[A July 1883 sermon of Rev. Henry Frost Wadsworth, pastor of First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY. Given five months prior to his retirement.]
Yea doubtless and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.
The apostle opens this chapter by showing the difference between legal righteousness and spiritual and Christian righteousness. Legal righteousness was outward and considered in external acts alone and was restricted to certain times and places. While the righteousness of the gospel was spiritual and is produced by the inworking of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, bringing all the faculties of the mind under its sway and control and gradually removing them from all that is offensive to God and hinders growth in grace.
On this subject the apostles religious views had undergone a most remarkable and radically change. For it s well know at one time he had entire confidence in the outward performance of duty as furnishing a proper ground for justification because of his pure Jewish blood, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. Since both his parents were Jews. Also his legal preciseness and status concerning the law blameless in consequence of his rigid observance of it. No one among all the Jews had been more zealous and rigid in the observance of it. Still a great change had been wrought in his views since he heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth calling unto him from the skies and inquiring why he should continue to persecute him or his disciples.
He then for the first time was convinced that his previous ideas in respect to what constituted real justifying righteousness were false and groundless and must be abandoned or changed for others if he would save his soul. That salvation and justification could be obtained in no other way than by believing in Jesus Christ. And for this reason the text contains an honest expression of the apostles views and convictions on the subject of the Christian religion and its author Jesus Christ. Yeah more I count all things but loss not only the things previously mentioned such as all outward advantages arising from the strict observance of the ceremonial laws of Moses. But all other advantages and interests whether real or imaginary which might be derived from its observance I count but loss on account of the surpassing excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.
How few there are in this world who attaches so much importance to the gospel as the apostle did Now all knowledge is important. A knowledge of science, of art, of literature, of history, of metaphysics, and other important branches of learning and a person that excels in these departments of education is justly honored by community. The apostle himself, being learned, placed a great value on secular knowledge. But a knowledge of Jesus Christ transcended in importance in his estimation all other knowledge. And wherein does its superiority consist; first, its superiority over all other knowledge is seen in its divine origin. Every thing which comes directly from God or of which He is the author is necessarily superior to any thing that is derived from man, whether it be knowledge or any other thing. God is an all-wise and perfect being. And his instruction partakes of the same characteristic. Hence there is no volume or book of instruction so important as that contained in the Bible, for the reason it is God’s own book and upon which He has placed his own seal of approbation.
For the prophecy came not in old times by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. And agains it is written all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Hence the best of reasons why the knowledge or instruction our Heavenly Father communicates to us by himself is superior to all other knowledge. Again its superiority may be seen in the nature and character of the subject upon which it treats. Many of which even the wisest of our race would never have thought of. What human being would ever have conceived of a method of salvation like the one conveyed to us in the Bible. Who ever would have thought of a deliverer and savior constituted with two natures – the one human the other divine. The one to treat with man, the others to treat with God and together establish or constitute a perfect mediator between God the party offended and man the party offending and by adjusting their differences reconcile and reunite them as they were before the fall.
Ordinarily the person charged of wrong doing, if proven against him, must himself bear the penalty attached to the offense. This is true under all human governments, among all nations. But here is a departure from all human ways in settling a controversy or in adjusting a difference from the fact that neither of the parties immediately concerned are required to sacrifice themselves or honor or reputation or forego any loss or experience any suffering connected with reconciliation. It is true we cannot tell what grief God the Father might have experienced when he surrendered his son and permitted him to offer up his life on the cross in our stead or in our behalf that we might not be necessitated to offer up our own lives or inflict any other bodily or mental injury on ourselves to the end we might escape the penalty our transgressions deserved.
Hence the atonement necessary to satisfy divine justice and lay the foundation for reconciliation with God was inflicted by his own consent on one who was innocent and who had not been benefitted by any thing the offending party had done or said or caused to be done but who came to our relief on disinterested grounds alone and suffered that penalty for our sins that infinite justice demanded. Nor was there any favoritism shown because he was the son of God and the only begotten son of God – nor because the victim of expiation was sinless – had done no wrong to God or man. Had neither transgressed human or divine law. The punishment inflicted on him was as severe as though he had been the offender instead of man.
The divine government must be strictly maintained. The full penalty must be met before one sinner could be exempted from that degree of punishment his sins deserved. The gospel scheme of salvation seemed to the apostle, upon reflection, as something wonderful and new. His own fruitful mind had never though of the like before nor had any other human being except he had been previously enlightened by the spirit and word of God. No wonder that old things or former views and ideas relating to the matter of the salvation of the soul passed away. And new views of the benevolence and infinite wisdom of God were entertained.
The apostle felt that he was undeservedly yet highly favored of God – Great indeed to him was the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. Again this knowledge is superior to all others inasmuch as by it and it alone there is revealed to us a savior both able and willing to save to the uttermost all them that believe in him. No other savior has been revealed to men or no other way or plan of salvation but has differed greatly from the one which the gospel reveals to us. Viz faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And one cause of this difference between the Christian religion and all others is that the former was divine as to its origin and all others were human. And hence their method of justification and salvation differs in every particular from the gospel method for heathen nations of the earth however degraded have some kind of religion. Some object or being they worship. Some worship the sun, others beasts of the field, or their image – and others still like the ancient Athenians worship some unknown God. Whatever may be the object or being they worship they are instructed to believe that they can please that unknown being in not other way than by inflicting upon themselves severe cruelties – indeed bodily tortures of almost every kind that can be named or conceived or have been resorted to.
How many human victims until very recently have been offered in sacrifice to appease the wrath of the known or unknown being, they worship and have offended to forgiven can describe the horrors that individuals and families in heathen countries have experience through fear they might be the objects, selected and offered to appease the anger of the being or beings whom they suppose presides over them.
What horrible tales of woe and modes of cruelty have been published by travelers and explorers of African and other uncivilized and savage portions of the earth. How different the methods resorted to and required to save the soul by different heathen nations. They all anticipate not only release from suffering in the next world but future blessedness as well. The heathen expect to earn a title to glory through human hardship and suffering but the Christian depends for salvation on the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ. And for this reason among others, the apostle counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. To him and to every believer this knowledge is above all price and embraces our Lord’s divinity, his infinite love, his miraculous birth, death and resurrection constituting a complete atonement for the sins of the world as well as its wonderful efficacy when applied to the hearts and consciences of men. Answering an end that nothing else could – opening a way whereby God could be first and yet the justifier every one that believes in a divinely revealed savior. No wonder the angels shouted for joy when we was born since we were created but a little lower than they – and hence a kindred feeling anointed their ???? and aroused their sympathies in our behalf.
And a knowledge of a revealed savior in the person of Jesus Christ ???? the apostle alone but induced hi at once to employ his time and strength in conveying this knowledge to others for others needed it as much as himself and would be alike benefitted. Hence he says “Wo unto me if I preach not the gospel.”
There is so much importance attached to it that he felt it to be his imperative duty to make it known to others that they might believe and be be saved. Otherwise or without this knowledge they must perish. All our hope of salvation depends upon hearing understanding and applying the gospel of Christ. For a secular reason also our Lord commanded his apostle and their successors to preach it to every creature. Again it is superior to all other knowledge, since it informs us of the interest felt by invisible and spiritual being in human welfare and the means and agencies employed by them to promote that reformation in the hearts and lives of men which produces the favorable results before named – God the Father as revealed to us in the Gospel of his son seems, if I may so express it, less sever in his person and love and government and sovereignty than as revealed in the old testament Scriptures or even in the works of nature and providence. While no man hath seen God at any time the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father he hath declared him.
With his intimate communion with the Father, he above all others was qualified to declare him and how much that is interesting to us has the son of God declared respecting the Father’s love and mercy and compassion towards us. He tells us, in his gospel that he so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. We should have been comparatively ignorant of the deep and abiding interested he has taken in human welfare but for his Son. Besides but for his word, we should not have known whether our souls would survive our bodies – or whether death was not an eternal sleep. But through the gospel immortality has been brought to light while the most wise among the ancient heathen philosophers were left in doubt in respect to the immortality and accountability of the soul since unaided human reason could not clear up this mysterious subject, God in his word has removed all doubt and mystery from the same.
No other mind less than infinite was competent to do so. In this we discover our high calling and destiny since we find ourselves existing after every material thing has perished – not only our bodies but the whole universe. What an experience there is in store for every one in the future. What sights shall we see and strange sounds shall we hear, “When the day of the Lord shall come, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall meet with fervent heat – the earth also and the works thereon shall be burnt up. How thankful we shall then feel to God that he raised up for us a Savior by faith in whom we may escape the doom in reserve, for the ungodly so that it is impossible to overstate the gospel. These are things of temporal nature that multitudes do overrate. But no man can overestimate or too highly prize that which God has appointed to save the soul. For what shall it profit a man if he should gain the [world.]