The Gospel of Gladness

1 Tim. 1:11.---' According to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God '[R.V.].

We read with some hesitation the words of the Revised Version. They seem to rob us of that familiar and much loved phrase ' the glorious gospel,' and we do not easily let it go. Yet here we need not lose a sentiment in gaining a larger truth. It is not less ' the glorious gospel ' because it is ' the gospel of the glory '---the gospel which has for its contents a revelation of the glory of God Himself, of the deep gladness of God, and of that gladness as exhibited in His work to save mankind.

Four of the most important facts in connection with the gospel are presented to us in the text: [1] God is revealed as glad to redeem; [2] God's gladness to redeem is seen in Christ, the brightness of His glory and the express radiance of His character; [3] God known in the gospel as glad to redeem is God saving now, saving fully, and saving always; and [4] God revealed in His delight in redemption is for us a source of ethical inspiration and energy.

1. God is described as ' blessed.' The epithet is in itself a revelation---of God Himself, in His full, deep, and calm repose; in His strong and exhaustless delight. And the Divine warrant for the application of this epithet to Himself is presented to us in the gospel, and presented there as it is nowhere else.

We might not have anticipated that such a term should at any time be applicable to God when we think of this devil-possessed world, with its disorder and chaos, its persecutions and fanatical hatred, its ruthless and barbaric cruelties. As a matter of fact, the application of this epithet to God is one of the latest reached by man in his effort to describe Him; and it is certainly one of the most difficult for us to hold fast. Paul did not always think of God as ' the blessed.' His conception of God, derived from the Law of Moses and the traditions of the elders, was that God was just, inflexible, and exceedingly punctilious in His demand of obedience to His laws; partial in His attachment to certain races and classes of men; favoring a select people dwelling in a select land; often invaded by care, and disturbed by anxiety as to the vicissitudes of His great work on the earth. It was not, indeed, until Paul was mellowed by long experience that his conception of God was cleared of all defiling association with the teaching of the Pharisees, and that he was able to apply the term ' blessed ' to the Deity, as descriptive of the deep happiness of God Himself, and to assert that the effort to impart that happiness to others increased it for Himself.

Now, Paul had learnt this doctrine of God at the feet of Jesus. He had gone to Jesus, and in the study of His life had found what God really is. He had by grace seen in his spirit Jesus going about doing good, and healing those that were possessed of the devil; and in the sight he beheld the ceaseless beneficence of the Deity. He listened to the followers of Christ as they told of the great patience with which the Savior had borne their blunderings and misconceptions, faults and sins; and he saw in the patience of Christ the patience of God. He had been told the story of the Prodigal Son, the rapture with which Jesus Christ had recited it in the hearing of the people, how His face shone with the light of the deep joy in His own spirit; and as Paul heard the story he felt that He was learning something of the deep gladness of God. Everywhere and always he saw the joy of God in Christ's redemptive work, and he found that he had put into his hands a Divine warrant for applying this particular epithet ' blessed ' to God, who delights in redeeming man.

So that God is not to be thought of by us as an eternal 'force' a ' power that maketh for righteousness,' and does not care whether the goal is reached or not; but rather as a Worker who puts His heart into every stroke of His work, and is pained if the stroke fails. God is not to be conceived as an eternal 'tendency,' as the ancient Epicurean said, or as our modern philosophers report, but as a Person, loving as well as working---working to save, and delighting in saving.

The heathen writers, and especially the poets of the Epicurean school, spoke habitually of ' the blessed gods '; they used the words, perhaps, with a touch of scorn. The gods were blessed because they cared not for mortals, and had no part in the changes, toils, and sorrows of this struggling world below. They reclined in golden ease, sipping their nectar, quite heedless of mankind.

We still speak of God as ' the blessed God,' the infinitely happy God; but not happy in that way: only happy in the fullness of His sympathy with men and His perfect love of men; only happy because He takes part, in the way that Christ has shown, in all their sorrows, burdens, and hopes.

2. Note, again, that the revelation of God as glad to redeem is the express brightness of His glory, and the full revealing of the perfect radiance of His character.

To whom will ye liken God? To none save Him who is God, to Jesus Christ, who in every step of His march towards the Cross reveals the straitened condition in which He feels Himself because he cannot reach the goal of the world's salvation as speedily as He would. If the work in which man delights reveals the glory or the meanness of the man, surely the work in which God delights must enshrine Him in our hearts as glorious beyond all others. God revealed to us in the gospel, delighting to redeem men, is God made known to us in the very fullness of His glory.

3. Now God cannot be known as thus glad to redeem without the heart of the gospel being known; and when the heart of the gospel is known, man is saved! [1] He is saved from misgiving as to the freeness and completeness of the Divine pardon. The eunuch hears from the lips of Philip the preaching concerning Jesus Christ, becomes a Christian, and is baptized forthwith. Cornelius listens to Peter as he proclaims Christ to him, the Son of that God who is no respecter of persons, but receiveth every one who fears Him and works righteousness; and he at once accepts the Divine pardon, and is invaded and inspired by the energy of the Holy Ghost. Three thousand on the Day of Pentecost hear of the crucified Jesus as the exalted Lord and Christ, and listening to and accepting the message, receive salvation from all doubt as to the freeness of God's pardon. How can we doubt the reality and certainty and adequacy of that pardon when God Himself delights to give it? [2] To know that God is glad to redeem is certainly salvation from all fear and apprehension concerning the continuity of our Christian progress and the final issue of our Christian endeavor. The early Christians were able to say in a perfectly logical and common-sense way, ' He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.' The work in which we delight is not broken off midway. Joy keeps us at it, and makes it easy for us to persevere to the end. So God, having Himself wrought out for us everlasting salvation in Jesus Christ, will assuredly work in us so that we may ' work out our own salvation,' though it may be with much fear and misgiving concerning temptation, but never with a trembling spirit concerning God or the adequacy of His resources. [3] And if this message be accepted, shall we not also be saved from any misgiving concerning the final overcoming of evil by goodness? Shall we complain because we cannot clearly understand all that is taking place in our own day and within our own observation, and speak as though God had ceased to attend to and rejoice in His saving work? No; rather let us find serenity and joy in the thought that God has sent Himself with glad-heartedness to the work of universal redemption, that His counsels stand fast, and that His purpose is from generation to generation, and will triumph. So we shall be able to enter into the significance of the saying of Nehemiah, ' The joy of the Lord is your stronghold.'

4. But we shall do injustice to the text if we fail to recognize that this incidental statement is so introduced by the Apostle as to indicate to us that the selfsame gospel is to him a high ethical standard and an unfailing source of ethical energy. ' according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.' What is it that is to be ' according to this gospel?' It is ' sound doctrine,' says Paul: that is to say, the teaching that makes men sound in moral wind and limb, and fits them for a robust and manly life. What is in Paul's mind is the teaching which makes manhood and builds men up in the three qualities that he speaks of in the previous part of this paragraph---in love that is out of a pure heart, in a good conscience, and in faith that is unfeigned---teaching which carries men on from all that is hateful and unreal and distrustful to that which is radiant with love, true in its loyalty to God and to conscience, and rich in its repose on the infinite power and grace of Christ.

Those who are familiar with Paul's writings will recognize the facility with which he introduces at different points those words ' according to,' He wishes to show that there is no limit to ' the power ' that makes good Christian men of us, and he says that it works in us ' according to the power that raised Jesus from the dead.' Thus he puts into our hands as a standard test of the Divine grace the great miracle of Christianity. He wishes us to know that we can offer any prayer that comes into our heart that concerns the building up of our character, and he says it will be answered ' according to the power that worketh in us,' and therefore God will do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. So, here, he is telling the teachers what they are to teach, and says that the old Law gave us a sketch of an ideal man, but that the sketch was imperfect; it required to be completed. The Law of Moses set before us a type of manhood which has to be corrected and enlarged by the revelation of the real man, Jesus Christ. That is ' sound doctrine '---doctrine which makes men morally and spiritually sound, which enables men to attain to the manhood of Christ.

So this gospel is for Paul a certain rule that he carries about with him to test all teaching. Just as a carpenter carries with him a three-foot rule, so Paul carries with him this gospel---as a measure of ethical teaching. And he vindicates a position like this by discovering to us the deep delight of God in the redemption of mankind, which is calculated to give force to the conscience, to quicken the love of the heart, and perfect the consecration of the man; and any teaching that falls short of this great goal is not ' according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.'

In Christ, timothy maranatha

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