The Glory of the Gospel by Christmas Evans
The being of God and some of his attributes are revealed to us by natural religion. The proof is seen in all his works, commending itself to the reason and conscience even of pagan nations:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God had shown it to them; for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse, because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom. 1:19–21)
Paul’s sermon in Athens was founded on the revelations of natural religion:
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:22–28)
But natural religion, though it reveals the being and attributes of God, cannot teach the way of salvation, nor lead us in the path of holiness. It may excite a thousand fears, not one of which can it allay; and suggest a thousand questions, not one of which can it answer. It leaves us, with the Deist, in a region of doubt and perplexity; and neither of its four oracles—creation, providence, reason, and conscience—can satisfy the soul that inquires, “What must I do to be saved?” Its light affords us no guidance in the path of virtue; no certain indications of duty, either to God or man. Our understandings are so darkened, our wills so perverted, our affections so carnal, that we can depend upon no suggestions of external nature, or of reason and conscience, for the regulation of our moral conduct. God, therefore, of his infinite mercy, has given us his written word—a perfect rule both of faith and practice—a law by which we ought to live, and by which we will be judged—a revelation of the mystery which had been hidden for ages, but is now made manifest to the saints, dispelling the fears of conscience, soothing the sorrows of the heart, and bringing life and immortality to light.
Divine revelation, though infinitely above human reason, does not in the least oppose it. That God should clearly make known his will to man, is so far from being contrary to reason, that we may truly say nothing is more reasonable. The deductions of reason from the insufficiency of natural religion strongly indicate the necessity of such a revelation; and as to its possibility, we know that there can be no impossibility on the part of God to give it, and there is no impossibility on the part of man to receive it. God is able to communicate his will to his creatures in any way he pleases. He can stamp it on the mind, and make us know that it is he who speaks to us. But he has chosen another method. He has given us a record of his will in the Holy Scriptures:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. .. Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1)
Is the gospel the truth of God or not? Much has been written on this question. The arguments that have been advanced in support of the affirmative have never been overthrown, and never can be, by all the skeptics in the world. The revelation of the method of salvation was given in the garden of Eden to our first parents. Since that period great talents have been employed, talents worthy of a better cause, in ridiculing the Bible; but to very little purpose. The character of the Book of God stands firm as a mountain amid the clouds, the thunders, and the whirlwinds; and all the opposition of infidels and blasphemers, instead of tarnishing, have only brightened its lustre; and from every trial through which it has passed, it has come forth as fine gold from the furnace.
The religions of the world, the vices and virtues of the world, all its wisdom and sagacity, and all its power and authority, in league with the demons of the pit, have not been able to destroy the gospel or stay the wheels of its chariot. Though they were headed by the prince of darkness—the prince of this world—the prince of the power of the air, that worked mightily in the children of disobedience, in Palestine, in Greece and Rome, and all over the world; yet the gospel has proved triumphant. Its enemies, human and infernal, may wonder and be amazed at its prosperity; but let them remember that its author is the living God, and lives forever. Though its ministers have been persecuted and imprisoned, stoned, sawn asunder, slain with the sword, and burnt in the flames; yet the word of the Lord is not bound, but is freely preached in many parts of the world, and its doctrines and practices maintained in their purity by multitudes of Christians, notwithstanding the most dreadful attempts that have been made at different times to corrupt and destroy them.
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25)
We would now call your attention to the Divine authority of the gospel, and its characteristic glory.
The evidence of its divinity
It is “the gospel of the blessed God”—a message from God to man. A revelation of God’s gracious method of saving sinners through the death of his Son. A declaration of his sovereign love and mercy to the utterly wretched and perishing children of men It testifies of the coming of the promised Messiah; of the glory of his person as God-man; of the excellency of his offices, as our Prophet, Priest, and King; the honor which he has conferred upon the law that we have violated, and the satisfaction which he has given to the Divine justice that we have insulted. It records the sufferings and death of Christ, his victory over the powers of darkness his resurrection from the grave, his ascension to glory, his session at the right hand of the Father, and his intercession for sinners on the ground of his vicarious sufferings; and predicts his second coming in glory, on the clouds of heaven, to judge the quick and the dead.
I do not mean to say that there is no other truth necessary to be preached and believed, but all the truths of Divine revelation are immediately connected with the doctrine of the cross. This is the testimony that the Father hath testified of his Son. This is the glad tidings of great joy which will be to all people. This is the faithful saying or true report, that is worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save the chief of sinners. This is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God;” emanating from his Spirit, and conducting to his kingdom.
Let us consider the evidence of its divine authority. The perfections of God, in some degree, are manifested in all his works and words; his character is stamped on everything that his hands have formed, and his mouth has spoken; so that there is a vast difference between the work and language of God and the work and language of men. This is especially the case in reference to the Christian revelation. It is “the gospel of the blessed God,” and bears throughout the impression of its author. When John saw the Lamb in the midst of the throne, he had no difficulty in determining that he was a proper object of adoration and praise.
As soon as anyone sees the stone with seven eyes laid before Zerubbabel, he knows that it is not a common stone. When you look to the book of the firmament, the fingers of the Creator’s eternal power and Godhead are evidently seen in the sun, the moon, and the stars. So, in the Bible, we trace the same Divine hand. As often as I read it, I see eternity, with its flaming eye, gazing upon me. It unfolds to me the mysteries of creation and providence. It informs me who made, and still sustains and governs the universe. It leads me to the spring and original cause of all things, and places me immediately before the eyes of the eternal God; and I find myself, in his presence, both killed and made alive—most dreadfully oppressed, and set at perfect liberty; sunk in the valley of repentance and humiliation, and lifted upon the top of Pisgah; full of fears, and full of joy; desiring to hide from his sight, yet wishing to abide in the light of his countenance forever.
I see the eye of Omniscience looking out upon me from every chapter of the Bible—from every doctrine, every precept, every promise, every ordinance of the gospel—penetrating alike the darkness and the light; searching me through and through, until I can hide nothing from its gaze; giving me a faithful representation of my conscience and my heart; making me hate myself, and confess my uncleanness, and cry out for the creation of a right spirit within me. And then I see it looking far into futurity—discovering many hundreds of years beforehand the smallest circumstances in the life and death of Jesus, even to the price of his betrayal, the gall mingled with his drink, and the lot cast for his vesture. How can I doubt that this is the eye of God?
Again, I see holiness, justice, and truth, gazing upon me from the very heart of the gospel, like so many eyes of consuming fire. I tremble before them like Moses before the burning bush, or Israel at the base of Sinai. Yet do I wish to behold this terrible glory, for it is mingled with milder beams of mercy. I take off my shoes, and approach that I may contemplate: “Truly, God is in this I cannot live in sin under the intense blaze of his countenance. But here also I find the cleft of the Rock, even the Rock of Ages, wherein he hides me with his hand, while he makes all his goodness pass before me, and proclaims to me his name ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and by no means clearing the guilty.’”
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning,” revealing, condemning, correcting—“the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It unlocks my soul, and sits upon its throne; an infallible judge over all my secret imaginations, purposes, and feelings; bringing them under its own perfect law; examining them in the light of spotless holiness, inflexible justice, and eternal truth. And when I shrink from the scrutiny, overwhelmed with a sense of my corruption, and confessing my guilt with a broken and contrite heart, then it speaks to me of the boundless love of God, and the infinite merit of Christ and “a still small voice” directs my sight to the holy of holies; where I see, through the rent veil, the King of Zion sitting upon his throne of grace, more glorious than the ancient Shekinah upon the mercy seat. I approach with joyful confidence, and find him invested with my own nature, “God manifest in the flesh,” his royal garments red with sacrificial blood, and again I hear the still small voice— “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And when the dark mountains of tribulation rise up before me, I see Ι the tops gilded with beams of love; and when I look into the valley of the shadow of death, I see it brightening with the footsteps of the Son of God; and when the soul sits solitary and dejected in her mortal prison, longing for the wings of a dove, that she may fly away and be at rest, she sees the eyes of her Deliverer looking through the crevices of the wall, and hears his voice at the grated window: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
Thus the gospel commends itself to my conscience and my heart, as “the gospel of the blessed God.” But there is other, and if possible still stronger proof of its divinity; namely, its power to renew the human soul, and reform the human character. The Earl of Rochester was a great skeptic, and one of the wittiest and sarcastic men of his age. In his last sickness, he was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah; where the prophet in so graphic and touching a manner, describes the vicarious sufferings of Christ. It scattered all his deistical doubts, as the sun scatters the mist of the morning; led him with a broken and believing heart to the atoning Lamb of God; and converted his death bed into a vestibule of heaven. This is not a solitary case. Thousands and millions have been, in like manner, awakened and converted through the gospel, and brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. It is the might of God to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5)—turning men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among all them that are sanctified through faith in Jesus.
Matthew at the custom-house, the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well, the dying malefactor upon the cross, the penitent jailor at Philippi, the blasphemous persecutor on the road to Damascus, and three thousand souls under Peter’s preaching at the Pentecost, all found it “the power of God to salvation.” And still, it retains its convincing and quickening virtue. Wherever it is proclaimed in its purity, and accompanied with the power of the Holy Spirit, proud and hardened sinners are pricked in their hearts, and forced to cry out, “What must we do to be saved?” It answers the question. It points to the crucified and says, “Believe and be saved!” It reconciles the enemy to God. It makes the blasphemer a man of prayer, the sensualist a man of purity, the inebriate a man of sobriety; and where sin abounded, grace much more abounds. The dead whom Jesus quickened had no time to inquire into the mysterious process by which the work was wrought. They sprang instantly into life by the power of God. Yet the evidence of the change was clear and incontestable. So it is with the transforming effects of the gospel. We cannot rationally doubt its power to raise the soul from death in trespasses and sins.
Suppose I have been long afflicted with cancer, or have been bitten by a mad dog, or a rattlesnake, and I find a sovereign and instantaneous remedy; but after I am cured, a skeptic calls upon me, and tries to convince me that the remedy is good for nothing, insists that it is a cheat lately invented by a villain, demands of me to prove that such things were used before the deluge, and asks me a thousand questions about the cure which Solomon could not answer; how can I look upon such a man as better than a maniac? I have tried the experiment and found it successful, and all his pretended philosophical reasoning rings in my ears like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. The wisdom of men has invented many remedies for the guilt and the lore of sin; but the vain philosophy of the world has never, like the gospel, restored a single soul to peace, purity, and happiness. I can truly say, after the most careful self-examination, and millions more can testify the same thing, that the gospel, in the hand of the Spirit of God, has subdued the love of sin and quenched the fire of guilt within me; and has taken away the sting of death and the terrors of the grave. If the infidel will allow that I am a sane man and a man of truth, what further proof does he want that this is “the gospel of the blessed God”?
Once more, the character of God, as exhibited in the gospel is perfect, every way worthy of himself, infinitely above any original conception of the human mind. The gods of Homer and Virgil are cruel and revengeful. The god of Mohammed delights in pollution and crime. The god of Voltaire is a buffoon, and the god of Paine a tyrant. But the gospel represents the Deity in his true character, as the concentration and the fountain of all moral excellence.
All this evidence of the Divine authority of the gospel is corroborated by an overwhelming array of external proof. It was certainly written by the men whose names it bears. They were men of irreproachable character. Their declarations were confirmed by the testimony of miracles, and the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on Calvary, rose from the dead the third day, and ascended to heaven, according to the Scriptures. These were facts believed by the first Christians and admitted by their enemies. They were received with the most perfect confidence by the immediate successors of the original witnesses; and further corroborated by the testimony of neutrals, apostates, and the most inveterate opponents. The question, therefore, is settled; all is admitted that is necessary to prove that the Christian’s gospel is “the gospel of the blessed God.”
The excellence of its character
It is the “glorious gospel”—emphatically and pre-eminently glorious, and this is our second topic of discourse. It is a wonderful exhibition of the glory of God—the most perfect revelation of the divine attributes ever granted to man—displaying the sovereign mercy of the Father, in the gift of his beloved Son; the infinite compassion of Christ—in offering himself upon the cross for our sins; and the gracious power of the Holy Spirit—in turning us from darkness to light, and renewing us in righteousness and true holiness after the image of God.
But it is chiefly from a comparison of the gospel with the law, both in its dispensation and its character, that we see its transcendent glory. On this point let us fix our attention.
“The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The ministration of the law brought the angels from heaven to earth, but the ministration of the gospel required the incarnation of the God of angels. The Mediator of the new covenant is Jehovah enshrined in humanity—“Emmanuel,” “God with us,” “God manifest in the flesh,” “the fulness of the Godhead,” that “fills all in all,” imbodied and made visible in the lowly Son of David.
This is the foundation of the apostle’s argument by which he convicts the despisers of the gospel of greater guilt than the transgressors of the law. “If the word spoken by angels”—that is, the law given upon Sinai—“ proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”—we who have heard the glad tidings of the gospel—“how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation … declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit”? (Heb. 2:2–4). If God is greater than man, then the gospel is greater than the law; and its superior excellence constitutes for it a superior claim upon our faith and our affections; and the strength of that claim graduates the guilt of its rejection. There is a fire more intense than that which flamed on Sinai, and a judgment more terrible than that of Korah and his confederates. “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28–29).
The ceremonial law contained many a type and shadow of Messiah, but the gospel is the history of his advent and mediatorial work. The ceremonial law pointed to the coming Prince of Peace, but the gospel brings him to his throne, and puts the crown upon his head. Christ is “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), and Moses and Aaron are lost in his light, as the moon and the stars in the blaze of the rising sun. The excellence of his person, the merit of his sacrifice, and the utility of his offices give him an immense superiority. The many prophets, priests, and kings of the former dispensation were but the shadows cast by the one great Prophet, Priest, and King, which indicated his coming. A light arose from the cross of Calvary which turned the black cloud on Sinai into a pillar of glory.
Typical blood shielded the children of Israel from the arm of the destroying angel, healed the leper, anointed to holy offices, atoned for ceremonial sins, and sealed the covenant of God with his people; but never cancelled the sinner’s debt, nor satisfied his conscience, nor sanctified his affections, nor calmed his trembling spirit in the hour of death. All these blessings, however, flow from the blood of Christ—these, and infinitely more—more than tongue can tell, or heart conceive.
The gospel is emphatically the ministration of mercy—the covenant of grace, “ordered in all things and sure”—a goodly ship, freighted with the bread of life, and commanded by the Son of God, who has steered into the harbor of our famishing world, and is dispensing the precious provision to all who will accept. These are “the sure mercies of David.”
The law is only a partial revelation of the divine attributes, which, in the gospel, are all equally exhibited and all equally glorified. Here, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The justice of God looks more terrible at the cross of Christ than at the gate of hell, and is more glorified in the sufferings of his Son than in the eternal agonies of all the damned; while his mercy is more beautiful because more honorable to his administration, than if sinners had been saved without an atonement.
Thus, while the law reveals the righteousness of God, the gospel brightens the revelation of his righteousness and adds the revelation of his grace. While the law imprisons the sinner, the gospel liberates him, yet liberates him according to law. While the law shows the malignity of sin and dooms the sinner to death, the gospel assents to both, but conquers the one and counteracts the other.
The law convinces us of our fall; the gospel assures us of our redemption. The law shows us what we are and what we ought to be; the gospel tells us what we may become, and now the change must be effected. The law tears open our wounds; the gospel pours in the healing balm. The law makes known our duty; the gospel aids us to perform it. The law plunges us in the ditch; the gospel opens to us the purifying fountain. The law is a mirror in which we behold our own filthiness and deformity; the gospel is a mirror that reflects the glory of God in Christ and transforms the believer into the same image.
The law has no fellowship with the sinner, offers no pardon to the sinner, cannot cure the love of sin in his heart, cannot give a spark of life without perfect obedience and full satisfaction for past offenses. Therefore some accuse the law of cruelty—cannot set forth the superior glory of the gospel without representing the law as a tyrant or a vagrant. But it is not the cruelty of the law, but the righteousness of the law that condemns the sinner. This is the reason that it has no alms-house, nor city of refuge, in its dominion. Yet “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). By convincing us of sin, it shows us our need for a Saviour. It meets the sinner on his way to hell and drives him back to Calvary.
But the gospel is more glorious. It enters the sinner’s heart, casts out the love of sin, and scourges the traffickers from the temple of God. It enters the prisoner’s cell, knocks off his fetters, and bids him go free. It descends into the valley of dry bones, makes the moldering skeletons living men, and leads them to Mount Zion with songs of everlasting joy. It gives eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, feet to the lame, tongues to the dumb, health to the sick, life to the dead, and revives such as are fainting under the terrors of the law. “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
The Moravian missionaries in Greenland preached several years on the great doctrines of natural religion and the requirements of the moral law, without producing any visible reformation in their hearers; but under the very first sermon which exhibited “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” many “were pricked in their hearts and led effectually to repentance.”
We have a striking illustration of the distinguishing glory of the gospel—its mercy—in the parable of the prodigal son. The young man, having received his portion from his father, went into a far country, and spent all his substance in drunkenness and debauchery. Reduced to the last extremity of want, the proud young nobleman hired himself to a citizen of that country and became a feeder of swine—the meanest employment to which a Jew could be degraded. On the very verge of starvation, we see him snatching the husks from the mouths of the detested animals to satisfy his hunger. Now he contrasts the present with the past: “My father’s house! Oh, my father’s house!” A trembling hope springs up in his bosom “I will arise and go!” I see him coming, full of guilt and shame halting, trembling, ready to turn back, or lie down by the wayside and die. While yet a great way off, the father beholds him. Oh, not with an eye of anger and revenge! and runs to meet him. Oh, not with a drawn sword or an uplifted rod! He feels within him the yearning of a father’s heart, leaps to embrace the prodigal, and pours upon him a mingled shower of kisses and tears. Not a reproachful word is uttered; not the slightest censure—nothing but love:
“Father, I have sinned! I am not worthy to be—”
“Peace, my son! Servants, bring a robe, a ring, a pair of shoes; and haste to kill the fatted calf; and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found!”
And they began to be merry.
Such, my brethren, is the unspeakable mercy of the gospel, which constitutes its distinguishing glory. It is the law that creates the famine in the “far country” of sin. The poor prodigal goes about, begging for bread; but none will give him a crust, or a crumb. The desert of Mount Sinai is a poor country for a starving soul. There is no bread in all that region and no toleration for beggars. If the sinner offers to work for any of the citizens—either for Mr. Holiness, or Mr. Justice, or Mr. Truth—he is sent into the fields to feed swine until he is thoroughly convinced of the nakedness of the land, and the misery of his lot; and if he faints through famine or fatigue, and fails to perform his task, he is thrust into the house of correction, and placed upon the tread-wheel of remorse, until the ministers of mercy come to his relief. It is the gospel that whispers, “Return to your father.” It is the gospel that inspires the hope of acceptance. It is the gospel that meets him with more than paternal welcome, and rains upon him the baptism of blessings and tears. It is the gospel that brings its robe of righteousness, and its ring of favour, and spreads its feast of joy, and calls the angels to merry-making “over one sinner that repents.”
Oh, the love of God! Oh, the riches of Christ! His salvation is more than a restoration to the joys of Eden. He came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly. Where sin abounded under the law, grace has much more abounded under the gospel. It is an ocean of blessings—“blessings of the heaven above, and of the deep that lies under;” the blessings of Jacob, “prevailing above the blessings of his progenitors, to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills;” blessings which cannot be circumscribed by time, passing over the mountains which now divide us from the promised land, and flowing down on the other side into the pacific vales of immortality!
Such is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” You have seen the evidence of its divinity, and the peculiar excellence of its character. Suffer me to ask, do you believe its doctrines? Do you obey its precepts? Do you enjoy its blessings? Do you delight in its promises? It commends itself every way to your faith and your affections. It is worthy of all acceptation. It is the light of the world—walk in it. It is a feast for the soul—eat and be satisfied. It is a river of living water—drink and thirst no more. How miserable is that man who rejects alike its evidence and its offers. How miserable in the hour of death! As Thistlewood said of himself when on the drop at Newgate, he is “ taking a leap in the dark!”
How miserable in the day of judgment, God says,
Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. (Prov. 1:24–27)