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hands, and blesses them : and it comes to pass that, as he blesses them, he is parted from them, and carried up into heaven, and a cloud receives him out of their sight. “ Thou hast ascended on high," says my psalm; “ thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men ; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them. By the interpretation of the inspired Apostle, who quotes this very passage in the epistle to the Ephesians, you are taught that this psalm is but a Gospel hymn; that the word which the Lord spake was but the testimony of his will; that the enemies spoken of are the world, the flesh, and the devil; that the triumphs are the triumphs of Jesus in the preaching of his cross.
You learn from my text some most important truths relative to our belief in this word, and to the precious proniises of God concerning it. How is it we are to understand the words of the text? “ The Lord gave the word : great was the company of those that published it. Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil." In dependence upon the only and sufficient Teacher-looking up to Him who alone can give me power to speak, and you ears and hearts to hear-I shall endeavour to shew you from the words of my text these four points: first, that the Gospel is to be proclaimed ; secondly, that it never will be proclaimed till the Lord gives the word; thirdly, that when it is so proclaimed, great shall be the conquests thereof; and lastly, the consolatory assurance, that those who promote its proclamation shall divide the spoil, though they tarry at home.
First, then, we learn from my text what may appear, at first sight, a simple proposition, but one that carries deep interest to every one of us; namely— THAT EVER SINCB MAN PELL, IT HAS BEEN THB WILL OP GOD THAT BY MAN THE MESSAGE OP MERCY SHOULD BE PROCLAIMED. Thus it was of old: Enoch, and Noah, and Moses, were preachers of righte
It has been so in the generations that have succeeded: God has never deviated from his plan. This blessed Book itself—what is it? The writing of men: every letter of it was written by man; for “ holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It is the economy of divine grace : angels long to do, beloved, what I am doing now; angels long to do what many of you, I trust, are doing continually—to tell sinners of a Saviour: but they must not; it is not the will of God. You know that in the opening of the dispensation, even in the period of miracle, of vision, of revelation, angels were not permitted to preach the Gospel. Cornelius, the centurion, had a visit from an angel, who was sent to assure him of the divine favour: but was he permitted to preach the Gospel to him ? No; an angel appeared in his house, and stood and said, “ Send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter, who shall tell thee words whereby thou and thy house mayest be saved.” Why might not the angel have cut the matter short, and told himn how he might be saved ? It was not the will of God; it was not the economy of divine grace. Nay, more than this; we learn from Scripture story, that this message of divine love has not only been proclaimed by men, but often by those particular men that we should have thought the least fit for the work: men who shrunk from it from a sense of their own inconsistencies. Thus you know how Moses shrunk from the work, and how he said, “ O Lord, thou krowest I
am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue:" and not until after many assurances, positive commands, and even reproaches, was Moses stirred up to go and tell the word of the Lord to his people. So Isaiah, too, he shrunk from the work, and called himself “ a man of unclean lips :" and Jeremiah; “ Then said I, Ah Lord God! I am a child."
Thus you see, that in many instances (they might be multiplied) God has been pleased to select the very persons who were in their natural capacities, and according to their natural talents, least fitted for the work. We must go a step further, and say, it has pleased God that the Gospel should often be preached, and preached most eminently, by eminent sinners. Who preached like the Psalmist David, or who sinned like him? Who preached like Paul, and who persecuted like Saul? Who preached like Peter, and who denied his Lord with curses and with oaths too? The truth cannot be denied, that God has sometimes, nay ofttimes, been pleased to pluck an eminent brand from the burning, and to make him an eminent minister of righteousness. And wherefore this, beloved brethren, wherefore this? It were enough to say, God has willed it; and let every rebellious thought be stilled. We are sure it is right and good, for it is the will of our Father. But there are two obvious reasons for which this economy was devised by the Almighty and all-wise God. These were the objects he had in view-one was, mercy to man, and the other was, the glory of his great name.
I say it was mercy to man. Angels could not preach as sinners can. Angels could not tell of redemption as redeemed sinners can: they could not sympathize with us; they could not enter into our feelings. Suppose it possible that a sin-burdened soul went and told to some pure spirit from the throne of God, all the corruptions that arise in his heart, all the struggles and conflicts of his indwelling sin; that pure spirit would start back with abhorrence from him; he could not enter into his feelings : but sinners can tell, and only they ; and sinners can feel for sinners, and only they. Thus you remember that David, on the occasion to which I have alluded, when he was pouring out his soul in penitential sorrow, pleaded this very thing : when asking for pardon, and for mercy, and for grace, he says, “ Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation ; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” Go see, again, the fallen Peter; “ he went out and wept bitterly." Was he not then learning to feel for sinners ? Was he not then learning sympathy, and tenderness, and gentleness, and kindness? Our Lord tells us it was so; before his fall it was that Jesus said unto him, “ When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren." See the wisdom and the compassion of God. Think you that Paul would ever have been able to tell as he does, of righteousness and of unrighteousness ; to tell as he does of the working of the law, and of its effects on the human heart, if he had not been a persecutor of God's Church and people? It is out of mercy to man that God is pleased to fit such instruments for his work and for his glory.
The other point which I suggested was the object of the divine mind, in thus appointing sinners to proclaim to sinners the word of salvation : it was for the glory of his own great name. It was to shew, that it was “not by might, por by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." It was that the
instrument might be levelled and laid low in the dust, and that the efficacy and the power might be known to be of God. Beloved brethren, I address many this night who are often in the habit of preaching the everlasting Gospel. I appeal to you: look into your own hearts; study the feelings of your own bosoms; look into ihem when you are engaged in the most noly exercises, and tell me if you are not often ashamed of yourselves, ashamed that such unworthy motives, such corrupt desires, such pride, such vanity, such selfishness, should be found stirring in that sinner's bosom, when he is trying to plead his Master's cause? Are you not constrained to allow, that you are amazed that God should make you and me the instruments of grace and of salvation to sinners ? Look, too, at those who are engaged in the blessed work which has brought us together this evening. Look at the different sections of the Christian world; look at your different denominations, your different societies, your different committees : is there nothing to humble us in them? Is there nothing to make us feel amazed that the Lord our God should by such instruments accomplish a work so mighty? All this, beloved brethren, is to shew that he has committed this treasure, as the Apostle Paul says, “ to earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
But, secondly, we may learn from our text, that this WORD WILL NEVER BE PROCLAIMED, EXCEPT THE LORD SEND US.
“ when the Lord. gave the word,” then “ the company of preachers was great." If you
look again at those several cases to which I alluded, you will find, that none of those holy men would ever have spoken a word for the Lord, if he had not sent them. It was his might and his power that overshadowed them ; it was his grace and spirit that dragged the reluctant Moses from the mountain, and from feeding his sheep, to go on the arduous embassy of delivering the Lord's people from Egypt. It was the power of God's Spirit that dragged Jonah, the fugitive prophet, from the hold of the vessel, wherein he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, and that compelled him to go and preach mercy to Nineveh. It was the might and power of God's grace that pardoned and restored, and poured the balm of consolation into the broken heart of David, and enabled him to tell, in so many sweet lines, of the mercy of his God. It was the same hand of God that was laid on Saul of Tarsus, that struck him to the ground, and told him to go and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And so it is now: no man ever went to preach indeed who was not sent of God. I scruple not to say, that man may send, and send in vain ; that by whatever outward form a man may be devoted to the work of the ministry, whether he be called by the presbytery, whether he be appointed by a congregation, or whether he receive episcopal ordination, except that man be moved by the Holy Ghost to take that office upon him, he will be but a “ dumb dog that cannot bark ;" he will be but a “hireling, who will flee when the wolf cometh.* 0 that we could settle our minds on these great broad principles of Gospel truth ! It would tend much to heal our divisions, to humble us all. Addressing, as I doubtless am this night, many of different denominations of Christians, I would say, Look into your own hearts ; look into your own churches ; and those that are without sin amongst us, let them cast the first stone at their brethren. Rather, I would say, let us all humble ourselves before God, for our
manifold infirmities, short comings, and corruptions; and let us pray for one another, brethren, that the Lord may stir up a pure spirit of godliness among us; and that he may indeed “speak the word," and great and effectual shall be the proclamation thereof.
But I would shew, before I leave this head—and endeavour to prove, toothat the Lord has in these our days spoken that word, that my Psalm is now in literal fulfilment, and that “ the company of them that publish it” is “ great.” Look back for a moment over the history of Christendom; see the nominal church of God for centuries sleeping in indifference, in coldness, and carelessness, Jespecting their own salvation and the salvation of others. At length “ the Lord gave the word,” and the company of the reformers appeared ; and Luther, and Calvin, and our English reformers, who were sent of God, uttered his voice, preached his Gospel, and a Mrge portion of Christendom became enlightened. But ere long the Church slept again; and until the opening of this century, with some few and illustrious exceptions, (such, for instance, as the devoted Moravians, those devoted forerunners of Christian missions; and with the exception of a solitary sentinel in the enemies' land—as Schwartz in India, or Elliot in America) we might ask, Where, towards the opening of this century, was your missionary effort ? Where was the company of preachers ? Into what land was Christian philanthropy thrusting itself? Where were the active exertions of the men of God? There were none, or next to none. And now mark the result. How large a portion of this work was accomplished by that society for which I plead to-night, I will not now stop to shew; but this we will observe: that it was just at the time when this society took its rise-in the year 1795, that Christianity began to start from its slumbers : just then that the missionary zeal and spirit was quickened in our land, and other lands: and now when we look back, and consider how things were, and then consider how they are, it is not enthusiastic to say, that the word of our text is fulfilled, and that " the Lord has given the word,” and that “great is the company of them that preach it.” Admitted that they are but as the drop in the bucket, compared with the wants of the heathen world; I say there are some features in the modern exertions of Christianity by which they are distinguished from all preceding efforts. I say it, and I say it deliberately, that if you will only follow me for one moment, and consider this particular feature, which I would wish to point out to you, I will fearlessly assert, that the preaching of the Gospel in the present day far eclipses any thing in the apostles' days.
Take up the map of the world; cast your eye apoi, the spot to which the Gospel was confined for the first century; and see whether it is not as a fraction compared with the whole earth. Look at the scene of missionary effort now, and mark its peculiar characteristic-namely, that there is hardly a nation, or a country, or a people, or a kingdom under hearen, where there is not at least some solitary witness for the truth of the Gospel, unto the uttermost extremity of the habitable globe: in the North, to the utmost extremity of the South, you find-scattered, it is true indeed, up and down, few and far between —but still you find witnesses for Jesus in the North, and in the South, in the East, and in the West, the Gospel preached in one hundred and sixty languages. It is true that in the apostles' days they had great advantages; and yet I question if the Gospel was ever preached in so many languages ; and I am sure, I am confident, having considered the subject accurately and candidly myself, I am certain of this point, that since the world was, the Gospel was never preached in so many different parts of the world at the same time. I say this, that considering only thirty-five or forty years have passed over our heads since Christendom began to wake to this great work, is it not a delightful subject of contemplation; and may we not thank God and take courage for what he has done in this particular? He has “ spoken the word, and great has been the company of the preachers."
But, thirdly, I gather from my text, and fruin the Psalm, in its undoubted prophetical interpretation, that when the Gospel is thus preached in the power of God, and in obedience to the word of God, its SUCCESS SHALL BE GREAT. “ Kings with their armies did flee apace," as it is the margin, a most spirited expression, “ they did flee, they did flee;" heaps upon heaps, as with Samson victorious over the Philistines.
The whole of this triumphant Psalm is a description of the conquest of God over his enemies. “ The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels : the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” The princes of Egypt are declared to be tributary ; Ethiopia stretches out her hands unto God. “ O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places : the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Blessed be God." These enemies, and these armies, of which the prophet speaks, are none other than those of which you read in the New Testament—those “ powers of darkness ;" that “ prince of the power of the air," who has held this fair world so long in thraldom; “ the god and prince of this world :" he it is that is to be put to flight, and routed, before the armies of the faithful, before the preachers of the everlasting Gospel. Thus we know it was, in its measure and degree, in the apostles' days, when those few and faithful men, unsupported by human aid and human powers, went forth; and before the simple testimony of Jesus, the Dagon of heathen superstition, then in the zenith of its glory, fell prostrate before the ark of our God: then it was, with no other power, and no other testimony, but the declaration of Jesus Christ and him crucified, that the philosopher, and the sceptic, and the idolater, all felt and owned the power of Jesus, and all the quarters of the then civilized world bowed to his name.
We are not to think that these triumphs of Christianity in the early ages have no parallel in modern times. I am again disposed to make the assertiou, that to my mind, after reflecting upon the subject, it appears to me that the triumphs of the Gospel in the present day are more wonderful than the triumphs of the Gospel in the apostolic age. Consider the extraordinary difficulties and obstacles with which we have to contend, many of which they had not. We bave not only in common with them, to contend with barbarous and savage nations, or with polished and civilized nations, as China, and the nations of the east: we have not only, in common with them, to contend with heathenism in every form, and infidelity in every form, abroad; but we have to contend with the apathy, the indifference, the coldness, and the carnality of the Christian world, here at home. This was the first and great obstacle which met our efforts at the commencement: and I grieve to say, that though many an enemy has been silenced, and many a sceptic has been silenced, yet still our greatest difficulties