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RICHES OF CHRIST.
EPHESIANS III. 8.
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.
UNTO me, who am less than the least of all saints. The Greek is a comparative made of a superlative. less than the least of all saints is a double diminutive, and signifies less than the least, if less may be. Here you have the greatest apostle descending down to the lowest step of humility. Great Paul is least of saints, last of the a"postles, and greatest of sinners. The choicest buildings have the lowest foundations; the best balsam sinks to the bottom; those ears of corn and boughs of trees that are most filled and best laden, bow lowest: so do those souls that are most laden with the fruits of paradise. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints.
Is this grace given; or, in the Greek, was this grace given. The word that is here rendered grace is taken in scripture not only for the favour of God, but also for his gracious gifts; and so you are to understand it in this place. Grace is taken for the gifts of grace, and they are two-fold, common and special. Some are common to believers and hypocrites; as knowledge, tongues, a gift of prayer: some are special and peculiar to the saints, as fear, love, faith. Now Paul had all these, the
No. XL. B
better to fit him for that high and noble service to which he was called.
That I should preach; that is, declare good news or glad tidings. The Greek word answers to the Hebrew word which signifies good news, glad tidings, and a joyful message.
That I should preach among the Gentiles. Sometimes this Greek word is used generally for all men or for all nations. Sometimes the word is used more especially for the people of the Jews. Sometimes it is used for the Gentiles distinguished from the Jews; so it is used in Matt, vi. 32. For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; those that are without God in the world, that stand in arms against God, that are ignorant of those riches of grace that are in Christ. And so it is used here. This grace is given to me, that I should preach among the poor heathens the unsearchable riches of Christ.
That I should preach among the Gentiles.—what? myself? no, but the unsearchable riches of Christ. The Greek word signifies not to be traced out. Here is rhetoric indeed! Here are riches, unsearchable riches, unsearchable riches of Christ. Riches always imply two things, abundance, and abundance of such things as be of worth. Now in the Lord Jesus Christ are the greatest riches, the best riches, the choicest riches. In Christ are riches of justification, Tit. ii. 14; in Christ are riches of sanctification, Phil. iv. 12, 13; in Christ are riches of consolation, 2 Cor. xii. 9; and in Christ are riches of glorification, 1 Pet. i. 11. But of these glorious unsearchable riches of Christ, we shall speak hereafter.
I Shall begin at this time with the first words, Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. There are these two observations that naturally flow from these words; first, that the most holy men are always the most humble men: none so humble on earth, as those that live highest in heaven. Or, if you will, take the observation thus— those that are the most highly valued and esteemed by God, are lowest and least in their own esteem.
The second observation is, that there are weak saints as well as strong, little saints as well as great; or thus— all saints are not of an equal growth or stature.
I shall begin with the first observation, that the most holy men are always the most humble men. Souls that are the most highly esteemed and valued by God, do set the least and lowest esteem upon themselves.
In the handling of this point, I shall do these three things,
I. I shall prove that the most holy souls are always the most humble souls.
IL I shall shew you the properties of souls truly humble.
III. I shall shew you the reasons why those that are the most highly prized and esteemed of God, do set so low a price upon themselves.
I. For the first, that this is so, I shall give you most clear proofs, and open them to you.
See it in Job. No man ever received a fairer or a more valuable certificate under the hand of God or the broad seal of heaven, for his being a soul famous in grace and holiness, than Job, as you may see in Job i. 8; And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And yet no man could speak more undervaluingly of himself than Job did. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. Job xlii. 5, 6. This expression is the deepest act of abhorrency. Abhorrency, strictly taken, is hatred wound up to the height. The word that is rendered abhor, signifies to reject, to disdain, to condemn, and to cast off. 'Ah! Says Job, 'I abhor myself; I reject myself; I disdain myself; I cast off myself; I have a vile esteem of myself.' Job was high in worth, and humble in heart. So Augustine, 'Deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man, myself.' So our blessed apostle, who had been caught up into the third heavens, and had such glorious revelations as could not be uttered, yet he accounted himself less than the least of all saints. Not that any thing can be less than. the least; the apostle's holy rhetoric doth not cross Aristotle's philosophy; but the original word being a double diminutive, his meaning is, that he was as little as could' be; therefore he put himself down so little as could not be, less than the least.
Another proof you have in Isaiah vi. 1,5. As Paul among the apostles was the greatest, so Isaiah among the prophets was the clearest and choicest gospel-preacher, and holds out more of Christ and of his kingdom and glory, than all the other prophets do. He sees the glory of the Lord in a vision, and this makes him cry out, Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips ; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. I am undone; the Hebrew is, lam cutoff; I am a forlorn man: why? For I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. The clearest sight and vision of God does always give a man the fullest sight of his own emptiness, sinfulness, and nothingness. Here you have the highest and choicest among the prophets, as you had Paul before among the apostles, abasing and laying low himself.
So Peter, Luke v. 8; Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. When he saw that glorious miracle wrought by the Lord Jesus, he cries out as one very sensible of his own weakness and sinfulness, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man. 'Ah! I am not worthy to be near such majesty and glory, who am a mere bundle of vice and vanity, of folly and iniquity.'
Take another clear instance, Gen. xviii. 27; And Abraham answered, and said, Behold I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. Here you have the father of the faithful, the greatest believer in the world, accounting himself dust and ashes. Dust denotes the baseness of his original, and ashes denotes his deserving to be burned to ashes, if God should deal With him in justice rather than in mercy. The nearer any soul draws to God, the more humble will that soul lie before God. None so near God as the angels, and none so humble before God as the angels.
So Jacob, Gen. xxxii. 10; I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant. Jacob, a man eminent in his prevailing with God, a prince that had the honour and happiness to overcome the God of mercy, yet judges himself unworthy of the least mercy. Ah! how low is that soul in his own eyes, that is most honourable in God's eyes.
David was a man after God's own heart, a man highly honoured, much beloved, and dearly prized by the Lord, yet in 1 Sam. xxvi, 20, he counts himself a flea, and what is more contemptible than a flea? In Psalm xxii. 6, I am a worm, saith he, and no man. The word that is here rendered worm is a word that signifies a very little worm which breedeth in scarlet, a worm that is so little that a man can hardly see or perceive it. A worm is the most despicable creature in the world, trampled under foot by every one. 'I am a despicable worm in my own eyes, and in my enemies' eyes.'
And thus you see the point proved, that the most holy men have been always the most humble men.
II, The second thing that I am to do is, to shew you the properties of humble souls. I confess, when I look abroad in the world, and observe the carriage of all sorts of men, my heart is stirred to speak as fully and as home to this point as Christ shall help me. It is very, very sad to consider, how few humble souls there be in these days. Ah! the damnable pride that reigns and rules in the hearts and lives of most men. I think it is far greater than hath been known in the generations before us. Ah! England, England, what folly, what damnable wickedness is this, that thou shouldst be lifting thyself up in pride, when God is staining the pride of all glory, and bringing into contempt the honourable of the earth, and setting his feet upon the neck of pride.
1. Now the first property that I shall lay down of an humble soul is this—an humble soul under the highest spiritual discoveries and under the greatest outward mercies, forgets not his former sinfulness and his former outward meanness. Paul had been taken up into the third heavens, and had glorious revelations and manifestations of God; and yet he cries out, I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, Under the choicest discoveries,