Hath appeared unto all men.—The word ἐπεφάνη, appeared, signifies it is broken out of a sudden, like a star, or like a light that was not seen before; and so it refers to the late manifestation of the gospel in the apostle’s days. Now on a sudden it broke out. So Luke 1:78, 79, ‘Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.’ It is meant of the breaking out of the gospel, as the day doth after a dark night; so here the word ἐπεφάνη implieth the same.
Doct. 2. That grace in the discoveries of the gospel hath shined out in a greater brightness than ever it did before.
This grace appeareth in the gospel; there and there only is it clearly manifested.
In the prosecution of this point I shall show—
1. What darkness there was as to the knowledge of grace before.
2. How much of grace is now discovered.
I. First, What a darkness there was before the eternal gospel was brought out of the bosom of God. There was a darkness both among Jews and Gentiles. In the greatest part of the world there was utter darkness as to the knowledge of grace, and in the church nothing but shadows and figures.
A. This grace was not known in the world, only a little of it was:
1. [Common Grace]: Ps. 33:5, ‘The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.’ Some inferior grace was made known to them in the creation and in the course of providence, by showers of rain and fruitful seasons, grace on this side heaven; but nothing of the secrets of God’s bosom, of the incarnation of God, of the expiation of sin by his death, of salvation by faith in the Mediator.
2. [Special Grace] This depends not upon the connection of natural causes, but the free pleasure of God; therefore the angels knew it not till it was revealed in the church. Eph. 3:10
a. The gentiles, by looking into the order of causes, could never find it out.
b. They might find a first being, and the chiefest good, but not a Christ, not a saviour;
c. Much of God may be seen in the known courses of nature, rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, but nothing of Christ. …Though he gave them not the gospel, yet he gave them the light of nature, and the looking-glass of the creatures.
B. To the Jews this grace began to dawn, but it was veiled in figures and shadows, that they could not see clearly….
1. Grace is opposed to the condemnation of the moral law, and truth to the shadows of the ceremonial law.
2. Christ’s offices, his benefices, his person, were but darkly propounded to them. Take but one place for all.
II. Secondly, What and how much of grace is now discovered? I answer—
A. The wisdom of grace. The gospel is a mere riddle to carnal reason, a great mystery: 1 Tim. 3:16, ‘Great is the mystery of godliness.’
1. There we read of God and man brought together, and justice and mercy brought together by the contrivance of grace; here only we see this mystery, that is without controversy great, for these things could not come into the heads of any creatures.
2. If angels and men had been put to study, and set down their way of reconciliation to God, how it should be, they could never have thought of such a remedy as the bringing of God and man together in the person of Christ, and justice and mercy together by the blood and satisfaction of Christ; this came out of no breast but God; he brought the secret out of his own bosom. …
3. When God redeemed the world, he had a greater work to do than to make the world at first. The object of creation was pure nothing, but then, as there was no help, so no hindrance; but now, in redemption, there was sin to be taken away, and that was worse than anything.
B. We discern the freeness of grace in the gospel, both in giving and accepting.
1. Whatever God doth is a gift, and what we do, it is accepted of grace. In giving there is a great deal of grace made known there. The Lord doth all freely: John 1:16, ‘And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace;’ that is, for grace’s sake he gives Christ, gives faith, gives pardon; he gives the condition as well as the blessing.
2. Certainly now we have to do with a God of grace, who sits upon a throne of grace, that he might bestow freely
3. Under the law it was figured out by the mercy-seat between the cherubims, from whence God was giving out answers; but there the high priest could enter but once a year, and the way within the veil was not fully made manifest, Heb. 9:8. There was a throne of grace then, but more God’s tribunal of justice; there was smoke and thundering about his throne; but now let us draw near that we may obtain grace, take all freely out of God’s hand.
C. The efficacy and power of grace is discovered in the gospel. Christ sendeth his Spirit to apply what he himself hath purchased. One person comes to merit, and the other to accomplish the fruit of his merit. Mark, to stop the course of grace, divine justice did not only put in an impediment, but there was our infidelity that hindered the application of that which Christ was to merit; and therefore, as the second person is to satisfy God, so the third person is to work upon us. There was a double hindrance against the business of our salvation—God’s justice, for the glory of God was to be repaired, therefore Christ was to merit; and there was our unbelief, therefore the Spirit must come and apply it. First, Christ suffered, and when he was ascended, then was the Spirit poured out. Had it not been for the gospel, we should never have known the efficacy and power of grace.
D. We are acquainted with the largeness and bounty of grace.
1. The benefits that come by Christ were not so clearly revealed in the law; there was no type that I know of which figured union with Christ.
2. The blood of Christ was figured by the blood of bulls and goats, justification by the fleeing away of the scape-goat, sanctification by the water of purification.
3. But now eternal life is rarely mentioned in express terms;
a. sometimes it is shadowed out in the promise of inheriting the land of Canaan, as hell is by going into captivity; but otherwise it is seldom mentioned: 2 Tim. 1:10, ‘But now it is made manifest’ (speaking of the grace of God) ‘by the appearing of our Saviour Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.’
b. The gentiles had but glimmerings and gross fancies about the future state.
c. Life and immortality was never known to the purpose till Christ came in the flesh; and therefore heaven is as sparingly mentioned in the Old Testament as temporal blessings are in the new.
d. In the New Testament we hear much of the cross, of sufferings, and afflictions. Why? Because there is much of heaven discovered. The eternal reward is strong enough, but temporals are not of consideration. Carnal men are of a temper quite contrary to the gospel; they could be content to be under the old dispensation, to have temporal blessings, and let God keep heaven to himself.
But this is the great privilege of the gospel, that life and immortality, the blessed hope, the eternal recompenses are now mentioned so expressly, and propounded to our desires and hopes.
E. In the gospel we learn the sureness of grace. God will no more be disappointed; the whole business lies without us, in other hands. In the first covenant, our salvation was committed to the indeterminate freedom of man’s will; but now Christ is both a redeemer and a surety.