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say, Come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely." Already the angel has registered it in heaven; this only will we add. If there should be any one of you, brethren (which God forbid), who can turn away from this loving Father's call, coldly and unmoved, and go back to the world and to his forgetfulness again; if there shall be one unawakezed by it, unpurified, unblessed; it matters not how amiable may be his heart, how correct the morality of his life, our Gospel is hid to him; it matters not what may be his profession; and let these solemn thoughts ring again in his ears for ever, "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost."
THE FOOLISHNESS AND EXCELLENCE OF PREACHING .
REV. H. STOWELL, A.Y.
gr. PHILIP'S CHURCH, CLERKENWELL, MAY 8, 1836.
"It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."-1 COR. i. 12.
GOD ordinarily employs instrumentality in the accomplishment of his purposes: but he frequently employs instrumentality so inadequate, as to make it manifest that the excellency of the power is of himself. In the procedure of his providence we can often trace this law of his divine wisdom. It was before the blast of ram's horns that the walls of Jericho fell prostrate in the dust. It was with a stone and a sling that the stripling shepherd smote to the ground the giant champion of Philistia. It was before the crash of broken pitchers that the Midianitish army fled dismayed, and every man's sword was turned against his fellow. It was beneath the simple outstretched rod of Moses that the waves of the sea clave asunder, and made a highway for the ransomed of the Lord to pass over. It was a stroke of the same rod that clave the flinty rock, and brought forth streams in the wilderness, so that the waters gushed out like a flood. It was the same rod that wrought the mighty plagues and judgments upon Egypt, plagues and judgments such as the world. had not witnessed before. God puts honour upon simple things, that it may be seen that God is all, and in all, and above all; that the machinery of second causes may not hide from unbelieving man, the omnipotent hand that directs, controls, and effectuates the whole.
As in the procedure of his providence, so still more emphatically in the divine works of his grace, the law to which we have adverted obtains. "For," says the apostle, when he would humiliate all instrumentality and exalt the great agent who employs them, "For, after that in the wisdom of God (according to the good pleasure of his will) the world by wisdom," by all the efforts of unaided reason and by all the researches of human science-" knew not God," but changed the glory of the invisible Creator into the likeness of a calf that eateth hay, and into the similitude of four-footed beasts, and creeping things, the most noxious reptiles, and the vilest insects; after that the world by wisdom, thus in the lapse of century after century of pagan midnight knew not God, upon the bankruptcy of all human effort and human wisdom, it pleased God then to bring to nought the wisdom of the wise and the pride of the haughty, inasmuch as by the foolishness of preaching it pleased God to save them that believe."
The subject before us, then, brethren, is this, on the one hand the apparent foolishness of preaching, on the other hand the real wisdom and matchless
excellency of preaching. May the Holy Spirit, whose it is to give the increase, be present, that his word may come to us in the Holy Spirit and in much
The instrument ordained and employed by God from the very outset of his dealings with man, has been preaching, and that instrument, if we view it only with the superficial eye of unbelieving and sceptical man; if we view it merely as the children of this world are wont to regard it; if we keep out of sight the light given us by revelation-this instrumentality will appear supremely foolish. For how inadequate is the means itself to accomplish much! Preaching is merely the address of one worm to his fellow-worms. He speaks through their ear to their understandings and it may be to their hearts: but after all how little hath human eloquence, how little hath the powers of human persuasion, been able even on other subjects and in other fields to achieve? True, there are on record, strong and striking illustrations of the force of human eloquence, the momentary, transitory force of eloquence; as when the audience of the distinguished orator in former times wrought up by his invective, exclaimed, "Let us march against our foe!" But, after all, that effect soon passed away, and they returned to their coldness and their cowardice as before. And look at the ordinary intercourse of mankind; look at the influence and effect of mere persuasion, and mere eloquence, when brought to bear upon men, and coming in collision with their passions, their interests, and their tastes. What persuasion has not been lavished on that father that betrayed the wife of his bosom, acting a traitorous part to the children that have sprung from him, rushing still down the career of indifference to eternity: how little can all exhortation and entreaty avail with that man! I may appeal to the minds of most of yourselves, and ask whether you are not perfectly conscious how utterly inadequate to accomplish much is the persuasion of man on his fellow man. Many a parent can witness it in the bitterness of their experience: many a friend can witness it after their hopeless efforts to benefit their friends. Alas, it is but too often, that the language of caution or kindness addressed to those who are not inclined to hear us pass by them unheeded as the wind, that just goes by, and may be listened to, but is soon forgotten and leaves no impression.
But the inadequacy of the instrumentality will be still more apparent when we remember, that the first preachers of the Gospel were not highly gifted men, that they were not men that had achieved lofty things in literature, they were not men who had any advantage of station or rank, or human influence to give dignity and energy to their message; on the contrary, we find that they were unlettered fishermen, that for the most part they were men unaccustomed * speak to their fellow men other than in private; and they were men who had no excellency of speech; they were men who had nothing more, humanly speaking, than the honesty of their intentions, and the simplicity of their spirits, and the law of love which was on their lips, and the burning compassion that was in their hearts. Beyond this there was nothing of human aptitude and human excellency to fit them for the high embassage on which their Master had sent them. Taking the mass of the ministers of Christ in all ages, how very few have risen up that have had any pretensions to any thing like transcendant powers of persuasion! Looking, therefore, at preaching in
the abstract, merely as the art of persuasion by the tongue, conveying it to the head and the heart, through the affections, the instrumentality appears to be foolishness.
But if we pass on to regard the grand theme on which the preaching of the church of Christ has ever dwelt, which has ever been its supreme characteristic, the foolishness of preaching will be still more, to the eye of unbelief, obvious and egregious. For what is the grand theme on which the ministera and ambassadors of heaven have been ever led to dwell, in as far as they have been faithful to their high office, and have discharged themselves of their high and overpowering responsibility? They have preached not great and high things for men in this life; they have not told them of conquests and kingdoms here below; they have not told them of any thing that makes for their earthly interest or gain; they have not taught them how they might enrich themselves with wealth, or ennoble themselves with honour, or pamper themselves with pleasures: but what is it they tell to all to whom their message comes? They tell them of one who was in the form of a servant; whose visage was marred more than any of the sons of men; who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; who, while the foxes had holes and the birds of the air their nests, had not where to lay his head; who was despised and rejected of men; who was betrayed and spit upon; who while he seemed to save others could not save himself; who was put to the most ignominious and agonizing death; who died, apparently unable to rescue himself, and was laid in the grave. And though we tell them of after resurrection and after glory, yet what was transacted in this life-what man can understand and discover does startle and stumble the unbelieving and the proud man of this world, so that the cross of Christ has ever been to the Jew a stumbling-block and to the Greek foolishness. The men who have sought to get rid of the offence of the cross, have sought to bury it amid the clods of heartless morality; and they have been ashamed to talk of the crucified Nazarene, the despised and lowly Jesus. And so
it was with the missionaries of a false church, when they went forth to Japan: onceiving that the Japanese would be repulsed at the idea, that the Author an subject of the religion of Christian England was a crucified malefactor, they talked of Jesus in his triumph and glory, in his ascension and power, and in his divinity; but they shrouded up the cross in mystery and darkness: and the result was as it might have been anticipated, their efforts were useless: there might be proselytes but there was not one convert; there might be change of profession, but there was no conversion.
Beloved brethren, how unlikely then was the theme on which preaching is to enlarge, which it is to make its plan and its system, its commencement, its centre, and its consummation-how utterly unlikely and improbable to human wisdom was it that this should tell on the minds of men, that this should exercise a resistless energy on their hearts, that this should act as a magnet to attract their affections, and throw their whole lives into a new current!
And yet more will the foolishness of preaching strike us if we regard how deeply, how entirely, how contrary to the natural bias and bent and determined spirit of man, is that effect at which preaching aims. If it aimed to induce men to put off some conformity to earthly things; if it merely aimed to get men to comply with a few outward observances, and, if we may so speak, to compliment their Maker by just bowing the knee on the Sabbath, or in the
family, or occasionally listening to the preaching of his word on the Sunday; if it would let men, as a foul and apostate church does, commute for their sins by their stricter observances, and pay for their indulgences by their penances; if it would let man be his own saviour, and make terms of his own with his God; if it would flatter his pride and come down to his prejudices, and accommodate itself to his lusts; if it would assume the false apostacy which it has assumed in the hands of some traitorous teachers who have borne the name of Christ-then we might indeed expect that the foolishness of preaching would have some effect. But when we remember that it aims at the heart of man particularly; that its object is not so much to beautify the sepulchre as to cleanse it from its uncleanness, not to cut off a few branches and boughs of the tree, but to lay the axe at the root, to cut it down to the very root, and to graft upon the stump of the tree another and a new tree, a tree of righteousness, that God may be glorified; when it aims not merely just to get men to change profession or creed outwardly, but that it aims at getting men to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye, to go in the very face and teeth and current of all their own evil desires and lusts; when it aims at getting men to "deny themselves," as our blessed Master so emphatically expresses it, to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; to mortify their members which are upon earth, to set at nought the smile and to despise the world that has ruled over them; to care little for the opinion of the world, and every thing for the opinion of the unseen God; to live for eternity and not for time; to make God supreme, not the world supreme; when we remember that Revelation, with the foolishness of preaching, aims at such an achievement as this! thus broad, and thus high, and thus deep, even that a man must become a new creature, that old things must pass away and all things become new-brethren, how utterly foolish, how utterly preposterous and absurd seems the mere appeal of one worm to his fellow worms, to achieve such a tremendous result as this! We feel, therefore, that judging of preaching by the mere wisdom and reason of unenlightened man, it is foolishness indeed.
But, my beloved brethren, let us let in a new light upon the subject; let us bring it to the lamp of revelation, and find what illumination we can derive from that only fountain of truth and sound judgment in all things. The wisdom and the excellency of preaching may be argued, inasmuch as it is an ordinance of almighty God. Alas, there have been multifarious and endless disputes about the succession of the ministry of the Gospel: but these very disputes do themselves go to prove this much at least, that the ministry of the Gospel was assuredly appointed by the great author of the Gospel. And without entering into the tangled mazes of controversy, we may surely at least say this, that He who appointed that ordinance, designed by whatever means to perpetuate that ordinance, and that the ministry of the Gospel is of divine appointment. God himself called it into existence; it was the machinery he was pleased to employ to carry on, and to carry forward the kingdom of his Christ. If any men are disposed to find fault with it and say, "Why not let the written Gospel speak for itself? Why not send an angel, or a seraph from the throne of glory with the message; why not let a voice from the throne of God be heard in thunder pealing to the hearts of all his creatures?"-we answer, "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" Rather be it ours