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SECOND BRANCH OF CHRIST'S PROPHETICAL
ILLUMINATION OF THE UNDERSTANDING.
“ Then opened he their understandings, that they might understand
the Scriptures.”—Luke, 24 : 45.
Knowledge of spiritual things is well distinguished as intellectual and practical: the first has its seat in the mind, the latter in the heart. This latter, divines call a knowledge peculiar to saints; and, in the apostle's language, Phil. 3:8, it is, " The excellency of the knowledge of Christ.” And indeed there is but little excel. lency in all those petty notions which furnish the lips with discourse, unless by a sweet and powerful influence they draw the conscience and will to the obedience of Christ. Light in the mind is necessarily antecedent to the sweet and heavenly exercise of the affections: for the further any man stands from the light of truth, the further he must needs be from the warmth of devotion. Heavenly quickenings are begotten in the heart, while the Sun of righteousness sheds the beams of truth into the understanding; yet all the light of the Gospel spreading and diffusing itself in the mind, can never savingly open and change the heart, without another act of Christ upon it described in the text : "Then opened he their understandings, that they might understand the Scriptures.” In which words we have,
1. Christ's act upon their understandings : He "opened their understandings.” By understanding is not here meant the mind only, in opposition to the heart, will, and affections, but these were opened by and with the mind. The mind is to the heart, as the door to the house : what comes into the heart, comes in through the understanding; and although truths sometimes go no further than the entry, and never penetrate the heart, yet, here, this effect is undoubtedly included.
Expositors consider this expression as parallel to that in Acts, 16 : 14, " Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened.” And it is well observed, that it is one thing to open the Scriptures, that is, to expound them, and give the meaning of them, as Paul is said to do, Acts, 28 : 23, and another thing to open the mind, or heart. There are, as a learned man truly observes, two doors of the soul barred against Christ; the understanding, by ignorance ; and the heart, by hardness: both these are opened by Christ. The former is opened by the preaching of the Gospel, the other by the internal operation of the Spirit. The former belongs to the first part of Christ's prophetical office, opened in the foregoing discourse; the latter, to that special internal part of his prophetical office, which is to be opened in this.
That it was not a naked act upon their intellect, but that both their minds and hearts were touched by this act of Christ, is evident by the effects mentioned, ver. 52, 53, “ They returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.” It is confessed, that before this time Christ had opened their hearts by conversion ; and this opening is therefore to be understood in reference to those particular truths, in which, till now, they were not sufficiently informed, and so their hearts could not be duly affected with them. They were very dark in their apprehensions of the death and resurrection of Christ, and consequently their hearts were sad and dejected about that which had befallen him, verse 17. But when he opened the Scriptures and their understandings and hearts together, things appeared with another face, and they returned, blessing and praising God.
2. Here is further to be considered the design and end of this act upon their understandings, " That they might understand the Scriptures :" where let it be marked, reader, that the teachings of Christ and his Spirit were never designed to take men off from read. ing, and studying, and searching the Scriptures, as some have vainly pretended. God never intended to abolish his word by giving his Spirit ; and they are true fanatics (as Calvin upon this place calls them) that think or pretend so. Hence we observe, The opening of the mind and heart, effectually to receive
the truths of God, is the peculiar prerogative and of fice of Jesus Christ.
One of the great miseries under which fallen nature labors, is spiritual blindness. Jesus Christ brings that eye-salve which only can cure it. "I counsel thee to buy of me eye-salve, that thou mayest see.” Rev. 3:18. Those to whom the Spirit hath applied it, can say, as 1 John, 5 : 20," We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ: this is the true God and eternal life.”
"For the spiritual illumination of a soul, it is not sufficient (says Reynolds) that the object be revealed, nor yet that man, the subject of this knowledge, have a due use of his own reason; but it is further neces. sary that the grace and special assistance of the Holy Spirit be superadded, to open and mollify the heart, and so give it a due taste and relish of the sweetness of spiritual truth."
In explaining this part of Christ's prophetical office, I shall, as in the former, show what is included in the opening of their understanding, and by what acts Christ performs it.
1. What is included in this act of Christ ?
1. It implies the transcendant nature of spiritual things, far exceeding the highest flight and reach of natural reason. Jesus Christ must, by his Spirit, open the understandings of men, or they can never compre. hend such mysteries. Some men have strong natural parts, and by improvement of them are become eagleeyed in the mysteries of nature. Who more acute than the heathen sages? Yet, to them, the Gospel seemed foolishness. 1 Cor. 1 : 18. Austin confesses, that before his conversion he often felt his spirit swell with offence and contempt of the Gospel; and despising it, said, Dedignabar esse parvulus ; " I scorned to become a child again.” Bradwardine professes, that when he read Paul's Epistles he contemned them, because he found not in them metaphysical subtleties. Surely it is possible a man may, with Berengarius, be able to dispute on every point of knowledge; to unravel nature, ** from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop on the wall,” and yet be blind in the knowledge of Christ. Yes, it is possible a man's understanding may be improved by the Gospel to a great ability in the literal knowledge of it, so as to be able to expound the Scriptures correctly, and enlighten others by them, as we find, Matt. 7: 22, that the scribes and pharisees were well acquainted with the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and yet, notwithstanding, Christ truly calls them" blind guides." Matt. 23:16. Till Christ open the heart, we can know nothing of him, or of his will, as we ought to know it. So experimentally true is it, that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual, judgeth all things; yet he himself is judged of no man.”
1 Cor. 2 : 14, 15. The spiritual man can judge and discern the carnal man, but the carnal man wants a faculty to judge of the spiritual man: as a man that
carries a dark lantern can see another by its light, but the other cannot discern him. Such is the difference between persons whose hearts Christ hath or hath not opened.
2. Christ's opening the understanding, implies the insufficiency of all external means, how excellent soever they are in themselves, to operate savingly upon men, till Christ by his power opens the soul, and so makes them effectual. What excellent preachers were Isaiah and Jeremiah to the Jews! The former spake of Christ more like an evangelist of the New than a prophet of the Old Testament: the latter was a most convincing and pathetical preacher : yet the one complains, "Who hath believed our report ? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed ?" Isa. 53: 1. The other laments the ill success of his ministry: The bellows are burnt, the lead is consumed of the fire, the founder melteth in vain.” Jer. 6:29. Under the New Testament, what people ever enjoyed such choice helps and means as those that lived under the ministry of Christ and the apostles ? Yet how many remained still in darkness ! "We have piped to you, but ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, but ye have not lamented.” Matt. 11 : 17. Neither the delightful airs of mercy, nor the doleful tones of judgment, could affect or move their hearts.
And indeed if you search into the reason of it, you will be satisfied that the choicest of means can do nothing upon the heart, until Christ by his Spirit open it, because ordinances work not as natural causes do : for then the effect would always follow unless miraculously hindered; and it would be as wonderful that all who hear should not be converted, as that the three children should be in the fiery furnące so long, and yet not be burned :
: no, it works not as a natural, but as a moral cause, whose efficacy depends on the gracious concur.