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SALVATION OFFERED TO ALL.
"A KING publishes a wide and unexcepted amnesty to the people of a rebellious district in his empire, upon the bare act of each presenting himself, within a limited period, before an authorised agent, and professing his purposes of future royalty. Does it at all detract from the clemency of this deed of grace, that many of the rebels feel a strong reluctance to this personal exhibition of themselves, and that the reluctance strengthens and accumulates upon them by every day of their postponement; and that, even before the season of mercy has expired, it has risen to such a degree of aversion on their parts as to form a moral barrier in the way of their prescribed return that is altogether impassable? Will you say, because there is no forgiveness to them, there is any want of amplitude in that character of forgiveness which is proclaimed in the hearing of all; or that pardon has not been provided for every offence, because some offenders are to be found with such a degree of perverseness and of obstinacy in their bosom, as constrains them to a determined refusal of all pardon? The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin; and there is not a human creature who, let him repent and believe, will ever find the crimson inveteracy of his manifold offences to be beyond the reach of its purifying and its peace-speaking power. And tell us if it detract, by a single iota, from the omnipotence of this great Gospel remedy, that there are many sinners in the world who refuse to lay hold on it? To the hour of death it is within the reach of all and of any who will. This is the period in the history of each individual, at which this great act of amnesty expires: and, to the last minute of his life, it is competent for me, and for every minister of the Gospel, to urge it upon him, in all the largeness, and in all the universality which belong to it; and to assure him, that there is not a single deed of wickedness with which his faithful memory now agonizes him, not one habit of disobedience that now clothes his retrospect of the past in the sad colouring of despair, all the guilt of which, the blood of the Saviour cannot do away.
"But, though we may offer that is not to say that he will accept: though we may proclaim, and urge the proclamation in his hearing, with every tone of truth and of tenderness-that is not to say, that our voice will enter with power, or make its resistless way through those avenues of his heart, where he has done so much to rear a defending barrier, that may prove to be impenetrable. Though there be truth in our every announcement-that is not to say that the demonstration of the Spirit will accompany it even that Spirit who, long ere now, may have left to himself the man who, his whole life long, has grieved and resisted him. It is still true that the pardon lies at his acceptance; and it may be as true, that there can be no pardon to him, because he has brought such an inveterate blindness upon his soul, that he will neither receive the truth nor love it, nor feel those genuine impulses by which it softens the heart of man to repentance. And thus it is, that while the blood of Christ cleanseth the every sin of every believer, the sin against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven; because, with this sin, and with its consequences upon him, man wills not, and repents not, and believes not."-DR. CHALMERS.
THE GOSPEL TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS.
REV. J. SHERMAN,
SPA FIELDS CHAPEL, JUNE 26, 1836
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."-2 CORINTHIANS, iv. 7.
THERE is often great occasion for fear, my brethren, lest the ministers of Christ who are extensively useful, should by that usefulness be lifted up above measure, and thereby by the very exaltation of mind, through their own usefulness, become independent of divine influence. To prevent this God often suffers them to be tempted with most grievous temptations; to be assaulted in a variety of ways above those who hear the Gospel; to have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet them. Often he humbles them amongst the people to whom they minister, gives them such a deep experience of their own emptiness, weakness, and unworthiness, as most painfully proves to them, and convinces them, that without him they can do nothing.
And there is great occasion for fear, lest the people who are blessed under their ministrations should think of them more highly than they ought to think. This is often the case, especially with young converts, and those who receive the first serious impressions through their instrumentality. It is to be expected, my dear brethren, that the soul which has been in the darkness of death will naturally love the man whose hand first held out to them the torch of life, and led them into the enjoyment of light and life. It is to be expected that they who have been in the miry clay of despair, whose feet have stuck fast in the horrible pit of conviction and deep agony respecting their everlasting welfare, it is to be expected that such persons will love the man, who first throws out to them the threefold cord of divine love, raises them up out of the pit, and plants their feet fast on the Rock of eternal ages, whereby they may sing a new song of love and joy to the great High Priest of their profession. It is to be expected that many of these individuals, who are full of sorrow on account of the miseries that await them, who are so deeply convinced of their guilt that they cannot ever look up to heaven with any degree of hope or joy -I say, it is to be expected, that they will love the man who tells them first of pardon in Christ, welcomes them to come to him, and to rejoice in the possession and enjoyment of a full, free, and everlasting pardon of all their iniquities. O! the pangs of the guilty state are so dreadful, and the joys of the pardoned state are so great, that he who passes from the one to the other by the instrumentality of any individual, will naturally, will necessarily, and ought scripturally, to love the man by whom he has received such mercies.
But there is a great fear, that afthough this is quite right to a certain extent, there is a great fear, beloved, lest this love should degenerate into partiality, so that they should never be able to hear any individual as they hear that man; that they should never receive the Gospel from other lips as they have received it from his. In consequence of this, we find a great portion of the third chapter of the first of Corinthians taken up in shewing the necessity of this partiality being done away with, and that form of real love to all the ministers of Jesus Christ, as bearers of the same great truths, established in its place. In consequence of this love degenerating into partiality, you find that the members of the church at Corinth divided themselves into companies. One said, "I am for Paul;" another said, "I am for Apollos;" another said, "I am for Cephas;" and another said, “I am for Christ." One said, "I am for Paul, the most solemn and profound preacher ;" another said, "I am for Apollos, the most lively and florid orator;" another said, "I am for Cephas, the most affectionate and zealous pleader." "But," says the apostle, "this is all wrong, this formation into parties; this is not according to the spirit of the Gospel, nor according to the obligations under which you are laid to divine grace. No; I have planted, and Apollos has watered: I have introduced you into the knowledge of Christ, and Apollos has come after me and watered the seed that was sown, and been the instrument of raising you up as trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. I have planted, and Apollos has watered, but God gave the increase: so then neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth, but God that gave the increase."
And in this chapter his aim is quite the same. The whole of the preceding chapter to that from which the text is taken, is taken up by shewing the excellency and the superiority of the Gospel dispensation to that of the law. That was the ministration of condemnation, this is the ministration of righteousness; that was the ministry of death, this is the ministry of life. So after having stated the nature and excellency of that dispensation, he comes in this to shew how this dispensation was used by themselves; the manner in which they preached and sent forth the Gospel to the world, which he has been describing in the preceding chaper. "Therefore," he says, "seeing we have this ministry, this revelation, intrusted to us, as we have received mercy, we faint not. We have received mercy ourselves; have tasted how sweet it was to have our sins pardoned; and we cannot but tell of the things we have tasted, and handled, and felt. And many a time when we have stood up to testify of the Gospel of the grace of God, mercy has been offered to us by the hour, and by the hope of divine mercy sustaining us in our ministry we fainted not. And this is the way we have prosecuted our labours, we have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." But as if he should say, "If any of you should possibly think that it is on account of our dispensing the Gospel in this manner, it has become quite successful, and therefore the honour of this dispensation, and its success, belongs to us, we have to tell you different from this; for the same God that commanded the light first to shine out of darkness, and reduced order out of confusion, the very same God hath commanded light to shine into men's minds; and hence, has given them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: as to our
selves, what are we? We have the treasure, it is true; but the treasure is in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
I intend this morning, therefore, by divine assistance, to confirm these truths which have been opened to you in the introduction of this discourse this morning. The text shews, you perceive, the excellency of the Gospel as it is here declared: it is a "treasure." It shews the character of the instruments who disseminate this treasure; they are "earthen vessels:" and it shews you why such instruments are used to disseminate this treasure; "that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
First, then, you will perceive, THE EXCELLENCY OF THE GOSPEL, as it is here declared. It is a "treasure." Now a treasure is, of course, something very excellent. The term is generally so applied and so used; and the Gospel is particularly and especially a treasure, for its value, for its abundance, and for its duration. Look at each of these.
The Gospel is described in the word of God as a treasure for its value. A treasure imports something valuable; and what, my brethren, so valuable as the Gospel? I am well aware, that to many minds, and, perhaps, many in this place, the Gospel is not estimated as a very great treasure. They are drawn to the house of God; they come, perhaps, from habit, perhaps from duty; they hear the Gospel, and pass to their own homes, and to them it seems as a matter of course. But, perhaps, there is some mind in this house this morning, who during the past day of the week may have been convicted of his own guilt, seen his own danger developed by the exhibition of the law of God to his conscience, seen his approaching misery which is coming upon him when he dies. And if I can but lay hold of that conscience this morning, by declaring to it the nature of the Gospel; I know that that mind, if there be any one in this whole place, will say, that the Gospel is a treasure.
Beloved, what can be so valuable as the Gospel? Is a Saviour of any value to the lost and the guilty? Why this is a revelation of Christ, and of salvation by him. It is "the Gospel of Christ;" it is "the glorious Gospel of Christ:" or, as Mr. Scott says, the word should be translated, "the Gospel of the glory of Christ," exhibiting him in his glory in the Gospel. Is free favour of any value to the poor criminal, whereby the judge tells him the king has pardoned him? Then the Gospel is precious to such a mind, for it is the Gospel of the grace of God. Is life valuable to a dying man? Then the Gospel is precious; for "skin for skin; all that a man hath will he give for his life" this is the word of life; and he that believeth it hath everlasting life. Is salvation itself valuable; rescue from danger and woe? Then this is the Gospel of your salvation, pointing out how God is reconciled to man, honourably with all his perfections, and how man can be saved without any sacrifice of the principles of the government of Deity. Is light valuable? Truly light is sweet and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes; and this is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ"-light with which we see God. All the systems which were ever presented to the world of religion previous to the Gospel, knew nothing of God, could give no rational idea of the Deity; but here he is presented in his glory, and in all his attributes, and all his grandeur. Is wisdom precious? The Gospel is the wisdom of God in
a mystery; all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are here summed up in the Gospel. Moreover, my brethren, are garments precious to him who feels himself naked? Crowns and robes, are these precious? The Gospel presents the robe of righteousness, the garment of salvation, the crown of glory, the ornaments of beauty, to clothe and to honour the guilty spirit. Are medicines valuable; antidotes for diseases, whereby they are instantaneously cured? "He sent forth his word and healed them." "O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness, and his wonderful works to the children of men.” Why, sirs, the Gospel opens blind eyes, unstops deaf ears, makes the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb to sing; heals the broken in heart, raises the very dead, and saves to the uttermost all who come to participate in the blessings which the great Physician dispenses. Is not food precious, necessary food? "I have estimated the words of his lips more than my necessary food :" not "more than the wine after I have taken a hearty meal;" not "more than the dessert, and the luxuries of the table;" no, but "more than my bread and my water, more than my necessary food." Are discoveries valuable? Well, then, here are discoveries that were never made before. Here the most wonderful mysteries are opened; how the Gentiles could be saved as well as the Jews, and made partakers of the grace of Christ by the Gospel; how the Redeemer became incarnate; how redemption was effected, how the sinner was saved, and how God was glorified by the salvation of that sinner-all in the Gospel are made plain; he has sent this mystery of divine truth, and opened it to all nations for the obedience of faith. O precious Gospel! What invaluable treasure is divine truth to the mind of man! So said David: "I will bless thee for thy word, for all thy words are righteousness." So said Paul: "Unto me, who am the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I might preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." And so said the Hebrew martyrs; they "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that in heaven they had a better, even an enduring substance."
And so say you. I might appeal to numbers who are here present as to the value which they attach to the Gospel. Why, what has the Gospel been to you? It has comforted you in your distress, when you had nothing to cleave to. Its promises have elevated your hopes, and raised you above fear many a time when your heart was bowed down with the deepest distress: it exhibited to you a Saviour, all ready and willing to save you, when your hopes were gone and fled, and hell stood open before you. And many a time, when you have not known which way to go, or what to do, some promise of the Gospel applied by the Spirit of God to the heart has lifted up your minds, made you feel a peace and joy in believing, so that you have gone on your way happily rejoicing. Such a valuable treasure is the Gospel.
But, then, it is called a treasure for its abundance. "The unsearchable riches of Christ;" enough for every soul, and enough for all souls who come to him. It is the glory of the Gospel that in it atonement is complete. Were all the angels in heaven to unite to add to the celestial possessions, they could add nothing. The voice which now whispers in my ears in delightful harmonies what was uttered upon the cross, "It is finished," is that which gives excellency to the Gospel, that presents to the poor sinner a righteousness wrought out and brought in; an atonement complete and perfected, so that he has not to