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Nathanael Hardy on 1 John 2:2

January 19, 2009

SERMON XXII.

And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John II. 2.

WORDS amiable as beauty to the eye, harmonious as music to the ear, sweet as honey to the taste, and joyous as wine to the heart. Who can read them and not be affected? hear them and not be ravished? meditate on them and not be delighted? Believe them and not be comforted? Diligenter obserranda cordibusque inscribenda sunt haee verba, saith Ferus1 aptly. These words deserve to be written, yea, engraven upon the tables of our hearts, as containing in them that which cannot but afford unspeakable joy to the wounded conscience. The person spoken of is Jesus Christ, whose very name is as a precious ointment; the thing spoken of is a pacification between God and sinners, than which no perfume can be sweeter. Finally, this benefit is set forth as obtained by this person, not for a few, but many, some, but all, and so like the light diffusing itself through the whole world; and therefore I trust, since we are all concerned in, we shall all be diligently attentive to, this precious scripture: ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins,’ &c. Having already unfolded the nature, we are now to handle the extent of this excellent benefit, which is expressed two ways:

Negatively, and not for ours only;

Affirmatively, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1. A word of the former, ‘not for ours only.’ It is that which lets us see the nature of faith. True faith applieth, but doth not appropriate; or if you will, it doth appropriate, but it doth not appropriate to itself. A believer so maketh Christ his own, as that still he is, or may be, another’s as well as his; and the reason of this is,

Partly in regard of the nature of the object, which is such that it is capable of being communicated to many as well as few ; for as the air is a means of refocillation, the sun an instrument of illumination, and the sea a place of navigation for the people of our country, and yet not ours only, those being things so communicative, that every one may have a share in them; nor is one man’s or people’s enjoying an hindrance to another; so is Christ a propitiation for the sins of St John and the rest of believers then living, but not for theirs only, he being koinon agathon, a common good, and his propitiation such as that the participation of it by some doth not at all impede others from having the like interest.

And partly in respect of the temper of the subject, this being the frame of a believer’s spirit, that he would have others partake of the same benefit with himself. The apostle St Paul saith of faith. Gal. v. 6, that it ‘worketh by love,’ and accordingly as faith brings Christ home to itself, so the love by which it worketh is desirous he might be imparted to others. To this purpose it is observable, that that holy apostle, when he speaketh of a crown which shall be given to him, 2 Tim. iv. 8, presently addeth, ‘and not to me only,’ as here St John, ‘ for our sins, and not for ours only.’

To wind up this. Whereas there are two objections amongst others made against the applying act of faith, as if it were a bold presumption in regard of Christ, and an uncharitable excluding of others from having the same benefit, to say he is ours, and that he is the propitiation for our sins, both will be found no better than calumnies; since, on the one hand, faith’s particular application is within the bounds, and according to the tenure of the gospel promise, and therefore it is no presumption; and, on the other hand, faith’s applying Christ to ourselves is not thereby to withhold him from any other, and therefore it is no uncharitableness; for whilst faith saith, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins,’ love addeth, and ‘ not for ours only.’ And so much, or rather so little, of the negative; pass we on to the,

2. Affirmative clause, ‘but also for the sins of the whole world.’ Favores ampliandi is a rule in the civil law,2 favours are to be extended to the utmost; so doth our apostle here this benefit of Christ’s propitiation. Amiplificatio est misericordioe Dei, it is an amplification of God’s mercy, and Christ’s merit, and that

1. Implicitly, in respect of the object, since Christ did not pacify God only for the original sins of our natures, but the actual sins of our life, and not only for one, but for all kinds of sins. The sins of the whole world are a world of sins. What a numberless number of sins are every day committed in the world; yea, what sin is there so vile, so heinous, which cometh not within this latitude, the sins of the whole world; so that this propitiation extends itself, not only to one, but many, lesser, but greater sins. Not the multitude, nor the magnitude of all the sins which are acted in the world, can exceed the virtue of Christ’s propitiation, and therefore though the particle ton be emphatically cut off in the Greek, both it and its substantive are fitly supplied in our translation, ‘for the sins of the whole world.’ But, further, this enlargement is chiefly to be considered,

2. Explicitly, in regard of the subject, the persons to whom this propitiation belongs; and it is set forth with the fullest advantage that may be. Indeed, there are divers phrases by which this universality is represented. Sometimes it is said, ‘He gave his life a ransom for many,’ Mat. xx. 20, and that is opposed to a few. More than this, it is said that ‘he died for all,’ 2 Cor. v. 14, and that he ‘ gave himself a ransom for all,’ 1 Tim. ii. 6; yea, the author to the Hebrews saith, chap. ii. 9, ‘He tasted death for every man;’ not only all in general, but every man in particular.

In like manner the usual phrase of the Scripture, when it speaketh of the subject of reconciliation and salvation, is in the comprehensive word world: ‘God so loved the world,’ John iii. 16; ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world, 2 Cor. v. 19;’ and again, in this epistle, 1 John iv. 14, ‘Him, hath God sent to be the Saviour of the world;’ and yet, as if this were not large enough to this extensive substantive, is here in the text annexed an universal adjective, whilst he saith not only the world, but the whole world. That this is so must be granted, or else the Scripture must be denied, which hath so frequently and plainly asserted it. The only thing to be inquired is, in what sense this is to be understood, and how it is verified, I well know there is much dispute among learned and godly men about the interpretation of this and such like scriptures. For my own part, I have a reverent esteem of many of them, who hold the several opinions, and I could heartily wish that such questions, having much to be said either way, both from Scripture and reason, might be more calmly debated than they are by some; and the assertors on either hand less censorious each of other. That which I shall now endeavor, is (according to the measure of light I have received by prayer, reading, meditation, and conference) positively to acquaint you what I conceive to be truth, and shew you how far we may safely extend, and so how we may genuinely expound, this clause, ‘He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.’

To this end, let your attention go along with me, whilst I shall prosecute two or three distinctions. Distinction 1. This assertion, Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, may be understood either exclusively or inclusively, and in both considerations it is in some respect or other true.

1. To say, Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world exclusively, imports thus much, that there is no propitiation for the sins of the whole world but only by Christ ; and thus we may take the whole world in its full latitude, pro omnibus et singulis, and need not fear to assert that there never was, nor will be, any man, from the first Adam to the end of the world, who did, shall, or can obtain propitiation for his sins except through Christ. Indeed, God (according both to Moses and Paul’s phrase, Deut. iv. 24, Heb. xii. 29) ‘is a consuming fire,’ and all mankind being fallen in Adam, is as stubble and straw to that fire, which must needs be consumed by it, if Christ’s blood did not prevent that consumption by quenching the fire of his displeasure. Hence it is that St Paul saith expressly, 2 Cor. v. 19, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,’ thereby intimating, that, were it not for Christ, the world could not be reconciled to him. To this purpose it is that the apostle Peter, speaking of Christ, useth a negative proposition, Acts iv. 12, ‘Neither is there salvation m any other,’ and enforceth it with a strong confirmation, ‘for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved;’ where that expression ‘ under heaven’ is very observable, as comprising in it the whole earth which is under heaven, with all the inhabitants therein. It is the promise of God to Abraham, Gen. xxii.18, that ‘in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed.’ That seed St Paul expounds mystically of Christ,’ Gal. iii. 8; and Lyra’s gloss3 is, quia nullus consequitur salulem nisi per Christi benedictionem, because none can attain eternal life but through Christ’s benediction; and not much unlike is Beza’s4 note on this place, Christ is the propitiation for the whole world, ut norerimus nusquam esse salutem extra Christum, that we may know salvation is not to be had anywhere without Christ.

From hence it is that may be inferred, which elsewhere is expressed, that since there is no propitiation but by Christ, none can partake of this propitiation but by faith in him ; and the strength of the inference is built upon this foundation.

Whosoever have propitiation by Christ must be in Christ, and therefore St Paul saith of the Ephesians, chap. ii. 12, whilst heathens, they were ‘without Christ,’ and presently addeth in the same verse, ‘having no hope;’ as if he would say. There is no hope of salvation for them that are without Christ. None but they who believe in Christ are in him, and therefore the apostle saith, chap. iii.17, Christ ‘dwelleth in our hearts by faith;’ and those two phrases, being in the faith, and Christ being in us, are used by him in one verse, 2 Cor. xiii, 5, as one expository of the other. The result of both which propositions is, that seeing there is no propitiation without Christ, and without being in Christ none can obtain that propitiation, but they who believe in him, agreeable to which it is that St Paul saith, Rom. iii. 25, ‘God hath set him forth a propitiation through faith in his blood.’

Indeed, this must be rightly understood, and to that end qualified with these distinctions of seminal and actual, of implicit and explicit faith, and of faith in Christ as to come, and as come. Christ is no doubt a propitiation for all circumcised and baptized children dying in their infancy, who yet cannot actually believe in him ; but they have after an extraordinary way the Spirit of Christ conferred on them, and so the seed of faith and all other graces in them. Christ was no doubt a propitiation for those before his coming, as well as us, all of whom only believed in him as to come, and many of whom had but only an implicit, not a clear and distinct, faith in the Messiah. Nor will I undertake to determine what degree of knowledge is necessary to that faith in Christ, which is necessary to an interest in this propitiation ; but still I say, with the author to the Hebrews, chap. xi. 6, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God;’ and that faith is not only to believe that God is, but to believe that ‘he is a rewarder of them that seek him,’ which cannot be without some knowledge of Christ. Since it is only in an evangelical sense that he is a rewarder, and as he is no rewarder of and that seek him, but for Christ’s sake, so none can rightly believe him a rewarder, who is altogether ignorant of Christ.

Indeed, when our blessed Savior saith, John xvii. 3, ‘This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,’ what doth he but as it were define eternal life by the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, this knowledge being both the way and the end, that wherein it consists and that whereby it is obtained? And more fully, when he saith, John iii. I6, ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,’ what doth he but set down believing in Christ as the way whereby the whole world must escape perishing? Finally, when St Paul, speaking of Jew and Greek, maketh calling on the name of the Lord Christ, the means of salvation, Rom, X. 12-14, and annexeth believing in as necessary to the calling on him, what doth he but intimate, that without believing in him there can be no salvation? By all which we may see how miserable the condition of all those is who have no interest in Christ by faith. If no interest in him, no propitiation by him and if no propitiation by him, there can none be had elsewhere. And therefore John the Baptist saith of every unbeliever, John iii. 36, ‘The wrath of God abideth on him,’ a burden so heavy that it must needs press down to hell. And which followeth upon this we may see what great reason We have to pity and pray for all pagans and infidels, to whom Christ, and propitiation by him, is not so much as revealed. Indeed, that heathens who never heard of Christ shall be condemned for not believing in him, I believe not; the light of nature will be enough to render them inexcusable: but how they, not at all hearing, and so not at all believing in him, should be saved by him, I cannot see by any light of Scripture. That those among them whose lives have been eminent for moral virtues might have Christ by some extraordinary way made known unto them, and so be brought to faith in him, I am willing to hope. However, that God’s wrath is not so hot against them as others, yea, that it shall be ‘more tolerable’ for them than many who are in name Christians, I confidently assert; but how without Christ, and any knowledge of him, they should obtain propitiation, and so salvation, I know not. The only charity which we can and ought to exercise towards them who are now alive, is to commiserate their condition, and pour out our supplications, that God would cause the light of the knowledge of Christ to shine in upon them who at present ‘sit in darkness and the shadow of death.’ And so much for this interpretation.

2. The more generally received, and, indeed, most genuine, exposition of these words is by way of inclusion, according to which the sense is, that Christ is a propitiation not only for some, but all, even the whole world. Distinct. 2. To understand this aright, be pleased to know, further, that this phrase, the whole world, may be taken either more strictly or largely, according to a double consideration of this propitiation, either in respect of its actual efficacy or virtual sufficiency,

1. These words, ‘he is the propitiation,’ may be thus construed, he is actually and effectually the propitiation, yea, inasmuch as it is joined with his advocateship. It is very probable this is our apostle’s meaning, since Christ is effectually a propitiation to them for whom he is an advocate; and if so, this whole world must be construed in the same sense in which world is used by St Paul, Rom, xi. 12, 15, where he saith, ‘The fall of the Jews is the riches of the world;’ that is, as it followeth in the same verse, ‘the riches of the Gentiles;’ and again, ‘the casting away of them, the reconciling of the world.’ So here he is the propitiation, not for our sins only (who are Jews), but for the whole world, to wit, the Gentiles in all parts and ages of the world who believe in him. And it will appear so much the more rational by the world here to understand the Gentiles, if we consider that the our here spoken of most probably refers to the Jews ; for St John, who was a Jew, would rather have said your than our, had not they to whom he wrote been Jews as well as be. And this is further evident by the 7th verse, where he saith that they to whom he did write were such as had heard (to wit, what he wrote) from the beginning, and those were the Jews, to whom Christ was first sent and preached. According to this construction, the sense of this scripture will be best explained by paralleling it with those two texts in the Gospel, the one concerning Caiaphas, of whom the evangelist saith, John xi. 51, 52, ‘He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.’ The other Christ’s own words, in that excellent prayer wherein he saith, John xvii. 20, ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’ Thus Christ is the propitiation, not only for us who are of the Jewish nation, and live in this present age, but for them also of the Gentiles who now do, or hereafter to the end of the world, shall believe in him. And, however, the number of them that believe, and have Christ effectually a propitiation to them, is still but small comparatively, in which respect it may seem strange they should he called the whole world; yet considering that whereas before Christ came the believers of the Old Testament were only to be found in Jewry (some few, very few, proselytes of the Gentiles excepted), now since Christ’s death the believers of the New Testament are to be found (as St Austin5 speaketh) among all sorts of persons, in all nations, at some time or other, and so dispersed through the whole world; as they congruously are called in our creed the catholic church, so here by St John the whole world, to which purpose is that excellent speech of St Ambrose,6 The people of God hath its fulness, and there is as it were a particular generality, whilst all men are taken out of all men, and a whole world is chosen and saved out of the whole world. This exposition of these words, as it appeareth not to be irrational, so it wants not the consent of many interpreters,7 not only modern but ancient. The design of St John (saith Calvin) in these words, is no other than to assert this benefit of propitiation common to the whole church. Lest he should be thought, by saying our, to restrain Christ’s propitiation only to the Jews, he addeth the whole world; so Beza. Besides these neoterics, we find this to be St Austin’s interpretation, speaking occasionally in one of his epistles8 upon this text : As (saith he) the whole world is said to lie in wickedness, because of the tares, so Christ is said to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, because of the wheat which groweth throughout the whole world. Yea, the Greek fathers render this very sense of these words; so OEcumenius upon the text itself. This he saith either because he wrote to the Jews, that he might extend this benefit to the Gentiles, or because the promise was not only made to those in that time, but all that shall come after them. So St Cyril,9 comparing this scripture with that of Christ’s in the Gospel, ‘I pray not for the world,’ reconcileth them by affirming, that where St John saith the whole world, he meaneth them that should be called of all nations, through faith, to righteousness and holiness.

That which, according to this construction, we are to take notice of, is the largeness of God’s grace to the times of the New above that to those of the Old Testament. They who, since the coming of Christ, partake effectually of his propitiation, are of all sorts and ages of the world; to which purpose is that acknowledgment which the four-and-twenty elders in the Revelation make to Christ, Rev. v. 19, ‘Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.’ Among other resemblances, Christ is compared by the prophet Malachi to the sun, chap. iv. 2; and among others for this reason,10 because, like the sun, he communicates light, heat, life to all parts of the world; and therefore he saith of himself, ‘I am the light of the world;’ and again, ‘I give life to the world.’ It is well observed, that the first promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, was not made to Abraham the father of the Jews, but to Adam the father of the whole world ; and whereas the Jews call Christ the Son of Abraham, John vi. 33, and the Son of David, John viii. 12, who were Jews, Christ usually calleth himself the Son of man, which taketh in Gentiles as well as Jews. In this respect it is well taken notice of, that the place of Christ’s birth was domus publici juris, not a private house, but an inn, which is open for all passengers; and that not in a chamber, but the stable, which is the commonest place of the inn; for though every guest hath his chamber private, yet the stable is common to them all; to mind us that he who was born should be a common Savior to high and low, noble and base, rich and poor. Besides, the superscription upon his cross was written, as St Cyril11 and Theophylact12 observe, not only in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, but in Greek and Latin, the languages of the Gentiles; and the cross was erected not within the city, but ‘ without the gate,’ to intimate, saith Leo,13 ut crux Christi non templi esset ara, sel mundi, that it was not an altar of the temple, but the world. Indeed, what part of the world is it that Christ’s propitiation reacheth not to? St Basil,14 putting the question why the world was redeemed by a cross, maketh this answer, that a cross hath four distinct parts, which represent the four parts of the world, to all which the efficacy of the cross reacheth. An emblem of this truth St Cyprian15 hath found in the four letters of the Greek word ‘adam, which is given to Christ, which letters are the first of those Greek words which signify the four corners of the world;16 and St Austin17 in Christ’s garment, of which St John saith, ‘ The soldiers made four parts, to each soldier a part,’ John xix. 27, which he conceived to figure the church, gathered out of the four parts of the world. Indeed, this was God’s promise to his Christ, Ps. ii. 8, ‘Ask of me, and I will give thee the utmost parts of the world for thy possession;’ and to his church, Isa. xliii. 5, 6, ‘I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south. Keep not back.’

From this assertion it appeareth that the church is in itself considered a great multitude; and especially the Christian in comparison of the Jewish church. We read of Noah, Gen. ix. 29, that he blessed his two sons, Shem and Japhet, the former a type of the Jews, and the latter of the Gentiles. Now, concerning Japhet, he saith, ‘God shall enlarge him, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem,’ to intimate, saith St Jerome,18 the enlarged multitude of the Gentile believers; and the same father19 upon these words of the prophet, Isa. liv. 2, ‘Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, strengthen thy stakes,’ saith Hoc intelligitur de ecclesiarum magnitudine, this is to be understood of the greatness and magnitude of the church, by reason of its spreading over all the world. It is well worthy our observation, that whereas the temple of Solomon had only one gate, 1 Chron. ix. 24, the court of the Gentiles, which compassed the temple, had four, chap. xxvi. 18: yea, the city of the New Jerusalem, an emblem of the Christian church, hath not four but twelve gates, Rev. xxi. 13, three at every corner, and these never shut, to intimate what a continual confluence there should be to Christ from all parts of the earth.

And surely, beloved, hoc probe’norisse multum prodest,20 it concerneth us much to meditate on this truth, whereby as the pride of the Jews is humbled, so the hope of the Gentiles is erected. Indeed, since it belongs to the whole world, it may well be matter of great joy’, and that such a joy as may put us upon thankfulness for this grace of God which hath appeared to all men, and bringeth salvation, Titus ii.14. That cloud, which was at first but the breadth of a man’s hand, 1 Kings xviii. 44, hath now covered the face of the heavens ; that contemptible stone cut out of the mountain hath filled the whole earth, Daniel ii. 35. Christ is as well a light to lighten us Gentiles, as the glory of his people Israel, Luke ii. 32; nor is he a propitiation for the Jews only, but for the whole world of them that believe in him.

2. But further, these words, ‘he is the propitiation,’ maybe construed in respect of the virtue and sufficiency of his propitiation, according to which notion the whole world is to be taken in a more comprehensive construction. Distinct. 3. To unfold which be pleased to take notice of a double sufficiency, the one intrinsical or natural, arising from the worth and value of the thing; the other extrinsical and positive, arising from the ordination and institution of God, suitable to which this phrase the whole world is to be more or less extended.

1. Christ’s propitiation is sufficient, as to its natural value, for the sins of the whole world, comprising not only men but angels. There is no doubt merit enough in the blood of Christ to pacify God for the sins of the devils as well as men; and the reason is plain, because the value of Christ’s passion depends primarily on the dignity of the person suffering, so that the person being infinite, the value of his passion must be infinite; and since an infinite merit can have no limitation, we may truly say, he is a propitiation sufficient for the whole world, containing as well spiritual as earthly wickednesses; yea, not only for one, but a thousand worlds; yea, as many millions as we can imagine.

Nor doth the dissimilitude of the nature which Christ took, and in which he suffered, to the angelical, hinder but that his death might in itself be sufficient for angels, if God had so pleased. For what crime of any creature whatsoever can be so heinous, for the expiating of which the shedding of the blood of God cannot suffice? and if Christ obtained confirmation for the angels that stand (as the learned generally acknowledge) that he is not a propitiation for the angels that fell, is only from God’s pleasure, not any want of dignity and sufficiency in the price which was paid by him.

2. But when the schools speak of Christ’s dying for all sufficiently, and accordingly some expositors21 interpret this expiation ‘sufficient for the sins of the whole world;’ it is as the learned Davenant hath excellently observed, and solidly proved, another kind of value, to wit, such as ariseth from divine ordination; and thus, though we must exclude angels, and consider men only as riatores, whilst they are in the way, since (as St Bernard truly) the blood of Christ which was shed on earth goeth not down to hell,22 yet we are by the whole world to understand omnes et singulos, all and every man that hath been, is, or shall be, in the world; so that we may truly assert, it was the intention of God giving Christ, and Christ offering himself, to lay down such a price as might be sufficient, and so upon gospel terms applicable to all mankind, and every individual man in the whole world.

To unfold this truth aright, I shall briefly present two things to your consideration:

1. A price may be said to be sufficient, either absolutely or conditionally. A price is then absolutely sufficient, when there is nothing more required to the participation of the benefit but only the payment of the money; and thus we are not to conceive of God’s ordination, that Christ’s death should become an actual propitiation without any other intervenient act on our part. He died not in this sense for any, much less for all. When, therefore, we say God would that Christ should lay down a price sufficient, and so applicable to every man, it is to be understood in a conditional way, upon the terms of faith and repentance. And hence it is, that though Christ dying suffered that punishment which was designed to be satisfactory for the sins of every man, yet God doth justly inflict the punishment upon the persons of all them who are not by faith partakers of Christ’s death, because it was intended to satisfy for them only upon condition of believing.

2. Know further, that though God intends Christ’s propitiation conditionally applicable, aeque’, as well to every as any man, yet he did not ex aequo, equally intend it for every man. It is one thing to say. He is a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world, and another thing to say, He is a propitiation as fully for the sins of the whole world as he is for ours. It is observable in Scripture that some places speak of Christ laying down his life for his sheep, John x. 15, and giving himself for his Church, Ephes. v. 25, and others of Christ’s dying for all, and tasting death for every one. In one place he is called the Saviour of the body, ver. 23, and in another, the Saviour of the world, John iv. 14. Nor will it be hard to reconcile these, if we distinguish of a general and a special intention in God, that the fruit of his philanthropia, love to mankind, this of his eudokia, good will to some particular persons. By the former, he intends Christ’s propitiation applicable to all; by the latter, he decreeth it to be actually applied to some. According to this it is that St Ambrose saith,23 “Christ suffered generally for all, and yet specially for some,” and Peter Lombard,24Christ offered himself on the altar of the cross for all, as to the sufficiency of the price; for the elect only, as to efficacy, because he effects salvation only for them that are predestinated.

Suitably hereunto it is that divines conceive a double covenant to be intimated in Scripture—the one universal and conditional, the other special and absolute; the one made with all, and every man, upon these terms, ‘Whosoever believeth in Christ shall not perish,’ John iii. 16; the other made with Christ concerning a seed which he should see upon making his soul an offering for sin, Isa. liii. 10, to whom he promiseth not only salvation by Christ upon condition of believing, but the writing his law in their hearts, Heb. x. 16, whereby they are enabled to perform the condition, and so infallibly partake of that salvation. By all which, it appeareth that notwithstanding God’s special affection, and decree of election whereby he hath purposed this propitiation shall be actually conferred upon some, we may truly assert, God hath a general love whereby he hath ordained the death of Christ an universal remedy applicable to every man as a propitiation for his sins, if he believe and repent. And hence it is that this propitiation, as it is applicable, so it is annunciable to every man. Indeed, as God hath not intended it should be actually applied, so neither that it should be so much as actually revealed to many men; but yet it is, as applicable, so annunciable, both by virtue of the general covenant God hath made with all, and that general mandate he hath given to his ministers of preaching the gospel to all, so that if any minister could go through all the parts of the world, and in those parts singly, from man to man, he might not only with a conjectural hope, but with a certain faith, say to him, God hath so loved thee that he gave his only son, that if thou believe in him, thou shalt not perish; and that this is not barely founded upon the innate sufficiency of Christ’s death, but the ordination of God, appeareth in that we cannot, may not, say so to any of the fallen angels, for whom yet, as you have already heard, Christ’s death is instrinsically sufficient.

And now what should the meditation of this truth afford us, but matter of

1. Admiration at the riches of divine love to all mankind, and which rendereth it so much the more wonderful that while it is conferred on the whole world of men, it is denied to angels. That God should cause his wrath to smoke against those spiritual and noble creatures, the angels, and appoint a propitiation, a ransom for such crawling worms, sinful dust and ashes, as men are, is it not to be admired at? St Ambrose, speaking of these words,25 ‘The whole earth is full of thy mercy,’ puts the question. Why is it not said the heaven as well as the earth? and returneth this answer, Because there are indeed spiritual wickednesses in high places, sed non illae ad commune jus indulgentia Dei remissionemque pertinent peccatorum‘, but the remission of God and propitiation of Christ belongs not to them. Well may we in this consideration take up those words of the psalmist, Psal. viii. 3, quoted by the author to the Hebrews upon this very occasion : Heb. ii. 6, ‘Lord, what is man that thou art so mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?’

2. Consolation to all departing souls. It is an excellent saying of Leo,26 The effusion of Christ’s blood is so rich and available, that if the whole multitude of captive sinners would believe in their Bedeemer, not one should be detained in the tyrant’s chains. Who art thou then that sayest, Christ died not for thee, and will not be a propitiation for thy sins ? When the door is open by God, why should it be shut by thee? When God is ready to receive thee, why shouldest thou reject Christ, and cast away thyself? View the text well, and tell me litlie whole world do not include thee? Surely omne totum continet suas partes, omnis species sua individua, every species includeth its individuals, every whole its parts. It is both Calvin’s and Gualther’s;27 note upon the word world, that it is so often repeated, ne aliquem a’ Christi merito exclusum putaremus; so Gualther, that we should not think any one excepted, ne quis omnino arceri se putet, modo fidei riam teneat; so Calvin, lest any one should think himself excluded if he walk in the path of believing. Believe it, never any missed of propitiation for want of merit in Christ, but of faith in themselves. Why should I give myself over when my Physician doth not ? So long as I am one of the whole world, and my particular sins are not so great as the sins of the whole world, I will not cast away all hopes of propitiation.

3. Caution, that we do not hence presume of a propitiation without application. St John saith, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world;’ but we cannot infer, he is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; therefore he will be for ours though we live as we list. Alas, brethren! you have already heard this propitiation; as it is universal, so it is conditional; habet quidem in se ut omnibus prosit, sed si non bibitur non medetur,28 this cup of salvation hath that in it which can benefit all; but if no drinking of it, no healing by it. If thou dost not believe, saith St Ambrose,29 Christ did not descend for thee, nor die for thee, to wit, so as effectually to save thee; and in another place,30 more aptly to our present purpose, if any one doth not believe, he defraudeth himself of that benefit which is so general. Indeed, by reason of this condition it falls out, that though Christ be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world; yet it is not the whole world, no nor the greater, no nor an equal part of the world, but a third, a fourth part, a remnant, a little flock, partake of this propitiation; and therefore we have a great deal of reason to fear and tremble lest we miscarry, and have no share in this propitiation, which is so universal.

4. Exhortation. That since Christ is a propitiation for the whole world, we labor to make sure our own share in this universal good. It had been little comfort to St John that he could say Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, if he could not have said, he is the propitiation for our sins. That known saying is in this case too often verified, latet dolus in universalibus, men deceive themselves whilst they rest in generalities. Content not thyself to know that Christ hath died for the world, but strive to be assured that thou shalt be saved by his death. It will be a sad trouble at that day for thee to think, I had a price in my hand, but I made no use of it; I might have obtained propitiation by Christ, but I neglected it; there was a remedy prepared, but I contemned it. And, therefore, let our great care be to gain an interest in assurance of this propitiation to our own souls, that what it is in itself, it may be to us; and it may be for our sins efficiently, what it is sufficiently not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.

Nathanael Hardy, The First General Epistle of St John the Apostle, Unfolded and Applied (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1865), 136-142. [Some spelling modernized, some reformatting, and footnotes converted to numeric values. Italics original, and underlining mine.]

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1Fer. in loc.

2Naogorg.

3Lyr. ib.

4Beza in loc.

5Aug. in Epist.

6Populus Dei habet plenitudinem suam, &c.—Ambr. de

vocat. Gent. 1. i. c. 3.

7Vide Calv. Bez. in loc.

8Aug. ep. 48.

9Cyr. in Joh. 1. xi. c. 8.

10Vide Ambros. in Ps. cxviii.

11Cyr. in Joh. 1. xii. c. 10.

12Theoph. in Luke.

13Leo de pass. Serm. 8.

14Basil in Isa. xi. 12.

15Cypr. de pass.

16That is, arkto, dusis, anatole, misembria.–Ed..

17Aug. in Jon. Tr. 118.

18Hier. qn, Hebr.

19Id. in Is.

20Gualt. in loc.

21Cathus. Serra in loc.

22Sanguis effusus super terram nou descendit ad inferos.—Bern, in Cant. Serm. 75.

23Christiis passus est pro omnibus; pro nobis tamen specialiter passus est—Amhros.in Luc.

24Christus se in ara crucis obtulit pro omnibus, quantum ad pretii sufficientiam; sed pro electis tantum quoad efficaciam, quia pradestinatis tantum salutem efficit.—P. Lumb. dist. seciinda. lit. h.

25Ambros. in Ps. cxviii.

26Effusio pro injustis sanguinis justi tam potens est, &c,—Leo de pass, Serm. xii. c. 4.

27Vide Gualt. Calv. in loc.

28Prosp. ad Vincent, object, prim,

29Ambros. de fide ad Grat. 1. iv. c. 1.

30Id. in Ps. cxviii. Oct. 5.

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