IT is very remarkable that the Lord Jesus, during the whole course of his ministry, brought so prominently forward the doctrine of God's sovereign and distinguishing grace. Highly offensive to self-righteous ears he well knew it to be; nor was he ignorant that it would be charged with leading to licentiousness and criminal carelessness in the most important concerns of the soul. To him, however, it was of small consequence that ungodly men and hypocrites in religion should impute to his holy doctrine effects to which it is abhorrent, and to counteract which is its invariable tendency, wherever it is received "in demonstration of the Spirit and power." Heedless, therefore, of man's opinion, he continued to proclaim and to express his entire satisfaction with, and delight in, the absolute sovereignty and distinguishing grace of the Father, to do whose will he had come into the world.
Thus, after he had denounced the fearful doom of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, which had rejected his testimony and despised his Person, we read: "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matt. 11:25,26) And when his nominal disciples murmured at his doctrine, and exclaimed, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" he tells them in his reply: "Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father." The result of this was: "From that time" (not a few, but) "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (Jno. 6:65,66)
But, while his enemies reviled his doctrine, and false-hearted disciples forsook him on account thereof, even his true disciples were astonished at the character of his ministry, and seem to have been anxious to be informed why he made such a distinction between man and man; why he spoke unto the multitude in parables without, as in their own case, explaining to them their meaning. To this inquiry our text contains his answer, in which he again places in a strong light, and very forcibly and unequivocally asserts, the sovereign and distinguishing grace of God to be the alone reason why one man differs from another in being made the recipient of the blessings of eternal life. "He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to them it is not given."
From these words we may notice
I. The objects of God's favor, whom he so strikingly distinguishes from all others.
II. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, in which they are instructed.
III. Their knowledge of these mysteries.
IV. How they are possessed of this knowledge: "It is given" to them.
V. The condition of those who are not made partakers of this blessing.
I. The objects of God's favor are the subjects of his instruction. He is not only their Father, but their Teacher. "It is written in the prophets," saith the Lord, "And they shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me." (Jno. 6:40) A true disciple, then, is, as the word means, a learner. God has chosen him to this great honor, and takes him into the school of his grace, out of which he never ejects him. He gives him life to feel, and a heart to understand and love the truth. He opens his eyes to see; unstops his ears, that he may listen to his voice; circumcises his lips, that he may speak "a pure language;" influences his will; and attracts his affections, that he may follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.
There are two branches of divine instruction of which every true disciple is made to know something spiritually, feelingly, experimentally. The first is his own vileness; and the second Christ's preciousness. By the law he is taught his malady; and by the gospel he is made acquainted with the only effectual remedy. The former is necessary to prepare him for the latter; as the plough must first tear up the bosom of the earth before it can receive the good seed, and yield a golden crop to the husbandman. "By the law," as applied by the Eternal Spirit, "is the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20) Its holiness discovers our unholiness; its spirituality our carnality; and its exceeding broadness our defects, breaches, and shortcomings. As the plumb-line makes manifest the declivity of the wall, so the law brings to light our want of conformity to God's revealed will; and as the criminal may be said to have the sentence of death in himself, when the foreman of the jury pronounces him guilty, so the soul receives the sentence of death in itself when taught that "the wages of sin is death," (Rom. 6:23) and that "by the deeds of the law there shall be no flesh justified in God's sight." (Rom. 3:20) This "sentence of death in ourselves" teaches us "not to trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead." The disciple who has been taught this lesson effectually abandons for ever all hope in the flesh, and flees for refuge to the blood of Jesus and to his righteousness, which alone God shows him can save and justify him "from all things from which he cannot be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:30)
Taught thus of God to know his own vileness, and "exercised" by him "unto godliness," the true disciple is also instructed in Christ's preciousness; and, as he learns the former feelingly, so also does he learn the latter. The view that is given him of the power of Jesus to "save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by him" produces feeling in his soul; and the hope that springs up in his heart, when he is impressed by the Spirit with a sense of God's favor towards him, and is enabled to lay hold upon his gracious promise, made to those who look to Jesus for salvation, gives rise to such sweet sensations as he would never lose, if it were in his power to retain them. It is as the dawning of a new life upon his soul, and the welcome harbinger of endless glory. It invigorates his whole inner man, humbles him at the footstool of divine grace, and makes the Saviour appear as the "altogether lovely, and the Chiefest among ten thousand."
But we must remember that, as God acts as a sovereign in the choice of his people, and in making them his disciples, so he does also in his manner of teaching them, and in the length of time that he takes in leading them into all truth that is essential for them to know. He may teach much in a short time, as he did on the day of Pentecost; or he may spread a comparatively small amount of spiritual instruction over a very long period. It is the reality and character of what is learned that distinguishes the true from the false disciple, and not the amount of knowledge, nor its depth, nor the time in which it has been attained. Those disciples of the Lord Jesus who never left him until the gloomy night when he was betrayed by Judas we should naturally suppose must have had very clear and deep views of truth. We should look to them, of all men, as having made the greatest progress in the divine life, and as having the fullest knowledge both of the law and of the gospel. But what do we find to have been the real state of the case? Were they truly possessed of such high attainments and great assurance? By no means. On the contrary, their ignorance was such as we could not believe, if the Holy Ghost had not revealed it. They were but mere babes in grace; and when Jesus spoke to them of his resurrection, they could not understand what he meant. The manner of his death threw them into a state of perplexity and alarm; and, after his resurrection, when he met the disciples going to Emmaus, and heard from their lips the confession of their doubt that their crucified Master was "he who should have redeemed Israel," we are told that he said unto them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken, ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke. 24:19-27) Thus the Lord's disciples, it appears, were but in a low form in his school for some years; and their case has for its parallel many, very many, at the present time. It is to be feared that there are thousands who seem to know much, but who, if subjected to a divine test, would be found to know much less, in an experimental manner, than those whom they despise for their little faith, small knowledge, and slender enjoyments. The Lord's disciples, if now on earth, and in the state they were in before the day of Pentecost, would be quite despised by numbers who are "full of words," but who lack the life and power of godliness; and yet these disciples knew and felt their need of Jesus to save them; were sensible of their vileness, weakness, and ignorance; and loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity. They suffered persecution for his Name's sake, left all to follow him, continued with him in his temptations, were docile and humble, and willing to be made as little children, and to give him all the glory, which is his just and only due.
And thus it is, and will be, with all who are Christ's disciples indeed. In him they are all made to trust. To him they come to be taught. At his feet they sit as little children. All things they esteem as dung and dross compared with him. His love they desire to enjoy, and to love him in return. Upon his arm they lean. To him they flee for protection, and are persuaded that there is salvation in none but him. Some of them are just beginning to "peep out of obscurity" and darkness, and only "see men as trees walking;" some are conflicting with corruption, darkness, and temptation; some have only attained so far as to cry with the leper, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean," or, "God be merciful to me, a sinner;" some are harassed with dreadful suspicions and doubts; some have received but one slight token for good, and, like Gideon, are looking for another to confirm it; and others have received a decided blessing, and many deliverances and consolations, but still want more. Yet, whatever the shades of difference in true disciples, in respect to the clearness of the beginning of their religion, the brightness of their assurance, the height of their spiritual stature, the depth and number of their temptations and trials, or the frequency of their consolations, in this they are all agreed,—that they can do nothing without Jesus, feel nothing without him, receive nothing but what he gives them of his free grace, and know nothing aright but what he teaches them by the Holy Ghost. They are sure that no one can whip them, drive them, or coax them one step in the way of life. And with one voice they confess their own vileness and Christ's preciousness,—the two branches of divine knowledge, into an acquaintance with which, as has been already said, all true disciples are brought by God, their loving, gracious, forbearing, wise, and effectual Teacher.
II. But we must, in the second place, notice, as was proposed, The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, which are made known to the disciples of the Lord Jesus. And here there are three things which require our attention:
1, The kingdom of heaven;
2, The meaning of the word "mysteries;" and
3, The mysteries themselves.
1. I shall not now point out the various meanings which are to be ascribed to the term "the kingdom of heaven" in the several passages wherein it occurs in the Holy Scriptures. This I have already done on a former occasion. I will, therefore, only mention what I believe to be its sense in our text.
By the term "the kingdom of heaven," as here used, we may understand the church of Christ, considered, either as his proper and peculiar territory, or as his subjects over whom he reigns, and unto whom "an abundant entrance" into the realms of bliss shall be administered through his grace and merits. Of this kingdom of heaven the Israelitish kingdom was designed to be a type. As first instituted by God, it was a pure Theocracy. Its members owed subjection to no earthly monarch. The God who made the heavens and the earth was their only Sovereign. The law by which they were governed came from above. They were supported and protected by the same divine arm which sustains the universe. Their religion was from heaven. The hope set before them was a heavenly inheritance, to which all who were "Israelites indeed" looked forward, and for which they patiently waited. Their Redeemer was the King of heaven; and although the heaven of heavens could not contain him, yet he dwelt in their midst, "between the cherubim" in the temple, which typified the human nature of Christ, and from whence he made known his will, gave counsel unto his subjects, solved their difficulties, received and answered their prayers, and taught them "in the way that they should go." Thus, also, the people of God, the church of Christ, are his kingdom, his purchased inheritance. He has redeemed Zion with his own blood. He rules his subjects, who are made "willing in the day of his power," with "the rod of his strength," his glorious gospel. This is "the perfect law of liberty," "the law of faith," and "the law of love." He reigns in their hearts. He makes them witnesses of his love and power, and causes them to feel that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Rom. 14:17) They know him as their heavenly King. Out of heaven, from his fulness, they receive "every good and every perfect gift." To him they pray; and he hears and answers them. By his Spirit and Word he guides them. Him they obey rather than man; saying not, like the Jews, "We have no king but Caessar," but, "We have no King but Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords." With them he has promised to be always, even unto the end of the world. And as they are begotten again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them, so they are "kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Pet. 1: 3,4)
2. What are we to understand by the word "mysteries? "It is too generally supposed that a mystery, in Scripture language, means some great and glorious truth which is beyond our power of comprehension, something which cannot be known by any but the Almighty. But this is by no means the necessary sense of the word, whatever may be true of the nature of many of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The word mystery itself simply means a secret, which can only be known by revelation; and in this manner it was formerly used in indentures or articles of agreement in our language, when a master, for instance, stipulated to instruct his apprentice in the "mastery," that is, "mystery," of his "craft" or occupation. So, in the Scriptures, a mystery being something which is kept secret, and cannot be known until divulged, the word is applied to the blessings of Christ conferred upon the elect Gentiles. Thus, in Eph. 3:3-6, the Apostle says, "By revelation he made known to me the mystery, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel." In this passage it is evident that the word can only mean a secret, and not something beyond our power of comprehension when revealed.
Let us, however, remember that, although the word means a secret which can only be known by revelation, and that some of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven can be and are comprehended when disclosed, there are others which no finite being can comprehend; secrets which infinity alone can grasp. (Deut. 29:29.
3. What are the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven? These mysteries are very comprehensive, including the whole sum of divine instruction, everything that is essential to be known by those who shall enter into heaven as the true disciples and subjects of Christ.
i. The fall of man, his ruined state, and his deep depravity may, with truth, be considered a mystery of the kingdom of heaven; for although, as a doctrine, it may be held by many who will perish, it is rightly and feelingly known by none but the regenerated subjects of Jesus. Others may, indeed, refer you to external evidences of this fact, and may bring forward texts of Scripture to prove it; but, at the same time, they are ignorant of it as a secret disclosed in the soul, made palpable to the heart, and causing continued distress and pain therein before "him who seeth in secret." The words of Hart well suit all those who, at one time, were strangers to the "mystery of iniquity" in themselves, but who now, through the mercy of God, know and grieve under the plague of their own heart:
"That we're unholy needs no proof;
We sorely feel the fall;
But Christ has holiness enough
To sanctify us all."
ii. Our utter helplessness and impotence is a mystery of the kingdom of heaven, and is daily worked out in our experience. We are ever being reminded of it, and are always, more or less, learning that we are "not sufficient of ourselves" even to think a good or spiritual thought, or originate a right desire. We cannot feel, act, or pray aright. We have no power to defend ourselves, or to extricate ourselves from any danger or difficulty; and, unless "kept by the power of God," and upheld every moment by him, we are sure to fall. He alone is our strength; and we require that he should "work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure."
iii. The sufficiency of the atonement of Christ is a mystery of the kingdom of heaven. How many professors of religion seem never to have felt their need of the "blood of Jesus Christ," which "cleanseth us from all sin;" nor to have received into their consciences a heavenly persuasion of its power and efficacy! The atonement of Immanuel has satisfied the requirements of a holy God; and his blood has blotted out the sins of all the elect. But if we do not feel our need of it, and never desire peace from its application, to us it is nothing; and we have no evidence of being secured from the Stroke of the sword of God's just wrath. But those who feel their guilt and defilement by God's teaching believe that this blood, and nothing else, can save them and wash away their sins. To be assured that it was shed for them is their desire and prayer; and when they feel its power on their conscience, they find, for the first time, solid rest and peace, and enjoy consolations which the world cannot give,—consolations which are precious to them while living, and will be precious to them in the hour of death.
"Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransom'd church of God
Be saved, to sin no more."
iv. The imputed righteousness of Christ is a mystery; but one which has been ridiculed by those who have called themselves disciples of the Lamb. It has been termed "imputed nonsense." Alas! that the tongue of man should so willingly be used in Satan's service to blaspheme that righteousness with which, as with a robe, all must be clothed who shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb as welcome guests. True disciples know this secret, rejoice therein, and bless God that "of him are they in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Cor. 1:30,31) "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." (Rom. 5:19)
"What blood but thine can wash away
Sins doubly dyed as mine?
What righteousness can justify,
Dear Lamb of God, but thine?"
"O! May I never cease to seek
My happiness in thee,
All lying refuges forsake,
And to thy covert flee."
v. The Person of Christ, the union of his Godhead and Manhood in One Person, is, "without controversy," a great mystery. It is emphatically called the "mystery of godliness;" for religion without the revelation of this secret in the soul is a house without a foundation, a tree without a root, a body without a soul. But this is confessedly one of those mysteries which we cannot fathom. Faith receives it upon the divine testimony, and builds its expectations thereon. Hope discovers in it sure anchorage, and the flukes of this heavenly-made anchor hold fast in the cleft of this Rock, so that the frail vessel of the soul is not shipwrecked in any storm. Love delights in an Incarnate God, beholds the perfection of his Person and his work, proclaims his honors, cleaves to him "with purpose of heart," gives to him unfeigned praise, and crowns him "Lord of all."
vi. That there are Three Persons who bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and that these Three are One God, is a mystery of the kingdom of heaven as true and blessed as it is inexplicable and "past finding out." None but God can understand the nature of God. "Clouds and darkness are the pavilion round about" him who "dwelleth in that light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see; to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." And is it for us who are unable to comprehend the manner in which the Eternal God forms the meanest flower of the field; who are "creatures of a day, and know nothing;" who are incapable of comprehending the mode of our own existence, or the nature of the union of our soul with our body;—is it for us to endeavor to break through the pavilion of our Maker, to investigate his Divine Essence, and to search out to perfection the mystery which angels believe, but presume not to attempt to fathom or explain? There have been times when, in our ignorance, we have labored to form mental images of God, and to find some symbol in nature which might serve to facilitate our understanding of "the mystery of God [the Holy Ghost], and of the Father, and of Christ;" (Col. 2:2) but, through grace, we have seen and felt our folly and presumption; presumption which, until felt, was unknown; and now, as many of us as have received any experience of this mystery, have become fools that we might be wise. And while certain that the Person and work of each of the Holy Three is necessary to our salvation and happiness, and that each Person is God, and the Three Persons but One God, we desire to be preserved from presumptuous speculations and carnal disputations, and to have the enjoyment of this blessing which Paul prayed might be granted to the Thessalonians and to the Corinthians: "The Lord [the Holy Ghost] direct your hearts into the love of God [the Father], and into the patient waiting for Christ." (2 Thess. 3:5) "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen." (2 Cor. 13:14) This mystery is the keystone of true religion. It holds together all the living stones of the heaven-built arch. Could this be removed, the arch must fall, and eternal ruin be the consequence; but while God is God, this keystone must remain, and the arch be preserved entire.
vii. The new birth is a mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus, "a master of Israel," knew it not; and many who occupy a prominent place in the professing church are as ignorant of it as was he. But "the Teacher come from God" laid the axe to the root of his delusion, and solemnly insisted upon the necessity of his being brought by the Spirit into a new state of spiritual existence, in order to his having any true perception, feeling, and enjoyment of the things of the Spirit of God, or participation in the kingdom of glory.
Without an experimental knowledge of this mystery we see, then, that there is no living to God, no dying in the Lord, and no being ever with the Lord. Can we, then, look back to any period when the effects of spiritual life began to show themselves in our souls? Can we say, Whereas I was dead, I am made alive to feel my lost condition; whereas I was blind, I am made to see my need of salvation by the blood and righteousness of Christ; whereas I was in carnal security, I was made to flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before me? Consider well, my friends, and say before God, the great Searcher of hearts, if you have reason to believe that the Holy Ghost has implanted spiritual life in your souls. Have you any way-marks? Is there in your retrospect any particular time in which you have stood naked, guilty, and ruined before God, and have cried to him for pardon and help? Is there any especial season wherein you have been made to hope in God's mercy, and to feel the ability and willingness of Christ to save you? Or are there some of you who are tried in your hearts, and cast down, because the beginning of your religion was indistinct as the first dawn of day, and because you have, as yet, received no decided evidence of being interested in the Lord Jesus, though under a sense of deep need you have often implored him to manifest himself to you as he does not to the world? Far better is it to be thus exercised than wrapped up, with thousands, in a false and ungrounded confidence, and possessed of a hardened assurance, with a benumbed or seared conscience. The exercise as to regeneration may be the very effect of divine life and light already existing in the soul. The very fear of being deceived; the desire to be right; the willingness to endure any thing rather than to be deluded by Satan and your own heart; and the repeated cries to God to make you right if you be wrong, and to show you that you are "born again," are tokens that there is "some good thing in you towards the Lord God of Israel." (1 King. 14:13) Hart has said:
"Daily we groan and mourn
Beneath the weight of sin;
We pray to be new-born,
And know not what we mean;
We think it something very great,
Something that's undiscover'd yet."
The object Hart had in view in writing thus was to show how common this trial is amongst God's people, and how often they are perplexed as to their state and standing. Many have been kept for years in this uncertainty; sometimes believing they were right, and again fearing all to be wrong; and yet, sooner or later, God has "sent forth judgment unto victory." He has removed their doubts, assured their souls of his love to them, and made them satisfied that they have "passed from death unto life," so as none but himself ever could satisfy them. Hence, with the psalmist, would I say, "Wait upon the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, upon the Lord." "They shall not be ashamed that wait for me."
viii. There are the mysteries of the Spirit's witness; of the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart; of eternal election; the resurrection of Christ, and of his members with him; of predestination, particular redemption, and the final perseverance of the saints; the mystery of fellowship with the Father and the Son, and the communion of the Holy Ghost; the mystery of union with Christ, as a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones; the mystery of faith in a pure conscience; of godly fear, spiritual love, and effectual fervent prayer; the mystery of God's universal and special providence; of his faithfulness, love, and long-suffering; the mystery of the conflict in the regenerate between the flesh and the spirit; and many other mysteries, which cannot now be even enumerated,—mysteries of which some are known only in part while upon earth.
III. Let us now notice the knowledge which the disciples of the Lord have of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." The knowledge of which the Lord speaks is not such as can be attained to by "the natural man," however powerful his understanding, or laborious and persevering his endeavors. Whatever knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven is possessed by the natural man is simply intellectual, and has no saving effect on his conscience and affections. Knowledge of the doctrines of religion without the teaching of the Spirit may make a hypocrite in Zion, and be a means of soul delusion, but can never make a true disciple of Jesus. Such knowledge, indeed, is found to puff up its possessor, and too generally leads to results which bring reproach upon the way of truth, and cause the wicked to blaspheme. To see men furnished with a natural knowledge of spiritual things, intoxicated with the pleasure which attends its acquisition, and impelled by a carnal, but burning zeal to proselytize others to an empty profession, is far from displeasing to Satan. Well does he know that the path which such are treading will as certainly lead to hell, if God interpose not by his grace, as a course of open profligacy, unblushing infidelity, or worldly dissipation. The knowledge to which he is averse, and which he strenuously opposes by force and by subtlety, is that felt and spiritual acquaintance with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven which characterizes the man who is "born of the Spirit." This is inimical to his infernal interest, dispossesses him of his palace, and spoils his goods. It purifies the heart from the love and practice of sin, removes error, and separates from the world and false professors. It is attended with "godly sorrow," which "worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." It brings the soul to the persuasion of the power of Jesus to save unto the uttermost all who come to God by him. It makes its possessor to sit at his feet, learn of him, cleave to his righteousness and atoning blood as the only means of escaping from the wrath to come, and the alone balm for a wounded and distressed conscience. It works true humility, stains the pride of man's wisdom, forbids self-reliance, induces sincere dependence upon God's grace and power, leads to gospel obedience from the heart, draws the affections to God in Christ, occasions love to the brethren, and produces deep reverence for God's Word and ordinances. It gives activity to the fear of the Lord, strengthens faith, shows the necessity for and blessedness of divine leading, and the misery of all who are destitute thereof. It checks presumption, forbids carnal haste, and brings with it clear internal and external evidences of its divine origin. To him who has it, the least measure of this knowledge is more precious than all the lore of antiquity and all the wisdom of modern days; and if it could be so that he were called upon to make his choice between the little that God has taught him by the anointing of the Holy Ghost and wisdom greater than that of Solomon, most readily would he say, Farewell, all human wisdom, natural science, skill in the arts, and knowledge of languages! Farewell, all earthly information and worldly accomplishments! Give me but a little true, experimental, spiritual knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and I am content. This wisdom alone is of eternal value. This knowledge alone can be of service to my immortal soul in life and in death.
IV. By what means does the soul become the possessor of this heavenly treasure? In what way is this knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven obtained? If no human labor can obtain it, and no merit of man secure it, how does it come to the disciples of Christ? The Lord himself replies: "It is given." It comes to the soul as freely as the light of heaven to the earth. A gift is that which is bestowed without any consideration yielded in return for it. If I could become the owner of a world by rendering but a straw in return, that world would be no gift, but a purchase; just as much so as if I were to give another world of equal value in exchange. And if spiritual knowledge became ours on account of our doings, of whatever nature or degree, that knowledge would no longer be a gift of God. It is not the value of what is returned for the object received that affects the nature of the transaction, but the fact that something is paid for it; which something makes it to be no gift. This principle is well understood by those who sometimes disseminate works which the law of our land forbids to be sold. "Buy my straw," say these persons, "and I will give you a book." The straw is purchased; the book is given; and thus the law is evaded; for, if any one were to accuse the seller of the straw for acting illegally, because the book was in fact sold, and not the straw, for which the sum given was far more than an equivalent, he could and would triumphantly challenge his accuser to prove that he did sell the book, and did not sell but give the straw.
In natural things, then, men fully understand the difference between a purchase and a gift; but in spiritual things they frequently speak as if they were ignorant of the meaning of the most plain terms, or did not give God credit for using words in their proper sense. It is a mercy, however, that the Lord's disciples feel and are sure that spiritual knowledge is truly a gift of divine grace, and that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
How plain is this truth to every man who knows his poverty of spirit, and that without Jesus he can do nothing! He feels that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from above. Spiritual life, he knows, was freely given to him who sought it not; and for all that sustains that life he finds himself entirely dependent upon its divine Bestower. God, at first, gave him faith to believe; and he is still, with the apostles, obliged to cry, "Lord, increase my faith, for thou art the Author and Finisher of faith." God, unsought by him, and for nothing which he had rendered to him to deserve it, poured out upon him "the spirit of grace and of supplications;" and to this very moment he is learning that true prayer is God's gift. He cannot pray at all times; and he is often tried because of his deadness and backwardness to everything that is good; but, at certain seasons, he receives "power from on high," and can say, "It is good for me to draw nigh to God." Then, as the Eternal Spirit works upon his heart, and teaches him how to make known his wants and requests unto God in the name of Jesus, he pours out his heart before him, or, with sighs and ejaculations, brings his case unto the throne of grace. At one moment he is wandering in his thoughts, and vain are his attempts to cease to cleave to the dust, and to "mount up as on the wings of eagles;" but the next moment, perhaps, "his heart is fixed," and his whole soul is occupied with heavenly things. Then also he is exercised with an impatient mind. He cannot feel resigned to God's holy will. He reasons with and chides himself, but to no purpose. Patience, he proves, must come from "the God of patience;" and when it does come, he dares not say, I have obtained this by my labors; or, I have given birth to this in my own heart; but he thankfully acknowledges that it is the gift of his gracious God, who "giveth liberally and upbraideth not."
Thus, during all his sojourn in this world, a true disciple is learning that spiritual knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and everything connected therewith is God's gift and not his desert. He knows that he cannot obtain it by his exertions, be talked or driven into it by man. He is a beggar, enriched by sovereign grace; and has nothing but what he has received. If any are made partakers of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, he is quite certain that they will join with him in saying:
"O to grace how great a debtor Daily I'm constrain'd to be! Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter, Bind my wand'ring heart to thee."
V. Lastly, what is the condition of those who are destitute of this gracious gift? Their condition is simply marked by the words: "But unto them it is not given." These words imply many solemn and weighty truths.
1. The sovereignty of God in the choice of his people cannot here be overlooked. In all his divine plans and arrangements his sovereignty is clearly marked; and men cannot deny it without shutting their eyes to everything around them, and speaking contrary to their own consciousness. Why is one man born to riches and another to poverty? Why is one beautiful in form and features, and another deformed in both? Why has one individual great intellectual power, while another has but slender capacity? Why does one who strives incessantly, and not without evidencing much talent, never attain to mediocrity, but fail in all his endeavors; while another, with little or no labor, and in spite of want of apparent qualifications, reaches to an eminence which he of all men seemed the most unlikely to gain? The answer to these questions must be, as is obvious, Because God has so appointed it. His sovereign will has fixed the circumstances of his creatures, and his purposes none can reverse. This is true in nature; and it is equally true, in respect to the eternal state of man, that God has chosen some to happiness, but not others. Unto some "it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto others it is not given." And may I not appeal to you as witnesses of the truth of this assertion, an assertion which the Word of God so fully establishes? Is it not the case that you, who are real disciples of Jesus, were made such by the sovereign grace and power of God, not for your deserts, but notwithstanding your great demerit? Of your friends and relations many were, in the view of man, nearer to the kingdom of heaven than you. They were constant in the outward observance of what are termed religious duties; but you were without any respect to such things, and were, it may be, rebuked by them for your recklessness and folly. But what has God wrought? He has left them in their unregeneracy, satisfied with a form of godliness without the power, and has plucked you as a brand from the burning. And with respect to such of your former friends who, with yourself, sought only after the pleasures of sin, what has God wrought? He has taken you from the vortex of destruction, and has left them therein. He has quickened your soul, but suffered theirs to remain "dead in trespasses and sins." He has opened your eyes, and left them in darkness. He has brought you to Jesus, and allowed them still to cry, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
Thus has God, in his sovereignty, distinguished you from others; and you are sure, from your own experience, that "no man can come unto Jesus, except the Father draw him." The thought of this, sometimes, humbles your soul, and makes you pray earnestly that you may be devoted to God's fear, and be caused to walk worthy of the high vocation wherewith you are called, that men may take knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus. You are not able to give grace to others, for you could not obtain it for yourself. God alone made you to differ, and God alone can make them to differ. This you know he will effect in those near and dear to you, if they be chosen by him to life. But when you see them dead in an empty profession of religion, or rushing on in a course of open sin and worldliness, how often does your heart ache for them! You know what must be their end, if God does not have mercy upon their deluded souls. And the more you feel of his grace to you, the more do you desire, if such be his will, to see them delivered from going down into the pit, as you have been. Real grace does not harden the heart, or make it insensible to the misery of others. It softens, and renders it more sensitive. And, therefore, you are happy when you see any evidence of grace in any individual; thankful when a trophy of the electing love of the Father, the redeeming grace of Jesus, and the regenerating mercy of the Holy Ghost, is raised up in this valley of the shadow of death.
2. The words: "To them it is not given," point out the complete ignorance of spiritual truths which exists in those who are not Christ's disciples. They know not their lost condition; how then can they know the mystery of salvation? They feel not their sickness; how then can they know their need of the good Physician? To God they are strangers; can they then worship him acceptably with reverence and godly fear? The Spirit of grace and of supplications has not been poured out upon them; and how can such "pray in the Holy Ghost," or "worship God in spirit and in truth?" If they contend for man's ability to help himself; if they deny the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; if they hate the children of light; if they ridicule and despise them; why should this surprise us? Grieve us it may and does; but we should not wonder at it, when we consider what was our own condition, and that it is not given unto them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. To contend with them, and to think to overcome their opposition by our arguments, is vain. They will not listen to truth with meekness and a desire to be taught, until God has circumcised their hearts and their ears; and we are told that "he who rebuketh a scorner getteth to himself a blot."
"Contentions only gender strife,
And gall a tender mind;
But godliness, in all its life,
At Jesus' cross we find."
3. But the Lord's words also imply that wherever there is a beginning to know, feelingly and experimentally, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, there the grace of God has dawned; and the light of life, though now feeble and much obscured, will shine brighter and brighter "unto the perfect day." God does not despise "the day of small things." The light that makes all things manifest upon the earth at noonday could scarcely be perceived at first; yet, from so small a beginning, such glory has at last proceeded. The noble and gigantic oak was once a little acorn that an infant could hold in its hand, or an insect convey to its hiding-place. The power that has made it what it is was of God. He formed the little seed; and he has built up the beautiful, lofty, and deeply-rooted tree. "He who has begun the good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." "As for God, his work is perfect." "Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it." Happy they of whom it cannot be said, "Unto you it is not given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven!"
4. There are some to whom it is never given to know these mysteries. They die as they have lived,—"enemies to God by wicked works;" "deceiving and being deceived." It is an awful thought that so many appear to go down to the grave contented without the grace of God. Blind to the nature of the eternity that awaits them, they draw nearer and nearer to destruction, and fondly hope that all will be well; how they know not. God's Word, which declares that it cannot be well with them, dying as they live, they believe not. They die in false security; "like sheep they are laid in the grave;" and when they shall stand before the throne of God, they will hear the solemn sentence which, once pronounced, can never be reversed: "Depart from me, ye cursed; I never knew you."
To them it is not given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; and in withholding what they could not claim, God did them no injustice. To them it will not be given to participate in the joys of heaven; and in excluding them from these, the Judge of all, the God of the whole earth, will make it manifest that "a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he."
Let me, in conclusion, inquire of you, Do you know "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven?" Is this gift, which is not given unto many, bestowed upon you. Consider well these questions; and God grant unto you that you may feel much of your own unworthiness and of his distinguishing grace; that you may think lowly of yourselves, and highly of Jesus; that you may mistrust yourselves, and learn of him who is "meek and lowly in heart, and find rest unto your souls." Amen.