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II. Secondly-With what is this ministration of the Spirit here compared ?
Turn again to the context, and you will find the answer at once. If the state of the church, since the coming of Christ, is thus called by way of eminence, the ministration of the Spirit, then reference must be had to the state of the same church in all the ages and generations which preceded that coming. This follows as a necessary consequence. There may have been some special allusion to the Jewish economy, but the whole period is taken in, from the days of Righteous Abel till the death of the Son of God. Gospel times and gospel blessings are here set over against everything that preceded them, as it respects favor and privilege, whether it be the services of the men who, in the earlier ages of the world, walked before God in the simplicity of patriarchal homage, or of those wbo, in later days, worshipped with more of external pomp and impressiveness in the temple at Jerusalem. There have been but two great dispensations—the one preceded, the other followed the sacrifice of the cross. The first was the ministration of types and shadows—the last is the ministration of the Spirit.
Let us spend a moment in tracing out the comparison. Good men, in the former of these periods, had their minds turned to one prominent object--the advent of the Messiah ; and, in the latter, the same class of men have had their minds turned to another prominent object-the gift of the Spirit. From the hour of the first promise of mercy in Eden, to that of the devout Simeon in the temple, believers were all looking for. Ward with earnest expectation to the coming of Christ. This was something which they seem never to have forgotten. It made their hearts glad in the land of their pilgrimage. But is it not a well known fact, that the promise of the Spirit to regenerate and sanctify men, prevades the New Testament almost precisely as that of a Saviour to die for them, does the Old ? Ponder well this idea, I beg you. The two dispensations differ, and differ very strikingly, inasmuch as it was the main design of the one to provide an atonement, while it is no less the main design of the other, to apply that atonement. The first was an amazing theatre, erected by the power and goodness of God, for the preparation of blessings ; and the latter is a theatre not less amazing, erected by the same power and goodness for the enjoyment of these blessings. One was the seed time the other is the harvest.
You see what was in the mind of the Apostle. The ministration of the Spirit is put, not so much in the way of opposition, as in the way of contrast to the ministration of external symbols and distant anticipations. The case may be thus stated : Before the advent of the Messiah, believers were all expecting his appearance in our world, and were finding sustenance for their faith in what the scriptores predicted of his person and work. Every leaf of their Bible had refer ence to the seed of the woman. Every sacrifice that bled on the altar prefigured a nobler sacrifice, and the shedding of richer blood. But now that the Saviour is actually come, all these types and prophecies have received their full accomplishment. Nor does anything remain for us, living in these latter days and in these ends of the earth, but to fix our hopes upon the copious descent of the Spirit to convert sinners from the error of their ways and fill the world with salvation. This is our delightful anticipation-Here we take our stand.
The things compared by Paul are, therefore, perfectly obvious. They are simply these-a system of types and predictions on the one hand, embracing as their leading idea an atonement to be made, with the rites and expiations prefiguring it; and on the other, a system of promises and ordinances the main idea of which is, an atonement already made, with the accompanying influences and triumphs of the Holy Spirit. This is the precise point. There we see the Patriarch at his alter, and the Jew in his temple. Here we see the Christian in his church, and the convert in a revival. One lives under an economy whick, notwithstanding all the hopes it enkindles, imposes a burden that he is not well able to bear, and his courage is kept up only by the prospect of better times to come; the other is animated by witnessing the fulfilment of these anticipations.
Bear all this in mind, and you will easily understand the points of comparison. It has fallen to our lot to live in an age of the church different from that in which Abraham talked with God, and David sung of the Messiah, and Isaiah foretold the rising glories of his kingdom. We enjoy what they only hoped for. Ours is the dispensation of evangelical times and blessings, in distinction from all that preceded it, whether in the days of Noah or Moses. This leads us to inquire
III. Thirdly-Why this ministration of the Spirit has so distinguished a glory?
On this head the Apostle is very explicit. He brings to view, as we have just been, the two states of the church, before and after Christ; written, the first of them, with ink-the last with the Spirit of the living God; the first on tables of stone—the last on fleshly tables of the heart. This settles the question. You see where the superiority lies. One of these states included a long season of impressive outward rites; while the other includes a season, perhaps, still longer, of deep internal power. One was a day of forms and ceremonies, the other is a day of life and feeling. The first was characterized
a dispensation, by the prevalence of the letter, which killeth; wbile the other is equally characterized, as a dispensation, by the prevalence of the Spirit that giveth light.
The language of the Apostle is very significant. If a ministration of righteousness is better than one of condemnation; if a glory which remaineth has more value than a glory which is done away; if a permanent, over enduring dispensation is to be preferred to one of a temporary character, then we, in these gospel times, are blessed above patriarchs and prophets. Upon us bas the true light sbone.
This ministration of the Spirit has superseded all that went before it. The ever enduring sacrifice of the cross has come in the stead of the daily lamb bleeding at the alter. The stars though beautiful in themselves, are all hidden by the advance of day, and the dawn of the morning is forgotten amidst the full orbed splendor of the meridian sun. So have the types and shadows of the ancient people of God been displaced and set aside by the superior light of the gospel. These things were never intended to be perpetual. All the symbols, and all the expiations of the law had respect to the present economy of divine mercy, with its simple outward forms, yet rich internal grace, precisely as the shadow of a thing has respect to its substance and reality. What was the giving of the Commandments on Sinai but a preparation for the announcement of the gospel? What was the priesthood of Aaron but an emblem of the eternal priesthood of Christ? What were the spriņklings and ablutions of the temple service but so many figures of the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost ? The Spirit's ministration has come in the room of all that preceded it, and hence it has a glory that exalteth.
Yet this is not the main idea. Christianity bas a glory which belonged neither to the patriarchal nor the temple service, chiefly and preeminently, because the Spirit is now sent down upon the church, with a fullness and an efficiency such as Abrabam and Moses never saw. But the interest of this latter period commenced, vot so much with the Saviour's coming into the world, as with his going out of it. His death, rather than his birth, introduced the new economy, and became the grand and opening event to those larger and more wonder. fal displays of divine grace, which have marked the promul. gation of the gospel. This fact is not always remembered. So long as the Saviour lived, the lamb bled at the altar, and the priest sent up bis incense. But when he died, these ceremoDies had no further efficacy, and they began to decay and vanish away.
Not a little depends on a right view of this one point. It was not so much Christ's advent on earth, nor his remaining bere three and thirty years to weep, and toil, and pray; as it was his return to the Father, that formed the great culminating event, so to speak, in the history of the church's dispensation. Hence the value he himself set on his departure. Thus we hear him saying, and saying it, observe, as a' topic of consolation to his sorrowful diciples, It is expedient for you that I go away. Why expedient for them ? Let his own lan. guage furnish the reply-If I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
You see then the reason of the Apostle's remark. We live under the reign of the Messiah, called, in distinction from all former times and blessings, the ministration of the Spirit; and so called, be it never forgotten, because of the rich effusions of mercy which should attend it, and the large accessions to the church, ordained to set off its triumphs. How fit therefore that the scenes of Calvary should so soon be followed by the scenes of Pentecost! How suitable that the ignominy of such a cross should lead, in a few days, to the glory of such a conquest! The events of the latter occasion were but the appropriate effects, the predicted results, of the former one.
It was really nothing else than taking of the things of Christ, and showing them unto men upon a scale large enough, and wonderful enough to excite the admiration of all ages and all worlds, when under the accompanying influences of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles so preached, that three thousand souls were converted in a single day. Well might Jesus bear his sufferings for a reward like this. Well might he be willing to leave his disciples, for the sake of giving the worlıl such a blessing:
All now is plain. We enjoy what Moses hoped for when he prayed, Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy. glory unto their children ; and what Zerubbabel contemplated, when he exclaimed, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts. What they anticipated, we actually possess—What they saw through a glass darkly, we. see face to face. Ours is the glory that excelleth, just as the twilight is excelled by the clear shining of mid-day; or as the teeming harvest, ripe for the sickle, excels the buddings and blossoms of Spring.
1st. Then we ought to be sensible of the peculiar honor of the present dispensation.
The lines are fallen to us in happy times, as well as in pleasant places. Many prophets and wise men desired to see such a day as this, but were never permitted to see it, except by dim and distant expectation. The work of the Spirit, connected as it is with the death of Cbrist on the cross, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father, is the great life-giving fact, upon which depends i hatever of simplicity, and clearness, and power, we have over the Patriarch with his bleeding lamb, and the Jew with his smoking censer. O. shall we ever lose sight of this noble distinction! We live in an interesting period of our world's history. It was not permitted to David, or Isaiah, or Daniel to witness such blessings. God has given us both the upper and nether springs. We have the mercies of the New Testament superadded to those of the Old.
Let us pause, and reckon up our advantages-Man's exigency required a sanctifier as well as a sacrifice; an influence to renew his nature, as well as an expiation to cancel bis guilt; and, blessed be God, we have them both. The power exerted on the thousands at Pentecost, was just as indispensable as the bloody passion on Calvary; and we enjoy the fruits and benefits of the two together. It is our privilege to live in a day, when we can turn from the wonderful scenes which were enacted in the garden, and on the cross, to the scarcely less wonderful scenes of every valley of vision, upon which the Spirit descends to bring bone to its fellow bone, cover them with sinews and flesh, and raise up an army of regenerated men. What would saints of former days have thought of such things? Never was it told in the ears of the worshippers in Jerusalem, that a nation, like that of the Sandwich Islands, had been rescued, in a few years, from the dominion of filth, and ignorance, and lust, and exalted to a place and a name among the Christianized tribes of the earth. They never saw Zion thus lengthening her cords and strengthening her stakes. Ponder this great fact well, and you will no longer wonder that Paul, with the whole map of the church's history before him, should pass over the giving of the law, and the splendor of the shekinah, and fix his eyes upon the ministration of the Spirit, as a period of glory with which no former age could compare.
Here we live. Ours is the privilege of seeing the timber for the house of the Lord-not cut down in the mountains of Lebanon, but put up and fitly framed together. We witness--not the digging out and squaring of the stones in the hills of Judea, but the silent working them into the Temple of Zion. Prophecy has had its fulfilment-shadows have given place to substance. The Spirit of Christ, following the death of Christ, and sealing the benefits of that death upon the hearts of men, characterizes the times in which we live.
2. The existing period of the church demands spiritual wor. ship, and not pompous external rites.
We are in danger of forgetting this. Man is a creature of earth and sense, and there is alwars a tendency in hin to rest in forms and symbols of divine things. Thousands of Jews were only Jews outwardly, depending on the letter which killeth, and never feeling the power of the Spirit that giveth life. The pagan adores his god of wood or stone, and fills his temple with costly incense. Catholics address themselves to the imagination, and by associating painting, and sculpture, and music, with the services of religion, seek to establish a dominion over the mind. But, alas! there is one grand defect in all this; it loses sight of the fact that God is a Spirit, and that they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Ours is not the time for a splendid ritual of religion. We do not live in the days of imposing ceremonies,