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- To evidence the truth of this, and to confirm his brethren in the experienced knowledge of it, he expresses here more particularly and distinctly the causes of this their joy, which are,—
1. The object or matter of it; 2. The apprehension and appropriation of that object : which two conjoined, are the entire cause of all rejoicing.
1. The object is Jesus Christ, ver. 8, and the salvation purchased by him, ver. 9. For these two cannot be severed ; and these two verses which speak of them, require (as is evident by their connexion) to be considered together.
2. The apprehension of these is set forth, first, negatively, not by bodily sight; secondly, positively: whereas it might seem to abate the certainty and liveliness of their rejoicing, that it is of things they had not seen, nor do yet see, this is abundantly made up by three for one, each of them more excellent than the mere bodily sight of Christ in the flesh, which many had who were never the better by it: the three things are, those three prime Christian graces, faith, love, and hope; the two former in ver. 8, the third in ver. 9.–Faith in Christ begetting love to him, and both these giving assured hope of salvation by him, making it as certain to them, as if it were already in their hand, and they in possession of it. And from all these together results this exultation, or leaping for joy, joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
This is that one thing that so much concerns us; and therefore we mistake very far, and forget our own highest interest too much, when we either speak or hear of it slightly, and apply not our hearts to it. What is it that all our thoughts and endeavours drive at? What means all that we are doing in the world? Though we take several ways to it, and wrong ways for the most part, yea such ways as lead not to it, but set us further off from it; yet what we all seek after by all our labour under the sun, is something that may be matter of contentment and rejoicing to us when we have attained it. Now here it is, and in vain is it sought for elsewhere. And for this end it is represented to you, that it may be yours,
will entertain it; not only that you may know this to be a truth, that in Jesus Christ is laid up true consolation and rejoicing, that he is the magazine and treasury of it, but that you may know how to bring him home into your hearts, and lodge him there, and so to have the spring of joy within you.
That which gives full joy to the soul, must be something that is higher and better than itself. In a word, He who made it, can alone make it glad after this manner, with unspeakable and glorious joy. But the soul, while remaining guilty of rebellion against Him, and unreconciled, cannot behold him but as an enemy; any belief that it can have of Him while it is in that posture, is not such as can fetch love, and hope, and so rejoicing, but what the faith of devils produceth, only begetting terror and trembling. But the light of his countenance shining in the face of his Son the Mediator, gladdens the heart; and it is the looking upon him so, that causeth the soul to believe, and love, and hope, and rejoice. Therefore the Apostle, in his description of the estate of the Gentiles before Christ was preached to them, (Eph. ii.,) joins these together: Without Christ, -that was the cause of all the rest, therefore, without comfort in the promises, without hope, and without God in the world. So he is here by our Apostle expressed as the object. In all these, therefore, he is the matter of our joy, because our faith, and love, and hope of salvation do centre in him.
The Apostle writing to the dispersed Jews, many of whom had not known or seen Christ in the flesh, commends their love and faith for this reason, that it did not depend upon bodily sight, but was pure, and spiritual, and made them of the number of those whom our Saviour himself pronounces blessed, who have not seen, and yet believe. You saw him not when he dwelt amongst men, and walked too and fro, preaching and working miracles. Many of those who did then hear and see him, believed not ; yea they scoffed, and hated, and persecuted him, and in the end crucified him : you have seen none of all
those things, yet having heard the Gospel which declares him, you have believed.
Thus observe, the working or not working of faith, doth not depend upon the difference of the external ministry and gifts of men ; for what greater difference can there be that way, than betwixt the master and the servants, betwixt the great prophet himself, and his weak sinful messengers ? and yet many of those who saw and heard him in person, were not converted, believed not in him; and thousands who never saw him, were converted by his Apostles, and as it seems, even some of those who were some way accessory to his death, yet were brought to repentance by this same Apostle's sermon. (See Acts ii.)
Learn, then, to look above the outward ministry, and any difference that in God's dispensation can be there; and know, that if Jesus Christ himself were on earth, and now preaching amongst us, yet might his incomparable words be unprofitable to us, not being mixed with faith in the hearers. But where that is, the meanest and the most despicable conveyance of his message, received with humility and affection, will work blessed effects.
Whom not seeing yet believing.] Faith elevates the soul not only above sense and sensible things, but above reason its self. As reason corrects the errors which sense might occasion, so supernatural faith corrects the errors of natural reason, judging according to sense.
The sun seems less than the wheel of a chariot, but reason teaches the philosopher that it is much bigger than the whole earth, and the cause that it seems so little is its great distance. The naturally wise man is equally deceived by this carnal reason, in his estimate of Jesus Christ the Sun of Righteousness, and the cause is the same, his great distance from him; as the Psalmist speaks of the wicked, (Psal. x. 5,) Thy judgments are far above, out of his sight. He accounts Christ and his glory a smaller matter than his own gain, honour, or pleasure; for these are near him, and he sees their quantity to the full, and counts them bigger, yea far more worth than they are indeed.
But the Apostle St. Paul, and all who are enlightened by the same spirit, they know by faith, which is divine reason, that the excellency of Jesus Christ far surpasses the worth of the whole earth, and all things earthly. (Phil. iï. 7, 8.)
To give a right assent to the Gospel of Christ is impossible, without divine and saving faith infused in the soul. To believe that the eternal Son of God clothed himself with human flesh, and dwelt amongst men in a tabernacle like theirs, and suffered death in the flesh; that he who was Lord of life hath freed us from the sentence of eternal death; that he broke the bars and chains of death and rose again ; that he went up into Heaven, and there at the Father's right hand sits in our flesh, and that glorified above the Angels; this is the great mystery of Godliness. And a part of this mystery is, that he is believed on in the world. (1 Tim. ii. 16.) This, natural men may discourse of, and that very knowingly, and give a kind of natural credit to it, as to a history that may be true; but firmly to believe that there is divine truth in all these things, and to have a persuasion of it stronger than of the very things we see with our eyes,—such an assent as this is the peculiar work of the Spirit of God, and is certainly saving faith.
The soul that so believes, cannot choose but love. It is commonly true that the eye is the ordinary door by which love enters into the soul, and it is true in respect of this love; though it is denied of the eye of sense, yet, (you see,) it is ascribed to the eye of faith, though you have not seen him, you love him, because you believe : which is to see him spiritually. Faith, indeed, is distinguished from that vision which shall be in glory: but it is the vision of the kingdom of grace, it is the eye of the new creature, that quick-sighted eye which pierces all the visible heavens, and sees above them, which looks to things that are not seen, (2 Cor. iv. 18,) and is the evidence of things not seen, (Heb. xi. 1,) and sees him who is invisible, (ver. 27). It is possible that a person may be much beloved upon the report of his worth and virtues, and upon a picture of him lively drawn, before sight of the party so commended, and represented; but certainly when he is seen, and found answerable to the former, it raises the affection already begun, to a far greater height. We have the report of the perfec-. tions of Jesus Christ in the Gospel ; yea, so clear a description of him, that it gives a picture of him, and that, together with the sacraments, is the only lawful, and the only lively picture of our Saviour. (Gal. ii. 1.) Now faith believes this report, and beholds this picture, and so lets in the love of Christ to the soul. But further, it gives a particular experimental knowledge of Christ, and acquaintance with him ; it causes the soul to find all that is spoken of him in the word, and his beauty there represented, to be abundantly true : makes it really taste of his sweetness, and by that possesses the heart more strongly with his love, persuading it of the truth of those things, not by reasons and arguments, but by an inexpressible kind of evidence, which they only know who have it. Faith persuades a Christian of these two things which the philosopher, gives as the causes of all love, beauty and propriety, the loveliness of Christ in himself, and our interest in him.
The former it effectuates not only by the first apprehending and believing of those his excellencies and beauty, but by frequent beholding of him, and eyeing him in whom all perfection dwells, and it looks so oft on him, till it sets the very impression of his image (as it were) upon the soul, so that it can never be blotted out and forgotten. The latter it doth by that particular uniting act which makes him our God and our Saviour.
Ye love.] The distinctions which some make in love, need not be taken as importing differing kinds, but different actings, of the same love, by which we may try our so much pretended love of Christ, which in truth is so rarely found. There will then be in this love, if it be genuine, these three qualities, good-will, delight, and desire.
1st, Good-will, earnest wishing, and (as we can) promoting God's glory, and stirring up others so to do. They who seek more their own things than the things of Jesus Christ, more their own praise and esteem than his, are strangers to this