Christ's Prophetic Office
'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet' (Deut. 18:5).
Having spoken of the person of Christ, we are next to speak of the offices of Christ. These are Prophetic, Priestly, and Regal.
'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet.' Enunciatur hic locus de Christo. 'It is spoken of Christ.' There are several names given to Christ as a Prophet. He is called 'the Counsellor' in Isaiah 9:6. In uno Christo Angelus faederis completur [The Messenger of the Covenant appears in Christ alone]. Fagius. 'The Angel of the covenant' (Mal. 3:1). 'A Lamp' (2 Sam. 22:29). 'The Morning Star' (Rev. 22:16). Jesus Christ is the great Prophet of his church. The woman of Samaria gave a shrewd guess (John 4:19). He is the best teacher; he makes all other teaching effectual. 'Then opened he their understanding' (Luke 24:45). He not only opened the Scriptures, but opened their understanding. He teaches to profit. 'I am the Lord thy God, who teacheth thee to profit' (Is. 48:17).
How does Christ teach?
(1) Externally, by his Word. 'Thy word is a lamp to my feet' (Ps. 119:105). Such as pretend to have a light or revelation above the Word, or contrary to it, never had their teaching from Christ (Is. 8:20).
(2) Christ teaches these sacred mysteries, inwardly, by the Spirit (John 16:13). The world knows not what it is. 'The natural man receives not the things of God, neither can he know them' (1 Cor. 2:14). He knows not what it is to be transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2), or what the inward workings of the Spirit mean; these are riddles and paradoxes to him. He may have more insight into the things of the world than a believer, but he does not see the deep things of God. A swine may see an acorn under a tree, but he cannot see a star. He who is taught of Christ sees the arcana imperii [state secrets], the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
What are the lessons which Christ teaches?
He teaches us to see into our own hearts. Take the most mercurial wits, the greatest politicians, that understand the mysteries of state, they know not the mysteries of their own hearts, they cannot believe the evil that is in them. 'Is thy servant a dog' (2 Kings 8:13)? Grande profundum est homo. Augustine. The heart is a great deep, which is not easily fathomed. But when Christ teaches he removes the veil of ignorance, and lights a man into his own heart; and now that he sees swarms of vain thoughts, he blushes to see how sin mingles with his duties, his stars are mixed with clouds; he prays, as Augustine, that God would deliver him from himself.
The second lesson Christ teaches is the vanity of the creature. A natural man sets up his happiness here, and worships the golden image; but he that Christ has anointed with his eye-salve has a spirit of discerning; he looks upon the creature in its night-dress, sees it to be empty and unsatisfying, and not commensurate to a heaven-born soul. Solomon had put all the creatures into a still, and when he came to extract the spirit and quintessence, all was vanity (Eccl. 2:11). The apostle calls it a show or apparition, having no intrinsic goodness (1 Cor. 7:31).
The third lesson is the excellency of things unseen. Christ gives the soul a sight of glory, a prospect of eternity. 'We look not at things which are seen, but at things which are not seen' (2 Cor. 4:18). Moses saw him who is 'invisible' (Heb. 11:27). And the patriarchs saw a better country, viz. an heavenly, where are delights of angels, rivers of pleasure, the flower of joy, fully ripe and blown (Heb. 11:16).
How does Christ's teaching differ from other teaching?
(1) Christ teaches the heart. Others may teach the ear, Christ the heart. 'Whose heart the Lord opened' (Acts 16:14). All that the dispensers of the word can do is but to work knowledge, Christ works grace: they can but give the light of the truth; Christ gives the love of the truth; they can only teach what to believe, Christ teaches how to believe.
(2) Christ gives us a taste of the word. Ministers may set the food of the word before you, and carve it out to you; but it is only Christ can cause you to taste it. 'If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious' (1 Pet. 2:3). 'Taste and see that the Lord is good' (Ps. 34:8). It is one thing to hear a truth preached, another thing to taste it; one thing to read a promise, another thing to taste it. David had got a taste of the word. 'Thou hast taught me: How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth' (Ps. 119:102, 103). The apostle calls it the savour of knowledge (2 Cor. 2:14). The light of knowledge is one thing, the savour another. Christ makes us taste a savouriness in the word.
(3) When Christ teaches, he makes us obey. Others may instruct, but cannot command obedience: they teach to be humble, but men remain proud. The prophet had been denouncing judgments against the people of Judah, but they would not hear. 'We will do whatsoever goeth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven' (Jer. 44:17). Men come as it were, armed in a coat of mail that the sword of the word will not enter; but when Christ comes to teach, he removes this obstinacy; he not only informs the judgment, but inclines the will. He does not only come with the light of his word, but the rod of his strength, and makes the stubborn sinner yield to him. His grace is irresistible.
(4) Christ teaches easily. Others teach with difficulty. They have difficulty in finding out a truth, and in inculcating it. 'Precept must be upon precept, and line upon line' (Is. 28:10). Some may teach all their lives, and the word take no impression. They complain, 'I have spent my labour in vain' (Is. 49:4); plowed on rocks; but Christ the great Prophet teaches with ease. He can with the least touch of his Spirit convert: he can say, 'Let there be light;' with a word he can convey grace.
(5) When Christ teaches he makes men willing to learn. Men may teach others, but they have no mind to learn. 'Fools despise instruction' (Prov. 1:7). They rage at the word, as if a patient should rage at the physician when he brings him a cordial; thus backward are men to their own salvation. But Christ makes his people a 'willing people' (Ps. 110:3). They prize knowledge, and hang it as a jewel upon their ear. Those that Christ teaches say, 'Come let us go up to the mountains of the Lord, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in them' (Is. 2:3); and as Acts10:33; 'We are all here present before God, to hear all things commanded.'
(6) When Christ teaches, he not only illuminates but animates. He so teaches, that he quickens. 'I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall have lumen vitae, the light of life' (John 8:12). By nature we are dead, therefore unfit for teaching. Who will make an oration to the dead? But Christ teaches them that are dead! he gives the light of life. As when Lazarus was dead, Christ said, 'Come forth,' and he made the dead to hear, for Lazarus came forth: so when he says to the dead soul, Come forth of the grave of unbelief, he hears Christ's voice, and comes forth, it is the light of life. The philosophers say, calor et lux concrescunt, 'heat and light increase together.' Where Christ comes with his light, there is the heat of spiritual life going along with it.
Use one: Of information. (1) See here an argument of Christ's Divinity. Had he not been God, he could never have known the mind of God, or revealed to us those arcana caeli [the secrets of Heaven], those deep mysteries, which no man or angel could find out. Who but God can anoint the eyes of the blind, and give not only light, but sight? Who but he, who has the key of David, can open the heart? Who but God can bow the iron sinew of the will? He only who is God can enlighten the conscience, and make the stony heart bleed.
(2) See what a cornucopia, or plenty of wisdom is in Christ, who is the great doctor of his church, and gives saving knowledge to all the elect. The body of the sun must needs be full of clearness and brightness, which enlightens the whole world. Christ is the great luminary; in him are hid all treasures of knowledge (Col. 2:3). The middle lamp of the sanctuary gave light to all the other lamps; so Christ diffuses his glorious light to others. We are apt to admire the learning of Aristotle and Plato; alas! what is this poor spark of light to that which is in Christ, from whose infinite wisdom both men and angels light their lamps.
(3) See the misery of man in the state of nature. Before Christ becomes their prophet they are enveloped in ignorance and darkness. Men know nothing in a sanctified manner, they know nothing as they ought to know (1 Cor. 8:2). This is sad. Men in the dark cannot discern colours; so in the state of nature they cannot discern between morality and grace; they take one for the other, pro dea nubem [They mistake the cloud for the goddess herself]. In the dark the greatest beauty is hid. Let there be rare flowers in the garden, and pictures in the room, in the dark their beauty is veiled over; so, though there be such transcendent beauty in Christ as amazes the angels, man in the state of nature sees none of this beauty. What is Christ to him? or heaven to him? The veil is upon his heart. A man in the dark is in danger every step he takes; so man in the state of nature is in danger, at every step, of falling into hell. Thus it is before Christ teaches us; nay, the darkness in which a sinner is, while in an unregenerate state, is worse than natural darkness; for natural darkness affrights. 'An horror of great darkness fell upon Abraham' (Gen. 15:12). But the spiritual darkness is not accompanied with horror, men tremble not at their condition; nay, they like their condition well enough. 'Men loved darkness' (John 3:19). This is their sad condition, till Jesus Christ comes as a prophet to teach them, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.
(4) See the happy condition of the children of God. They have Christ to be their prophet. 'All thy children shall be taught of the Lord' (Is. 54:13). 'He is made to us wisdom' (1 Cor. 1:30). One man cannot see by another's eyes; but believers see with Christ's eyes. 'In his light they see light.' Christ gives them the light of grace and the light of glory.
Use two: Labour to have Christ for your prophet. He teaches savingly: he is an interpreter of a thousand, he can untie those knots which puzzle angels. Till Christ teach, we never learn any lesson; till Christ is made to us wisdom, we shall never be wise to salvation.
What shall we do to have Christ for our teacher?
(1) See your need of Christ's teaching. You cannot see your way without this morning star. Some speak much of the light of reason improved: alas! the plumb-line of reason is too short to fathom the deep things of God; the light of reason will no more help a man to believe, than the light of a candle will help him to understand. A man can no more by the power of nature reach Christ, than an infant can reach the top of the pyramids, or the ostrich fly up to the stars. See your need of Christ's anointing and teaching in Revelation 3:18.
(2) Go to Christ to teach you. 'Lead me in thy truth, and teach me' (Ps. 25:5). As one of the disciples said, 'Lord, teach us to pray' (Luke 11:1), so say, Lord, teach me to profit. Do thou light my lamp, O thou great prophet of thy church! Give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation, that I may see things in another manner than I ever saw them before; teach me in the word to hear thy voice, and in the sacrament to discern thy body. 'Lighten mine eyes' (Ps. 13:3). Cathedram habet in caelo qui corda docet in terra. Augustine. 'He has his pulpit in heaven who converts souls.' That we may be encouraged to go to our great Prophet:
(1) Jesus Christ is very willing to teach us. Why else did he enter into the calling of the ministry, but to teach the mysteries of heaven? 'Jesus went about teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people' (Matt. 4:2, 3). Why did he take the prophetic office upon him? Why was Christ so angry with them that kept away the key of knowledge (Luke 11:53)? Why was Christ anointed with the Spirit without measure, but that he might anoint us with knowledge? Knowledge is in Christ for us as milk in the breast for the child. Oh then go to Christ for teaching. None in the gospel came to Christ for sight, but he restored their eyesight; and sure Christ is more willing to work a cure upon a blind soul than ever he was to do so upon a blind body.
(2) There are none so dull and ignorant but Christ can teach them. Every one is not fit to make a scholar of; ex omni ligno non fit Mercurius; but there is none so dull but Christ can make him a good scholar. Even such as are ignorant, and of low parts, Christ teaches in such a manner that they know more than the great sages and wise men of the world. Hence that saying of Augustine, surgunt indocti, et rapiunt coelum; the unlearned men rise up, and take heaven; they know the truths of Christ more savingly than the great admired Rabbis. The duller the scholar the more is his skill seen that teaches. Hence it is, that Christ delights in teaching the ignorant, to get himself more glory. 'The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped' (Is. 35:5). Who would go to teach a blind or a deaf man? Yet such dull scholars Christ teaches. Such as are blinded with ignorance shall see the mysteries of the gospel, and the deaf ears shall be unstopped.
(3) Wait upon the means of grace which Christ has appointed. Though Christ teaches by his Spirit, yet he teaches in the use of ordinances. Wait at the gates of wisdom's door. Ministers are teachers under Christ. 'Pastors and teachers' (Eph. 4:11). We read of pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers (Judges 7:16). Ministers are earthen vessels, but these pitchers have lamps within them to light souls to heaven. Christ is said to speak to us from heaven now, by his ministers, as the king speaks by his ambassador (Heb. 12:25). Such as wean themselves from the breast of ordinances seldom thrive; either they grow light in their head, or lame in their feet. The word preached is Christ's voice in the mouth of the minister; and those that refuse to hear Christ speaking in the ministry, Christ will refuse to hear speaking on their death-bed.
(4) If you would have the teachings of Christ, walk according to the knowledge which you have already. Use your little knowledge well, and Christ will teach you more. 'If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself' (John 7:17). A master seeing his servant improve a little stock well gives him more to trade with.
Use three: If you have been taught by Christ savingly, be thankful. It is your honour to have God for your teacher, and that he should teach you, and not others, is a matter of admiration and congratulation. Oh how many knowing men are ignorant! They are not taught of God; they have Christ's Word to enlighten them, but not his Spirit to sanctify them. But that you should have the inward as well as the outward teaching, that Christ should anoint you with the heavenly unction of his Spirit, that you can say, as he in John 9:25, 'One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.' Oh, how thankful should you be to Christ, who has revealed his Father's bosom secrets unto you! 'No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him' (John 1:18). If Alexander thought himself so much obliged to Aristotle for the philosophic instruction he received from him, oh, how are we obliged to Jesus Christ, this great Prophet, for opening to us the eternal purposes of his love, and revealing to us the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven!