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is not careful about the matter, does, in effect, disclaim the nature of man, and degrade himself into a beast! Let such vouchsafe a little attention to those remarkable words of Solomon: "I said in my heart concerning the estate of the sons of men,-they might see, that they themselves are beasts," Eccl. iii, 18. These sons of men are, undoubtedly, beasts; and that by their own act and deed; for they deliberately and wilfully disclaim the sole characteristic of human nature. It is true they may have a share of reason; they have speech, and they walk erect; but they have not the mark, the only mark, which totally separates man from the brute creation. "That which befalleth beasts, the same thing befalleth them." They are equally without God in the world; 66 so that a man [of this kind] hath no pre-eminence above a beast."
12. So much more let all those who are of a nobler turn of mind, assert the distinguishing dignity of their nature! Let all who are of a more generous spirit, know and maintain their rank in the scale of beings. Rest not till you enjoy the privilege of humanity; the knowledge and love of God. Lift up your heads, ye creatures capable of God! Lift up your hearts to the source of your being!
"Know God, and teach your souls to know
Give your hearts to him, who, together with ten thousand blessings, has given you his Son, his only Son! Let your continual "fellowship be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ!" Let God be in all your thoughts, and ye will be men indeed. Let him be your God and your all, the desire of your eyes, the joy of your heart, and your portion for ever!
SERMON LXVI.-The Mystery of Iniquity.
"The mystery of iniquity doth already work,” 2 Thess. ii, 7.
1. WITHOUT inquiring how far these words refer to any particular event in the Christian church, I would at present take occasion from them, to consider that important question,-In what manner the mystery of iniquity hath wrought among us, till it hath well nigh covered the whole earth?
2. It is certain, that "God made man upright;" perfectly holy, and perfectly happy: but by rebelling against God, he destroyed himself, lost the favour and the image of God, and entailed sin, with its attendant, pain, on himself, and all his posterity. Yet his merciful Creator did not leave him in this helpless, hopeless, state he immediately appointed his Son, his well beloved Son, "who is the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person," to be the Saviour of men; "the propitiation for the sins of the whole world;" the great Physician, who, by his almighty Spirit, should heal the sickness of their souls, and restore them not only to the favour, but to "the image of God, wherein they were created."
3. This great mystery of godliness began to work from the very time of the original promise. Accordingly, the Lamb being, in the purpose
of God," slain from the beginning of the world," from the same period his sanctifying Spirit began to renew the souls of men. We have an undeniable instance of this in Abel, who "obtained a testimony" from God, "that he was righteous," Heb. xi, 4. And from that very time all that were partakers of the same faith, were partakers of the same salvation; were not only reinstated in the favour, but likewise restored to the image of God.
4. But how exceeding small was the number of these, even from the earliest ages! No sooner did "the sons of men multiply upon the face of the earth,' ," than God, looking down from heaven, "saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth;" so great that " every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was evil, only evil, and that continually," Gen. vi, 1-5. And so it remained, without any intermission, till God executed that terrible sentence; "I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth," verse 7.
5. Only "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord;" being " a just man, and perfect in his generations." Him, therefore, with his wife, his sons, and their wives, God preserved from the general destruction. And one might have imagined, that this small remnant would likewise have been "perfect in their generations.' But how far was this from being the case! Presently after this signal deliverance, we find one of them, Ham, involved in sin, and under his father's curse. And how did the "mystery of iniquity" afterwards work, not only in the posterity of Ham, but in the posterity of Japheth; yea, and of Shem,Abraham and his family only excepted!
6. Yea, how did it work even in the posterity of Abraham; in God's chosen people! Were not these also, down to Moses, to David, to Mala chi, to Herod the great, a faithless and stubborn generation, a "sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity," continually forsaking the Lord, and "provoking the Holy One of Israel?" And yet we have no reason to believe that these were worse than the nations that surrounded them, who were universally swallowed up in all manner of wickedness, as well as in damnable idolatries, not having the God of heaven "in all their thoughts," but working all uncleanness with greediness.
7. In the fulness of time, when iniquity of every kind, when ungodliness and unrighteousness, had spread over all nations, and covered the earth as a flood; it pleased God to lift up a standard against it, by "bringing his first-begotten into the world." Now, then, one would expect the "mystery of godliness" would totally prevail over the " mystery of iniquity;" that the Son of God would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles;" as well as "salvation to his people Israel." All Israel, one would think, yea, and all the earth, will soon be filled with the glory of the Lord. Nay: the "mystery of iniquity" prevailed still; well nigh over the face of the earth. How exceeding small was the number of those whose souls were healed by the Son of God himself! "When Peter stood up in the midst of them, the number of names was about a hundred and twenty," Acts i, 15. And even these were but imperfectly healed; the chief of them being a little before so weak in faith, that though they did not, like Peter, forswear their Master, yet "they all forsook him and fled." A plain proof that the sanctifying "Spirit was not [then] given, because Jesus was not glorified."
8. It was then, when he had "ascended up on high, and led captivity
captive," that "the promise of the Father" was fulfilled, which they had heard from him. It was then he began to work like himself, showing that "all power was given to him in heaven and earth." "When the day of pentecost was fully come, suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and there appeared tongues as of fire; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost," Acts ii, 1, &c. In consequence of this, three thousand souls received medicine to heal their sickness; were restored to the favour and the image of God, under one sermon of St. Peter's, chap. ii, verse 41. "And the Lord added to them daily," [not such as should be saved; a manifest perversion of the text; but,]"such as were saved." The expression is peculiar ; and so indeed is the position of the words; which run thus: "And the Lord added those that were saved, daily, to the church." First, they were saved" from the power of sin; then they "were added" to the assembly of the faithful.
9. In order clearly to see how they were already saved, we need only observe the short account of them, which is recorded in the latter part of the second, and in the fourth chapter. They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers:" that is, they were daily taught by the apostles, and had all things common, and daily received the Lord's supper, and attended all the public service, chap. ii, 41. “And all that believed, were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions, and parted them to all men, as every man had need," chap. ii, 41–45. And again: "The multitude of them that believed," now greatly increased, "were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common," chap. iv, 31, 32. And yet again: "Great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need," verses 34, 35.
10. But here a question will naturally occur: How came they to act thus, to have all things in common, seeing we do not read of any positive command to do this? I answer, there needed no outward command: the command was written on their hearts. It naturally and necessarily resulted from the degree of love which they enjoyed. Observe! "They were of one heart, and of one soul;" and not so much as one [so the words run] said, [they could not while their hearts so overflowed with love,] "that any of the things which he possessed was his own." And wheresoever the same cause shall prevail, the same effect will naturally follow.
11. Here was the dawn of the proper gospel day. Here was a proper Christian church. It was now "the Sun of righteousness" rose upon the earth, "with healing in his wings." He did now save his people from their sins:" he "healed all their sickness." He not only taught that religion which is the true "healing of the soul," but effectually planted it in the earth, filling the souls of all that believed in him with righteousness,―gratitude to God, and good will to man; attended with a peace that surpassed all understanding, and with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
12. But how soon did "the mystery of iniquity" work again, and obscure the glorious prospect! It began to work (not openly indeed, but covertly) in two of the Christians; Ananias and Sapphira. "They sold their possession," like the rest, and probably from the same motive; but, afterwards, giving place to the devil, and reasoning with flesh and blood, they "kept back part of the price." See the first Christians, that "made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience!" The first that "drew back to perdition:" instead of continuing to "believe to the [final] salvation of the soul!" Mark the first plague which infected the Christian church; namely, the love of money! And will it not be the grand plague in all generations, whenever God shall revive the same work? Oh ye believers in Christ, take warning! Whether you are yet but little children, or young men that are strong in the faith, see the snare; your snare in particular, that which you will be peculiarly exposed to, after you have escaped from gross pollutions. "Love not the world, neither the things of the world! If any man love the world," whatever he was in time past," the love of the Father is not [now] in him!"
13. However, this plague was stayed in the first Christian church, by instantly cutting off the infected persons. By that signal judgment of God on the first offenders, "great fear came upon all," Acts v, 11; so that, for the present at least, not one dared to follow their example. Meantime believers, men full of faith and love, who rejoiced to have all things in common, were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,' verse 14.
14. If we inquire in what manner the "mystery of iniquity," the energy of Satan, began to work again in the Christian church, we shall find it wrought in quite a different way; putting on quite another shape: partiality crept in among the Christian believers. Those by whom the distribution to every one was made, had respect of persons; largely supplying those of their own nation, while the other widows, who were not Hebrews, "were neglected in the daily administration," chap. vi, 1. Distribution was not made to them according as every one had need. Here was a manifest breach of brotherly love in the Hebrews; a sin both against justice and mercy: seeing the Grecians, as well as the Hebrews, had "sold all they had, and laid the price at the apostles' feet." See the second plague that broke in upon the Christian church !—Partiality; respect of persons; too much regard for those of our own side; and too little for others, though equally worthy.
15. The infection did not stop here, but one evil produced many more. From partiality in the Hebrews, "there arose in the Grecians a murmuring against" them; not only discontent and resentful thoughts, but words suitable thereto; unkind expressions, hard speeches, evil speaking, and backbiting, naturally followed. And by the root of bitterness [thus] springing up, [undoubtedly] many were defiled." The apostles indeed soon found out a means of removing the occasion of this murmuring; yet so much of the evil root remained, that God saw it needful to use a severer remedy. He let loose the world upon them all; if haply by their sufferings, by the spoiling of their goods, by pain, imprisonment, and death itself, he might at once punish and amend them. And persecution, God's last remedy for a backsliding people, had the happy effect for which he intended it. Both the partiality of
the Hebrews ceased, and the murmuring of the Grecians: and "then had the churches rest, and were edified;" built up in the love of God and one another; "and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied," Acts ix, 31.
16. It seems to have been some time after this, that "the mystery of iniquity" began to work in the form of zeal. Great troubles arose by means of some who zealously contended for circumcision, and the rest of the ceremonial law; till the apostles and elders put an end to the spreading evil, by that final determination," It seemeth good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication," chap. xv, 28, 29. Yet was not this evil so thoroughly suppressed, but that it frequently broke out again; as we learn from various parts of St. Paul's epistles, particularly that to the Galatians.
17. Nearly allied to this was another grievous evil, which at the same time sprang up in the church; want of mutual forbearance, and, of consequence, anger, strife, contention, variance. One very remarkable instance of this we find in this very chapter. When "Paul said to Barnabas, Let us visit the brethren where we have preached the word, Barnabas determined to take with him John;" because he was "his sister's son." "But Paul thought it not good to take him who had deserted them before." And he had certainly reason on his side. But Barnabas resolved to have his own way. Εγένετο ουν παροξυσμός and there was a fit of anger. It does not say on St. Paul's side: Barnabas only had passion, to supply the want of reason. Accordingly he departed from the work, and went home; while St. Paul went forward" through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches,"
18. The very first society of Christians at Rome were not altogether free from this evil leaven. There were "divisions and offences" among them also, chap. xvi,. 17; although, in general, they seem to have "walked in love." But how early did the "mystery of iniquity" work, and how powerfully, in the church at Corinth? Not only schisms and heresies, animosities, fierce and bitter contentions, were among them; but open, actual sins; yea, "such fornication as was not named among the heathens," 1 Cor. v, 1. Nay, there was need to remind them, that "neither adulterers, nor thieves, nor drunkards," could "enter into the kingdom of heaven," chap. vi, 9, 10. And in all St. Paul's epistles we meet with abundant proof, that tares grew up with the wheat in all the churches; and that "the mystery of iniquity" did every where, in a thousand forms, counterwork "the mystery of godliness.'
19. When St. James wrote his epistle, directed more immediately to the twelve tribes scattered abroad," to the converted Jews, the tares sown among this wheat had produced a plentiful harvest. That grand pest of Christianity, a faith without works, was spread far and wide; filling the church with a "wisdom from beneath," which was "earthly, sensual, devilish," and which gave rise, not only to rash judging and evil speaking, but to "envy, strife, confusion, and every evil work." Indeed, whoever peruses the fourth and fifth chapters of this epistle, with serious attention, will be inclined to believe, that even in this early period, the tares had nigh choked the wheat; and that