By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
"The beauty of Scripture," says Luther, "consists in the personal pronouns." It is sweet to find such Scriptures as these: "I am the Lord your God." "I have called you by name." "I am with you. I will strengthen you. I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness."
The Christian heart delights in fastening its affections on spiritual things, and calling them its own. This is laying hold on eternal life. Thus the soul tastes and sees that the Lord is gracious. What could the saints do were they never permitted to claim an interest in heavenly things? Wilkinson says: "All consolation in religion is connected with personal appropriation." Accordingly Job says, "I know that my Redeemer lives." David: "Unto you will I cry, O Lord my rock." In the Canticles the church says, "My Beloved is mine, and I am his." Thomas said, "My Lord and my God." Paul says, "He loved me and gave himself for me." "I know whom I have believed."
Nor is there anything selfish or exclusive in this appropriation. The saints delight to have others joint partakers with them in the infinite benefits of salvation. The psalmist says: "O Lord our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth." "The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge." John says, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." In like manner Christians commonly speak of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our brethren. If we are believers, to us pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the service of God, and the promises. Paul says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" He also says that those that call on Jesus Christ as Lord, own him as both theirs and ours. He further says to the Corinthians, "We are your rejoicing, even as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus." Jude speaks of the common salvation, that is, the salvation in which all believers have a joint interest, and are made fellow-heirs.
So also Paul speaks of "our gospel," as though he and his brethren were joint partakers of its benefits, as well as unitedly concerned to make it known. "If our gospel be hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost." Very solemn language is this, and the more so as the same thing is taught in other Scriptures: "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;" "Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish." 2 Cor. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:18; Acts 13:41. Let us consider this solemn matter under the form of speech just cited: "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost." We may inquire—
I. In what sense the gospel is NOT hidden from any of us.
1. The gospel is not hidden from any of us in the same sense in which it is hidden from the brutes.These have no natural capacities for understanding, receiving, or enjoying the gospel under any culture, however wisely or assiduously administered. The God who made them, has given them neither minds nor hearts capable of grasping divine things. If their natures were so elevated as to lay hold of the gospel, they would no longer be brutes. With men it is far different. Their original capacity is such as to make it proper to address to them the gospel with all its doctrines, precepts, promises, requirements, and obligations. No man, therefore, can now truly plead incompetence of nature as a justification for a course of neglect or contempt towards the evangelical message. In this sense therefore the gospel is not hidden from any of us.
2. Neither is the gospel hidden from us in the sense in which truth is hidden from unbalanced, disordered, deranged minds.From the force of his disease, the poor maniac connects ideas and facts most remote from each other, and groups together the most discordant assemblages of truth and fiction. He lays down false premises, and then makes deductions; or he lays down true premises, but infers something foreign and unnatural. Incoherence of thought is his disease, or flows directly from it. But these things cannot be said of men in general. In the human mind as it came from the hands of God, there is nothing that would lead it thus to wander. Men have sense enough on all points on which an evil heart has no perverting tendency. There is not found in the human soul any disease unfitting it for receiving plain gospel truth, whenever it is rightly disposed.
3. Neither is the gospel hidden from us in the sense in which the abstruse and difficult sciences are hidden from the majority of men.It cannot be expected, it is not required, that men generally should become skilled in all the depths of mathematic or scientific inquiry. These things must remain very much confined to a few, and hidden from the many. And the many may be wholly excusable. But the gospel is a clear statement of plain facts and doctrines of such a nature as to require no profound argumentations, no brilliancy of wit, no scholastic acumen to know and apprehend its great essential truths. Thousands of unlettered men have understood its sublime mysteries of justification and sanctification by the blood and righteousness and Spirit of Jesus. The gospel is so plain that any right-minded person of common sense and an honest heart, may understand enough of it to be saved by it. To such the Holy Spirit is given to enlighten the mind, take the veil from off the heart, and lift the soul up to God. Our gospel, therefore, is not hidden from men in the sense in which the difficult sciences are hidden from the multitude.
4. Nor is it hidden from us by any act of prohibition from God, forbidding us to inquire into its truths.There is no flaming sword turning every way, and warning us not to enter any book of Scripture. On the contrary, the Author of our religion says, "Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." The great apostle to the Gentiles teaches the same when he says, "Test all things; hold fast that which is good." It is a grand error of the Romish church to keep, contrary to God's will, the Holy Scriptures from the common people, thus taking away the key of knowledge. God has purposes and plans which he has concealed from us, some of them in part, and some of them wholly; but the very object of a revelation was that we might know his will. "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." They are God's gift to us. Therefore they are not hidden from us by any divine prohibition.
5. Nor is the gospel hidden from us, as it was from men who lived before the coming of Christ.Now the types and shadows have given way to the bright beams of light and truth issuing from the Sun of righteousness. So Paul says: "I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness--the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col. 1:25-27. The revelation is therefore made. We see the things which kings and prophets and righteous men desired to see—but could not. We have them in our own language, in plain statements, easily read. We have the Bible, the clearest book ever written respecting so weighty matters. "He who runs, may reads it." No honest inquirer after truth ever mistook its teachings on vital points.
If we cannot read this book, we can hear its truths preached. It is in reference to this preaching especially that the apostle is speaking in 2 Corinthians 4:1-5. He says that he and his fellow-laborers had not handled the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commended themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God; and immediately adds, "If our gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost." The fault was not in the preachers, for they told the truth, using great plainness of speech. In like manner, all of us do or may hear the gospel published in a way clear and decided. Who among us has not heard many sermons which faithfully presented the gospel? Christ is preached, and we all hear or can hear. The object of all good preaching is not to hide the gospel, but to make it known.
6. Nor is the gospel hidden from us—as it is from the heathen, who never heard its blessed truths.How shall men "call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?. . . Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." There are millions on earth who never heard that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The guilt of their transgression is not enhanced by a knowledge of the glorious gospel. Its light has never shined on them. If men sin without law, they shall perish without law. But fearful beyond expression will be the doom of those who, knowing the way of life, turn from the holy commandments. To him who knows to do good and does it not—to him it is sin. In none of these senses is the gospel hidden from us.
II. We may now show in what sense the gospel is hidden from the unbelieving.
Then Jesus prayed this prayer: "O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!" Matthew 11:25-26
This is truly a solemn subject. It is so in its very nature; and it concerns many. The essence of this hiding consists in one's having eyes and not seeing, in having ears and not hearing, and in having a mind and heart—and not understanding. In some way, the truth reaches the intellect, and perhaps slightly moves the affections, but there it stops. It changes neither the heart or the life. Thus one may be a learned critic, a clear expositor, or an apt teacher of many truths of the gospel—and yet never see its true force, nor apprehend its chief design. Pride and perverseness may hold him in such a state that he may not discern the real nature of the most glorious things. Sin hides the most precious gospel truths from the mind, as clouds hide the rays of the sun from the earth. A benighted soul is a lost soul. A state of darkness—is a state of guilt, depravity, and death. All sin produces blindness of mind. For their wicked rejection of known truth and duty, God, as a sovereign, hides the gospel from men.
In sending so terrible spiritual judgments, God is not to blame. He is not bound to continue favors which are slighted and contemned. The pious and amiable John Newton says: "Let us suppose a person to have a curious cabinet, which is opened at his pleasure, and not exposed to common view. He invites all to come and see it, and offers to show it to anyone who asks him. It is hidden, because he keeps the key; but none can complain, because he is ready to open it whenever he is desired. Some people disdain the offer, and say—Why is it locked at all? Some think it not worth seeing, or amuse themselves with guessing at the contents. But those who are simply desirous for themselves, leave others disputing, and go according to appointment, and are gratified. These have reason to be thankful for the favor, and the others have no just cause to find fault. Thus the riches of divine grace may be compared to a richly-furnished cabinet, to which Christ is the door. The word of God likewise is a cabinet, generally locked up—but the key of prayer will open it. The Lord invites all, but he keeps the dispensation in his own hands. They cannot see these things except he shows them; but then he refuses none who sincerely ask him."
So that God is clear in this matter. He hides not these things in any way that can impeach his justice or his wisdom; yet he hides them effectually. Left to themselves, men seek to become wise—and become fools! This is a punishment for their pride or other sins. We read of some on whom God sent strong delusion, and gave them up to believe a lie, that they might be damned, because they had pleasure in unrighteousness. They delighted not in the truth. They cared neither to know nor to do God's will. Surely God was at liberty to hide from them that which they so much disliked. Their ignorance proves the truth of the words, "If our gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost." All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. He who despises the Savior, despises all the lessons we can learn from him. The truth is also hidden in the letter of Scripture. As the time of the day is hidden in the figures of the sundial, but cannot be read unless the sun shines and reveals the truth—so is saving truth hidden in the letter.
The instrumentality employed in hiding the gospel from the minds of men is various. Sometimes the work is done by SATAN. So says the apostle: "If our gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost: in whom the God of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." The great adversary darkens and confuses the mind of unbelievers. For this they are to blame, because they are in league with the wicked one. Let them resist and renounce the devil, and he shall have no power to hide the gospel from them.
MEN blind one another. Many seducers and deceivers are entered into the world. They operate "with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in those who perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." Many lie in wait to deceive, beguiling unstable souls, and employing cunning craftiness and sleight of men. Such cannot succeed—except with those who do not wish to know the truths of the gospel. The deceiver and the deceived are both guilty.
Men hide the gospel from THEMSELVES. They love darkness rather than light. They love to be deceived. They shut their eyes against the truth. Its light is painful to them. They seek darkness. They extinguish the lamp of truth. They corrupt their own minds. They obliterate good impressions. They resist the Spirit. They seek to hide the gospel, and it is hidden.
Thus is God righteous in all cases, even where the blindness is most dreadful. God is not responsible for this darkness. Man is the author of his own blindness. Were it not for the sun, we would have perpetual darkness; and were it not for God, we would never have any divine light. Were the sun never to shine on the world, and were God to withhold all his beams from us—neither the one nor the other would be chargeable with the darkness that would follow.
When the sun shines in his strength, and all nature rejoices in his light, the blind cannot behold his beauty. Were there ten thousand suns, the blind would be no better off. The fault is in their vision. So if, instead of one, there were ten thousand gospels, each giving the brightest light to lead the soul to God, the unbelieving would continue in their present unhappy state. The very light which is in them is darkness—and they love to have it so! When Lord Nelson put the telescope to his blind eye, we do not wonder that he could not see the stars! If our gospel be hidden—it is hidden to those who are lost.
This subject has a solemn bearing on people who were once somewhat enlightened, but are now in deeper darkness than ever. So was it with Jerusalem, over which Christ wept and said: "If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong unto your peace! but now they are hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:42. There are set times, chosen seasons, precious harvests—when, if people are rightly disposed, they may know. But if these are neglected, solemn darkness ensues. The gospel, once made to shine into the mind, but then rejected—may be hidden from the eyes forever. Such are undone. Their day is past. Their doom is sealed.
Some complain that the Bible is so mysterious that it is like a sealed book, and when they read it, they become bewildered. They see nothing in it plain or intelligible. Ought not such honestly to inquire into their spiritual condition? Does not their bewilderment prove that they are lost?
Others apprehend somewhat of the truth, but presently "stumble at the word, being disobedient." Their stumbling makes them disobedient, and their disobedience makes them stumble. This is the grand error of many. They refuse submission to what they do know—and so they learn nothing aright. The light is hidden from such—because they are lost.
To some Christ crucified is foolishness. The idea of salvation by the righteousness of another—is opposite to all their conceptions. They deride the doctrine of life to sinners by the death of the Savior. Speak to them of their own merits as the ground of their acceptance—and they approve such boasting. A gratuitous salvation they scorn. Their present temper continuing—they are lost forever.
Some think that by their own natural wit, they can arrive at saving knowledge. Such often exclude themselves from heaven by a jest or a trifle. Many are damned for a quibble. They judge all things by some fantastic rule, perhaps in their view quite rational. When will men learn that the world by wisdom never knew God? Persisting in this self-conceit, such are hopelessly lost!
God always hides saving knowledge from the "wise and prudent." That which we learn by our unaided faculties—puffs up and blinds the mind. "See a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him!" The lifting up of the soul unto vanity does itself exclude the light of truth. This is its natural tendency. Such a state of mind spurns the aid of the Spirit of God. And flesh and blood can never reveal the great truths of the Bible. It is only by an unction from the holy One that anyone is ever able to see divine things aright. They are spiritually discerned. He who is not led by the Spirit of God—must err. Often do we see men stumbling at straws; making difficulties where a child sees its way clear; insisting upon understanding abstruse things of no immediate practical utility; and yet refusing to bow their necks to the plainest and most practical precepts. Such are lost!
No marvel that the careless never come to the knowledge of the truth. If men would be wise unto salvation, they must cry after knowledge, and lift up their voice for understanding; they must seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasure. The whole plan of God requires care, sincerity, attention, earnestness. Some are so heedless that they do not know what the gospel is. They dream or guess at the contents of the Bible. They are deaf to the proclamations of mercy. O they are lost!
Caviling, prejudice, cherished error, a halting mind, an unforgiving temper, any sin willfully indulged—may work the same ruin to the soul. Thus we see that the work of destroying the soul is a work done in this life. One says, "When men perish under the gospel, they are benighted at noon. They have created to themselves a horrid darkness in the midst of a bright and clear day. They are lost in a day of salvation. Lost, not only under the means of salvation—but by them! Gospel light strikes them blind. The sweet, vital fragrance of the gospel strikes them dead. Invited—yet lost! Warned, exhorted, besought, reproved—yet lost. Not a part lost—but the whole. Lost contrary to all sound reason."
The darkness, the errors, the ignorance, the folly of unregenerate men—are as sure and certain tokens of what is to be their state hereafter; as are the faith, and hope, and love of Christians respecting their eternal well-being. As the work of saving the soul is a work of time, and not of eternity; so the work of destroying the soul is also done in this world, and not in the next. And the evidences of this work being done or in process, are often clear and decisive. If men would reason as fairly about their standing in God's esteem as they do respecting temporal matters—they would soon be convinced of their lost estate. The smoke of the bottomless pit issuing forth in ungodliness, surely proves that the fires of perdition are burning within their sous! One wanders up and down in a forest and finds no safe path. He knows that he is lost. But when one errs from the truth and follows the mazes of iniquity—he often infers that he is in a safe way!
Remember that men are lost in this world. On a lost soul in the day of judgment will be found no sign of perdition, which is not found upon it on earth. Whatever may be men's apprehensions, but few of the unregenerate learn the truth that they are already lost. In two ways men are convinced of their miserable state. One is in time—and leads to eternal salvation. The other is when the day of grace is over—and leads to eternal perdition.
Tabitha was very sick. Her physician was sent for. He came and kindly watched by her bed. The day before her death she seemed calm and tranquil, and inquired if she would probably recover. She was answered in the negative. "How long can I live?" said she. The answer was, "Possibly until tomorrow morning." "Then," she said, "I am lost, lost, lost!" At short intervals until she breathed her last, her piteous cry pierced the ears of attendants: "I am lost, I am lost, lost, lost, lost!" O why will unbelievers keep on in sin, and go to eternity forever to mourn heaven lost, a crown of glory lost, an eternity of bliss lost, the means of grace lost, the day of salvation lost, all opportunity to make peace with God lost, and lost forever?
Though the unregenerate are at present lost, yet they are not lost beyond recovery. By God's command Christians still pray, ministers still preach, and offers of mercy are still given and by God's grace sinners are still converted. What a glorious truth that Jesus Christ came to seek and to save those who are lost. Almost the only true thing Christ's enemies ever said against him was, "This man receives sinners." He admitted the charge—and spoke three parables in vindication of his matchless mercy.