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the philosophers of the Grecian and Roman schools; they were despised by the powerful and the learned of this world; they were, however, strong in faith, ardent in love to God and their fellow-men, and carried out the principles of the Gospel in devoting themselves and their all to the service of their Lord and Master. They were successful in propagating the Gospel, not because it was favourable to the sentiments and taste which then prevailed amongst the nations; for its doctrines and precepts were hostile to the existing systems of religion and philosophy, and condemned the prevailing habits both of the higher and lower orders of society. They were successful, because they acted under divine authority, and being faithful, the Lord prospered the work of their hands. God set before them "an open door," which no man could shut; he entered the field of labour with them; they "planted and watered, and he gave the increase." They could say, then, "We are labourers together with God."
The same agency has been employed by the Lord through successive generations to the present day. It is admitted that much remains to be done before the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth, and the Jews with the fulness of the Gentiles be gathered into the Gospel-fold. But the agency which has been hitherto employed, is still in active operation; and not only in act ve operation, but it is far more united and better organized, though still defective, than it has been for many past centuries; and, consequently, the Holy Scriptures are translated into more languages, and the Gospel is proclaimed to a far wider extent than at any former period. Still, there are many millions of our fellow-sinners who have but partially, if they have at all, heard the glad tidings of salvation; and although the church of late years has put forth a little of her strength, and done something towards sending the Gospel to the heathen, she has at present done but little, compared with what remains to be done, and with what she is capable of doing. She must further awake, arise from the dust, and put on strength. She must lay hold of her Lord's strength, and become alive and mighty through his grace. She must draw nigh to her God, and he will draw nigh to her. Her ministers and members must become devoted labourers together with God, who is opening doors of usefulness on every hand, and the work of evangelizing the nations will be done.
Secondly, the work under consideration will include the conversion of sinners.
The servants of Christ are commissioned to preach the Gospel, not merely that it may take the place of idolatrous systems of worship, but that by the Gospel they may convert those who are "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." The children of God were once "children of wrath even as others;" and what has made them to differ from what they once were, and from what thousands around them still are? The apostle Peter informs us: They are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you." It was through hearing Peter reason on the facts which had just transpired, that the three thousand, on the day of Pentecost, "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,
and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." When at Thessalonica where was a synagogue of the Jews, "Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath-days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women, not a few." "And it came to pass in Iconium, that Paul and Barnabas went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed."
It is to be observed, that these conversions were effected, not by miracles, but by the power of spiritual truth. The miracles wrought by Christ and the apostles established the truth of the Gospel, but it was by the Gospel itself that men were convicted of sin, and brought to repentance. Hence Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." The belief of the truth, as it is in Jesus, seeing it respects our condition as sinners, and the importance of salvation through Christ, must necessarily produce an entire change in our principles, and, consequently, in our moral character; "old things pass away, and all things become new.'
It must also be observed, that the facts adduced shew that the apostles and first preachers of the Gospel did not confine themselves to a bare statement of facts, doctrines, promises, and precepts; but, having proved the truth of the things which they asserted, they went further; they reasoned on these and appealed to the understanding and heart. Knowing that there is in every man a consciousness that he is responsible to God for his faith and practice, they called on all men to believe the truth, and "serve God in the Gospel of his Son." The result proved the correctness and wisdom of their procedure. They were often opposed and reproached as fanatics, and their preaching censured as foolishness. But they could appeal to facts-to the striking change, the amazing improvement effected in the moral character of their converts, and ask, "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Their converts were formerly as dark, as enslaved by superstition, and as degraded in moral character as the multitude of the heathen, out of whose fellowship they had been rescued; "but they were washed, but they were sanctified, but they were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." It hath pleased God, in this way, to effect his purposes of grace, and reconcile sinners to himself; and by so doing, he establishes the truth of the Gospel, and publicly acknowledges those, who faithfully preach it, to be "labourers together with himself." "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
Although the apostles exposed the errors of philosophy, falsely so called, they did not despise true philosophy; but taught and encouraged the acquisition of a minute and extensive knowledge of the natural and moral works of God. Their writings prove that they were well acquainted both with the economy of redemption, which it was their peculiar province to proclaim, and also with the mental and spiritual constitution of man, the moral state of the world, and such other topics as are intimately connected with the spiritual interests of our race. It may be said, that they were inspired men. This is true,
but it only proves. that He, "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," deemed it necessary that his apostles and ministers should possess both knowledge and wisdom, and, therefore, miraculously communicated them.
It must be obvious to every one who considers the subject, that he who seeks to turn the sinner from the error of his way, should understand the sinner's character, his mental and moral condition, his relation to God, the grounds of his responsibility, and the nature and right application of the means which God has provided for the sinner's conversion. A novice in these topics may, unintentionally, furnish the sinner with an excuse for his impenitence, and instead of awakening his conscience, and leading him to Christ, he may minister opiates, and become accessary to his everlasting death.
Hence, my brethren, the importance of those advantages which some before me enjoy at college. You are there furnished with suitable aid for the acquisition of biblical and various knowledge, which they, who have been long in the Christian ministry, assure you, is of the first importance to an efficient discharge of its duties. Your obligations to the diligent improvement of your time, the cultivation of an intimate acquaintance with the Gospel in all its bearings, on the glory of God, and the destinies of men, and the formation of such habits as will facilitate your future usefulness in the kingdom of Christ, are commensurate with the importance of these subjects. If these subjects are inseparable from consequences which invest them with a fearful importance to yourselves and others, that importance is the measure of your obligations to an unreserved devotedness to the service of your Lord and Master. Receive then the advice which Paul gave to Timothy: "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."
Thirdly, the work to which your attention is directed, includes the increase and prosperity of the Christian church.
The conversion of sinners, although of the first importance, is only a preparatory step. If they have been rescued from the bondage of sin, it is that they may enjoy the freedom and privileges of the kingdom of heaven. If, through the blessing of God, we have succeeded in convincing them, that hitherto they have been in darkness and in error, it is now our duty to "warn and teach them in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
In immediate connexion with the text, Paul speaks of the church as God's husbandry and as God's building; but observes of himself and fellow-labourers that," according to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.". We learn from this admonition, that in our efforts to increase the church we must take heed to build on the right foundation. If the mediatorial character and work of Christ are not made prominent in our ministrations as the ground of the sinner's pardon and acceptance with God, we shall deceive the people and impede the work which we profess to advance. A faithful exhibition of the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel and of the authority of Christ over all intelligent beings, is absolutely necessary, both to the conversion of sinners and the sta.
bility of the church. The interests of the church and the glory of Christ have never been, and never can be, advanced by teaching for doctrine, and enforcing as obligatory on the conscience, the commandments of men. The Lord will bear testimony to the word of his grace, but if we presume to set up standards and prescribe rules which he has not authorized, we may expect that he will demand, "Who gave you authority to do these things? Who hath required this at your hands?"
Error paved the way for the exercise of human authority in the kingdom of Christ, and human authority introduced a multitude of professors without faith and without holiness. The wise builder will adhere strictly to the plan given by the Lord of the temple, and will admit such materials only as accord with its character and design. It is not enough for him to be building, he is careful to build with " gold, silver, and precious stones;" that the church may be increased with materials that will add both to its strength and beauty. On the other hand it becomes us to guard against adopting terms for the admission of candidates which are neither in conformity with the example of the apostles nor the spirit of the Gospel. If some churches have been too lax, admitting any to their communion who profess to be Christians, although living in the violation of important Gospel precepts; other churches, I conceive, have demanded more than the Scriptures warrant, in requiring the personal attendance of candidates at a church-meeting and a history of their experience from the time of their conversion. The fact of their repentance towards God, faith in Christ, and consistency of character may, I apprehend, be ascertained in a manner less objectionable to the candidates and more satisfactory to the church than by such a process. Let us beware, lest in guarding against the entrance of improper characters, we assume the anti-scriptural principle, that, the New Testament is not sufficient for the government of the church, and, therefore, institute an ordeal at which the timid are frightened, and from which the intelligent are tempted to retire in surprise and sorrow.
It is to be feared, that many a Christian has been prevented joining the church on earth in consequence of these human devices, who would have been an ornament amongst its members and efficient in its service. It is high time, my brethren, to reform our discipline, and use every scriptural means to bring all who believe into the fellowship of saints, that they may enjoy the privileges conferred on them by their Lord, and unite with his subjects in promoting the prosperity of his kingdom.
There are numbers in most of our congregations who fear the Lord and in private walk with God; but some through timidity, and others through mistaken views on topics connected with a public profession, have not united themselves to the visible church; and there are others whose hearts the Lord has touched and who are beginning to "ask their way to Zion, with their faces thitherward." All these claim our particular notice, and the admonition of our Lord," Feed my lambs," should regulate our conduct towards them. A deep sense of their unworthiness to be associated with the people of God may deter them from telling us of their convictions, and fears, and desires, and supplications to the Father of mercies. If we would know their state and do them good we must seek them out, we must visit them, instruct them, and pray with them.
Here I must observe that the pastor's hands may be greatly strengthened
his usefulness promoted, and the church extensively benefited by the kind and zealous co-operation of the members. Do not, dear brethren and sisters, leave every thing to be done by preaching and pastoral visits. They are indispensable to the spiritual edification of the people, but they do not include every thing that may be done for the glory of the Lord and the prosperity of the church. Every one should be ready to invite his neighbour to the house of God, to speak to him about the state of his soul and the one thing needful, and to encourage inquirers to follow on in seeking the knowledge which leads to eternal life. And the deacons and senior members especially should be ready to take up all difficult cases, and with the pastor, endeavour to remove objections and doubts, to strengthen faith and hope, and to promote the peace, unity, brotherly kindness, benevolence, and zeal of the members towards each other and the world.
"The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for the advantage of all." It follows, that every man is bound to exert himself, according to the grace bestowed on him, for the benefit both of his fellow Christians and the world. What a different scene our churches would exhibit, if ministers, deacons, and members, male and female, rich and poor, aged and young, were to exercise a righteous self-denial, and do all that grace would enable them to do for the spiritual improvement and increase of the churches! Our love to each other would be strengthened by being brought into regular and vigorous exercise. A more lively interest would be taken in our Sabbath-schools and various societies for the spread of the Gospel at home and abroad. A greater attention and spirit of inquiry would be excited in our respective neighbourhoods; and would lead, under that blessing which would not be withheld, to an extensive revival of religion, a pentecostal joy over the thousands that would be added to the churches.
It detracts nothing from the divine sovereignty and the work of the Spirit, that God should employ human agency in effecting his purposes of grace towards our world. Nay, the Apostle Paul assures us, that the glory of God is rendered the more conspicuous by this arrangement. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." The purity of the Gospel, its adaptation to the moral condition of man, its sublime revelations of the perfections and government of God, and the wonderful effects which have attended its promulgation, form a striking contrast to the depravity, ignorance, inconsistencies, and weakness apparent, to a greater or less extent, in all the human agency employed in its propagation. And the agents themselves, so far from arrogating the praise due to God, are filled with adoring gratitude, and acknowledge that, "by the grace of God they are what they are," in the kingdom and service of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You, my brethren, who are looking forward to ministerial and pastoral labours will perceive the importance of correct views of the nature and constitution of the Christian church, the necessity of a healthy and vigorous piety in your own souls, and a persevering application to study, to prayer, to preaching, to visiting the people, and to promote the efficient operation of the local and general societies which are seeking to benefit our race for time and eternity. Consider well the character of the work before you, the variety and magnitude of those objects which will occupy your thought, your time, and all the energy you can bring to bear upon them. While you have opportunity lay in stores of know