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lence of it
with a modest consciousness of the worth and dignity which God has put upon you. It is a garment properly your own, which no one can deprive you of without your consent; which you have obtained by prayer and meditation, watchfulness and circumspection, abstinence and self-denial; which therefore you have received from Christ himself. And by wearing it, and appearing in it, as his disciples, you will do him honour and respect, which he will accept and reward bereafter.
3. Lastly, they who have received from Christ this white raiment, should be careful to keep it well.
Amidst the representation of great afflictions and trials it is said in this book : " Blessed is he that keepeth his garments,” Rev. xvi. 15. He who is richly clad, is under especial obligation to a strict care of his garment, that it may be unsullied. In our conversation in this world, without particular care, this garment will contract some disagreeable defilement. And in so rich a dress it cannot be overlooked. As a little folly is observed in him, who is in reputation for wisdom, so every the least spot is discernible in a white garment,
In our walk in this world, amidst a variety of characters, we must have our eye about us, and take heed to ourselves, that our meekness be not tarnished by hastiness of speech or action, and that no spot of pride or ambition, or inordinate affection for earthly things, stain the purity of this raiment.
This may be thought difficult; but it is not impossible. It is taken notice of at the beginning of this chapter, to the advantage of some : “ Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments.” It is added : “ And they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." Which also shows, that care and watchfulness, on which so much depends, though somewbat tedious at present, will be fully rewarded in the end.
Well then, “ Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” Rev. xvi. 15. Blessed is he who maintains his watch in every station and condition, and in all the dangerous temptations of this life.
In the warm beams of prosperity this white raiment is very apt to fade; and it can scarcely bear them in an intense degree, especially for a long season, and without interruption. In some easy circumstances likewise extraordinary care may be needful, that it be not lost in a deep sleep of security. Happy is he who then “ watches, and
keeps his garments,” that no man rob him of that which is his chief glory and ornament, and wbich he cannot lose without being filled with shame and confusion.
Happy likewise is he who is provided with the double clothing of fortitude and patience; so that he is not afraid for the cold of adversity, nor for the tempests of affliction and persecution. That is another very dangerous circumstance. But it usually awakens attention, and is often cleansing and purifying. And our Lord adds immediately after the words of the text:
many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."
In fact, many “ have gone through great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," Rev. vii. 14. By a steady faith in their great Lord and pattern, whom they bave been made to resemble in sufferings, they have become like him in meekness and patience. And in those suffering circumstances, the most displeasing and affrighting to carnal apprehensions, their robes have become resplendent ; a part of the heavenly glory has seemed to descend upon them ; the beams of which have enkindled a flame of divine love in the hearts of others, which has inspired them with a holy ambition of sharing with those followers of the Lamb in sufferings, and resembling them in virtue ; that they may also partake of their uncommon comforts here, and their peculiar rewards hereafter.
THE GREAT MYSTERY OF GODLINESS.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness :
God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the
world, and received up into glory. 1 Tim. iii. 16. FOR discerning the coherence we need look no farther back than to the fourteenth verse. “ These things," says the apostle, “ write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know, how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.
This clause seems to be added with a view to excite the care, circumspection, and diligence of Timothy; considering the vast importance of the doctrine of the gospel committed to him. Which also justifies the concern of the apostle for the right behaviour of this evangelist, and the care he took to send him proper advices and directions, and engage his due regard to them.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness," As if be had said : . Do not therefore think me • too minute and particular, or too earnest and importunate • in the directions which I send unto you. For it is con• fessed, and acknowledged by all who are acquainted with • it, “ that the mystery of godliness is very great,” weighty, • and important."
Thus we are coming to the difficult part of our undertaking to explain these words; and indeed it has no small appearance of difficulty. But yet I would suppose, and am apt to think, that the things here intended by the apostle are clear and obvious points, often said in the books of the New Testament, in other places : and understood and acknowledged by all, who are well acquainted with the christian doctrine, and its evidences, as contained in the scriptures. The obscurity therefore of this text, I
presume, arises from some particular expressions here made
It appears to me very likely, that by “ the mystery of godliness" is meant the gospel-dispensation, or the doctrine of the gospel in its extent and purity; as containing the design of God concerning the salvation of men, in and through Jesus Christ, without the works, or the ritual and peculiar ordinances of the law of Moses.
We may be confirmed in this interpretation by observing some of the many places, in which the word“ mystery occurs in the epistles of this apostle. Rom. xvi. 25, 26, “ Now unto him, that is of
according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”
Eph. i. 9, 10, “ Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he had purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness
of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ."
Eph jii. 245, “ If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you-ward; how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery, which in other ages was not made known unto 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 his promise in Christ by the gospel.” And afterwards in the same chapter, ver. 8, 9, “ Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been bid in God."
These texts plainly show, that by the “mystery," the apostle often means “the” whole “ dispensation of the gospel,” with its unsearchable riches, and abundant grace and mercy: always determined in the purpose of God, but fally revealed to men in these late ages of the world.
Once more in the same epist le. Eph. vi. 19, 20,“ and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds; that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.”
To the like purpose in the epistle to the Colossians, which we have often observed to bave a great agreement with that to the Ephesians. Col. i. 25—27, “ Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which has been hid from ages and generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you the hope of glory.”
And ch. ii. 2," that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, even the Father, and of Jesus Christ.”
And ch. iv. 3, “ Withal praying for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ; for which I am also in bonds."
And in this very chapter, the third of the first epistle to Timothy, ver. 8, 9, “ Likewise must the deacons be grave,
-holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience." There can be no doubt then, but that by “ the mystery
of godliness” the apostle nieans the evangelical dispensation, or the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, which he oftentimes calls “ a mystery, the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of the faith :" and here the mystery of godliness."
To the like purpose in the sixth chapter of this first epistle to Timothy. Ver. 2, 3, “ If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing." And the epistle to Titus begins in this manner. “ Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.”
This doctrine of the gospel, the apostle says in the text, is “ great,” unquestionably
so. “ And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” By“ great” meaning, as we may reasonably think, every thing which can be comprehended in that character. It is weighty and important; it is sublime; most true and certain ; in all respects worthy of God, and carrying in it the best and kindest design toward men; most likely and most effectual to reclaim them from sin, and bring them to God and true holiness here, and to durable and unmixed happiness hereafter. Upon the comparison too it surpasseth in glory, riches, and grace, all former dispensations. Finally, it may be said to be great, as it was unsearchable, exceeding all that had entered into the heart of man to conceive; though fully determined by the Divine Being, and often hinted and foretold in the revelations of the prophets, in the more early ages of the world.
Thus far we seem to have proceeded with a satisfactory evidence and perspicuity, as to the meaning of the words.
It follows. “ God was manifest in the flesh.” Here we have a difficulty well known to learned christians, and the laborious and diligent interpreters of scripture. For whereas we have in our text, “ God was manifest in the flesh :" some think we should read, “ Which was manifest in the flesh.”
In favour of the reading last mentioned it is alleged, that it is found in divers ancient versions, and in several Latin authors. On the other hand, in favour of our present, and more common reading, it is said, that it is in most, and well nigh all Greek manuscripts that we know of. It is likewise observed, that several of the expressions which follow, are more properly used of a person than of a thing. For instance ; of the mystery of godliness," it cannot be so