« ElőzőTovább »
God alone, or partly at least upon our own. To speak freely, I am afraid that some of you, my dear people, have built upon this sandy foundation : This may be the case of some of you who have very fair characters ; for it is such sort of persons, and not those who make little or no pretensions to good works, that are ! most in danger of the extreme of self-righteousness. I therefore beg you would inquire after this sly, lurking delusion; a delusion which perverts the best things into the worst, and makes your good works the occasion of your destruction, instead of means of salvation. I beg you would inquire, whether ever you have been deeply sensible of the aggravated evil of sin, the perfection of God's law, the strictness of his justice, and the guilty imperfectons of your own best works : whether ever you have seen the glory of God in the gospel, and the excellency and sufficiency of the righteousness of Christ? Have you cheerfully embraced it with your whole souls! And do you lay the whole dependance of your salvation upon it? -My brethren, how are your hearts affected towards the gospel in this age of infidelity, when it is treated with sneer and ridicule, and browbeaten with contempt and insult ? Do you glory in it, and venture your all upon it? Do you find it is the only relief for your wounded consciences, the only cordial for your sinking hearts? Do your whole souls embrace it with the tenderest endearment, and tenaciously cling to it as the only (tabula-post-naufragium) plank to keep you from sinking, after the general wreck of human nature ? Do you relish its doctrines, even those that are the most mortifying to your pride and vanity, and love to hear them honestly preached? Are the humble, despised doctrines of the cross sweet to you, and the very life of your souls? If you can give a comfortable answer to these inquiries, then,
II. This subject affords you abundant encouragement, and strong consolation. It is true, you can never think too humbly of yourselves. You are as sinful as you can possibly suppose yourselves to be : your righteousness is as insufficient and imperfect, and you are as undeserving of the favour of God, as you can possibly imagine. But it is not to yourselves that you look for a righteousness, which will bear you out at the bar of your Judge : you have been obliged to give up that point forever : you tried to stand upon your own footing as long as you could, but you found it would not do. And now your only refuge is the righteousness of Christ by faith : here you rest, and you look for salvation in
no other way. My brethren, I would fain do honour to this righteousness ; but, alas ! the highest thing I can say of it is quite too low. It is indeed a righteousness sufficient for all the purposes for which you want it ; it is a sure, a tried foundation, Thousands have built their hopes upon it, and it has never failed one of them yet : you may make the experiment with the same safety. There is not a charge which the law or justice, your own conscience, or Satan, the accuser of the brethren, can bring against you, but what it can fully answer. Here then is safe footing, and let nothing drive you from it : and O, give glory to God for so great a blessing!
THE SUCCESS OF THE MINISTRY OF THE GOSPEL, OWING TO
A DIVINE INFLUENCE.*
I COR. 11. 7.--So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither
he that waters ; but God that gives the increase.
THE design of God in all his works of creation, providence, and grace, is to advance and secure the glory of his own name ; and therefore, though he makes use of secondary causes as the instruments of his operations, yet their efficacy depends upon his superintending influence. It is his hand that sustains the great chain of causes and effects, and his agency pervades and animates the worlds of nature and of
grace. In the natural world, he makes use of the instrumentality of the husbandman to till the ground, to sow the seed, and water it. But it is he that commands the clouds to drop down fatness upon it, and the sun to diffuse its vital influence. It is he that continues to the earth, and the other principles of vegetation, their respective virtues ; and without this influence of his the husband. man's planting and watering would be in vain ; and, after all his labour, he must acknowledge, that it is God that giveth the increase.
So, in the world of grace, God uses a variety of suitable means to form degenerate sinners into his image, and fit them for a happy eternity. All the institutions of the gospel are intended for this purpose, and particularly the ministry of it. Ministers are sowers sent out into the wild field of the world, with the precious
• Dated Hanover, November 19, 1752.
seed of the word. It is the grand business of their life to cultivate this barren soil, to plant trees of righteousness, and water them that they may bring forth the fruits of holiness. It is by the use of painsul industry, that they can expect to improve this wilderness into a fruitful field ;, and the Lord is pleased to pour out his Spirit from on high, at times, to render their labours suce cessful ; so that they who went forth bearing precious seed with sorrow and tears, return, bringing their sheaves with joy. But alas, they meet with disappointments enough to convince them that all their labours will be in vain, if a sovereign God deny the influences of his grace. The agency of his holy Spirit is as neces. sary to fructify the word, and make it the seed of conversion, as the influences of heaven are to fructify the earth and promote vegetation. A zealous Paul may plant the word, and an eloquent Apollos may water it ; one may attempt to convert sinners to christianity, and the other to build them up in faith, but they are. both nothing, as to the success of their labours, unless God gives the increase ; that is, unless he affords the influence of his grace to render their attempts successful in begetting and cherishing living religion in the hearts of men. This is the great truth contained in my text : Neither is he that planteth, any thing, nor he that watereth ; but God :hat giveth the increase.
The Corinthians had been blest with the labours of several ministers, particularly of the apostle Paul, who had been the happy instrument of turning them from their native heathenism, and planting the gospel among them, and of Apollos, who succeeded him, and watered the good seed he had planted among them. But the Corinthians, instead of peaceably and thankfully improving the different gifts of different minister's for their spiritual and everlasting benefit, fell into factions, through a partial admiration of the one, in opposition to the other. Some of them were for Paul, as an universal scholar, and a strong reasoner ; others were all for Apollos, as an accomplished orator. And thus they cons sidered these ministers of Christ, rather as the ringleaders of fuctions, than as unanimous promoters of the same catholic christianity. To suppress this party spirit, the apostle asks tbem, Who then is Paul, or who is Apollos ? " What mighty beings would you make us in your idolatrous attachment to us ? Alas! what are we more than feeble ininisters of Christ, by whom ye believed? We were not the authors of your faith, but the humble instruments of it in the divine hand ; and the success that either of us have had has not been from our own power, but just as God hath been pleased to give to every man, (verse 5.) I first planted the gospel among you ; Apollos afterwards watered it: this was all we could do : but we could not make it bear the fruits of holiness in one soul. It was God alone that gave the increase, and made our respective labours successful, (ver. 6.) Therefore turn your regard to bim alone :
-Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils ; for wherein is he to be accounted of ? Isai. ii. 22. Do not idolatrously share the honour of your conversion between God the efficient, and us, the humble instruments of it ; but ascribe it to him alone : for neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth ; but God that gave the increase ; he is all in all."
When we see a people enjoy the frequent cultivations of the gospel, and the means of spiritual fruitfulness, and yet few new trees of righteousness planted, and those, that have been planted, seemingly withering and unfruitful, we cannot but conclude that something is wanting ; without which all the means they enjoy will be of no service. We should naturally turn our thoughts to an inquiry, what was wanting, had we tilled our lands from year to year without a crop. And since we find at present, that notwithstanding all the labours bestowed upon us, we lie in a deep sleep, and hardly know what it is of late to be animated with the news of some careless sinner here and there awakened to serious concern about his eternal state, it is high time to inquire what is wanting? There is certainly something wanting, which is of greater consequence than any thing we have.
Here are the gospel, and its ordinances, which at times have done great things ; and sinners bave yielded to their resistless energy : here is a minister, who, however weak, has sometimes been the happy instrument of giving a sinner an alarm, and speaking a word in season to those that were weary : here are hearers that crowd our sanctuary : hearers of the same kind with those whom we have seen ere now fall under the power of the word. And what then is wanting ? Why, God, that alone can give the increase, is not here by the influences of his grace ; and in his absence, neither he that planteth is any thing, nor he that watereth ; they are all nothing together ; and may labour till dooms-day, and never conVert one soul. Where is the Lord God of Elijah ? Where is he that can do more execution with one feeble sentence, than we can with a thousand of our most powerful sermons! Why, he hath hid his face; and hence there is none that calleth upon his name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of him. Isai. Ixiv. 7. And till the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, nothing but briars and thorns will come up among us. Chap. xxxii. 13, 15.
Let your thoughts, therefore, with eager attention now pursue me, while I am proving, illustrating, and making remarks pertinent to our case, from this affecting truth contained in the text, That the success of the ministry of the gospel with respect to saints and sinners, entirely depends upon the concurring influences of divine grace ; or, that, without the divine agency to render the gospel successful, all the labours of its ministers will be in vain.
This truth can give us no surprise as a new discovery, if we have any acquaintance with the present degeneracy of human naturt-with the declarations and promises of the word of Godwith the accounts of the different success of the means of grace in various periods of the church-or with matters that might have come within the compass of our own experience and ob. servation.
I. Such is the present degeneracy of human nature, that all the ministrations of the gospel cannot remedy it, without the concurring efficacy of divine grace.
So barren is the soil, that the seed of the word falls upon it and dies, and never grows up; as though it had never been sown there, till it be fructified by divine grace. It is a soil fruitful of briars and thorns, which grow up, and choke the word ; so that it becometh unfruitful till divinc grace root them up. Or it may be represented by a rocky or stony soil, where the word of God can take no deep root, and therefore withers, till it be mollified by influences from heaven. Thus our Lord represents the matter in the famous parable of the sower. Matt. xiii. 3, &c. 18, &c.
The metaphors used in sacred scripture to illustrate this case, sufficiently prove the degeneracy of mankind, and their entire opposition to the gospel. They are represented as spiritually dead, Eph. ii. 1. John v. 25, that is, though they are still capable of the exercises of reason and animal actions, yet they are really destitute of a supernatural principle of spiritual life, and incapable of suitable exercises towards God. And can a Paul or an Apollos quicken the dead with convictive arguments, with strong persuasions, or tender and passionate expostulations ? No; none but he can do it whose almighty voice bade Lazarus come forth. Sinners are also represented as blind, 2 Cor. iv. 4.