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UNBELIEVERS CONTEMN THE GLORY AND EXCELLENCY
Acts iv. 11.
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders.
In the foregoing chapters we have an account of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the apostles, and of its extraordinary effects in their speaking boldly in the name of Jesus, and speaking many strange languages, and so being made the instruments of the sudden conversion of vast multitudes. And in the chapter immediately preceding, there is an account how Peter and John miraculously healed a man who had been a cripple from his birth; which, together with the word which they spake to the people that flocked together on the occasion, was the means of a new accession to the church: so that the number of them that heard the word and believed, as we are told in the fourth verse of this chapter, was about five thousand.
This sudden and extraordinary progress of the gospel greatly alarmed the priests and scribes, and other chief men among the Jews ; so that they laid hands on Peter and John, and put them in hold, and the next day brought them forth to appear before them, and called them to an account for what they had done. They asked them particularly by what power or by what name, they had wrought the miracle on the impotent man. Upon which Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, makes answer, “ Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought by you builders, which is become the head of the corner."
The apostle quotes to them as now fulfilled, the 118th Psalm, ver. 22. “ The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner." This text, in that Psalm, the apostle applies by telling them,
* Dated, May 1736.
i. That, This is the stone, i. e. this person of whom he had spoken in the foregoing verse, viz. Jesus Christ of Naza. reth, whom they had crucified, and whom God had raised from the dead.
2. That they were the builders spoken of. They before whom the apostle then was, and to whom he was speaking, were rulers, and elders, and scribes of the people, the high priest and other priests. They, as they were set to be rulers and teachers among God's people, by their office, were called to be builders of the church of God.
3. That they set this stone at nought. They had so done by refusing to accept of him. Christ came to his own, and his own received him not: and not only so, but they had openly manifested the greatest contempt of him. They had mocked him, scourged and spit upon him, and in derision crowned him with a crown of thorns, and arrayed him in a mock robe, and then had put him to a most ignominious death.
4. That notwithstanding this, he was become the head of the corner. In spite of all that they could do, he had obtained the chief place in the building. God had made him the main foundation of it, by raising him from the dead, and so putting great honour upon him ; by pouring out his Spirit, and enduing his disciples with extraordinary gifts ; by suddenly converting so many thousands to be the followers of Christ. They put him to death, that he might have no followers, concluding that that would utterly put an end to his interest in Judea. But they were greatly disappointed: for the gospel had incomparably greater success after Christ's death than before. God had accomplished that very thing which they endeavoured to prevent by Christ's crucifixion, viz. Christ's being believed in and submitted to, as the great prophet of God, and prince of his people.
Unbelievers set at nought the glory and excellency in Christ.
1. They set at nought the excellency of bis person.Christ is a great and glorious person, a person of infinite worthiness, on which account he is infinitely esteemed and loved of the Father, and is continually adored by the angels. But unbelievers have no esteem at all for him on that account. They have no value for him on account of his being the Son of God. He is not set the higher in their esteem on the account
of his standing in so near and honourable a relation to God the Father. He is not valued at all the more for his being a divine person. By his having the divine nature, he is infinitely exalted above all created beings. But he is not at all exalted by it in their esteem. They set nothing by his infinite majesty: his glorious brightness and greatness excite not any true respect or reverence in them.
Christ is the holy one of God: he is so holy that the heavens are not pure in his sight. He is possessed of all that holiness which is the infinite beauty and loveliness of the divine nature. But an unbeliever sets nothing by the holiness of Christ. Christ is the wisdom of God, and the power of God, i Cor. i. 24. But an unbeliever sets nothing by his power and wisdom. The Lord Jesus Christ is full of grace and mercy: the mercy and love of God appear no where else so brightly and gloriously as they do in the face of Jesus Christ. But an unbeliever sets no value at all upon the infinite grace of Christ.
Neither do unbelievers set any thing by those excellent virtues which appeared in Christ's human nature, when he was upon earth. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; he was meek and lowly of heart; he was patient under afflictions and injuries ; when he was reviled, he reviled not again. But unbelievers set nothing by these things in Jesus Christ. They very often hear how excellent and glorious a person Christ is : they are told of his holiness, and grace, and condescension, and meekness, and have the excellencies of Christ plainly set forth to them; yet they set all at nought.
2. They set at nought his excellency in his work and office. They are told how glorious and complete a mediator he is ; how sufficient to answer all our necessities, and to save sinners to the uttermost; but they make light of it all; yea, they make nothing of it. They bear of the wonderful wisdom of God in con-, triving such a way of salvation by Christ; they have the manifold wisdom of God set forth to them; but they make no account of the excellency of this way of salvation.
The unbeliever hears what a wonderful thing it was, that he who was in the form of God, and esteemed it no robbery to be equal with God, should take upon him the human nature, and come and live in this world in a mean and low condition; but he makes nothing of this. He hears much of the dying love of Christ to sinners, how wonderful it was that so glorious
person, who is infinitely above the angels, should so set his love on such worms of the dust, as to come and be made a curse for them, and die a cruel and ignominious death in their stead; but he sets nothing by all this. This dying love of Christ is of no account with bim; those great things that Christ bath done and suffered, are with him light matters.
Unbelievers not only set little by the glory and excellency of Christ, but they set nothing by these things. Notwithstanding all the shews and pretences which many natural men make of respect to Christ, by speaking honourably of him in their prayers, and in their common conversation, and by coming to sacraments, and attending other ordinances of Christ; yet, indeed, they do not set so much by all the glory and excellency of Christ-either of his person or of his work as a Saviour-as they do by the sniallest earthly enjoyment.
I proceed now to mention some evidences of the truth of this doctrine.
1. They never give Christ any honour on account of his glory and excellency. They may, and often do pay Christ an external and seeming respect; but they do not honour bim in their hearts. They have no exalting thoughts of Christ, no inward respect or reverence towards him. All their outward worship is only feigned; none of it arises from any real honour or respect in their
hearts towards Christ. It is either only for fashion's sake, and in compliance with custom, or else it is forced, and what they are driven to by fear, as we read, Psal. Ixvi. 3. “Through the greatness of thy power, shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.” In the original, it is, shall thine enemies lie unto thee; i. e., yield a feigned obedience. Through the greatness of Christ's power, and for fear of his wrath, his enemies, who have no respect or honour for him in their hearts, will lie to him, and make a shew of respect when they have none.
An unbeliever is not sensible that Christ is worthy of any glory, and therefore does not at all seek the glory of Christ in any thing that he does ; he does nothing in religion, out of respect to Christ's glory, but wholly for other ends; which shews that he sees not Christ to be worthy of any glory. Christ is set last and lowest in the heart of an unbeliever. He has high thoughts of other things; he has high thoughts of created objects and earthly enjoyments, but mean and low thoughts of Christ.
The unbeliever shews the mean and contemptible thoughts that he has of Christ, in refusing to accept of him, and in shutting the door of his heart against him. Christ stands at the door and knocks, and sometimes stands many years knocking at the door of his heart, but he refuses to open to him. Now it certainly shews, that men have a very mean thought of a person, when they shut him out of their doors. Unbelievers shew the mean and dishonourable thoughts they have of Christ, in that they dare not trust him. They believe not what he says to be true; they will not trust the word of Christ, so far as the word of one of their honest neighbours, or of a servant whom they have found to be faithful. It also appears that they have no real honour for Christ in their hearts, in that they refuse to obey
his commands. They do nothing from a spirit of obedience to him: and that external obedience which they render is but a forced, feigned obedience, and not from any respect to Christ's authority or worthiness to be obeyed.
2. They have no love to him on account of his glory and excellency. If they saw any excellency in Christ, they would have some measure of love to him. But the truth is, they see no form or comeliness in Christ, and hence they have no love at all to him. An unbeliever never exercises one act of true love to Christ. All that he is told of his divine perfections, of his holidess, his ineekness, and grace, has no influence at all to draw forth any love. The display of these things doth no more draw forth love out of the heart of an unbeliever, than it draws forth love from the stones and rocks.
A natural man hath no love of benevolence towards Christ. Notwithstanding all that is declared to him of the excellency of Christ, he has no good-will towards him. He rejoices not in his glory and happiness; he would not care what became of Christ, if he could but escape hell. If Christ should be dethroned, or should cease to be, he has not so much good-will to Christ, as would make him concerned about it. And if the kingdom and interest of Christ in the world should go to ruin, it would be nowise grievous to the unbeliever, provided his own interest could be secure.
So also an unbeliever has no love of complacency in Jesus Christ for his excellency. He takes no delight in the consideration of that excellency of Christ of which he is told. He is told that it is exceedingly beautiful and glorious; but the thoughts of the glory of Christ are nowise entertaining to him : he has no delight in the thoughts of it, or in any contemplations upon it. He takes delight in thinking of earthly objects ; but when he comes to turn his mind upon Jesus Christ, if ever he so does, this is to him a dry and barren subject: he finds nothing there to feed and delight his soul; no beauty or loveliness to please or gratify him.
3. Unbelievers have no desires after the enjoyment of Christ.
If they did set any thing by the excellency of Christ they would have some desires after him on account of that excellency; especially when he is offered to them, and is from time to time set forth as the proper object of their choice and desires. That which men prize, they are wont to desire, especially if it be represented to them as attainable, and as fit and suitable for them. But unbelievers only desire to be delivered from hell, but not to enjoy Christ.
They cannot conceive what happiness there can be in beholding Christ and being with him, in seeing his holiness, and contemplating his wonderful grace and divine glory. They have no relish for any such thing, nor appetite after it.