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Delivered at City Road Chapel, on Friday Morning, January 18, 1833.
Occasioned by the Death of the Rev. Richard Watson.
BY REV. JA BEZ BUNTING, · A. M.
Verily verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.'
John, viii. 51.
It is one of the highest excellencies of the Christian revelation, that it brings life and immortality to light.' It is the peculiar glory of Jesus himself, the great Apostle and High Priest of our profession, that while on the one hand he finishes transgression, makes reconciliation for iniquity, and bringeth in an everlasting righteousness, on the other hand also he abolishes death and destroys him that had the power of death-that is, the devil-and thus delivers us who otherwise must have remained, through fear of it, always subject to bondage. This joyous truth, so often asserted by the Apostle of our Lord, is here emphatically announced by himself: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.'
By the saying ' of Christ, we are to understand the whole system of truth which Christ directly or indirectly hath taught. The expression, therefore, includes, in the first place, all those doctrines and precepts which were taught by Christ himself during his residence on earth ; for God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past into the fathers by the prophets, bath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. Among other offices which our Saviour assumed-among other functions he represented himself as performing, one was that of a Prophet, a public teacher of religion, divinely commissioned and inspired. He proclaimed himself, you know, to be the Apostle or ambassador of Jehovah
the messenger of the covenant of peace. He declared that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointing him to preach the Gospel to the poor. And accordingly we find, that the four Evangelists, who are his historians, have given us an account, not merely of his personal transactions and travels, but of his public discourses; and it is impossible to read those summaries of his most important discourses-those details of his most striking and useful sayings with which we are thus furnished, without wondering, like some of old, at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, and exclaiming, “Never man spake like this man!'
It is of importance to remind you that this phrase-the saying of Christ, must be understood as comprehending all those doctrines and precepts which our Saviour more privately taught to his apostles, or with which they becaine acquainted after his departure, in consequence of the plenary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and which were thus, in his name and by his appointment, officially communicated to mankind, and left on record for the church in succeeding ages. The word, which first began to be spoken by the Lord himself, was confirmed in them that heard it, and not merely confirmed, but further illustrated, more eminently developed and unfolded. It was necessary to the full accomplishment of some great purposes of our Saviour's incarnation, that he should maintain a prudential reserve in the course of his own ministry, on certain points of religious doctrine. For instance, if explicitly and at once he had avowed, wherever he went, his own divine character and supreme dignity, accompanying that avowal with unequivocal and overwhelming displays of his power and glory,—it is hard to conceive how those prophecies could ever have received their fulfilmėnt, which describe the Messiah as a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief,' and foretold his sufferings and his death. His atoning sacrifice—that important part of his ministerial task and purpose-humanly speaking, must have been prevented by the premature disclosure of his heavenly rank, or by a too luminous and overwhelming display of his Divine perfections.
He did not, therefore, to use his own expression, put new wine into old botiles ; ' he did not impart the full blaze of that light, which he intended ultimately to introduce, in a sudden but in a gradual manner. The darkness began to be dispelled by the preaching of John the Baptist: that was the twilight which preceded the dawn of the evangelical dispensation. By the personal appearance and ministry of our Saviour, a still greater degree of light was introduced, and continued to increase and to become brighter and brighter till it came to the perfect day, in consequence of the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Spirit on the assembled apostles. Then they were led into all truth, and fully qualified for the office which they were to sustain, as master builders in the Christian church. Then they were made acquainted with every thing it was requisite they should, as Christian ministers, experimentally practise, and which, as apostles, they should establish and enjoin. To this end, perhaps, our Saviour in no small degree contributed, by his own instructions, especially during that season of confidential intercourse which they were permitted to enjoy with him, between the tiine of his resurrection and ascension. He was with them forty days, and spoke to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God ; and being assembled with them, and almost entirely confining his attention to this one object--then it was he gave to them this great command, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature;' or, Go, disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost : teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.'
Now, when we look at this commission, when we view it in connexion with the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Spirit already adverted to, can we, for a moment, on any rational ground, hesitate to admit that the inspired sayings of the apostles are, in point of obligation, the sayings of Christ himself, and are entitled to our implicit and obedient veneration ? The Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic epistles contain the record of these sayings. It may be said, I know it has been said by those who wish to supersede apostolical authority in the church, under pretence of exalting the Divine Prophet himself—that Paul was not present at one of these assemblies, and that he did not partake of the effusion of the day of Pentecost. This is true ; but the loss of them was abundantly supplied. He was amply qualified for all apostolical functions by the extraordinary revelations which he was favored with, and of which he gave miraculous proof to the church. The signs of an apostle' were in him and with him ; he, therefore, like the rest of the apostles, was authorised to say, 'He that despiseth us despiseth not men but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.' • We,' we apostles, · have the mind of Christ,' and have it for the purpose of making it known : the things we write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.'
Then, may I not observe, that the whole canon of Scripture may be considered as the saying of Christ ? for, as to the books of the Jewish Scriptures, we know that they were written under the teaching and in Auence of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God : 'these holy men spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; and this being the case, all the doctrines of Divine revelation at large, even those of the Old Testament, are to be considered as the sayings of Christ; and as to every moral precept presented in the Jewish Scriptures, if there can be no proof adduced of their repeal or abolition in the New Testament, directly or virtually, surely even those precepts also must be allowed to come under this description. In the large sense, therefore, the sayings of Christ comprised the whole system of religious truth which Christ has directly or indirectly taught to men.
Now, what is it to keep these sayings? It implies such things as the following: a knowledge and belief of the Divine truth in the understanding A man cannot keep what he does not know : neither the laws nor the precepts of Christ can be expected to produce any beneficial effect on the heart or the life, unless the judgment has previously discerned their nature and import, and been convinced of their obligation. Whoever, therefore, will keep the sayings of Christ, must begin with a careful investigation of those sacred oracles which contain the mind of God'—he must apply himself to the holy Scriptures with conscientious diligence, that he may find it profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.He must avail himself of every help which the providence of God may have placed within his reach, whether public or private, for arriving at a correct understanding of the meaning of these holy oracles; and above all, he must implore, in earnest prayer, the illumination of the Spirit. Consider,' said Paul, on one occasion, what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things;' teaching us, that divine illumination, as well as human study and diligence, is necessary to the right apprehension of the sacred truth and of Divine things in general. The understanding must be so opened by the Spirit himself, as to understand the Scriptures ; it must be purged from the operation of those worldly prejudices and carnal feelings, which will prevent the truth from making its due impression on the mind; and thus, in God's light we shall see light.
I think, that keeping the saying of Christ also implies, a careful retention of it in the memory. This is fully unfolded in the Scriptures as a duty to which we should pay attention, and in which we should exercise ourselves. “Take the more earnest heed to the things which ye have heard.', 'Ye are saved, if ye keep in memory the things which I have preached unto you.' Look at Peter's second episile, and see how, in the second and third chapters, he lays exceeding great stress upon the importance of his writing that epistle, for ihe sake of assisting the churches into whose hands it should come, to remember the things they had been taught and heard.'
Now, how is this to be chiefly accomplished ? Chiefly, I think, by two means ;-first, by the continued use of those means of prayerful study of the Scriptures, to which we are indebted for all our present information ; by an habitual recurrence to those fountains of light from which all the streams of illumination and information flow; by a constantly persevering use of the word of God and prayer; and secondly, by abounding in the duty of holy meditation, When the shepherds made known abroad the sayings of the angels, concerning the holy child Jesus, we are told, Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.' The way to keep Divine things is to ponder them much in our hearts—to familiarize them to our minds, to imprint them on our memories by a sedulous and determined direction of our thoughts and attentions to these subjects.
To keep the saying of Christ, implies the love of truth in the heart and affections. No knowledge of Christian doctrine, however comprehensive-no retention of Scripture truth, however prefect and exact, will be of any practical utility unless they produce an impression on the heart—unless the heart be interested and filled with a sense of the strongest attachment to them. If we will believe, it must be with the heart unto righteousness '—if we will so receive the truth as to be saved by it, it must be in the love of the truth. The good seed of the word is said to be sown on good ground, and is likely to bring forth good fruit, when it is sown in a good and honest heart, made so by the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit. Our Saviour, therefore, had good reason for saying • He that loveth me not, keepeth not my saying; for no man will keep Christ's sayings who does not love him; and no man will love Christ's sayings but he in whom the love of Christ has been shed abroad by the Holy Ghost given to him.
Hence it appears, that none but pardoned persons, who love the Saviour who first loved them-none but regenerate persons, in whom the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, has been superseded by the spiritual mind, which affects Divine and spiritual things, bringing life and peace,-none but such persons can keep the sayings of Christ, in the sense to which the promise in the text is annexed.
Those sayings of Christ must first of all be studied-must first of all be received and obeyed, which require repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. While we habitually treat with contempt or neglect these sayings, we cannot be qualified for keeping any part of the Divine injunctions with uniformity and honesty and cheerfulness; but when, coming to God in the way he himself has appointed, you obtain pardoning mercy and the Spirit of adoption and grace, then love to your pardoning God will make your feet in swift obedience move-then you will find it perfect liberty to serve the God
love. I hardly need dwell on another observation—that to keep the