." In the Hebrew it is thus, "a gift is as a stone of grace," that is, it makes a man very acceptable and gracious in the eyes of others. A gift is like that precious stone pantarbe, which has a marvelous conciliating property in it; or like the wonder-working loadstone, which, as some writers observe, has among other properties this—that it makes these that have it well-spoken men and well accepted of princes. Certainly the gifts which Jesus Christ gives to his do render him very acceptable and precious in their eyes.
Christ to them is the crown of crowns, the heaven of heavens, the glory of glories; he is the most sparkling diamond in the ring of glory! Proverbs 18:16, "A man's gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men." The gifts which Jesus Christ gives widen the heart and enlarge the soul of a believer to take in more of himself. Naturally we are narrow-mouthed heavenward, and wide-mouthed earthward; but the Lord Jesus, by casting in his jewels, his pearls, his precious gifts, into the soul, does widen the soul, and enlarge the soul, and make it more capacious to entertain himself. Christ by his gifts causes all doors to stand open, that "the King of glory may enter in," Psalm 24:7-10.
[4.] Now the fourth reason of the point is, because Christ expects more from his people, than he does from all the world besides, therefore he gives them the best gifts.
Where the Lord expects and looks for most, there he gives most. Though believers are but "a little flock," though they are but "a remnant," though they are but "a fountain sealed, a spring shut up, a garden enclosed," yet Christ looks for more from them, than from all the world besides. He looks for more love from them, than from all the world besides; and he expects more service from them, than from all the world besides; and he looks for more honor from them than from all the world besides: Mal. 1:6, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am your father, where is my honor? and if I am your master, where is my fear?" He looks for more fear from them than from all the world besides, and for more prayers and praises from them than from all the world besides.
[5.] Fifthly, The Lord Jesus gives the best gifts to his own people, that he may fence and strengthen them against the worst temptations.
There are no men on earth who lie so open to temptations, as saints. The best men have been always the most tempted. The more excellent any man is in grace and holiness, the more shall that man be followed with temptations, as you may see in David, who was tempted by Satan to number the people; and Job, to curse God and die; and Peter, to deny Christ; and so Paul was buffeted, yes, and Christ himself most grievously assaulted. The Lord knows well enough that Satan has a cruel eye, an envious eye, a malicious eye upon his beloved ones; and therefore he is pleased, by his precious gifts, to strengthen them against his assaults. What Paul once said concerning bonds and afflictions, that they attended him "in every place," that may believers say concerning temptations—that they attend them in "every place," in every calling, in every condition, in every company, in every service, etc. As now, that the hearts of his people and temptations may not meet—the Lord is pleased to give them the best and choicest gifts.
Austin thanked God for this, that his heart and the temptations did not meet. The Lord has on purpose given these glorious gifts into the hearts of his saints, that their souls and temptations may be kept asunder; that though they be tempted—yet they may not be conquered; though they be assaulted—yet they may not be vanquished. Basil, Luther, Vincentius, and that famous marquis Carraciolus, etc., met with very strange and strong temptations—but the precious gifts which the Lord had cast into their bosoms made them triumph over all. Oh that grace, that peace, that life, that love, that communion with which the Lord had crowned them, made them too great, too noble, and too glorious to yield to any temptations with which they were beset. It was their pleasure to overcome offered pleasure; their honor to overcome offered honor; their greatness to overcome offered greatness. When one of them was tempted with money and preferment, he scorned the offers, saying, Give me money that may last forever, and glory that may eternally flourish.
Jerome tells a story of a Christian soldier, whom when the praetor could not by any torments remove from Christianity, he commanded him to be laid on a bed in a pleasant garden, among the flourishing and fragrant flowers; which done, all others withdrawing, a most beautiful harlot came to him, and used all art to destroy his soul; but the Christian soldier being filled with the royal gifts of the Spirit, bit off his tongue with his teeth, and spat it in her face as she was tempting him, and so got victory over all her temptations.
The precious favors God confers upon his, make them temptation-proof; they make believers trample upon the most amiable baits. "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God," says Joseph. Joseph's sense of Potiphar's favors heaped upon him, strengthened him against the impudent solicitations of his wanton mistress, Gen. 39. And shall not the singular favors which God confers upon his dearest ones strengthen them against Satan's assaults? Surely gracious hearts are wrought more upon, and bettered and strengthened more by spirituals than by temporals; by eternals than by externals; and if Satan does not find it so, I am much mistaken.
Well, remember this, Satan's overcoming the saints gives him the greatest advantage to boast and triumph over Christ. [The devil marches well-armed and in good array, says Luther.]
Ambrose brings in the devil boasting against Christ, and challenging Judas as his own; He is not yours, Lord Jesus—he is mine; his thoughts beat for me; he eats with you—but he is fed by me; he takes bread from you—but money from me; he drinks with you—but sells your blood to me. So when Satan prevails over the saints, look, O Christ, says he, are these the price of your blood? are these the objects of your love? are these the delight of your soul? what, are these your jewels? are these the apple of your eye? are these your pleasant portion? Why, how I lead them! how I triumph over them! they seem rather to be mine than yours. Ah, Christians! resist as for life, that Satan may never have occasion thus to insult and triumph over Christ, etc.
[6.] Sixthly and lastly, Christ gives the best gifts to his dearest ones, that they may be an honor and a praise unto him in the glorious day of his owning of them, and marriage to them before all the world.
Believers in this life are but betrothed to Christ: "I will betroth you unto me forever; yes, I will betroth you unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness," Hosea 2:19-20. Their marriage-day is put off until the glorious day of Christ's appearing; the great day of his glory will be the marriage-day; Rev. 21:2, 9-10, compared. [The good things of eternal life are so many, that they exceed number; so great, that they exceed measure; so precious, that they are above all estimation. Augustine.] It would not be for the honor and glory of Christ, that his spouse in that day should be clothed with rags; therefore he has given them the bracelets, the ear-rings, and the jewels before-hand, that they may be a praise and an honor to him in the marriage day. Oh! when the saints shall appear with all those glorious jewels about them, that Christ has bequeathed to them, how will their splendid glory darken all other glory, and make the very sun to hide its face. This is our betrothing day, that will be our marriage day.
Ridley, the night before him martyrdom, invited his hostess and the rest at table to his marriage, "for," said he, "tomorrow I must be married." So several other martyrs went as merrily to die—as to dine; knowing that their dying day did but make way for their marriage day. The Lord does by his rich and royal favors, trim up his bride beforehand, that she may be an honor and a praise to him in the day coronation, in the day of marriage—when he will own her before devils, angels, and all reprobates; when he will say, "Lo, here am I, and the bride, O Father! that you have given me."
And thus you have a brief account of the reasons of the point, why the Lord gives the best gifts to his own people.
We shall make some short but sweet USES of this point.
[1.] Does the Lord give the best and greatest gifts to his people? Then you who are his people, sit down and wonder at this matchless love of God.
Oh! what is in you or I—that should cause the Lord to give such gifts to us as he has given? We were all equal in sin and misery; nay, doubtless, we have actually outsinned thousands, to whom these precious gifts are denied. Let us therefore sit down and wonder at this condescending love of God. Oh! we were once poor wretches sitting upon the ash-heap, yes, wallowing in our blood—and yet behold the King of kings, the Lord of lords, has so far condescended in his love, as to bestow himself, his Spirit, his grace, and all the jewels of his royal crown upon us! Oh! what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, this matchless love!
"I will be yours forever," says Christ, "and my Spirit shall be yours forever, and my grace yours forever, and my glory yours forever, and my righteousness yours forever; all I am and all I have, shall be yours forever!" O what matchless love is this! Oh! what a Christ is this! [O Lord Jesus, says Bernard, breaking forth into an admiration of Christ's love, I love you more than all my goods, more than all my friends, yes, more than my very self, etc.]
[2.] But then, secondly, Be greatly thankful, oh be greatly thankful—for the great gifts which Christ has bestowed upon you.
It is not a little thankfulness which will answer and suit to the great gifts which the Lord Jesus has bestowed upon you. Oh say with the psalmist, "What shall I render to the Lord for all his favors, and great benefits. I will take the cup of salvation, and will call upon the name of the Lord," Psalm 116:13-14. Yes, say again with the psalmist, "I will praise you more and more." Or as it is in the Hebrew, "I will add to your praise," Psalm 71:14. Oh when you look upon the jewels, the pearls that Christ has given you, say, Lord, I will praise you more and more, I will rise higher and higher in your praises, I will be still a-adding to your praise. The very law of nature bespeaks great thankfulness, where great favors are given; and the law of custom bespeaks it, and does not the law of grace bespeak it much more? [Injuries shall be writ in the dust—but our mercies on marble, that our hearts may be the better provoked to praise and thankfulness.]
When Tamerlane had taken Bajazet, among other questions he asked him "if ever he had given God thanks for making him so great an emperor?" He confessed immediately, that "he never thought of that;" to whom Tamerlane replied, "It is no wonder so ungrateful a man should be made a spectacle of misery." Oh! what do they then deserve who are unthankful for spiritual favors!
Tell me, O Christians, are not the gifts which Christ has conferred upon you, special gifts? And will you not he thankful for them? Were they but common gifts, you ought to be thankful for them; how much more then for special gifts, for right-handed favors?
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." Jeremiah 31:3. There are but few upon whom God bestows His saving love. Tell me, are not the gifts which Christ has given you, rare gifts? What would you have been--if Christ had not made a difference between you and others--by those glorious gifts which He has conferred upon you? You look upon some, and see they are very ignorant of spiritual truth. O! What would you have been--if God had not bestowed that saving knowledge upon you? You look upon others who are unclean, profane, and filthy. Why! such a wretch you would have been--if the Lord had not made a difference between you and them, by bestowing Himself, His grace, and Spirit upon you. "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath! But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:3-6.
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
[It was always a principle in morality, that sweet and intimate friendship cannot be extended to many. Friends usually go by pairs.]
It was long since determined in the schools, that "penitents had more reason to be thankful than innocent; sin giving an advantage to mercy to be doubly free in giving and in pardoning;" and so the greater obligation is left upon us to thankfulness.
Luther has a very famous story, in his writing upon the fourth commandment, in the time of the council of Constance. He tells you of two cardinals, that as they were riding to the council, they saw a shepherd in the field weeping. One of them being affected with his weeping, rode to him to comfort him; and coming near to him he desired to know the reason of his weeping. The shepherd was unwilling to tell him at first—but at last he told him, saying, "I, looking upon this toad, considered that I never praised God as I ought, for making me such an excellent creature as a man, lovely and reasonable. I have not blessed him, that he made me not such a deformed toad as this." The cardinal hearing this, and considering that God had done far greater things for him than for this poor shepherd, he fell down dead from his mule; his servants lifting him up, and bringing him to the city, he came to life again, and then cried out, "O! how truly did you say, the unlearned rise and take heaven by force, and we with all our learning wallow in flesh and blood." The application is easy.
Thirdly, The next use is,
[3.] If the Lord has given the best gifts to his people, then oh that his people would not give God the worst—but the best of everything. [It is the most wicked avarice to defraud God of the oblation of ourselves, says Chrysostom.]
Oh! give the Lord the best of your strength, the best of your time, the best of your mercies, and the best of your services—who has given to your souls the best of gifts! Num. 18:29, "You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you." So I say, of all your offerings offer God the best, who has given to you the best and greatest gifts. So in Exod. 35:22, "Some brought to the Lord their offerings of gold—medallions, earrings, rings from their fingers, and necklaces. They presented gold objects of every kind to the Lord." They gave the best of the best, and so must we.
Oh do not offer to God the worst of your time, the worst of your strength, the worst of your mercies, the worst of your services. That same is a very dreadful text: Mal. 1:8, 13-14, compared, "When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn't that wrong? And isn't it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!" says the Lord Almighty." Says God, Will men be put off thus? No, I know they won't; and why then should you deal worse with me than with men? Your governors will have the best, yes, the best of the best; and will you deal worse with me, says God, than with your governors? [If a man should serve the Lord a thousand years, says Austin, it would not deserve an hour of the reward in heaven; no, not a moment, much less an eternity. And therefore, says he, we had need do as much as we can, and do all that we do as well as we can, etc.]
Will you thus requite me for all my favors, O foolish people and unwise? is this your kindness to your friend? Ver. 13-14, "You say, 'It's too hard to serve the Lord,' and you turn up your noses at his commands," says the Lord Almighty. "Think of it! Animals that are stolen and mutilated, crippled and sick—presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?" asks the Lord." Oh! that God had not cause to complain thus of many of your souls, to whom he has shown much love. But mark what follows: ver. 14, "Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my name is feared among the nations!" If you have better in your hands, and yet shall go to put off God with the worst—the curse will follow. Think of it and tremble, all you who deal fraudulently and false-heartedly with God!
Ah, Christians! you must say, World, stand behind! Sin and Satan, get you behind us—for the best gifts, the choicest favors that ever were given, we have received from the Father of lights; and therefore by his gifts he has obliged our souls to give him the best of our time, strength, and services; and therefore we will not be at your call or beck any longer! Oh, say, the Lord has given us the best gifts, and "Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord."
[4.] Fourthly, This should bespeak the people of God to trust and lean upon God for lesser gifts.
Has God given you a crown—and will you not trust him for a crumb? 2 Tim. 4:8. Has he given you a house which has "foundations, whose builder and maker is God?" Heb. 11:15. Has he given you "a kingdom that shakes not"? Heb. 12:28. And will you not trust him for a cottage, for a little house-room in this world? Has he given you himself, his Son, his Spirit, his grace—and will you not trust him to give you bread, and friends, and clothes, and other necessary mercies that he knows you need? Romans 8:32, Mat. 6:32. Has he given you the greater—and will deny you for the lesser? Surely not! Will you trust that man for much—who has given you but a little? And will you not trust that God for a little—who has given you much? Will you not trust him for pence—who has given you pounds? O sirs! has the Lord given you himself, the best of favors—and will not you trust him for the least favors? Has he given you pearls—and will not you trust him for pins? etc.
Does not the apostle argue sweetly in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" What! says the apostle, has God given us his Son, his only Son, his bosom Son, his beloved Son, the Son of his joy, the Son of his delights? Oh how can he then but cast in all other things into the bargain—such as wrapping paper and packing thread? Oh! that Christians would learn to reason themselves out of their fears, and out of their distrusts, as the apostle does. Oh! that Christians would no longer rend and rack their precious souls with fears and cares—but rest satisfied in this, that he who has been so kind to them in spirituals, will not be lacking to them in temporals, Proverbs 8:23-32.
[5.] Fifthly, If the Lord has given the best gifts to his people, this should then bespeak his people, not to envy the men of the world for those lesser favors which God has conferred upon them.
It was horrid wickedness in Ahab to envy poor Naboth, because of his vineyard; and is it a virtue in you who are Christians to envy others, because their outward mercies are greater or sweeter than yours? Should the prince upon whose head the royal crown is set, and about whose neck the golden chain is put—envy those whose hands are full of sugar-plums, and whose laps are full of rosemary, etc. Has not God, O Christians! put a royal crown of glory upon your heads, and a golden chain of grace about your necks, and his Son's glorious robe upon your backs? and why then should your hearts rise in envy against others' mercies? O! reason yourselves out of this sinful temper! [David three different times gave himself this counsel—not to envy at others. Psalm 37:1, 7-8, compared. So Psalm 73:21.]
I would have every Christian thus to argue: Has not the Lord given me himself? Is not one grain of that grace which God has given me, more worth than ten thousand worlds? and why then should I be envious of others' mercies?
There was a soldier who, for breaking his rank in reaching after a bunch of grapes, was condemned to die by martial law, and as he went to execution, he went eating of his grapes; upon which, some of his fellow-soldiers were somewhat troubled, saying, "He ought then to mind somewhat else!" To whom he replied, "I beseech you, sirs, do not envy me my grapes, they will cost me dear; you would be loath to have them at the rate that I must pay for them." So say I, O saints! do not envy the men of this world because of their honors, riches, etc., for you would be loath to have them at that rate which they must pay for them!
Oh! there is a day of reckoning a-coming, a day wherein all the nobles and brave gallants in the world must be brought to the bar, and give an account of how they have improved and employed all the favors which God has conferred upon them; therefore envy them not! Is it madness and folly in a great favorite at court—to envy those who have only the scraps which come from the prince's table? Oh! then, what madness and folly is it that the favorites of heaven should envy the men of the world—who at best do but feed upon the scraps which come from God's table! Spirituals are the delicacies, temporals are but the scraps. Temporals are the bones, spirituals are the choice meat.
Is it below a man to envy the dogs because of the bones? And is it not much more below a Christian to envy others for temporals—when himself enjoys spirituals?
[6.] Sixthly, Be not troubled for the lack of lesser gifts.
It is to me a sad thing to see gracious souls, who have some comfortable satisfaction in their own hearts that the Lord has given Christ and grace to them, John 14:1-3, etc., go up and down whining and weeping because they have not health, or wealth, or child, or trade, etc., when the Lord has bestowed upon them such choice, spiritual blessings—the least of which will outweigh all temporal blessings. Well, Christians, remember this, you act below your spiritual birth, your holy calling—when you allow your hearts to be troubled and perplexed for the lack of temporal things. Can you read God's special love in these temporal things? Does your happiness lie in the enjoyment of them? Are not the angels happy without them? Was not Lazarus more happy than Dives? Yes! Oh! then, let not the lack of those things trouble you, the enjoyment of which can never make you happy. Should one be troubled for lack of a rattle or a doll—who is proclaimed heir of a crown? And why then should a Christian, who is heir-apparent to a heavenly crown, be troubled for the lack of worldly toys? etc.
Jerome tells us of one Didymus, a godly preacher, who was blind; Alexander, a godly man, coming to him, asked him whether he was not sorely troubled and afflicted for lack of his sight? "Oh yes," said Didymus, "it is a great affliction and trouble to me." Then Alexander chid him, saying, "Has God given you the excellency of an angel, of an apostle—and are you troubled for that which rats and mice and brute beasts have."
It is great folly, it is double iniquity for a Christian to be troubled for the lack of those things that God ordinarily bestows upon the worst of men. Oh the mercies which a Christian has in hand, oh the mercies which a Christian has in the promises, oh the mercies which a Christian has in hope—are so many, so precious, and so glorious, that they should bear up his head and heart from fainting and sinking under all outward needs.
There goes a story among scholars of Aesop's deceiving Mercury, he having promised him one part of his nuts, keeps all the kernels to himself, and gives to Mercury only the shells. Ah, Christians! God has given you the kernels—but the world the shells; why then should you be troubled for lack of the shells—when God has given you the kernel? etc. [Cyprian reports of some who, forsaking the Lord, were given over to evil spirits, and died fearfully. A backslider may say, All my pains and charge is lost.]
[7.] Seventhly, If the Lord has given his people the best gifts, oh then, let not them leave off that God, who has bestowed such choice and noble favors on them.
Jer. 2:11-13, "Has any nation ever exchanged its gods for another god, even though its gods are nothing? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay, says the Lord." Why? "For my people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters," etc. This was that which aggravated the Israelites' sin, Psalm 105. and 106—that they forsook that God who had conferred upon them many rich and royal favors. But oh! then, what madness and folly is it in you—that you should forsake that God who has done such mighty things for your souls?
I may say, to keep you close to God—as Saul said to his servants, to keep them close to him, 1 Sam. 22:7, "Then Saul said unto his servants that stood about him, Hear now, you Benjamites, will the son of Jesse give everyone of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds?" Ah, Christians! can the world give you spiritual life? Can the world give you peace of conscience, pardon of sin, the favor of God, the hopes of glory? No! Oh then! never leave nor forsake that God who has given you all these royal favors, which none can give nor take—but himself. He who forsakes God forsakes his own mercies; he forsakes his life, his joy, his crown, his all in all.
There is no evil compared to this—of forsaking the greatest good. It makes a man's life a very hell. "Such shall be written in the dust," Jer. 17:13.
[8.] Eighthly and lastly, Be not impatient nor angry—when God shall take away some lesser mercies from you. Did an impatient soul but see himself in a glass, he would loathe himself; for, says Homer, his eyes sparkle like fire, his heart swells, his pulse beats, etc. In a word, an impatient soul is a bedlam, a monster, a devil, etc.
Has God given you the best and the greatest gifts which your souls can ask—or he himself can give? And will you be angry or impatient when he shall come to take away lesser mercies? What? will you be an impatient soul, when God comes and writes death upon such a near mercy, and passes the sentence of death upon such and such desirable mercies? Truly this is the way to provoke God to strip you naked of your choicest ornaments, and to put you in chains—or else to turn you a grazing among the beasts of the field, as he did Nebuchadnezzar.
God gives the best—and takes away the worst; he gives the greatest—and takes away the least; the sense of which made Job bless God when stripped of all. If a man should give you a pearl—and take away a pin; if he should give you a bag of gold—and take away a bag of pennies, would it not be a madness in you to be impatient, and angry? Does God take away a pin—and has he not given you a pearl for it? He has given you a pound, O Christian! for every penny that he has taken from you; therefore be not angry, nor impatient. Remember, Christians, how many in the world there are, who sit sighing and mourning under the lack of those very favors that you do enjoy. "Why does the living man complain?" What! out of the grave—and complain! What! out of hell—and complain! This is man's sin—and God's wonder!
But now some poor unsaved sinners may say—Here is good news for saints—but what is all this to us all this while?
Why, I will tell you; I have something to say for the comfort and encouragement of poor unsaved sinners. Ah, sinners! Christ is willing to bestow the best gifts upon the worst sinners. Take one text for all; it is a sweet one, and full to the point in hand: Psalm 68:18, "You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive, you have received gifts for men, yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." [Read also Proverbs 1:20-29, chapter 8:1-8, and chapter 9:1-7; Isaiah 43:22-25; Jer. 51:5. None so faithful as Christ, Heb. 3:5-6.]
Christ has received gifts, as a steward, from the hand of the Father, to dispense them among men, yes, among the rebellious—the worst of men. If there is here at this time any rebellious sinner, or rebellious drunkard, or rebellious curser, etc., let such rebellious sinners know that Christ has received gifts "even for the rebellious."
"That the Lord God might dwell among them." [Rev. 3:20, 2 Cor. 6:16, "I will dwell in them." The words are very significant in the original: I will indwell in them. There are two ins in the original, as if God could never have enough communion with them.] That is, that the Lord God might have sweet fellowship and communion with them: "Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
"Behold I stand at the door and knock." I, who have heaven to give, and peace to give, and pardon to give, and grace to give, and myself to give! I, who has pure gold to enrich you, and white raiment to clothe you, and eye-salve to anoint you! "I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open the door," let him be ever so guilty, ever so filthy, ever so unworthy, etc., "I will come in and sup with him, and he with me."
Lord, at whose door do you stand knocking? Is it at the rich man's door, or at the righteous man's door, or at the humbled man's door, or at the weary and heavy-laden man's door, or at the mourner's door, or at the qualified or prepared man's door? No! says Christ, it is at none of these doors. At whose door, then, O blessed Lord? At the lukewarm Laodicean's door; at their door who are neither hot nor cold, who are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." These, says Christ, are the worst of the worst; and yet if any of these wretches, these monsters of mankind, will open the door, "I will come in, and will sup with them, and they with me."
I have read a remarkable story of a great rebel who had raised a mighty party against a Roman emperor. The emperor upon his being much provoked and stirred in spirit, made a proclamation, that whoever brought in the rebel, dead or alive, would have a great sum of money. The rebel, hearing of this, comes and presents himself unto the emperor, and demanded of him the sum of money; whereupon the emperor reasons thus, "If I would now kill him, the world would say I did it to save my money;" and so he pardoned him, and gave him the great sum of money, notwithstanding all his former rebellion.
Oh! shall a heathen emperor do thus to a rebel who was in arms against him, and will not God do as much for poor rebellious sinners? Surely he will. What though you have been in arms against God, and mustered up all the strength and force you could, even all the members of your body, and faculties of your soul, against God, and Christ, and holiness—yet know that the glorious King is a merciful king; he is a God of pardons; he delights to make his grace glorious, and therefore is very willing to show mercy to the greatest rebels, to the worst of sinners. Witness Manasseh, Mary Magdalene, the thief, Paul, and others. [Romans 5:10; Col. 1:21; Romans 6:13, 16, 19-20.] The greatness of man's sins do but set off the riches of free grace. Sins are debts, and God can as easily blot out a debt of many thousands as he can a lesser debt; therefore let not the greatest rebel despair but believe, and he shall find that "where sin has abounded, there grace shall superabound," etc.
And thus much for this observation. We shall now proceed to the next words, namely, "That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Ephesians 3:8.