And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.…
I. THE SUBJECT OF HIS ATTENTION — "the counsel of God." Counsel now signifies advice, but when the Bible was translated it more commonly signified scheme, purpose. "His counsels of old are faithfulness and truth": "My counsel shall stand, I will do all My pleasure": "He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." Here it is to be taken in the latter sense. To bring sin into the world was an easy thing, to take it away was a work to which only God was equal. We have imperfect views of sin, and also of the holiness of God; and therefore we are not sufficiently struck with the difficulties in the way of our salvation: but God knows them perfectly, and His scheme for removing them and restoring us to Himself is contained in the gospel. This is what the apostle means by "the counsel of God": and this the apostle declared, not human science, though he was a man of genius, not politics; he left human governments where he found them; not the petty interests of mortality; he looked "not at the things which were seen," etc.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH HE ANNOUNCED IT. It is clearly implied —
1. That there is in this subject a fulness of affluence and richness. Though it be a whole, yet it has a thousand parts.
2. That this subject may be abridged, contracted, and partially concealed. And this may be the case where it is not expressly denied, where it is not entirely rejected, and where the parts admitted and noticed are not mangled.
3. That it requires firmness and moral heroism to withstand and resist the temptations to this curtailment and separation. Sometimes there are temptations arising —
(1) From the preachers themselves. They should be clean, for they are the vessels of the Lord. But supposing they are not, what then does their arguing prove? Their example will paralyse all their endeavours.
(2) From the hearers. They often inspire the preacher with fear of giving offence; and the "fear of man bringeth a snare." The man may shun to declare all the counsel of God —
(a) On the side of doctrine, from fear of a charge of antinomianism. This charge has always been brought against the doctrine of justification by faith.
(b) On the side of experience, afraid of the charge of enthusiasm.
(c) On the side of practice, afraid of the charge of legality.
4. Two things are essential to declare all the counsel of God.
(1) A consciousness of inability to do justice to the whole of the counsel of God. After all we have done we must exclaim, "O the depth of the riches," etc. And what a proof is this of the Divinity of the Bible itself! What other book could bear, from age to age, to have thousands of persons of ability and learning to be always discussing it, and yet always finding something fresh, and nothing entirely exhausted!
(2) Enlarging more on some topics than on others. Everything equally true is not equally important: there are essential truths, and there are circumstantial truths. The railing is ornamental and useful, and therefore not to be dispensed with: still this is not to be compared with the foundation and the keystone; these are essential to the edifice. The omission or the concealment of certain doctrines always leads to spiritual death. On the other hand, where the leading truths of the gospel are preached, God gives testimony to the word of His grace, sinners are saved, and believers built up in their most holy faith.
III. THE APOSTLE'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF THIS. "As to cloth," said Lord Bacon, "' a small pattern may enable us to judge fairly and safely of the whole piece: but the Bible is like a fine arras or tapestry, which though a remnant may assure us of the colours and the richness of the stuff, yet the hangings never appear to their true advantage but when displayed in their full dimensions, and seen together." Let every minister remember this. Conclusion: Here is —
1. The rule to guide and justify ministers. Considering the mixture there is always in every congregation, it is probable that the preacher who declares all the counsel of God will give some offence. But must he on this account decline it? Is be to do anything by partiality? "If I seek to please men," says the apostle, "I should not be the servant of Christ." "It is a poor sermon," says George Whitefield , "that gives no offence — that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher." It was a noble eulogium that Louis XIV passed on one of his preachers, Massillon: "I don't know how it is: when I hear my other chaplains I admire them; but when I hear Massillon I always go away dissatisfied with myself."
2. The duty of hearers. For if we are not to shun to declare all the counsel of God, you are bound to hear and to welcome all. However mysterious to your reason, however mortifying to your pride, however it may reprove you, you are not to deem the minister your enemy because he tells you the truth.
Parallel VersesKJV: And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.