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I. The labours of ministers are the grand means which God has appointed for the salvation of men.
Men are in a state of apostasy from God, and, consequently, in a state of moral ruin. A desolation, far more dreadful than that which swept over Jerusalem, when her walls were broken down, her temple demolished, and her houses burnt with fire, has extended over all the children
They have revolted from God, and this revolt is universal and entire.“ The Lord looked down from heaven, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy ; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” They are following the vain imaginations of their own hearts : and, continuing this course, they must sink into endless ruin.
They therefore need salvation. And without salvation, it had been better for them never to have been born. For their existence, if spent in opposition to God, 'will be spent in weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
But salvation has been provided : and by God himself. He“ so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Yes, “ The brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person;" who thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He suffered, “ the just for the unjust ; that he might bring us unto God.” A way opened in which God can be just, and the justifier of every one that believeth.
All things are now ready, and whosoever will may come, and take the water of life freely.
“ Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea,
come, buy wine and milk; without money, and without price." “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” “From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse
shall be my people, and I will be your God.” “ Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you; and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” But their reception of this infinite blessing depends upon their turning, each one from his own evil ways. .
Without this, iniquity will still be their ruin. Hence saith God, “Turn
ye, ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye
die » And the grand means of leading men to turn from their evil
ways, are the labours of ministers ; especially in preaching the gospel.
These are the grand means, which God has appointed, for unfolding the glories of his character, as exhibited on the cross; and holding up, to the view of men, that wonderful system, in which justice and mercy meet together ; righteousness and peace, embrace each other.
Not that ministers can, in preaching the gospel, declare any thing, upon this subject, more than is revealed in the Bible; but their labours are the grand means which God has appointed for holding up to the view of men the great truths of the Bible; and turning the mental eye toward
the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world;" that it may see, “ the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Hence, the risen Saviour, just before his ascension to glory, having collected his disciples, whom, by his instructions, he had prepared to be ministers, said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” This was to be the grand means of salvation, to all, in every part of the world, who should believe. Nor was it to be the grand means of salvation, only to men of that generation ; but to men of all generations.
When the first preachers should be removed by death, others were to be raised up to fill their places. Thus a succession of faithful ministers was to be continued. And to them, said the Saviour, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
This promise has been fulfilled. In simple, and humble dependance on him, the apostles went forth, and preached the gospel. And although to the Jews, who boasted of their wisdom, it was a stumbling block; and to the Greeks, who gloried in their philosophy, it was foolishness; yet to them that were called, both Jews and Greeks, it was the power of God, and the wisdom of God. And although the apostles often met with great trials in preaching the gospel, yet they would not desist; for, wherever they went, they found it to be the power of God unto salvation, to all that believed. Many were “begotten again unto a lively hope. "The love of God was shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost,' and, like apostles, they counted all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.'
Every church that was gathered, in that generation, both from among the Jews, and the Gentiles, was gathered through the instrumentality of preaching. They went every where preaching the word.
" And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.”
So has it been, in every age.
“ Faith cometh by hearing." I do not mean, by this, that 'no souls were ever converted, simply by means of the Bible ; or the writings of pious men.
Doubtless some, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, have been brought to repentance and salvation, who never, from the lips of a living preacher, heard
But these instances, so far as men can discover, appear to be few; comparatively, very few.
The Bible, and the writings of pious men appear, ordinarily, to be blessed to the salvation of those only, who hear the gospel. Others may have them in their houses ; but they will generally neglect them. Public worship, and the ordinances of the gospel, will be forsaken. The Bible will be left to moulder upon the shelf; and the writings of pious men be forgotten.
These, alone, are not the grand means which God has appointed, for the salvation of men. And in the gift of his gráce, he honours his own means.
Do you say, that the Ethiopian eunuch came to the knowledge of the truth, by the reading of the scriptures ? Yes, when returning from publick worship; and a minister was sent, to preach to him the gospel.
But do you say that Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian band, became hopefully pious, without ever having heard the preaching of the gospel? Yet so important was it that he should hear it, that God sent an angel from heaven, to direct him immediately to send for a minister ; and he directed that minister, even in a vision, to go, and preach to him. Equally important is the preaching of the gospel to other men.
What nation, or body of men, have ever been led to turn from idolatry, to the service of the liying God, without the preaching of the gospel ? What church has ever
been gathered, even in Christian lands, without the preaching of the gospel ? What body of men have ever been led to remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy; assemble statedly for the worship of God; daily to search the scriptures ; pray in their families; train up their children in the nurture, and admonition of the Lord; and walk before them, in the ordinances of the gospel, except those who have heard the preaching of the gospel ?
What body of men have ever been led to feel that they “ are not their own,” but “are bought with a price ;" and been persuaded, by this, to glorify God, in body, and spirit which are his ? What body of men have ever learned to imitate Him who “ maketh his sun to rise on the evil, and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust ?”
Who has ever seen a company of Howards ; or a single “ Howard Benevolent Society,” among all the generations, and tribes of men, who have never heard the gospel ? What extensive plan of charity ever was known, of any kind, calculated to convey substantial good to men, in any, I might say, even of the concerns of this life ?" But these I shall omit ; for, while I speak it, I see the heavens passing away; and the elements melting down ; the earth, and the things of it, burnt up; and all its concerns swallowed
up in an opening, and boundless eternity. Who has ever engaged in the benevolent plan, of making known Jehovah, in that wondrous exhibition of himself, which drew forth from the lips of angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men?” Who has ever engaged in making known God as a Saviour, coming down from heaven," to seek, and to save that which was lost;” and in opening, upon the dying nations, the infinite riches of his grace, except those who have heard the gospel ?