Consider also that our Lord's patience brings salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him.
I. THE NATURE OF DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING. We know something of human patience and forbearance, and we have all been again and again indebted to these qualities for our opportunities of happiness and usefulness, But Divine long-suffering transcends all that has been displayed by men.
1. Long-suffering is different from mere goodness and bounty, 1.e. the disposition to bestow benefits upon the needy and dependent.
2. And from pity or compassion, which is a sentiment of commiseration towards the wretched and helpless.
3. And at the same time it is, on the other hand, different from indifference to the evil conduct which is observed in men.
4. It is a kind of mercy. It involves a holy Superior and an offending subject. It is an emotion of the heart which prompts to the restraint of indignation; a principle of action which averts and withholds wrath and penalty, although these be abundantly deserved. God, in the exercise of long-suffering, beat's with the sinners whom he might justly doom, gives further opportunity for repentance, and waits for its signs.
II. THE OCCASION FOR DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING.
1. The sins of mankind have given occasion for the exercise of this grace upon the vastest scale. Scripture history abounds with instances of God's forbearance; e.g., in the time of Noah; when Israel rebelled in the wilderness; and when Israel afterwards so largely apostatized, etc. So has it been in the history of every nation, and in the history of the human race.
2. The sins of individual unbelievers and transgressors call for the forbearance of a gracious God. The young who live viciously and irreligiously, those in afterlife who forget God and give themselves to the pursuit of worldly aims, continue to live and to enjoy privileges only through the forbearance of Heaven.
3. The unfaithfulness of Christians is only tolerated by a long-suffering Lord. How otherwise could the frailties and infirmities which disfigure the religious life of multitudes be endured? If our God had not again and again borne with our imperfections, should we be still in the possession of opportunities and advantages so many and valuable?
III. THE MANIFESTATIONS OF DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING.
1. God refrains from judgment and condemnation.
2. God addresses faithful warnings, and summons to repentance as the clouds gather before the thunderstorm breaks. Expostulations are repeated: "How shall I give thee up?"
3. Promises and invitations are renewed.
4. Probation is extended, in order that further opportunity may be given for repentance. The mandate goes forth concerning the barren tree, "Let it alone this year also!"
IV. THE GRACIOUS INTENTION OF DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING. When the apostle writes, "is salvation," he means, "is intended to work salvation." God does not prolong our proving with a view to the increase of our guilt and chastisement, but for a purpose exactly opposed to this - in order, that is, that hardness may be melted down, that rebellion may cease and be followed by loyalty, that neglect and disregard of religion may give place to interest and to prayer, that the sinner may repent, the wanderer return, the careless be revived. The gift of Christ to man is the most glorious evidence of Divine long-suffering. This is a dispensation of mercy. To forbearance we owe our privileges, and to forbearance we shall be indebted for our final and everlasting salvation. Great, indeed, is the guilt of those who despise and abuse the long-suffering of the Lord. Such there have ever been. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." But it is better that delay in judgment should be used as the opportunity of repentance, rather than that it should be abused as an excuse and an inducement for perseverance in sin. - J.R.T.
Our beloved brother Paul... in all his epistles.
I. THOSE PORTIONS OF HIS LIFE WHICH TEND MOST TO ILLUSTRATE HIS CHARACTER ARE HIS CONDUCT BEFORE HIS CONVERSION, AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT REMARKABLE EVENT. In the history of Paul we have two different men to describe, the persecutor and the apostle. Nothing can be imagined more complete than the change of views in this apostle, yet he pre serves through the whole of his life what may be called the original stamina of his character. There is nothing which impeaches his integrity, or which ought to render us suspicious of his moral character. He was only actuated by a species of mistaken zeal, which has been common enough in every age. But God had marked out this young man for the most eminent apostle of that faith which he was now intent upon exterminating. If we suppose Paul's character such as I have represented it to be, there wanted nothing but to show to this young man, by the irresistible evidence of his senses, that this very Jesus, whom he regarded as a crucified, detestable malefactor, was really alive in power to turn the whole current of his conduct, sentiments, and character. This mercy God granted him. In summing up the traits of Paul's character, you will observe how singularly he was qualified for that office to which he was especially destined, the apostleship of the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire. He was the only one of the apostles who appears to have had what may be called a liberal education, or, at least, who had any tincture of the literature and philosophy of the Greeks. The mission which was given him demanded not only a strength of genius like his, but an ardour which no discouragement should quench. I will close this division of my subject with two reflections.
1. In the first place, notwithstanding the extreme ardour of this apostle's imagination, nothing which he has left us discovers any thing of fanatical delusion.
2. How important must that cause be which such a man as Paul could maintain with such amazing exertions, such unwearied zeal, through a longlife of such discouragements, privations, persecutions and indignities, even to the hour of his martyrdom! He saw the happiness of the world suspended on the reception of Christianity. He found that the dearest interests of the souls of men were entrusted to him.
II. I PROCEED TO STATE, AND, IF POSSIBLE, TO ILLUSTRATE, THE SOURCES OF THE OBSCURITY WHICH PARTICULARLY ATTENDS THE APOSTOLICAL PARTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
1. The first source of obscurity is, that they are private letters, addressed to particular societies, or individuals, upon particular occasions.
2. Another cause of the obscurity of Paul's epistles is, the peculiar genius of the man. His imagination was easily inflamed with the subject on which he was writing. The motions of his mind were exceedingly rapid.
3. The education and peculiar circumstances of Paul contribute, also, to the obscurity of his epistles. Paul was a man whose head was filled with the Jewish learning of his age; and he, no doubt, writes often like one whose early notions were formed in the school of Gamaliel. Hence he uses many words in a signification which is now extremely difficult to settle. The word" justification "is a remarkable instance of this. It is doubtful, in some instances, whether he means by it a benefit relating only to this life, or extending to our eternal condition. The term" law "is another of similar ambiguity; and it is only by careful attention that we can determine, in particular passages, whether the apostle means by it the whole Jewish dispensation or the ceremonial part of it, or that moral law which is equally obligatory on every rational creature.
4. A fourth source of obscurities in the epistles is to be found in a maxim of interpretation which has too much prevailed without reason: "that we must expect to find in the present circumstances of Christianity a meaning for, or something answering to, every appellation and expression which occurs in Scripture; or, in other words, the applying to the personal condition of Christians at this day, those titles, phrases, propositions, and arguments which belong solely to the situation of Christianity at its first institution."
(J. S. Buckminster.)I. And that which first entitles the governors of the Church to a superiority over their subjects is that special ORDINATION AND COMMISSION which they have received from Christ to instruct the world in all necessary truths, and that charge which He hath laid upon others to obey them.
II. The reasonableness of this submission will appear from those PROMISES OF ASSISTANCE which Christ hath made to them. And those are illumination, direction, and power. Illumination in things obscure; direction in things difficult; power to encounter and overcome all opposition.
III. The reasonableness of this submission will appear from their STUDY AND LEARNING in Divine matters, and from the far less knowledge and ordinary capacity in others.
IV. The necessity of this submission appears as it is THE ONLY MEANS TO RESTORE PEACE AND UNITY TO THE CHURCH; HAPPINESS AND TRANQUILLITY TO THE STATE.
(Miles Barne, D. D.)
In which are some things hard to be understood.1 Timothy 1:15, Romans 8:1, Philippians 4:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:17; but searching further, we light upon some curious rooms, bearing as much art and majesty in them as the rest, but more obscure and mystical, and veiled with the curtain of awful secrecy; such are certain doctrines of St Paul; we are not forbidden to view them, and review them, to study and meditate on them; but if we cannot perfectly understand them, far be it from us to tax St. Paul of obscurity; no, let us impute the fault to our own simplicity.
(Thos. Adams.)I. AS ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE INSPIRED.
1. To those who reject the Bible on account of its difficulties. The Bible does not profess to be a book easily understood. Its difficulties are —(1) Consistent with its character. It is a revelation of the Infinite directed to the finite.(2) Consistent with its intention. The Bible is an educational book. The school book which the student has mastered ceases to be educational.
2. To those who arrogate a thorough comprehension of the Bible.
II. AS PERVERTED BY THE UNGODLY.
1. The perverters are here described. "Which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction."
2. The perversion is here indicated. "'They wrest' — pervert. The word here used occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is derived from a word meaning a windlass, winch, instrument of torture (στρεβλή), and means to roll or wind on a windlass; then to wrench or turn away as by the force of a windlass; and then to wrest or pervert. It implies a turning out of the way by the application of force. Here the meaning is, that they apply those portions of the Bible to a purpose for which they were never intended."
3. Their destiny is here stated. "Their own destruction." What is spiritual destruction? The destruction of all the blessings that can make existence worth having — life, peace, hope, etc. Such is the perversion of those difficulties, but what is the proper use of them?(1) They should superinduce humility. Before their majesty the intellect should fall prostrate.(2) They should stimulate intellectual inquiry. They challenge thought — their oceans ask you to navigate them, their hills to climb their summit, their mines to dig and be made rich.(3) They should point to a future life.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. We must observe, THAT IN A DIVINE REVELATION MYSTERIOUS DOCTRINES COULD NOT HAVE BEEN AVOIDED. No man hath seen God at any time- clouds and darkness are round about Him — His judgments are unsearchable; and His ways past finding out.
II. THAT FROM THE LIMITATION OF OUR FACULTIES OUR INFORMATION MUST, OF NECESSITY, HAVE ITS LIMITS. In sciences merely human, one discovery does little else than produce the desire of more. Our utmost attainments are still unsatisfactory and incomplete. Were the mysteries which at present perplex us fully explained, others would be brought within our view. How far soever we might be permitted to advance, we must at last reach the point where our faculties would fail us. HI. These mysteries in religion ARE SUCH ONLY WITH REFERENCE TO OUR UNDERSTANDINGS. To us that is difficult which we cannot perform; that is mysterious which we cannot comprehend. But the difficulty and the mystery depend less upon the objects themselves than upon the narrowness of our capacities. In our future state of existence we shall probably be allowed to acquire much higher degrees of information than we at present possess.
IV. IT WILL TEND STILL FURTHER TO RECONCILE US TO THE MYSTERIOUS DOCTRINES OF OUR FAITH, IF WE SERIOUSLY REFLECT THAT THERE ABE MYSTERIES EQUALLY UNSEARCHABLE IN ALMOST EVERYTHING AROUND US. Not a subject can be named which the human mind can be said fully to understand. Lessons:
1. The difficulty and obscurity inseparable from some of the articles of our faith is an obvious reason that, whenever they are discussed at all, they should be discussed with caution and diffidence.
2. The doctrines, however, which we cannot comprehend, it is still incumbent upon us to believe. We pursue, not what we know, but what we think, will promote our own good. And the same principle prevails in the religion that we profess.
3. Finally, while we admit that the Christian revelation has its mysteries, like every ether work of its Divine Author, and like that Author Himself, we maintain that it teaches plainly all that is necessary for us to know or to practise.
(W. Sparrow, D. D.)
I. WE WOULD SHOW YOU THAT IT WAS TO BE EXPECTED THAT THE BIBLE WOULD CONTAIN "SOME THINGS HARD TO BE UNDERSTOOD." We should like to be told what stamp of inspiration there would be upon a Bible containing nothing "hard to be understood." Is it not almost a self-evident proposition that a revelation without difficulty could not be a revelation of divinity? You ask a Bible which shall, in every part, be simple and intelligible. But could such a Bible discourse to us of God, that Being who must remain necessarily and for ever a mystery to the very highest of created intelligences? Could such a Bible treat of purposes which extend themselves over unlimited ages? Could such a Bible put forward any account of spiritual operations, seeing that, whilst confined by the trammels of matter, the soul cannot fathom herself, but withdraws herself, as it were, and shrinks from her own scrutiny? Could such a Bible, in short, tell us anything of our condition whether by nature or grace? But it is not the manner in which they are handled which makes them "hard to be understood." The subject itself gives the difficulty. If you will not have the difficulty you cannot have the subject. You must have a revelation which shall not only tell you that such and such things are, but which shall also explain to you how they are: their mode, their constitution, their essence. And if this were the character of revelation it would undoubtedly be so constructed as never to overtask reason; but it would just as clearly be kept within this boundary only by being stripped of all on which we mainly need a revelation. A revelation in which there shall be nothing "hard to be understood" must limit itself by the powers of reason, and therefore exclude those very topics on which, reason being insufficient, revelation is required. There is no want of simplicity of language when God is described to us. But who understands this? Can language make this intelligible? We might argue in like manner with regard to every Scriptural difficulty. We account for the existence of these difficulties mainly by the fact that we are men, and, because men, finite in our capacities. Let there be only the same amount of revelation, and the angel may know more than the man because gifted with a keener and more vigorous understanding. And it is evident, therefore, that few things could have less warranty than the supposition that revelation might have been so enlarged that the knowledge of man would have reached to the measure of the knowledge of angels. We again say that there is no deficiency of revelation, and that the difficulties which occur in the perusal of Scripture result from the majesty of the introduced subjects and the weakness of the faculties turned on their study. And we are well persuaded that, however disposed men may be to make the difficulties an objection to the Bible, the absence of those difficulties would have been eagerly seized on as a proof of imposture. There would have been fairness in the objection. It can only be viewed as a necessary consequence on the grandeur of the subjects which form the matter of revelation that, with every endeavour at simplicity of style and aptitude of illustration, the document contains statements which overmatch all but the faith of mankind. And, therefore, we are bold to say that we glory in the difficulties of Scripture. We can feel the quick pulse of an eager wish to scale the mountain or fathom the abyss. But at the same time we know, and we feel, that a Bible without difficulties were a firmament without stars. We know, and we feel, that the vast business of our redemption, arranged in the councils of the far-back eternity, and acted out amid the wondering and throbbings of the universe, could not have been that stupendous transaction which gave God glory by giving sinners safety, if the inspired account brought its dimensions within the compass of a human arithmetic, or defined its issues by the lines of a human demarcation. And, therefore, do we also know and feel that it is a witness to the inspiration of the Bible that, when this Bible would furnish us with notices of the unseen world hereafter to be traversed, or when it would turn thought on the Omnipotent, or when it would open up the scheme of the restoration of the fallen; then, with much that is beautifully simple, there are mingled dark intimations, and pregnant hints, and undeveloped statements before which the weak and the masterful must alike do the homage of a reverent and uncalculating submission. We do not indeed say — for the saying would carry absurdity on its forefront — that we believe a document inspired because in part incomprehensible. But if a document profess to be inspired, and if it treat of subjects which we can prove beforehand to be above and beyond the stretchings of our intellect, then we do say that the finding nothing in such a document to baffle the understanding would be a proof the most conclusive that what alleges itself divine deserves rejection as forgery.
II. THE ADVANTAGES WHICH FOLLOW, AND THE DISPOSITIONS WHICH SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED BY, THE PACT WHICH HAS PASSED UNDER REVIEW. We see at once from the statement of St. Peter that effects, to all appearance disastrous, are produced by the difficulties of Scripture. The "unlearned and unstable" wrest these difficulties to "their own destruction," and, therefore, by what process of reasoning can they be proved advantageous? We have shown you that the absence of difficulties would go far towards proving the Scriptures uninspired; and we need not remark that there must be a use for difficulties if essential to the complete witness for the truth of Christianity. But there are other advantages which must on no account be overlooked. We only wish it premised, that though the difficulties of Scripture — as, for example, those parts which involve pre-destination-are wrested by many "to their own destruction," the "unlearned and unstable" would have equally perished had no difficulties whatsoever existed. They would have stumbled on the plain ground as well as on the rough: there being no more certain truth in theology than that the cause of stumbling is the internal feebleness and not the external impediment. A man may perish ostensibly through abuse of the doctrine of election. But would he not have perished had he found no such doctrine to wrest? Ay, that he would; as fatally and as finally. It is the love of sin, the determination to live in sin, which destroys him. This being premised, we may enlarge on the advantages resulting from the fact that Scripture contains "some things hard to be understood."
1. And first, if there were nothing in Scripture which overpowered our reason, who sees not that intellectual pride would be fostered by its study? You can make no way with the disclosures of Holy Writ until prepared to receive, on the authority of God, a vast deal which, of yourself, you cannot prove, and still more which you cannot explain. A Bible without difficulties would be a censer full of incense to man's reason. And if the fallen require to be kept humble, if we can advance in spiritual attainment only in proportion as we feel our insignificance, would not this conversion of the Bible into the very nurse and encourager of intellectual pride, abstract its best worth from revelation; and who, therefore, will deny that we are advantaged by the fact that there are in Scripture "things hard to be understood"?
2. We remark again, that though controversy has its evils, it has also its uses. It is not the stagnant water which is generally the purest. We hold that heresies have been of vast service to the Church, in that they have caused truth to be more thoroughly scanned, and all its bearings and boundaries explored with a most painstaking industry. It is astonishing how apt men are to rest in general and ill-defined notions. If never called to defend the truth the Church would comparatively lose sight of what truth is.
3. When I read the Bible and meet with passages which, after the most patient exercises of thought and research, remain dark and impenetrable, then, in the most especial degree, I feel myself immortal. The finding a thing "hard to be understood" ministers to my consciousness that I am no perishable creature destined to a finite existence, but a child of eternity, appointed to survive the dissolutions of matter, and to enter on another and an untried being. If the Bible be God's revelation of Himself to mankind, it is a most fair expectation that, at one time or another, the whole of this revelation will be clear and accessible. We can never think that God would tell man things for the understanding of which he is to be always incapacitated. Such are certain of the advantages which we propose to investigate.
III. It yet remains THAT WE BRIEFLY STATE, AND CALL UPON YOU TO CULTIVATE, THE DISPOSITIONS WHICH SHOULD BE BROUGHT TO THE STUDY OF A BIBLE THUS "HARD TO BE UNDERSTOOD." We would have it therefore remembered, that the docility and submissiveness of a child alone befit the student of the Bible; and that, if we would not have the whole volume darkened, its simplest truths eluding the grasp of our understanding, or gaining at least no hold on our affections, we must lay aside the feelings which we carry into the domains of science and philosophy, not arming ourselves with a chivalrous resolve to conquer, but with one which it is a thousand-fold harder either to form or execute, to yield. The Holy Spirit alone can make us feel the things which are easy to be understood, and prevent our wresting those which are hard. Never, then, should the Bible be opened except with prayer for the teachings of the Spirit. You will read without profit as long as you read without prayer.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)1. We believe the hard things were left in the Bible for a lofty purpose. God wished us to think and reason. God had a great purpose to fulfil in the training of the race. Hence both in nature and in the Bible He allows perplexing questions. He can only discipline man's thinking by allowing him to be subject to perplexity. We believe, then, that God purposely left certain difficulties in the Bible to create diversity, to foster the thinking power, and to lead to the exercise of that charity that never faileth. Instead of codification and finality, there is always something to Cause fresh thought, to interest by its newer suggestions — something to quicken mind and lead the soul to listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.
2. We have to recognise that danger arises from the presence of the "hard things" in the Book. Peter saw that, and said that the "unlearned and unstable" would "wrest them to their own destruction." Such, by a twist of an obscure text, would bolster up unbelief or find countenance for a pet idea. They will find even excuse for sin by twisting some word. The ill-tempered will quote, "Be ye angry," and leave out the words "sin not." The covetous man will defend greed by "Be diligent in business," and leave out "serving the Lord." The neglecter of worship will quote "The Sabbath was made for man," and go off to indulge in that which will not help him to keep holy the Sabbath day.
3. Some things in life as well as in the Book are "hard to understand."
They that are un-learned and unstable wrestI. THE MEN WHOSE EVIL HANDLING OF THE SCRIPTURE I AM GOING TO POINT OUT are described generally in our text as "unlearned and unstable." Those meant by "unlearned" are men who, whatever be their human knowledge, have either never "learned of the Father," or who are at best, "unskilful in the Word of righteousness" (Hebrews 5:13); and, he adds, "unstable men" — men who, if in some degree enlightened, yet are not established in the faith; but are like "children driven to and fro and tossed about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14).
II. Now let us see WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH THIS OFFENCE AGAINST GOD'S BOOK MAY BE COMMITTED.
1. One of the most awful ways of wresting Holy Scripture is where men try to draw out of its pages a justification of their sins. "David, they say, was once guilty of adultery — Jacob, of deceit — and Peter of a lying oath; and yet they were good men. And this, they think, is either a warrant or excuse for the sins in which they live themselves. Oh! when men read a portion of God's Word which describes some evil deed, and are tempted from His silence to suppose He disregarded it, let them look at other portions. Let them think of His most holy laws; let them mark His terrible threatenings" against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18).
2. Another grievous way of wresting Scripture is where men try to draw out of its doctrines a justification of their doing nothing for their souls.
3. A third way in which Holy Scripture may be "wrested," and often, I fear, is so, is as follows. Men adopt a certain set of doctrines as their own, these doctrines may seem to be the language of certain texts of Scripture, but are evidently contrary to others. What, then, do they do when they are pressed with all those passages which make against them? Why, they try to give these passages another meaning. They find out some ingenious method of explaining them away, or of adapting them to their own peculiar views.
4. I will speak of one instance more of the "wresting" of the Scriptures. It is where men quote Scripture, as Satan did (Matthew 4:6), by halves, so as to make it seem to speak the thing they wish. How awful is that threatening which is addressed in the Book of Revelation to all such triflers with the Bible! (Revelation 22:18, 19).
III. HOW, THEN, ARE WE TO ESCAPE THE GUILT AND DANGER OF WRESTING HOLY SCRIPTURE?
1. The chief means, most assuredly, of avoiding such a guilt as this, is to pray for the Spirit as our Guide and Interpreter in reading His own Book.
2. Let me recommend to you, again, some frames of mind in which we must ever pray and strive to open the Lord's Book.(1) One is a sense of our own ignorance, with a desire, a most unfeigned desire, to be led and taught of Holy Scripture.(2) Again, it is a great point to study Holy Scripture in simplicity of mind without any prejudice or bias.(3) He who would shun the sin of wresting Holy Scripture must study it with diligence. He must take all the pains he can to ascertain its real meaning.(4) So as not to wrest it to your own destruction — study it as a sinner searching for a Saviour.
(A. Roberts, M. A.)
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