"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." EPHES. III. 8.
IN these words, the blessed apostle repeateth the same thing he spoke in the preceding verse, of his call, and being constituted a minister of the mysteries of the gospel, and that of free grace; with the addition of a very humble designation he giveth to himself, - "less than the least of all saints;" and a very high and deep expression of the great subject of his preaching, - the unsearchable riches of Christ. This last word of the text only we intend to insist on, as being most pertinent for us. And before we come to observe any thing, we would first a little clear the words. And,
1. By "riches of Christ," ye are not to understand that riches which consists in outward and worldly valuable things, though indeed Christ be the most sovereign owner of all the gold of the earth; but we are mainly to understand that treasure and storehouse which is in Him, of all divine perfections of grace and glory, of which more another time. It is a phrase that denotes the plenty of the riches, their excellency, and their suitableness to answer all necessities.
2. They are said to be "unsearchable," - not that it is unlawful to search into them, in as far as they are revealed; or that by such searching, by the Lord's grace and Spirit, a man may not attain unto some sight and knowledge of them. Nay, this apostle doth in this chapter, verse 4, and in 2d Corinthians xi. 6, avow his knowledge in the mystery of Christ; but only, that they are so many and great that no finite understanding can search them out unto perfection; as it is said of God, (Job. xi. 7, 8). And here, by the way, we have an argument for the divinity of Jesus Christ. If there be unsearchable riches of Christ, he must be something more than a creature.
The riches of Christ are unsearchable; or his excellency, and the treasures of it in Jesus Christ, are unsearchable. For the opening and clearing of this precious truth, and making way for the manifold usefulness of it, we would take notice of these two things: 1. What the riches and excellencies of Christ are. 2. How they are unsearchable: what sort of searching into them is commanded, and what forbidden.
As to the first, - the riches and excellencies of Christ. This is one of the vastest subjects of all the truths of God, or rather, it containeth the whole truths of the gospel; yea, all that is revealed in the word, of God and man, may be reduced to this. It is the main subject of the gospel; the main of preaching is here; the main of a Christian's meditation in this life is here. Yea, it is very likely that the main exercise of the glorified above is about this. It is, then, doubtless, an excellent theme to discourse upon, and there is much need of holy hearts and affections in speaking and hearing of it.
We are, then, no further to speak or think of it than is revealed; and indeed there is more revealed than saint or angel can duly speak or think of. And yet all that is revealed, is far from declaring plentifully the matter as it is.
Consider, then, in the first place, the excellency and riches of His person, God the Son, equal in all divine perfections with the Father, (Heb. i. 3); the brightness of his glory, and the express character or image of his person. To discourse upon his excellency on this account, were to undertake to speak of all the glorious perfections and attributes of God which are revealed in the word, which is a vast subject and dreadful. But because he is man also, we are to consider that nature in him. That holy sinless flesh which he took upon him wants not its own excellencies. But especially the soul of Jesus Christ, that singular and rare creature, (for it was made, and doubtless with as transcendent excellencies as a creature was capable of). Oh, what treasures of holiness and purity, of grace and glory, were there, and are there in it! And his riches on this account is evidently useful, since it was requisite that the Mediator should be God-man.
But to come a little lower, in the second place consider, that from this personal union of his human nature with his divine person, and his undertaking of the work of redemption in that manner, there was a pouring out of the Spirit without measure upon him, so that he became the fountain of all fullness of grace and glory. The fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him from all eternity, personally, in some sense, and that is in his person; but now, upon this undertaking, it dwelt in him bodily, (Col. ii. ix, and i. 19). This pleased the Father, that in him shall all fullness dwell. A Mediator so qualified we stood in need of, as will be seen in the particulars of the management of this text.
Thirdly, Consider his riches and excellency in the discharge of the office of Mediator, being thus so sufficiently qualified for it. And this taketh in all that he did and suffered; all he did before he came in the fullness of time, and all that he now doth, and shall do to the last day. But only to touch a few particulars, consider,
1. The freedom of his mercy in taking upon him this office of Mediator. Nothing constrained him: he was absolutely free. If his own love in a manner constrained him, the more lovely and excellent is he. What happiness wanted he? What can be added to him? If all men had perished, he had lost nothing. But indeed, when he hath taken on him the work of saving his own, none of them can perish. Had he such a desire to have a company of sinful men and women to be with him for ever? Who can sufficiently admire it? Our misery calls for this riches of grace and mercy.
2. Consider his excellency of love, not only in taking it on, but when such and such things were called for by the justice of God, from the Surety. This is more wonderful. If the redemption of all the elect had cost him but one petition or word to justice, it had been matchless love to have bestowed it. But when it was required that he should be a man, and such a man, - and lead such a life, and die such a death, - to be accused by the law, deserted of his Father and of all creatures, and to have Satan and the world let loose upon him, - oh, what love is here, and how great riches and excellency!
3. And as he refused not to undertake the employment, because of foreseen dangers and difficulties, so when he undertook it he did not faint nor was discouraged because of them. He was born of a mean woman; he was persecuted from his cradle to his grave. All temptations, all trials from God, and men, and devils, were in his cup. And after several years' living thus a man of sorrows (it was his name, sorrowful), and acquainted with the saddest griefs (these were his most constant companions), near his death, the entire cup of wrath, and the dregs of it, for the numberless sins of all the elect, was presented unto him; and after some holy submissive strugglings of sinless human nature at the receiving of such a deluge of wrath, it was drunk up, and the full price paid upon the cross for these souls for whom from all eternity he had bargained with the Father. What riches and excellency of love are there in this! (Rev. i. 5, 6.) He not only drank up the wrath which our sins deserved (which was indeed the cause of his death), but because there was a remaining spottedness in our souls, he took his own blood, and washed us in it. He not only drank that which was as poison to kill him, even the wrath due to our sins, but he took his heart's blood to wash away the stains that those sins had made in our souls. Our sinfulness and pollution call for his richness of mercy.
4. As his love and courage were admirable in going through these things, so his humility, meekness, and compassion come next to be considered. He was not only by line of the blood-royal, as the son of David according to the flesh, but especially, as God-man, he was the heir of all things. Yet his first cradle is a manger, and his entertainment in the world very coarse. When he came out to his public ministry, how poor and contemptible was his outward appearance to the world! He declares himself that he was below the very foxes and birds, as to the constancy and settledness of his shelter. He came to save the world, and yet every man almost was against him, except a few despised ones. But he was not discouraged, though grieved with their ingratitude. He ate with sinners, and he laid his holy hand upon the leper's skin. He did not cry, nor lift up nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. Our stubbornness and rebellious carriage called forth this condescension.
5. His riches of wisdom do eminently appear in the matter of redemption. The manifold wisdom of God doth appear here. It is one of the most glorious and deep contrivances; it is the chief of the ways of God we may well say. Justice is fully satisfied, mercy notwithstanding eminently shines. Sinners are saved, and pardoned freely. The wisdom of it stands in his choosing so fit means for attaining the end; the only fit ones; and in ordering these means wisely, for reaching that end. His end is to reconcile God and man, and to bring man into the favour and friendship of God. God's justice stands in the way of bestowing favour upon man; man's sinfulness separates betwixt God and him. Justice must be satisfied; and both man's guilt and debt, and the power of sin must be removed, ere the Lord accept of him. Blessed Jesus hath first justice to satisfy, which he doth, by laying down his own blood; a most sufficient price. This, as a price, reconciles God to us, and in its efficacy washes the souls of his people; and when applied by faith, renews them, and works in them love to God. And more particularly his wisdom appears, in applying himself unto us, and taking on him these offices and employments, in the discharge whereof, he fully maketh up all we stand in need of. Because we are enemies to God in our hearts, he subdues us as a king, and bringeth us into subjection, and removeth our natural rebellion. Because we are guilty of sin, he maketh atonement for us to justice, by the sacrifice of himself; and that this sacrifice may have still its efficacy in our renewed transgressions, he still maketh intercession for us. Because we are ignorant of God and his will, he revealeth these things unto us by his word and Spirit, that we may savingly know these things which belong to our peace and salvation. We have many enemies in our way to heaven: he subdueth these, taketh away their deadly sting, and defendeth from any mortal harm from their assaults. He giveth laws unto us as a king, how to carry ourselves in our duty; he giveth as a prophet, discerning, to know and understand them; enableth us to give obedience; and when that fails, he obtaineth pardon for failings. What a manifold wisdom doth appear in all this, and what riches of wisdom!
6. The riches of his righteousness do appear in the matter of redemption. "I counsel thee," he says, "to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see," (Rev. iii. 18). This righteousness is what Christ hath not only as a holy man or God, but that which he attained in our name by his perfect obedience and satisfaction, which is imputed unto us.
7. Consider the riches of his power and might. He is the arm of the Lord, - he on whom our help and strength are laid. 1. His overcoming and removing, as it were, justice out of the way of his people's happiness, proves this. 2. His subduing all of them, for all were once rebels and enemies to himself. 3. In preserving his own interest in the hearts of his people, and in his church, against so much opposition from so many enemies; which speaketh much riches of strength and power. 4. In making his enemies tremble before him, by his presence in his church and ordinances; making them to fear, as before an army with banners.
8. Consider the riches of his glory and majesty shining in all this great work. Not only as God, equal with the Father, is his glory infinite; but even in the discharge of his mediatory work, his glory was and is conspicuous. "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," (John i. 14), and "He manifested forth his glory," (John ii. 11). All his miracles were glorious things, though blinded sinners could not behold him, His suffering was a most glorious business as ever was accomplished, albeit the outside of it, and what was discernible by carnal eyes, seemed to be quite contrary. So also there is great glory in the sufferings of his people ever since; and all the glory is his, for it is for his cause and by the assistance of his Spirit they suffer. 1. It is for the glory of his person. 2. Of his works of preaching and miracles. 3. Of his sufferings and death. 4. Of his resurrection. 5. Of his ascension. 6. Of his guiding his church till the end. 7. Of his last coming to judgment.
Now, a word, how it is they are unsearchable, and how far lawfully we may and ought to search. They are unsearchable, because infinite and incomprehensible by our shallow understandings. Angels do pry into them, and with a holy kind of curiosity desire to know more and more of the mysteries of the gospel; but even their understanding, though far above ours, cannot comprehend them fully. We may search into them upon these conditions: 1. That we go not beyond what is revealed in the word. Our natural curiosity is here carefully to be bounded and limited "to the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them," (Isa. viii. 20). 2. That we in searching from the word, labour to have the Spirit to open these things unto us, and to sanctify our hearts to receive them suitably. An irreverent fearless searching into these things even from the word, may ruin us as much as going beyond the word: for as we cannot be preserved from error in judgment, if we be not guided by the light of the word; so, there are heart-errors we cannot escape, if we have not the Spirit with the word. 3. Our end in searching must be sincere; not to satisfy our understandings, by attaining to some apprehensions of these noble things, but to have the graces of the Spirit in our souls revived, and in life, love, reverence.
For the uses of these truths, they are more than can be numbered easily.
USE 1. I would recommend this duty to you, to be much in the meditation of the riches and excellency of Jesus Christ. It may be, some may think the time better spent in studying to know some profound notions and truths concerning other points of religion. This I am sure of, that the solid life of religion, and power of godliness, consist in these points that many giddy people may think common and easily known; and that it is a sad token of a decayed backslidden soul, when such things are become unsavoury, and when they itch after other things more remote from heart-exercise in godliness. But to those who savour the things of God, I would recommend this study unto them, and that from these advantages:
1. By this mean you shall attain unto more conformity unto Jesus Christ in his glorious holiness. And is not this very desirable? Conversing with him by faith and love would make it remarkable to enemies that you have been with Jesus, (Acts iv. 18). Beholding his glory worketh a glorious change into the same image in the beholder: "We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord," (2 Cor. iii. 18).
2. By this you shall attain unto fellowship with him, (1 John i. 1,2,3). And this is the very life of a believer, the health of his countenance.
3. You shall hereby attain unto a quickening and reviving of all the graces of his Spirit in you. All graces act in him and his fullness, and there is not a more native way of getting these brought out into actings, than by serious meditation on this blessed object.
4. And lastly, and consequentially from the former, you shall attain unto such sweet manifestations of these riches in him which no tongue can express, - which are best known by feeling. You will see his loveliness, and find manifestations of his love to you in particular. You shall know what that joy unspeakable and glorious (1 Pet. i. 8), that fullness of joy is (1 John i. 4); yea, to be filled with all the fullness of God, (Ephes. iii. 19).
USE 2. It is this blessed One, and his riches and excellency, which we would recommend unto all that are yet strangers unto him. Riches are a great attractive: where are there any comparable to those in him? If your hearts be capable of affection to a lovely object, here is the fairest of the sons of men. If you desire happiness, come here and get it. Are you afraid of wrath and hell? - come here to the shelter and high tower.
USE 3. We would recommend them unto the Lord's own. Here is strong consolation, and good hope through grace. In these cases, doth the sense of sin in its guilt exercise you? - see here riches of merit in him to satisfy justice on your account: act faith on him, and you are secure from all hazard. Is the strength of temptations your exercise, and the power of a body of death? - here are riches of healing and sanctifying grace. Do you doubt of your interest in God, and of your title to heaven? I answer from this, "Have you an interest in these riches or not?" If you think you have not, then labour to have an interest in them, and you have it, if you ask it seriously. If you dare not deny a claim to Christ, and yet doubt of your salvation, you sin greatly; for he will lose none of his own, and hath confirmed it by his word and oath. Are you exercised with the case of the Lord's public work, and of the interests of his glory and kingdom in the world? It is a noble exercise; oh, if it were more common and ordinary! Yet, fear not; he will deal prudently; he shall be exalted and entitled, and made very high. He cannot faint nor be discouraged: he will accomplish his purposes, gather in his elect, and perform all his promises to his people, and his threatenings against all his enemies. The greatest part of his work is already done: justice is satisfied, the price is paid and accepted, and the captives shall go free. It is long since he said, "He comes quickly," and he will perform it in due time; and then shall we see more of the excellency and riches of Christ than we either could believe, or hear, or think of; the wicked to their eternal sorrow, and the godly to their everlasting joy.
USE 4. What a sad matter is it that such an excellent one hath so little of our love and affection! All loveliness is in him, and all our love is called for; and where it is elsewhere bestowed, it is but sinfully wasted upon vanity. As in all things he hath the pre-eminence in point of perfection in himself, so ought he above all things to have the preeminence in the affections of our souls. There are three attractives of love among men - excellency and worth, near relationship, and obligations and favours; all of which are eminently in him.
USE 5. Of instruction. Are there unsearchable riches in him, and in some sort unsearchable emptiness and poverty in us? - here is a blessed match and meeting. Think not to live upon your own store and stock, but upon his. When you want any thing, come hither for supply, for here only it is to be had. Fear not that this treasure can be exhausted. It is great sin to desire to live upon our own sufficiency. The poor in spirit are pronounced blessed, but only such as seek the unsearchable riches of Christ.