1 Timothy 3:16
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels…
1. Godliness is either the principles of Christian religion, or the inward disposition of the soul towards them, the inward holy affection of the soul. The word implieth both: for godliness is not only the naked principles of religion, but likewise the Christian affection, the inward bent of the soul, suitable to Divine principles. There must be a godly disposition, carrying us to godly truths. These blessed truths of the gospel, they require and breed a godly disposition; the end of them is godliness; they frame the soul to godliness. Thus we see the truths themselves are godliness, carrying us to God and holiness.Hence follows these other truths briefly.
1. First of all, that no truth breeds godliness and piety of life but Divine truths; for that is called "godliness," because it breeds godliness. All the devices of men in the world cannot breed godliness.
2. Again, hence, in that Divine truth is called godliness, it shows us, if we would be godly we must be so from reasons of Christianity; not, us I said, by framing devices of our own, as graceless foolish men do. But if we will be godly, it must be by reasons and motives from Divine truth. That breeds godliness.
3. Again, hence we may fetch a rule of discerning when we are godly. What makes a true Christian? When he nakedly believes the grounds of Divine truth, the articles of the faith, when he can patter them over — doth that make a true Christian? No. But when these truths breed and work "godliness." For religion is a truth "according to godliness," not according to speculation only, and notion. Religious evangelical truth is "wisdom"; and wisdom is a knowledge of things directing to practice. A man is a wise man when he knows so as to practise what he knows. The gospel is a Divine wisdom, teaching practice as well as knowledge. It works godliness, or else a man hath but a human knowledge of Divine things. Therefore a Christian hath godly principles out of the gospel, and a godly carriage suitable to those principles. Now this godliness is "a mystery." What is a mystery?The word signifies a hidden thing.
1. A mystery is a secret, not only for the present, but that it was a secret, though it be now revealed; for the gospel is now discovered. It is called a mystery, not so much that it is secret, but that it was so before it was revealed.
2. In the second place, that is called a mystery in the Scripture which, howsoever it be clear for the manifestation of it, yet the reasons of it are hid. As the conversion of the Gentiles, that there should be such a thing, why God should be so merciful to them, it is called a mystery.
3. In the third place, a mystery in Scripture is taken for that that is a truth hid, and is conveyed by some outward thing. Marriage is a mystery, because it conveys the hidden spiritual marriage between Christ and His Church. So, then, the whole evangelical truth is a mystery.For these reasons: —
1. First of all, because it was hid and concealed from all men, till God brought it out of His own bosom: first to Adam in paradise, after the Fall; and still more clearly afterwards to the Jews; and in Christ's time more fully to Jews and Gentiles. It was hid in the breast of God. It was not a thing framed by angels or men. Christ brought it out of the bosom of His Father.
2. Again, it is a mystery; because when it was revealed, it was revealed but to few. It was revealed at the first but to the Jews — "God is known in Jewry," etc. (Psalm 48:3). It was wrapped in ceremonies and types, and in general promises, to them. It was quite hid from most part of the world.
3. Again, when Christ came, and was discovered to the Gentiles, yet it is a mystery even in the Church, to carnal men, that hear the gospel, and yet do not understand it, that have the veil over their hearts. It is "hid to them that perish" (2 Corinthians 4:3).
4. In the fourth place, it is a mystery, because though we see some part and parcel of it yet we see not the whole gospel. We see not all, nor wholly. "We see but in part, and know but in part." (1 Corinthians 8:9.)
5. Yea, and it is mystery in regard of what we do not know, but shall hereafter know. but is the doctrine of the gospel itself only a mystery? No. All the graces are mysteries, every grace. Let a man once know it, and he shall find that there is a mystery in faith; that the earthly soul of man should be carried above itself, to believe supernatural truths, and to depend upon that he sees not, to sway the life by reasons spiritual; that the heart of man should believe; that a man in trouble should carry himself quietly and patiently, from supernatural supports and grounds, it is a mystery. That the carriage of the soul should be turned universally another way; that the judgment and affections should be turned backward, as it were; that he that was proud before should now be humble; that he that was ambitious before should now despise the vain world; that he that was given to his lusts and vanities before should now, on the contrary, be serious and heavenly minded: here is a mystery indeed when all is turned backward. In Christ all is mystery: two natures, God and man, in one Person; mortal and immortal; greatness and baseness; infiniteness and finiteness, in one Person. The Church itself is a mystical thing. For under baseness, under the scorn of the world, what is hid?A glorious people.
1. Is it so that religion is a mystery? Then, first of all, do not wonder that it is not known in the world: and that it is not only not known, but persecuted and hated. Alas! it is a hidden thing. Men know not the excellency of it.
2. Again, if it be a mystery, then it should teach us to carry ourselves suitable to it. Nature taught even the heathens to carry themselves reverently in their mysteries; Procul este profani, "Away begone all profane." Let us carry ourselves therefore reverently toward the truth of God, towards all truths, though they be never so contrary to our reason.
3. Again, are these things mysteries, great mysteries? Let us bless God, that hath revealed them to us, for the glorious gospel. Oh, how doth St. Paul, in every Epistle, stir up people to be thankful for revealing these mysteries!
4. Again, it is a mystery, Therefore it should teach us likewise not to set upon the knowledge of it with any wits or parts of our own, to think to search into it merely by strength of wit and study of books, and all human helps that can be. It is a mystery, and it must be unveiled by God Himself, by His Spirit. We must not struggle with the difficulties of religion with natural parts. It is a mystery. Now, therefore it must have a double veil took off: a veil from the thing, and the yell from our eyes. It is a mystery in regard of the things themselves, and in regard of us. It is not sufficient that the things be light-some that are now revealed by the gospel, but there must be that taken from our hearts that hinders our sight.
5. Again, being a mystery, it cannot be raised out of the principles of nature, it cannot be raised from reasons. But hath reason no use, then, in the gospel? Yes. Sanctified reason hath to draw sanctified conclusions from sanctified principles. Thus far reason is of use in these mysteries, to shew that they are not opposite to reason, They are above reason, but they are not contrary to it, even as the light of the sun it is above the light of a candle, but it is not contrary to it. Here it is the greatest reason to yield reason to faith. Faith is the reason of reasons in these things, and the greatest reason is to yield to God that hath revealed them. Is not here the greatest reason in the world, to believe Him that is truth itself?
6. Again, seeing it is a mystery, let no man despair. It is not the pregnancy of the scholar here that carries it away. It is the excellency of the teacher. If God's Spirit be the teacher, it is no matter how dull the scholar is.
7. It is a mystery, therefore take heed of slighting of Divine truths. The empty shallow heads of the world make great matters of trifles, and stand amazed at baubles and vanities, and think it a grace to slight Divine things. This great mystery of godliness they despise. How shall we come to know this mystery as we should, and to carry ourselves answerable? We must desire God to open our eyes, that as the light hath shined, as the apostle saith, "The grace of God hath shined" (Titus 2:11); as there is a lightsomeness in the mysteries, so there may be in our eye.Now, the Spirit doth not only teach the truths of the gospel, but the application of those truths, that they are ours.
1. Again, if we would understand these mysteries, let us labour for humble spirits; for the Spirit works that disposition in the first place.
2. And bring withal a serious desire to know. with a purpose to be moulded to what we know; to be delivered to the obedience of what we know; for then God will discover it to us. Wisdom is easy to him that will. Together with prayer and humility, let us but bring a purpose and desire to be taught, and we shall find Divine wisdom easy to him that will. None ever miscarry in the Church but those that have false hearts.
3. And take heed of passion and prejudice, of carnal affections that stir up passion; for they will make the soul that it cannot see mysteries that are plain in themselves. As we are strong in any passion, so we judge; and the heart, when it is given up to passion, it transforms the truth to its own self, as it were. Even as where there is a suffusion of the eye, as in the jaundice, or the like, it apprehends colours like itself; so when the taste is vitiated, it tastes things, not as they are in themselves, but as itself is. So the corrupt heart transforms this sacred mystery to its own self, and oft-times foreeth Scripture to defend its own sin, and the corrupt state it is in. It will believe what it list.Therefore it is of great consequence to come with clean hearts and minds to the mysteries of God. "Great mystery."
1. That is the adjunct. It is a "great mystery" And here I might be endless; for it is not only great as a mystery — that is, there is much of it concealed — but it is a great and excellent mystery, if we regard whence it came, from the bosom of God, from the wisdom of God.
2. If we regard the end of it, to bring together God and man — man that was fallen, to bring him back again to God, to bring him from the depth of misery to the height of all happiness; a "great mystery" in this respect.
3. Again, it is "great," for the manifold wisdom that God discovered in the publishing of it, by certain degrees: first, in types, then after he came to truths; first, in promises, and then performances.
4. Again it is a great mystery, for that it works. For it is such a mystery as is not only a discovery of secrets, but it transforms those that know it and believe it. We are transformed by it to the likeness of Christ, of whom it is a mystery; to be as He is, full of grace. It hath a transforming, changing power.
5. If we consider any part of it — Christ, or His Church, or anything — it is a mystery, and "a great mystery." It must needs be great, that the very angels desire to pry into (1 Peter 1:12).
6. If we regard those that could not pry into it; as it is 1 Corinthians 2:6, 8 that the wise men of the world understood nothing of it.
7. Again, it is a great mystery, because it makes us great. It makes times great, and the persons great that live in those times. What made John Baptist greater than all the prophets and others in those times? Because he saw Christ come in the flesh. Let us take heed, therefore, that we set a higher price on religion. It is a mystery, and a great mystery; therefore it must have great esteem. It brings great comfort and great privileges.
8. Again, it is a great mystery, if compared to all other mysteries. Creation was a great mystery for all things to be made out of nothing, order out of confusion; for God to make man a glorious creature of the dust of the earth, it was a great matter.But what is this in comparison for God to be made man?
1. First of all, learn hence from blessed St. Paul how to be affected when we speak and think of the glorious truth of God; that we should work upon our hearts, to have large thoughts and large expressions of it. St. Paul thought it not sufficient to call it a mystery, but a great mystery. He doth not only call it riches, but unsearchable riches. Out of the riches and treasure of the heart the mouth will speak.
(1) And that we may the better do this, let us labour to have as deep conceits in our understandings as we can of that mystery of sinfulness that is in us, and that mystery of misery.
(2) Again, if we would have large and sensible thoughts and apprehensions of these things, such as the blessed apostle, let us set some time apart to meditate of these things, till the heart be warmed; let us labour to fasten our thoughts, as much as we can, on them every day; to consider the excellency of this mystery of religion in itself, and the fruit of it in this world and in the world to come. It is a good employment; for from thence we shall wonder at nothing in the world besides. What is the reason that men are taken up with admiration of petty mysteries, of poor things? Because their thoughts were never raised up to higher considerations.
2. Let us bring great endeavours to learn it, and great respect towards it, and great love to God for it. Let everything in us be answerable to this "great mystery," which is a "great mystery." "Without controversy." It is so under the broad seal of public confession, as the word in the general signifies; by the confession of all, it is "great." It is a confessed truth, that the "mystery of godliness is great." As if the apostle had said, I need not give you greater confirmation; it is, without question or controversy, a great mystery.
(1) First, in itself, it is not to be doubted of. It is a great grounded truth, as lightsome and clear as if the gospel were written with a sunbeam, as one saith. There is nothing clearer and more out of controversy than sacred evangelical truths.
(2) And as they are clear and light-some in themselves, so they are apprehended of all God's people. However it be controverted by others, yet they are not considerable. All that are the children of the Church, that have their eyes open, they confess it to be so, and wonder at it as "a great mystery." They without all doubt and controversy embrace it. Things are not so clear in the gospel that all that are sinful and rebellious may see whether they will or no.
1. I will only make that use of it that a great scholar in his time once did upon the point, a noble earl of Mirandula. If there be no calling these things into question, if they have been confirmed by so many miracles, as they have been in a strict sense, why then, how is it that men live as if they made no question of the falsehood of them? What kind of men are those that live as if it were "without controversy," that Christian truths had no truth at all in them? Men live so carelessly and profanely, and slight and scorn these great mysteries, as if they made no question but they are false.
2. Again, in that he saith, "without controversy," or confessedly, "great is the mystery of godliness": here we may know, then, what truths are to be entertained as catholic universal truths, those that without question are received. Now we come to the particulars of this great mystery. "God manifested in the flesh." This, and the other branches that follow, they are all spoken of Christ. Indeed, the "mystery of godliness" is nothing but Christ, and that which Christ did. Christ was "manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory." So that from the general we may observe this, that "Christ is the scope of the Scripture." Christ is the pearl of that ring; Christ is the main, the centre wherein all those lines end. He begins here with this, "God manifested in the flesh"; not God taken essentially, but taken personally. God in the Second Person, was manifested. All actions are of persons. The Second Person was incarnate. The Three Persons are all God; yet they were not all incarnate, because it was a personal action of the Second Person.And why in that Person?
1. Because He was the image of God. And none but the image of God could restore us to that image. He was the Son of God, and none but the natural Son could make us sons. By "flesh," here, is meant human nature; the property of human nature, both body and soul. And by "flesh" also is usually understood the infirmities and weakness of man, the miserable condition of man. In that God, the Second Person, appeared in our nature, in our weak and tainted disgraced nature after the Fall; from hence comes —
1. First of all, the enriching of our nature with all graces in Christ, as it is in Colossians 2:3.
2. The ennobling of our nature. In that God appeared in our nature it is much ennobled.
3. In the third place, hence comes the enabling of our nature to the work of salvation that was wrought in our nature. It came from hence, "God was in the flesh."
4. And hence comes this likewise, that whatsoever Christ did in our nature, God did it, for God appeared in our nature. He took not upon Him the person of any man, but the nature.
5. Hence comes also the union between Christ and us. Whence is it that we are "sons of God"? Because He was the "Son of Man," "God in our flesh." There are three unions: the union of natures, God to become man; the union of grace, that we are one with Christ; and the union of glory.
6. Hence likewise comes the sympathy between Christ and us; for Christ is said to suffer with us.
7. Hence likewise comes the efficacy of what Christ did, that the dying of one man should be sufficient for the whole world.It was, that "God was in the flesh." The apostle may well call this, "God manifest in the flesh," a "mystery," and place it in the first rank.
1. And shall we think that so great a mystery as this was for small purpose? that the great God should take upon Him a piece of earth? Oh what boldness have we now to go to "God in our flesh"!
2. Again, from this, that God was "manifest in our flesh," let us take heed that we defile not this flesh of ours, this nature of ours. What? Is this "flesh" of mine taken into unity with the Second Person? Is this "flesh" of mine now in heaven, "sitting at the right hand of God?"
3. Likewise, it should teach us to stoop to any service of Christ or our brethren. What! Did the love of God draw him into the womb of the virgin? Did it draw Him to take my nature and flesh on Him? Take heed of pride. God Himself emptied Himself, and wilt thou be full of pride? He became of "no reputation" (Philippians 2:7), and wilt thou stand upon terms of credit?
4. Lastly, let us labour that Christ may be manifested in our particular flesh, in our persons. As He was God manifest in the flesh in regard of that blessed mass He took upon Him, so we would every one labour to have God "manifest in our flesh." How is that? We must have Christ as it were born in us, "formed in us," as the apostle speaks (Colossians 1:27).
Parallel VersesKJV: And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
WEB: Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory.