Why The Gospel Is Hidden
“ But if our Gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost.”
2 Corinthians 4:3
In this verse and the following one we have a very brief yet very full description of what every minister of the Gospel ought to preach. In the first place, he is to preach the Gospel–not metaphysics, not politics, not mere morality, notsimply doctrines as such. He is to preach the Gospel, which signifies good news, something new and something good–so good that nothing else can equal it–the glad tidings of mercy for the guilty, the blessed tidings of God coming down to man that man may go up to God, the welcome tidings of atonement made for human guilt! It is also new as well as good–it comes as a strange novelty to the attentive ear. Mythology never dreamed it, human wit could never have invented it, even angelic intellect could not have devised a scheme–
“So just to God, so safe for man.”
The business of the Christian minister is to preach this Good News, to publish to the sinners the glad tidings that there is a Savior, to point the guilty to Christ and to be constantly saying to each individual sinner, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” I care not what may be the learning or eloquence of the minister, though he may speak with the tongue of men and angles, if he does not preach Christ and bid sinners trust in Him, he has mistaken his mission and missed the grand objective for which he was sent!
This Gospel is called in the text “ our Gospel.” By this expression I understand that the minister must accept it forhimself before he can hold it out to others. I am myself to look to Jesus as my own personal Savior–and then I am to cry to others, “Look unto Him, and be you saved, all the ends of the earth.” I must be able to say–
“I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream–
and then, but not till then, I am to cry, “Ho, everyone that thirsts, come you to the waters.” What a miserable wretch must he be who preaches to others a Gospel in which he has, himself, no share! He spreads the table and invites others to come to the feast, while he, himself, is starving! He is like a plague-stricken physician who knows the remedy for the disease and sees others cured by it, yet dies with the remedy in his hand. Ah me, of all the portions, that must be most dreadful in the world to come, as well as most uncomfortable in this present life! Surely it must be the portion of the man who preaches to others what he has never experienced in his own soul. Paul might well call it “our Gospel,” for it had saved him, the chief of sinners, and made him a beloved Apostle of Jesus Christ. He might well call it “our Gospel” for he had held it fast in time of persecution and amid all the perils to which he had been exposed–and he was, at last, to give his life as a sacrifice for it! And it must be “our Gospel,” too, “to have and to hold,” or else we cannot preach it with any power!
In the verse following our text, something more is said about the Gospel–it is there called “ the glorious Gospel."There was something in it that aroused and inflamed the Apostle ’s noblest thoughts. Paul was no boaster. "God forbid that I should glory,” he said–but there was one exception–“save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He did not stand up as a mere apologist for the Gospel, or say, “I can defend it against all comers and maintain that it is reasonable,” but he gloried in it as the best and highest Truth of God–as wiser than all the Stoic’s wisdom and more full of joy than all the Epicurean’s pleasure! He gloried in that Gospel which brings full and free forgiveness to the penitent! That Gospel which takes the meanest and basest of mankind and makes them princes in the court of the King of kings! That Gospel which comes to men in poverty, in slavery, in the degradation of superstition, idolatry and crime–and lifts them up out of the horrible pit and the miry clay, sets their feet upon the Rock of Ages, cleanses them, clothes them, puts a new song into their mouth, preserves them from falling and, at last, brings them where they shall see the face of God and dwell forever in His Presence! It is, indeed, a glorious Gospel which can do all this! Yet, alas, the most of men are like the rooster on the dunghill who, when he found a pearl, said that he would sooner have found a grain of barley–they think more of their corn and their wine, their feasts and their mirth, than they do of the inexpressibly glorious things of the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh, that they were wise enough to perceive the glories of this glorious Gospel!
Paul further calls it “ the glorious Gospel of Christ.” And well he might, for it is all about Christ from beginning toend! Give me a true preacher of the glorious Gospel of Christ and I will gladly listen to him. I would like him to be an educated minister if that is possible, for there is no need for my ears to be tortured by mistakes in grammar, but I do not care so much about that as about the other matter! I would sooner hear Christ’s Gospel preached ungrammatically than I would hear the best philosophy set forth in the most orderly sentences, but with the Gospel of Christ left out. When the table is spread for dinner, it is well to have a clean tablecloth, china, glass and cutlery of all the right sort and in their proper places–but if there is no food on the dishes, all those other things are a mere mockery to the hungry ones who are waiting to be fed! Sooner, by far, would I go to a bare table and eat from a wooden bowl something that would appease my appetite, than I would go to a well-spread table on which there was nothing to eat! Yes, it is Christ, Christ, Christ whom we have to preach! And if we leave Him out, we leave out the very soul of the Gospel! Christless sermons make merriment for Hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class leaders, Christless tract distributors–what are all these doing? They are simply setting the mill to grind without putting any grist into the hopper–all their labor is in vain! If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe!
Dear Friend, if you are unconverted, let me pause here for a few moments to remind you that this is not a Gospel of self, nor a Gospel of works, nor a Gospel of baptism, nor a Gospel of priests, nor a Gospel of ministers, but it is “the glorious Gospel of Christ!” Forget the men who preach it if you will, but, oh, forget not the bleeding, dying Savior to whom they bid you look. Your hope must be in Him and in Him, alone! To Him would we affectionately point you and we pray the Holy Spirit to shut your eyes to everything but Him whom God has set forth to be a Propitiation for sin–
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One!
There is life at this moment for thee!
Then look, Sinner–look unto Him and be saved–
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree!
It is not the tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul–
On Him, then, who shed it, believing at once
Your weight of iniquities roll!
We are healed by His stripes–would you add to the Word?
And He is our righteousness made–
The best robe of Heaven He bids you put on,
Oh, could you be better arrayed?
Then doubt not your welcome, since God has declared
There remains no more to be done!
That once in the end of the world He appeared
And completed the work He begun.”
With this rather long introduction, I now come to the three points upon which I am going to briefly speak, but very solemnly, for I think they concern many of you who are here, tonight. So, firstly, I ask, why is this Gospel hidden fromsome people? what is to be feared concerning them in the future?
- First, then, WHY IS THIS GOSPEL HIDDEN FROM SOME PEOPLE?
It is evident that there are some persons in the world who do not understand the Gospel–and I will venture to say that the Gospel is never understood until it is received. You might have thought that men could very readily understand stand the Gospel until we received it. I am sure that I never fully comprehended the plan of salvation until I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when I did believe, the whole matter seemed so simple that I wondered why I had not understood it before! You notice that the Apostle decreed that it was not his fault that the Gospel was hidden from some people. And although we would not put ourselves on a level with any Apostle, we are as clear upon this point of plain speaking as any Apostle who ever lived! If “our Gospel” is hidden from any of our hearers, it is not because of the fine language that we use! We fear that there are some who, in preaching the Gospel, indulge in such eloquent oratory that their Gospel ishidden from their hearers–but this is not a sin which can be laid at our door. We use what Whitefield called, “market language.” We use a great many more Saxon words than Latin words. If we had to find out the Gospel through the types and symbols of the Law, we might have a difficulty in understanding it, but the Gospel we have to preach is simply this, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. Trust in Him as suffering as a Substitute in your place and you shall be saved.” Can anything be more simple than that? We try to use the plainest similitudes so as to bring the Truth of God within the comprehension of the weakest of our hearers. We make it a matter of conscience, as in the sight of God, to speak to men very simply so that each one, after he has heard the message, is compelled to admit that it has been delivered to him very plainly. How is it, then, that you do not understand it?
Certainly, it is not because we hide the Gospel in a long roll of ceremonies. We have never said to you, “You must bechristened in your infancy, you must have sponsors to promise all sorts of things in your name and then, as you grow up, you must be confirmed and must take the responsibility upon yourselves.” Oh, no! We have never talked like that! We point you to the Divinely-Inspired Bible and tell you that all you need to know is plainly recorded there. We point you to the Eternal Word who became Incarnate and we say, with all the emphasis of which we are capable–
“None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good!”
We bid you not to trust in forms and ceremonies, but to look alone to Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, so that it cannot be for lack of plainness that the Gospel is not understood!
And again, it cannot be because of any obscurity in the Gospel, itself. I will venture to say that there is no proposition in the world more simple than the one which the Gospel sets before us. The formula, “Twice two are four,” is so simple that a child’s mind can understand it. And the degree of intellect which can comprehend is sufficient–so far a intellect is concerned–to comprehend Paul’s declaration, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Or John’s, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life.” To trust Jesus Christ, as far as it is an intellectual act, is a matter that does not require the slightest education–there is no need to sit down and calculate. Here is Jesus Christ standing in the sinner’s place. God punished the sinner’s guilt upon Christ instead of upon the sinner–all that the sinner is bidden to do is to trust Christ to save him–and, as soon as he does that, he is saved! What could be simpler than that? I grant you that as the Gospel is sometimes preached, there is obscurity in it, but there is no obscurity in the Gospel, itself! Well then, if it so, and it is, why is it that the Gospel is hidden from some people? And the answer is that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not.” Let us see how this is.
First of all, the Gospel is hidden from some men because they have never felt sin to be an evil. “Why,” they say, “doyou talk to us about the punishment of sin? Why do you tell us that God punished His own Son in the place of sinners? We believe in the universal fatherhood of God, so we have no need of any Doctrine of Substitution.” So you think that itis a small thing to offend the Most High God, but He thinks it is a very great thing! You consider that sin is a mere trifle,scarcely worth thinking about, but God regards it as exceedingly sinful–an evil and an accursed thing which He will, by no means, pardon except in them who trust His Son, the Divinely appointed Substitute and Savior. If you realized what sin is, you would soon understand the Gospel! If the Holy Spirit shall teach you that sin is the most deadly and most damnable thing of which you can conceive, you will at once understand the Glory of the Gospel that shows how you can be completely delivered from its curse, penalty and power through the mercy of God in giving His only-begotten Son to die in your place! You love sin–that is the fact of the matter–and you suppose that one is no more offensive to God than it is to yourself. Fool that you are, you are fascinated by the serpent that has filled your veins with the venom which shall burn in you forever and ever unless you shall look by faith to Him who was lifted up upon the Cross even as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness that all who looked upon it might live! May God give you Grace to see sin as it really is in His sight, for then will you realize your need of a Savior and you will give heed to the Gospel which bids you believe in Him that you may be saved!
Another reason why men do not understand the Gospel is that they do not understand themselves. Some of you whoare here tonight think that you can save yourselves. I know what your thoughts are–they are to this effect–that if you do your best, if you say your prayers, if you attend church or chapel, if you give some to the poor, then you will go to Heaven. You have not yet learned that all you do is tainted with the leprosy of sin and, therefore, cannot be acceptable to God! Your best works are bad since you do them with the motive that you may be saved by them–selfishness, therefore, is at the bottom of them all! You are not serving God by your good works! You are all the while trying to serve yourselves. If you knew yourselves better, you would know that all your works are nothing but sin until the Holy Spirit brings you to know your need Christ as the very Savior you need! If I am not in need, I haveno need of the gifts of charity. And if you do not know how needy you are spiritually, you will never apply to Christ foraid. But once let the real needs of your soul stare you in the face–that you realize that you are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” then the simple Gospel message, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved,” will be so welcome to your soul that it will almost leap out of your body to lay hold of it!
Yet another reason why men do not understand the Gospel is because their will is not subdued. “We want to know,"they say, "why the requirements of the Gospel are so strict.” Oh, Sirs, that is not the language for you to use to your God! The message to you is, “Except you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” That hectoring spirit which says, “Why is this the only way of salvation? Why is this precept enjoined? Who is the Lord that we should serve Him?”–that spirit has been the eternal ruin of many! There is no likelihood that you will ever understand the Gospel while you are of this humor. Come down, Man, come down–there is no blessing for you while you set yourself up high! May the Lord make you know the corruptions and abominations which dwell in your heart that, in the Presence of the thrice-holy God, you may demean yourself after another and a humbler fashion! But while that wicked will of yours says, “I will not do what God requires,” there is no hope whatever that you will be able to understand the Gospel!
There are some who cannot understand the Gospel because it interferes with their worldly interests. If you take a sovereign out of your pocket and cover the word, “God,” in your Bible with it, of course you cannot see the word! There are a great many men who never seem to see anything beyond pounds, shillings and pence–they never look above their ledgers–they never rise to anything that is Godlike and Divine. They have no more spirituality than so many pigs at a trough! They say they cannot understand the Gospel, but how can they when their understanding has been eaten through and through with the canker of their gold? There are many here to whom I am a stranger, but I should like to put this question to any of you who do not understand the Gospel–Is there not in your hearts a desire not to understand it? Is itnot a sorrowful fact that many of you do not comprehend Gospel preachers because you do not want to trouble yourselves by comprehending them or have an uneasy consciousness that Gospel Truth and your pleasures will not agree? You are like men who are on the way to bankruptcy, but who dare not examine their books to see how they stand! Yet did you ever know a man retrieve his position by refusing to look his difficulties in the face? Is it not the most sensible plan to know the worst of your case and to know it at once? I have known some who did not want to understand the Gospel because they were engaged in a business which would not bear examination. There are others who are hindered by their besetting sins. If the Lord Jesus Christ would grant pardons and yet allow men to keep their sins, what a host of disciples of that sort He might have! But He says that though sin is as dear to us as our right arm, it is to be cut off–and though it is as precious as our right eye, it is to be plucked out! Yet many will not agree to these conditions and, therefore, the Gospel is hidden from them.
II. Now I must try very briefly to answer the second question, WHAT IS THE STATE OF THOSE FROM WHOM THE GOSPEL IS HIDDEN?
Paul says that they are lost–“If our Gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost.” But, Paul, are you notvery uncharitable in saying that men are lost? Preachers nowadays tell them that they will all get to Heaven at last. Ah, Beloved, the Apostles knew nothing of this modern, maudlin “charity!” They said, as their Master said before them, “He that believes not shall be damned.” Our Lord Jesus Christ knew that there was no alternative between believing and being lost. But in what sense are they from whom the Gospel is hidden, lost?
Well, first, they are lost to the church. You may be a subscriber to the funds of the church, you may attend the serviceof the church, you may even be an ardent admirer of the preacher and find a certain measure of interest in listening to his discourses. But if the Gospel is still hidden from you, if you do not understand it and believe on the Christ of whom it speaks–you are lost to the church of which many around you are members–and if you remain as you are, you will be lost to the one great Church of the first-born and will never form a part of the general assembly of the redeemed around the Throne of God above!
It is a dreadful thing for anyone to be lost. I do not know if there is a more dreadful word in the English language than that word, “lost.” Do you remember, my Friend, when you came home from work one night and your wife met you with the sad news that your little Mary was lost, how you hurried from one police station to another? And your poor distracted wife went tearing up and down one street after another seeking for tidings of your lost child! It was her misfortune to be lost in that when themother, night after night, searches the cold streets for any trace of her poor lost daughter! Ah, Sinner, you are lost toGod in that sense. You have turned away from Him who made you. You have despised the love that He has lavished upon you. You have forgotten all the care that He has taken of you. I am quite sure that you are not happy while you are thus lost–how can you be happy? You are not at rest. Your soul is like a ship drifting in a storm with neither a rudder to guide her, nor an anchor to hold her and unless the Lord shall mercifully interpose to save you, you will be lost forever!
What a mercy it is, Sinner, that you are not yet “lost” in the full meaning of that term, as you soon will be if you do not repent of your sin and turn unto the Lord! But even now it is a terrible thing to be lost in any sense–and if you are not saved, you are lost–you must be either the one or the other, you cannot be partly saved and partly lost! I will ask every one of you again tonight to do what I asked my congregation once before to do. You are either lost or saved, so will you definitely decide which word applies to your case and write it down and sign your name to it? I remember that on the previous occasion when I made this request, there was one Brother, who, after sincere heart searching, felt that he was lost, so he wrote down that word and signed his name below it. When he had done so and looked at the word, “Lost,” written with his own hand, and with his signature appended to it–and felt that it might be brought forward as evidence against him at the Last Great Day, it broke the heart that had never been broken before and brought him as a true penitent to the Savior’s feet, so that before that night passed away he could write himself down as, “Saved,” just as truthfully as he had before acknowledged that he was lost! I pray that this Brother’s experience may be repeated in many of you here. Do not hesitate to look thoroughly into your own case. If you are saved, it is not difficult for you to know that you are. And if you are not saved, it is well that you should know it at once! If you think you are saved when you are not, your ruin will be all the more terrible because you had not the courage to find out the truth! If there is any doubt about the matter, let it be cleared up at once. Go to Jesus Christ this very moment! Confess your sin to Him and trust to His precious blood to wash it all away! And then you will be no longer lost, but shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation!
III. Now, in a few closing sentences, let me answer the third question, WHAT IS TO BE FEARED CONCERNING THOSE FROM WHOM THE GOSPEL IS HIDDEN?
It is to be feared that in addition to their natural blindness, a second film has been cast over their eyes by “the god of this world.” That is a very remarkable expression, “the god of this world.” Does this world, then, really worship the devil? There are devil-worshippers in certain far-off lands–and we hold up our hands in horror and say, “What shockingly bad people!” Yet there are also many devil-worshippers in this land! The lover of pleasure–what is he better than a devil-worshipper? It is the devil in his best suit of clothes whom some people worship, but it is still the devil! Worship the devil with the golden hoofs, but it is the same devil all the while! If I were to be lost, it would make little difference to me whether I was lost in a gold mine, or in a coal mine. If I were to break my neck on a slab of gold, it would be no better for me than breaking it upon a slab of stone! So, if you are lost, you will find little comfort in the thought that you are lost in a more respectable way than others are!
When “the god of this world” comes to a man who is already blind by nature, he seeks to “make assurance doubly sure” by bandaging his eyes so securely that the Light of the Gospel shall be still more completely hidden from him! If such a man attends a place of worship, the devil persuades him that he is not a sinner, so that he need not take to him the preacher’s warnings and exhortations. Another says, “I don’t intend to trouble about any of these things–my one aim is to get on in the world.” Yes, just so, “the god of this world” has blinded his eyes! So effectually does Satan blind the man that he cannot see his own depravity! O Soul, what shall it profit you if you shall gain the whole world, and yet be lost forever? What if you shall die upon a bed of down and wake up among the lost in Hell? May God give all of us the Grace to look upon the two worlds in their proper light! If the next world is only a trifle, trifle with it! If this world is everything, make everything of it! As you possess an immortal spirit, think well where that spirit is to spend eternity. As all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God, you are a sinner and you need salvation, so do, I entreat you, trust in Him who alone can save the guilty, “for there is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” but the name of Jesus–and He is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. I said just now that I do entreat you to trust in Him, and so I do, yet this is not half so much my business as it is yours. The preacher of the Gospel ought to be in earnest, but when he has faithfully delivered his message, the responsibility is transferred to his hearers. As the Lord lives, I will take no responsibility of yours upon myself–to our own Master you and I must stand or fall! But, as your fellow man. As one who devoutly desires that you should not be lost, I do beseech you to seek Divine Grace from God to get rid of the scales from your eyes so that you may see sin, salvation and everything else as they are in His sight–and may look to Jesus and find eternal life in Him!
Some of you young men are perhaps going to Oxford or Cambridge. Well, study hard, be senior wranglers if you can, but with all the knowledge that you may acquire, do get a clear understanding of eternal things and seek the wisdom that comes from above. When you wear the degrees which earthly knowledge will procure for you, may you also wear the higher degree which God shall confer upon you as the children of the Kingdom, children of God by faith in Christ Jesus! Sit at the feet of divines and philosophers if you will, but also sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him, for so shall you have honor and glory that shall last forever! Seek after the honor which comes from God–which can only be found by believing in Jesus and seeking to please Him in all things!
My time has gone and your time for repentance and faith is almost gone. May the realities of eternity be deeply impressed upon us all–and may we be prepared–when death shall summon us to stand before God, to prove that the Gospel was not hidden from us, so that we may not be among “those who are lost.” May God save us, by His Grace, for Jesus' sake! Amen.