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1. This subject may serve to enlarge our views of the divine government. The gospel dispensation, which immediately concerns the human race, answers some important purposes to other intelligences. All the ways, in which angels might be benefited by it, we are unable to conceive. But that hereby their knowledge and admiration of God's wisdom, grace and holiness are increased, and consequently their devotion, love and felicity are exalted, we are expressly taught.
2. This subject suggests to us, that heaven is a place of improvement. The angels still are learners. They learned much by the publication of the gospel; and new wonders in the course of providence are opening to their view. In the prophetic book of the Revelation we find them, from time to time, breaking forth into fresh admiration and praise on every new dispensation of mercy toward the church.
The saints here below are exhorted to grow in knowledge and grace. Whatever advances they make, they are still imperfect. When they arrive at heaven, they are said to be made perfect, as being wholly freed from sin. But they are not so perfect in holiness, but that there is room for improvement. If angels grow in knowledge, so may saints. They will receive farther advancement at the resurrection. But even then they will not have reached the summit of created perfection. They may, like angels, be ever learning, ever meeting new objects of wonder, and new occasions of praise, as they trace the ways, and converse with the works of God.
3. We see the humility of angels. They are superior beings, exalted to heavenly places, and called principalities and powers; yet they disdain not to learn from the church on earth the manifold wisdom of God. Yea, they are willingly employed as ministering spir
its to men.
From their example let us learn humili. ty and charity. If we hope to dwell with angels above, let us cultivate that temper which is their happiness and glory. Let us learn more of the wisdom of God, nor think it dishonorable to learn wisdom from inferiors. Let us condescend to men of low estate, and bear the infirmities of the weak. For this we have a more engaging example than that of angels, even the example of the Son of God, who came not to be ministered unto," but to minister. He was among his disciples, as one who served. He gave them a pattern of meekness, humility and love, that they should do to one another, as he had done to them.
Freedom of Access to God by Faith in Christ.
EPHESIANS iii. 11, 12, 13.
According to his eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
THE Apostle here resumes a thought, which he
had mentioned several times before, that the admission of the Gentiles to a participation in the privileges of the gospel was according to the eternal purpose, which God had made in Christ Jesus. The extension of the church of God to comprehend all nations, was not a new design; it was a plan which divine wisdom had formed before the world was made. Though it was a mystery once unknown, and still hardly credible to the Jews, yet intimations had been given of it in prophecy, and dispositions had been made toward it in Providence, through all preceding ages of the world. The promise of a Saviour to fallen Adam respected his posterity, as well as himself; and as he was the head of the human race, it extended alike to all men. The promise to the patriarchs was more explicit; that “in their seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed." Under the Jewish dispensation, the Saviour VOL. III.
was typified in sacred persons and religious ceremonies, and foretold in the preaching and writings of the prophets, who sometimes expressly described him, as coming" to bring salvation to the ends of the earth." The frequent dispersions and captivities of the Jews conveyed to other nations a knowledge of their religion, of their prophetic writings, and of their promised Messiah, and raised in the minds of inquisitive Heathens an expectation of this wonderful person. But the full discovery of this divine scheme was not made, until after Christ's resurrection, when he commanded his Apostles to go into all the world, and preach his gospel to all nations. Nor does it seem to have been perfectly understood, even by the Apostles themselves, until Peter, by a heavenly vision, was directed to go and preach the gospel to the family of the Roman centurion, Cornelius. After Peter had executed this mission, finding some of his brethren dissatisfied with his conduct, he explained to them the reasons of it, and informed them of the success which had attended it; And, on hearing of these things, "they glorified God, saying, Then hath God granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life."
To impress the minds of the Ephesians with a deeper sense of their indebtedness to the sovereign grace of God, the Apostle often repeats this thought, that the offer of salvation, now brought to them by the gospel of Christ, was not the fruit of their works, intentions or desires, but the result of God's eternal purpose in his Son, and the effect of those disposals which he had been making from the beginning of the world. "God was found of them who sought him not, and made manifest to them who inquired not after him."
There was nothing which more filled the mind of this Apostle, and which he more frequently inculcated on Christians, than the freeness, extent, sovereignty and glory of God's grace in the salvation of sinners.
The more we feel and realize our dependence on divine grace, the more thankfully shall we receive it, and the more diligently shall we improve it; the more humble shall we be in our opinion of ourselves, and the more charitable in our disposition toward others; the more watchful to abstain from evil, and the more zealous to abound in every good work.
One great and wonderful privilege, which the grace of God has bestowed on us, is particularly mentioned in our text. "In Christ we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him."
To this privilege we will now attend. 1. The Apostle says, "We have access." The word signifies an approach to some object. Here it intends a near approach to God in the duties of worship; or such a state of peace with God as allows a freedom of intercourse. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, and access to that grace in which we stand." This access is expressed by our "coming to the throne of grace"-by our "entering into the most holy place"-by our "having a hope by which we draw nigh to God."
These phrases allude to the Jewish worship. There was a visible symbol of God's presence, which attended the Israelites in the wilderness. This was called the glory of the Lord, and, sometimes, the Lord himself. When the tabernacle was erected and the ark of the covenant placed therein, this symbol took its residence on the mercy seat which was made on the ark, and between the Cherubims which covered the mercy seat. And the worshippers were said to come near to God, because they came near to that sensible token of his majesty and glory. The gracious presence of God is as really afforded now, as it was then, although there is not the same visible symbol; and, therefore, we may, as truly as the ancient Jews, be said to draw near to God, when we engage in the solemn duties of worship. Yea, the Yea, the Apostle signifies, that we have