« PreviousContinue »
in this world; 2 Cor. i. 24. “We are helpers of your joy." They are God's instruments for bringing up the church, as it were, from her childhood, till she is .it for her marriage with the Lord of glory; as Mordecai brought up Hadassah, or Esther,
; whereby she was fitted to be queen in Ahasuerus's court. God purifies the church under their hand, as Esther (to fit her for her marriage with the king) was committed to the custody of Hegai, the keeper of the women, to be purified six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with swcet odours. They are made the instruments of clothing the church in her wedding. garments, that fine linen, clean and white, and adorning her for her husband : as Abraham's servant adorned Rebekah with golden ear-rings and bracelets. Faithful ministers are made the instruments of leading the people of God in the way to heaven, conducting them to the glorious presence of the bridegroom, to the consummate joys of her marriage with the Lamb; as Abrabam's servant conducted Rebekah from Padan-aram to Canaan, and presented her to Isaac, and delivered her into his embraces. For it is the office of ministers, not only to espouse the church to her husband, but to present her a chaste virgin to Christ.
I would now conclude this discourse with some exhortations, agreeable to what has been said. And,
1. The exhortation may be to all that are called to the work of the gospel ministry. Let us who are honoured by the glorious bridegroom of the church, to be employed as his ministers, to so high a purpose as has been represented, be engaged and induced by what has been observed, to faithfulness in our great work; that we may be, and act towards Christ's people that are committed to our care, as those that are united to them in holy espousals, for Christ's sake, and in order to their being brought to the unspeakable blessedness of that more glorious union with the Lamb of God, in which he shall rejoice over them, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride. Let us see to it that our hearts are united to them, as a young man to a virgin that he marries, in the most ardent and tender affection; and that our regard to them be pure and uncorrupt, that it may be a regard to them, and not to what they have, or any worldly advantages we hope to gain of them. And let us behave ourselves as those that are devoted to their good : being willing to spend and be spent for them; joyfully undertaking and enduring the labour and self-denial that is requisite in order to a thorough fulfilling the ministry that we have received. Let us continually and earnestly endeavour to promote the prosperity and salvation of the souls committed to our care, looking on their calamities and their prosperity as our own; feeling their spiritual wounds and griefs, and refreshed with their consolations; and spending our whole lives in diligent care and endeavour to provide for, nourish, and instruct our people, as the intended spouse of Christ, yet in her minority, that we may form her mind and bebaviour, and bring her up for him, and that we may cleanse her, as with the washing of water by the word, and purify her as with sweet odours, and clothed in such raiment as may become Christ's bride. Let us aim that when the appointed wedding-day comes, we may bave done our work as Christ's mes. sengers; and may then be ready to present Christ's spouse to him, a chaste virgin, properly educated and formed, and suitably adorned for her marriage with the Lamb; that he may then present her to himself, a glorious church ; not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, and may receive her into his eternal embraces, in perfect purity, beauty, and glory.
Here I would mention three or four things tending to excite us to this fidelity.
1. We ought to consider how much Christ has done to obtain that joy, wherein he rejoices over his church, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride.
The creation of the world seems to have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse towards whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace, that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified. Doubtless the work of creation is subordinate to the work of redemption : the creation of the new heavens and new earth, is represented as so much more excellent than the old, that, in comparison, it is not worthy to be mentioned, or come into mind.
Christ has done greater things than to create the world, in order to obtain his bride and and the joy of his espousals with her. For he became man for this end, which was a greater thing
; than his creating the world. For the creator to make the creature was a great thing; but for him to become a creature was a greater thing. And he did a much greater thing still to obtain this joy; in that for this he laid down bis life, and suffered even the death of the cross ; for this he poured out his soul unto
; death ; and he that is the Lord of the universe, God over all, blessed for evermore, offered up himself a sacrifice, in both body and soul, in the flames of divine wrath. Christ obtains his elect spouse by conquest; for she was a captive in the hands of dreadful enemies; and her Redeemer came into the world to conquer these enemies, and rescue her out of their bands, that she might be his bride. And he came and encountered these enemies in the greatest battle that ever was beheld by men or angels : He fought with principalities and powers; he fought alone with the powers of darkness, and all the armies of hell ;
yea, be conflicted with the infinitely more dreadful wrath of God, and overcame in this great battle ; and thus he obtained his spouse. Let us consider at how great a price Christ purchased this spouse. He did not redeem her with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with his own precious blood; yea, he gave himself for her. When he offered up himself to God in those extreme labours and sufferings, this was the joy that was set before him, that made him cheerfully to endure the cross, and despise the pain and shame in comparison of this joy; even that rejoicing over his church, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride that the Father had promised him, and that he expected when he should present her to himself in perfect beauty and blessedness.
The prospect of this was what supported him in the midst of the dismal prospect of his sufferings, at which his soul was troubled ; John xii. 27. “Now is my soul troubled : and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: But for this cause come I unto this hour.” These words show the conflict and distress of Christ's holy soul in the view of his approaching sufferings. But in the midst of his trouble, he was refreshed with the joyful prospect of the success of those sufferings in bringing home his elect church to himself, signified by a voice from heaven, and promised by the Father : on which he says, in the language of triumph, ver. 31, 32, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."
And ministers of the gospel are appointed to be the instruments of bringing this to pass; the instruments of bringing home his elect spouse to him, and her becoming his bride; and the instruments of her sanctifying and cleansing by the word, that she might be meet to be presented to him on the future glorious wedding-day. How great a motive then is here to induce us who are called to be these instruments, to be faithful in our work, and most willingly labour and suffer, that Christ may see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied ? Shall Christ do such great things, and go through such great labours and sufferings to obtain this joy, and then honour us sinful worms, so as to employ us as his ministers and instruments to bring this joy to pass; and shall we be loth to labour, and backward to deny ourselves for this end?
2. Let us consider how much the manner in which Christ employs us in this great business has to engage us to a faithful performance of it. We are sent forth as his servants ; but it is as highly dignified servants, as stewards of his household, as Abraham's servant; and as his ambassadors, to stand in his stead, and in his name, and represent his person in so great an affair as that of his espousals with the eternally beloved of his soul. Christ employs us not as mere servants, but as friends of the VOL. VI.
bridegroom; agreeable to the style in which John the Baptist speaks of himself, John iii. 29; in which he probably alludes to an ancient custom among the Jews at their nuptial solemnities, at which one of the guests that was most honoured and next in dignity to the bridegroom, was styled the friend of the bridegroom.
There is not an angel in heaven, of how high an order soever, but what looks on himself as honoured by the son of God and Lord of glory, in being employed by him as his minister in the high affair of his espousals with his blessed bride. But such honour has Christ put upon us, that his spouse should in some sort be ours ; that we should marry, as a young man marries a virgin, the same mystical person that he himself will rejoice over as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride : that we should be his ministers to treat and transact for him with his dear spouse, that he might obtain this joy: and in our treaty with her, to be married to her in his name, and sustain an image of his own endearing relation to her; and that she should receive us, in some sort, as himself, and her heart be united to us in esteem, honour, and affection, as those that represent him; and that Christ's and the church's children should be ours, and that the fruit of the travail of Christ's soul should be also the fruit of the travail of our souls ; as the apostle speaks of himself as travailing in birth with his hearers, Gal. iv. 19. The reason why Christ puts such honour on faithful ministers, even above the angels themselves, is because they are of his beloved church, they are select members of bis dear spouse, and Christ esteems nothing too much, no honour too great for her. Therefore Jesus Christ, the King of angels and men, does as it were cause it to be proclaimed concerning faithful ministers, as Abasuerus did concerning him that brought up Esther, bis beloved queen ; “ Thus shall it be done to the man that the king delights to honour."
And seeing Christ hath so honoured us, that our relation to his people resembles his, surely our affection to them should imitate his, in seeking their salvation, spiritual peace, and happiness. Our tender care, labours, self-denial, and readiness to suffer for their happiness, should imitate what hath appeared in him, who hath purchased them with his own blood.
3. Let it be considered, that if we faithfully acquit ourselves in our office, in the manner that hath been represented, we shall surely hereafter be partakers of the joy, when the bridegroom and bride shall rejoice in each other in perfect and eternal glory.
God once gave forth a particular command, with special solemnity, that it should be written for the notice of all professing Christians, through all ages, that they are happy and blessed indeed, who are called to the marriage-supper of the
Lamb; Rev. xix. 9. "And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” But if we are faithful in our work, we shall surely be the subjects of that blessedness; we shall be partakers of the joy of the bridegroom and bride, not merely as friends and neighbours, that are invited to be occasional guests, but as members of the one and the other. We shall be partakers with the church, the blessed bride, in her joy in the bridegroom, not only as friends and ministers to the church, but as members of principal dignity; as the eye, the ear, the hand, are principal members of the body. Faithful ministers in the church will hereafter be a part of the church that shall receive distinguished glory at the resurrection of the just, which, above all other times, may be looked on as the church's wedding-day; Dan. xü. 2, 3. "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake, some to everlasting life. And they that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.” — They are elders who are represented as that part of the church triumphant that sit next to the throne of God, Rev. iv. 4. ** And round about the throne were four-and-twenty seats : and upon the seats I saw four-and-twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”
And we shall also be partakers of the joy of the bridegroom in his rejoicing over his bride. We, as the special friends of the bridegroom, shall stand by and hear him express his joy on that day, and rejoice greatly because of the bridegroom's voice; as John the Baptist said of himself, John jii. 29. "He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly, because of the bridegroom's voice.” Christ, in reward for our faithful service, in winning and espousing his bride to him, and bringing her up from her minority, and adorning her for him, will then call us to partake with him in the joy of his marriage. And she that will then be his joy, shall also be our crown of rejoicing; 1 Thess. ii. 19. “ What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming ?” What a joyful meeting had Christ and his disciples together, when the disciples returned to their Master, after the faithful and successful performance of their appointed service, when Christ sent them forth to preach the gospel ; Luke x. 17. “ And the seventy returned with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name." Here we see how they rejoice; the next words show, how Christ also rejoiced on that occasion : he said unto them, I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven." And, in the next verse but two, we are told, that “in