As face in water answers face, so does the face of the text the face of the Church in the times we live in, where "old things are passed away, all things become new." But as where the faces are like, the minds often are not so, so the sense of the text and the sense of the times are as unlike as may be, however like the words be to them. Old legal ceremonies and old corruptions "passed" in the text; old corruptions and old heresies and errors renewed in the times. The glorious Gospel of Christ newly appearing, with affections answerable to it, in the text; a Gospel I know not whose---not of peace, but of war, not of love and unity, but of faction and schism, with affections and courses according--in the times. "New" timings, such as belong to the new man, righteousness and true holiness,--passed over as unnecessary or unprofitable; all good order antiquated and out of date, cast away as "old things;" all good things quite ruined and decayed.
It were to be wished--but it is but merely to be wished, scarce hoped, I fear--that the sense as well as the words might fit us; that the "new" things in the text were the new ones of the times; that the "old" ones here were the old ones there; that the new year but lately entered night bring us this news.
[244/245] But however, I may wish and hope too (I hope) that we in particular will take occasion from it to renew our hearts with the year, and begin it in newness of life and conversation; to live the new year like new men, better than of old.
And though the new times, as now they are, will not agree with the text--no more than these new men of the times their sermons do in words only, at the most--yet, because I love to speak seasonably as well as soberly, a test in season, if I may have leave to fit the test to the old time of Christmas, there can be nothing more suitable to both the words and meaning of the text than this holy feast and the meaning of it.
From this feast, from Christ's birth, it was that all old legal ceremonies had their pass, to "pass away;" from hence all things both in heaven and earth are reconciled; by him all things made new; by him the old man abolished, and the new man created in us; the old law abrogated, the new law come in place; the old law of works annulled, the new law of faith established; all "old things passed away, all things become new," through his coming into the world.
And the use and moral of the whole feast, and the three solemn great clays in it, is no more than that we would let old things pass, old worldly affections die, lay off the old, and become new men all; be (1) regenerate in our spirits, and new-born with him upon Christmas-day; have our old man (2) circumcised, our old fleshly members mortified upon Circumcision-day, and be wholly renewed in all our parts upon the same, as New-year's-day; begin (3) the public profession of our renovation and new service with the wise men, worshipping, adoring, and presenting him our gifts upon the Epiphany, or Twelfth; so changing our old master, and the service of sin, for our new Master and his service; forgetting the old, and pressing on to the new.
Thus you have a perfect Christmas text, and more evidently a New-year's one; yet both, both in words and sense. I have given you the whole sense of it from the feasts of Christmas, and both told you their meaning and the text's; what the several days of the feast teach you, and what all the parts of the text would have you learn: of which this is the sum, That through Christ all "old things,"--the old law, [245/246] the law of Moses, the old corruptions of nature, the law of sin--are "passed away," done away and abolished, and a new law established, new grace brought to us, new affections created in us; all through him, and by his coming; and that whosoever is "in Christ," in whom he is come, in him "old things are passed away, all things are become new;" "he is a new creature" quite, in the words that usher in the text. So the parts of it will be two.
I. What, since Christ's coming, is become of all things? What is the state of the Gospel? And
II. What, upon that, is become of those that are in Him?
For, to understand the test fully, we are to consider it (1) as a general proposition, concerning the state of the Gospel of Christ, that "old things" in general "are passed away," and "all things" altogether "become new," through it and him:
(2) as a particular application made to "any man" that is "in Christ," it is truly in that state that in him "old things are passed away, all things become new."
1. Now in the general, "old things are passed away;" that is become of them, of all old things, since Christ's coming: -and "all things" else "are become new;" that is become of them, or so are they become.
2. In particular, this is become of them in whom Christ is, or who are in him, true sons of the Gospel; "old things are passed" with them, and "all things" in them "become new."
3. I shall add a third, as the proper use both of text and time of the old days and the new year; what is most becoming us, for whom also Christ came, to whom still he daily comes,--even to cast away all old corruptions, and in all things to "become new."
I. I begin with the text as it may be applied to the general state and condition of the Gospel; where we shall consider it first respectively, then absolutely: (1.) In comparison with the estate of things both under the old law and under the Gentile infidelity; that the Gospel is a state where both all those old legalities are abolished, and heathen errors done away: (2.) In itself; that the Gospel is a new state of affairs and things, where "all things are become new."
"Old things," those must be first; and they may all be [246/247] reduced to these two heads: God's way of dealing with the Jews, and his way of dealing with the Gentiles. With the Jews first, where both the old way of his service and the old way of his providence, those two grand things that include all the rest, are to be examined how they pass.
His service consisted (i.) in sacrifices; and they are done: no more blood of bulls, or lambs, or goats; they could not "make the comers thereunto perfect," so they are gone.
His service (ii.) consisted in outward "washings;" but they could wash no further than the flesh, cleanse no more than the outward man: "Not the putting away the filth of the flesh," says S. Peter; that is nothing, for that is but a vanity to stand on; vain, and to so little purpose, no wonder if that way of serving God be vanished too.
His service (iii.) was much then "in meats and drinks;" this they might eat, and that they might not; but all "to perish with the using." "Why are you any longer subject to those ordinances about them?" says S. Paul. For "meats for the belly, and the belly for meats, but God shall destroy both it and them," says he again; so they pass too.
His service (iv.) stood much in "holy-days, new moons, and sabbaths;" but they were but "shadows of things to come; the body is of Christ." It was time they should be packing, when the reality of things were come.
His service (v.) was especially notified by circumcision; but "circumcision is nothing;" that is passed away, indeed, to purpose--the greatest passing--to pass into nothing.
His service (vi.) was confined to the Temple of Jerusalem, to that only altar there: but it was but "a figure for the time then present," says S. Paul, and you see how the present time is passed; there was "no way into the holiest," whilst that was standing; it was but necessary that also should pass away; et neque in hoc neque in illo,--the time was coming that they should neither worship in this nor that, nor that at Gerizim, nor that at Jerusalem. No, there should not be left so much as "one stone upon another," says Christ. That is passing away indeed.
His service (vii.) lastly, was in a manner all type and shadow; not so much as the "image of things" themselves. And the shadows must needs away when the Day-spring begins to [247/248] visit us, and the Sun arises. Away, shadows! get you behind us! we see our Sun of Righteousness up and risen on us; and it is fit we should turn our backs upon our shadows, and worship and adore him. The Persians did so superstitiously to the sun in heaven: we must do it devoutly to the spiritual and eternal Sun of Glory.
For how much are we bound to Christ, to God in Christ, that he has freed us from those imperfect yet costly sacrifices; those troublesome abstinences, those unprofitable washings, those strict seventies of new-moons and Sabbaths; that painful rite of circumcision, those long journeys to Jerusalem to worship those empty shadows; and given us full perfect liberty of meats and drinks, and all things else, the doing whereof is no real profit; and brought home his temples and service to our doors, our happiness into our bosoms. Though all those "old things" be "passed away," let riot his goodness in passing them away ever pass out of our memories, nor a day pass without praises to him for it, nor the relation of it bass out of our lips without all thank-fulness and humility.
And there will be more reason for it, if we reflect now upon the course of his old providence, altered towards us. In the old way of his providence and dispensations with the Deut. Jews, he first led them only with temporal promises, fed them only with such hopes; no other to be found the whole old Bible over. We must not now look for the same dealing, we; afflictions are made our glory, and we blessed by them; our hopes higher, our promises better. So let the other pass; no matter.
He awed them, secondly, with temporal punishments they could not sin, but they were presently punished for it; sometime a plague, another while the sword, then wild beasts and serpents, now dearth and famine, sometimes a fire from heaven, another time a gaping of the earth and swallowing all; seldom but some exemplary or sudden death, or some strange visitations, were the method God used to bring the rest into order and obedience. Such things are rare among us, whom God terrifies with the threats of future judgments, that we might have the longer time for our repentance and amendment; his providence is now much [248/249] fuller of patience and long-suffering to bring us to it, his anger and fierceness is "passed away."
He comforted then, thirdly, by only obscure and dark prophecies, so dark that he often that spoke them did not perfectly understand them. All those prophecies are now plain to us, and those shadowy expressions lightened and cleared by Christ. He "opened" his disciples' "understandings," that they might understand them, and from them we have all those former predictions clear as the midday sun: those obscure things, or the obscurity of those things, are also "passed away."
Fourthly, the old way then was, "Do this and live;" a sad covenant of works, which yet we were not able to perform. That is done away in Christ, and the covenant of faith come in the room; justus ex fide, to live by that an easier way for us.
Fifthly, God's way then with them was by rites and ceremonies, "old things" which "neither we, nor our" old "fathers were able to bear," if we believe S. Peter. These, to he sure, a good providence for us, that they were among the things that were "done away."
Lastly, the very subject, as we may say, of his providence is altered too. In the days of old it was commonly none but time rich and honourable, very few else, that here employed in the great services of the law, insomuch as it was a proverb, Spiritus Sanctus non requiescit super animam pauperis: The holy Spirit never lights upon the poor man's soul. But now the contrary, ptwcoV euaggelixoutai, "the poor are preached to;" and the poor preach too; and, "Blessed are the poor." The way of God's dispensation is strangely changed, that old way "passed" too.
What can we then do less than pass ourselves into his service, under his protection? than pass our souls and spirits out of our lips in praises and thanksgiving, that all those "beggarly elements," as the Apostle calls them--those temporal promises and threats--that heavy slavish servitude that dealing with us as with untoward children under the rod, or as slaves and servants-is "passed" from us;--that we are now at the liberty of sons, and the honour of being the friends of God, such to whom God is now pleased in Christ [249/250] to reveal his secrets and mysteries so long hidden--even "from the beginning of the world," as the Apostle speaks into which "the angels desire to look into;"--that he hath now "revealed them unto babes;"--that no condition now, be it never so poor, or mean, or weak, but is made partakers of his grace and glory in the face of Jesus Christ! How great a comfort and glory is it to us, that all "old things" are thus "passed away, and all things become new!" Yet there are worse "old things" behind, the "old things" of the Gentiles; which we are to consider now, both what they are, and how they too are "passed away." The old errors and the old sins of the Gentiles, they are the "old things" of the Gentiles, and they are "passed."
1. The old heathen ignorance and error. They were in a shadow indeed, the very "shadow of death," a thick black darkness; the very region of death, and land of darkness, saith the Prophet; they knew not God, with the Apostle, "having their understanding darkened, because of the blindness of their heart." All these shadows are dispersed, all this darkness "passed away," when Zachariah's "Day-spring" rose upon them; they are not now what they were before Christ came, they are much enlightened.
2. Nor appear their sins now of so deep a blackness, since Christ suffered for tin in also. Before, we read of nothing; but the idolatries, the vanities, the abominations of the heathen; that they were alienated, wholly "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them," walking after their own lusts, and in the vanities of their wicked mind, being delivered up to "the prince of the air," who wholly ruled and worked in them. But these things were passed over, by the mercy of God in Christ, and even they also received the new covenant of grace and pardon.
And, in the second place, the way of God's providence towards them also, as well as towards the Jews, passed into another mode. It was in old time but a Job, but an Uriah, but an Ittai, but a Jethro, but a Naaman, in an age; an Uzzite, a Hittite, a Gittite, a Midianite, a Syrian, but now and then; Israel was the only Goshen, the only land where the light shone free. The case is altered now by Christ. Indeed, for a while, till the children were first served, or at [250/251] least first offered meat, it was, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles." But when Christ had now completed his work, and was going up to heaven, then, "Go and preach to all nations" was the style; and "Lo, I send thee far unto the Gentiles," was S. Paul's commission, and others' after him. So the partition wall is now passed through, and the distinction of Jew and Gentile, that "old" difference, "passed away."
Nay, secondly, the other branch of God's dealing with them is so too. In those "times of ignorance God winked at" them; tolerated, or at least not punished them, says S. Paul: "but now he commandeth all men every where to repent," says he; the old course is past, God's way of dealing with them now is "become new."
'Thus we have another ground of thanks and praise, that God has not only freed us from the servitude of the law, but from the slavery of Satan; not only from the dusky shadows of the Jewish, but from the dismal darkness of the Gentile coasts. Let not this pass further without a song of praise.
But how shall we now worthily praise him for the next, for making "all things new?" Novus rex et nova lex, a new king and a new law; novus rex et novum regnum, a new Church and a new kingdom; novum testamentum et novum sacramentum, new covenants and new sacraments; novum sacrificium et novus sacerdos, a new sacrifice and a new priesthood; novum templum et novum altare, a new temple and a new altar; nova spiritus and nova vita, a new spirit, and a new kind of life: all new.
(i.) Novus rex, a new king. We have no ordinary one neither: a king with an Ecce, Ecce venit, both in Prophet and Evangelist: "Behold, thy king cometh," says Zachary, and S. Matthew says the same. A king worth beholding: the "wise men" came I know not how far to see him.
(ii.) And with a new law he came, "a new commandment;" "a perfect law; "a law of liberty;" a royal law;" "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." The old law was a bondage: this new one "makes us free," as it follows there.
(iii.) A new Church he came to gather, much different from the old: a "Church purchased by his blood," a costly one, [251/252] "a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish;" much larger than the old; an universal Church--all the Gentiles also new come in--"the utmost parts of the earth," the confines of it.
(iv.) A new kingdom there is come, too; a kingdom above all kingdoms, "the kingdom of heaven;" a kingdom of grace and a kingdom of glory; a kingdom never heard of before Christ's coming with it: no news, no hopes, no mention of the kingdom of heaven, all the old Scripture through; those "exceeding great and precious promises" reserved for us. They under the law were led like children with the nuts and rattles of temporal promises and rewards: Christ first promised a kingdom for the recompence of reward; a kingdom, too, wherein we are all "kings."
This new kingdom (v.) brings a new covenant, novum testamentum. Take testamentum how you will, for a covenant or a writing--and novum either for the covenant of grace, or for a new schedule of Scripture that contains it--we find both "new" now: "I will make a new covenant," says God. And he did so, says the Apostle. But what was it? "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people," &c.; "for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more;" a covenant of pardon and remission, such as the sacrifices of the law could not give, were not able. And new books we have it written in, as authentic as those old ones in the Jewish canon; where we may find all sealed by the testimony of the Spirit, the author of the New Testament as well as of the Old.
(vi.) The new Church has its new sacraments. Ite et baptizate for Ite et circumcidite; baptism for circumcision, and the Lord's Supper for the Passover; in both which of ours there is more than was in theirs, in those legal ceremonies; not only "outward signs" as they, but "inward graces."
(vii.) New sacrifices; "the calves of our lips," instead of calves and goats: the sacrifices of praises and thanksgivings, nay, the sacrifice of a contrite heart and humble spirit; the sacrificing of our lusts, and the offering up of; "our souls and bodies, a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice."
[252/253] (viii) A new priesthood to offer them; "an unchangeable priesthood" now. Christ our high-priest, and the "ministers of the new testament" as so many under-priests, to offer them up to God. Christ offered himself a sacrifice; offers up also our prayers and praises to his Father; has left his ministers, in his name and merits, to do it too. And this a lasting priesthood, to last for ever.
(ix.) We have a new altar, too--so S. Paul--"an altar that they which served the tabernacle have no power to eat of." Take it for the cross, on which Christ offered up himself; or take it for the holy table, where that great sacrifice of his is daily commemorated in Christian churches: habemus, says the Apostle; such an one we have, and I am sure it is "new."
(x.) Temples we have many new: (1) "the temples of our bodies," those both to offer in, and offer up; and (2) churches many, for that one temple so long since buried in dust and rubbish.
(xi.) There is above these "a new spirit;" "not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father;" the spirit of love, and not of fear; the spirit of sons, and not of servants; a spirit that will cause us to "walk in God's statutes, keep his commandments, and do them;" a "new" thing, indeed, that can make "the beasts of the field to honour him," as the Prophet speaks of it; the dragons and the owls" to do so; the most fierce, cruel, and dullest natures bow unto him, that gives "waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert;" that "blows but with his winds and these waters flow." This is a new spirit that is so powerful.
And from this Spirit it is that we (xii.) receive new life and vigour; that we walk not under the Gospel so dully and coldly as they under the Law, where the outward work to the letter served the turn, but according, to the Spirit-in the inward purity of the heart, as well as in the outward purity of the body.
To which, (xiii.) lastly, there is a new inheritance annexed, "a new heaven and a new earth," which we may "look for according to his promise."
And are not these "new things" all good news, worth our [253/254] rejoicings? Can we be ever old, that enjoy such mercies? Are they not enough to revive the dying spirit, nay, to raise the dead one to set forth His praises, who thus "renews us as the eagle," "renews his mercies to us every morning," makes us "kings and priests," gives us easy laws and pleasing covenants, effectual sacrifices and saving sacraments; turns our bodies into his temples, and our hearts into altars; makes us a glorious Church, and builds us churches; inspires us with a new spirit, and gives us a second life, gives us a kingdom, gives us heaven and all? This is the "new" state under Christ, since his coming ended and renewed our years unto us. And therefore, says our Apostle, just before the test, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;" all this "new" work is done upon him. That is the second way we are now to consider the words--that in the Christian, truly such, all "old things are passed away," and "all things become new."
II. He is "dead to sin," and he is "dead to the law;" or, if you will, sin and the law are both dead to him, they can hold him no longer; he is "alive unto God," new created in righteousness and true holiness.
Will you have it more particular? Why, (i.) first, then, the heathen ignorance and error, that is "past" with them; they are "enlightened," they know God and are known of him; they are "light in the Lord," the very "children of it." The heathen sins, they are "passed" with them: in them they "walked" once; "such they were, some of them," but now they "are washed," but now they "are sanctified," but now they "are justified."
Nor are they now (ii.) under so slender a providence as the poor heathen were: God visits them often now, and not only now and then, and suffers them not to go on or fall back again into the old ways of infidelity.
But they are not only out of the heathen condition, but out of the Jewish too; no more in bondage to the law. The sacrificing of rams and goats, of all sensual affections, is done already; the unreasonable part is mortified in them: they have been washed, and need be washed no more; they are obliged to no differences of meats, no Jewish sabbatizing, no circumcision, no one particular place of worship, no legal [254/255] rites or ceremonies; Christ having "abolished in his flesh the law of commandments," says S. Paul, "contained in ordinances." We are now at liberty; he "has made us free."
And we are now (iii.) under a new course of providence. God leads us now by spiritual and eternal promises; he threatens spiritual and everlasting punishments; guides us by a clearer light than prophecy--the evidence of the Word and Spirit; ties us not up to the covenant of works, nor empty ceremonies--these things "are passed;" makes us not rich that he may accept us, but accepts us as we are. He reckons not of us by our wealth, or honour, or learning, or our parts; we "know no man" so now--not Christ so now, "according to the flesh;" we value not any man now for any thing but holiness and righteousness, for so much as he is in Christ. Nor does the Christian value himself now for any thing but for that of Christ which is in him: riches he contemns, honour he despises, learning he submits; all outward and external privileges and commendations he lays at the foot of Christ, devotes them to his commands: these are all old, worn, tattered things, not worth the taking up; nothing now worth any thing but Christ, nothing but Christ, and those "new" things, those graces, are in him.
Thus, "old things are passed" with the true Christian; but (2) "all things" also "are become new" in him, he has a new heart and a new spirit; he has no more a heart of stone, but a heart of flesh,--a soft, tender, pliable heart, a meek and well-disposed spirit, a loving spirit; he is no more what he was, the old ego, he has a new understanding; things look not to him as they did of old, he vilifies the world and worldly things. His affections new, he affects not what he did before; he contemns all things below: he is a king, and rules over his passions; he is a priest, and sanctifies them with his prayers: he lives under a new law, the law of the Spirit and not the flesh; he makes every day new covenants with God; a member of the Church he is, and the kingdom of God is now within him. He is a great adorer of the sacraments of the Church, and daily offers up himself a sacrifice to God--his soul and body, and all he has and pours out his praises. His body is the temple of the holy Ghost, and the altar of his heart burns with the continual [255/256] fires of devotion and charity. He now lives no more, but Christ lives in him: that is the new life he leads, and it leads him into glory. A new thing of which he has a glimpse, and a kind of antepast here, that makes him relish nothing else, but cast all behind his back as old rags and dirt, "to press forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This is the new creature, the new man, in whom "old things are passed away," and "all things become new."
III. And shall all things become new," and not we? Shall all "old things" pass away, and we remain in our old sins still? every thing be clothed with a new lustre; we only appear in our old rags still? Certainly we cannot judge it reasonable. Better use, I hope, we will make of this day's text, of this New-year's lesson. "Put off," says the Apostle, "concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to tire deceitful lusts; and be renewed in tire spirit of our minds, and put on that new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." It is his counsel must be our practice. "The time past of our life may suffice us," says S. Peter, "to have wrought the will of the Gentiles." It is sufficient, it is sufficient. It is time now we unlearn our old lesson, unravel our old work, leave off our old course of life, and begin anew to live hence-forward to righteousness, and not to sin--to God, and not to men. The new-entered year calls for it; the text calls for it; the blood of Christ spent at his Circumcision lately past, which yet this day--and some days still to come commemorate, cries for it, that we would no longer "count the blood of the new covenant an unholy tiring,'' but betake us to it and live by it, alter a new fashion, in newness of life. I call you not to legal washings, but the washings of baptism and repentance; not to Jewish feasts, but Christian festivals; not to sacrifice lambs and sheep, but your souls and bodies; not to old ceremonies, but the new substance, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Let him now begin his new reign in you; let his new commandment of love be obeyed by you; his Church, purchased so dearly, not be cowardly deserted by you; keep his covenant, frequent his temples, adorn his altars, reverence his priests; follow the guidance of his [256/257] Holy Spirit, when he inspires good motions into your hearts; amend your lives, and become all new men in Jesus Christ.
And when all these "old things" shall "pass away," and the new heaven and earth appear, when "he that sits upon the throne" shall make all things new, ''then shall we be all made new again, even these old decayed ruins of our bodies too, and both souls and bodies clothed with the new robes of glory that shall never pass away, but be ever new, ever glorious, for evermore.