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speculative points, of no practical or experimental importance. Nothing is treated with more total inattention than the very essence of the gospel. And no wonder, as long as it is imagined that if men do the best they can, with such hearts as they have,` (which certainly every one must be able to do at any time,) God will be faithful and just to forgive their sins, and to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. But when a sinner's can, and his will, are found to be what they really are, the gospel report, if thought authentic, will be as cold water to a thirsty soul. Still, however, after the utmost endeavors to understand it, and to get over the difficulties attending it, under the best external instruction, the unregenerate find themselves unable to lay hold upon the hope set before them. Though persuaded that there is forgiveness in this way for repenting sinners, they cannot repent. Though convinced that Christ is the end of the law for righteouness to every one that believeth, they cannot believe to the saving of the soul. They cannot cordially receive this holy Saviour, and be willing that He should reign over them. They see the fault is wholly in themselves; but still they are without strength. It is the fault of their nature; which nothing can remove but a second birth, or a new creation. They cannot essentially alter, nor try to alter, their totally depraved disposition.
But in this forlorn case, another gospel doctrine, which is to them that perish foolishness, the desponding sinner finds to be of great importance. I mean the doctrine that in renewing men in the spirit of their mind, "God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy." This, the self-righteous spurn at ; as though it cut off all encouragement to well-doing, and made the Most High a respecter of persons; arbitrary and unjust. But when a man sees that ail his well-doings are dead works, and must be so till a new heart is given him, then this hated doctrine, of absolute divine sovereignty in regeneration, is the on
ly ground of hope; the only support from utter despair.
4. By the foolishness of preaching, it pleases God to effect the actual conversion of sinners; when they are prepared for it by renewing grace, as well as by necessary convictions.
In regeneration, I conceive, the soul is wholly passive and, of consequence, that this cannot be effected by any preaching, otherwise than as water was brought out of the rock by the rod of Moses; or than as dry bones are represented to have been raised into a living army, by prophesying to them and to the wind, in the vision of Ezekiel. The effect is not from any power in the means, in one case, more than in the others. But conversion, in which the soul is active, may be by the moral power of truth, as much as any common effects are by the power of second causes. When the stony heart has been taken away, and a heart of flesh given, the calls and motives of the gospel, to repentance, faith, and good works, will be felt, and have effect.
It is yet to be taken notice, how God carries on the begun salvation of true believers, by the ministry of his word. This institution was designed, not merely for the awakening, conviction, and conversion of sinners, but also for raising them up to the stature of perfect men in Christ. When he ascended on high, and gave gifts to men; he gave pastors and teachers, as well as evangelists, prophets and apostles, for the perfecting of the saints. Nor is it hard to understand how the work of the ministry is useful for the edification of true christians.
1. Hereby they are enabled to grow in divine knowledge. It is but a little portion that is known of God, and things spiritual, in this world of darkness and imperfection. But that little may be gradually increased by various means; and particularly by the preaching of the word, if people have pastors accor
ding to God's heart, who feed them properly with knowledge and understanding. This is necessary, that they may not remain children, liable to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.
2. By gospel preaching believers are enabled to grow in grace. Progressive sanctification is indeed the work of God; but he works by means in this case, as much as in any other. Our Saviour prayed to the Father for his first disciples; "Sanctify them through thy truth thy word is truth." When once a principle of true holiness has been created in the heart, its increase, and the peaceable fruits of righteousness of which it is productive, are as much caused by light and truth, as the growth and fruitfulness of vegetables are by rain and sun-shine; or as the growth of animal bodies is by meat and drink. Spiritual instruction is nourishing as well as delicious food, to renewed souls. "As new-born babes, they desire the sincere milk of the word," at first, and stronger meat afterwards. "that," in grace as well as knowledge, they may grow thereby."
3. By the preaching of his word, God saves his people from sinking under present troubles and gloomy prospects; and gives them joy and peace in believing. David said to the Lord, Psalm xciv. 19, "In the multitude of my tho'ts within me, thy comforts delight my soul." And Asaph, Psal. Ixxiii. having been stumbled at the outward prosperity of the wicked, and afflictions of the godly, he says, ver. 16, 17, "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." And besides the doctrine of a righteous retribution hereafter, there are several other scripture doctrines, which, if well explained, and vindicated against objections, will afford great support and comfort to true believers. Partic
ularly, the doctrine of the saint's perseverance: That all who have once a well grounded hope, through faith in Christ, are kept by the power of God, unto final salvation. That "he who hath begun a good work in them, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." The doctrines also of God's eternal decrees, and universal Providence: that every thing is “predestinated, according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." Whence it is certain that "the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of it he will restrain :" and "that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.'
These doctrines, though rejected as foolishness by some, and wrested perhaps by others to their destruction; are grounds of strong consolation to good men, when guardedly taught and, instead of encouraging remissness in duty, or indulgence in sin, animate them to patient continuance in well doing, and to suffer afflictions with joyfulness.
I shall add nothing further, except a few inferences.
1. According to what has been said, the gospel ministry, if duly executed, must be a laborious occupation.
Preaching, is thought by many, an easy idle business: and it may indeed be made so by some, The blind may lead the blind, and both fall into the ditch, without much difficulty. To preach just so that it will pass, among a careless people; or even so as to be exceedingly admired by the injudicious, no great pains are necessary. But to do the work of an evangelist, and make full proof of one's ministry, on all classes of hearers, for saving them from the many crooked ways of error and sin to which they are exposed, must require uncommon attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Timothy had known the
holy scriptures from a child, and been made wise by them unto salvation; he had also that supernatural assistance which is not now to be expected; yet Paul supposed that close application was still requi site, even in his case. "Study," says he to him, "to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
Besides making a natural division of texts and subjects, and a suitable application of them to persons of different characters, and under different circumstances; rightly dividing the word of truth, is to separate it, by clear and plain distinctions, from those falsehoods with which, by superficial thinkers, it is ever apt to be blended and confounded. In almost every article of faith, or rule of duty, there are errors of which people may be in danger, on the right hand and on the left. To guard against wrong principles, and wrong inferences from principles that are true; against false religion of all kinds, and against every evil and false way, requires good understanding, and great vigilance, in a spiritual guide.
2. We may see from our text, and from what has been said upon it, that preaching the gospel, though accounted foolishness by many, is a very important and most eligible employment. "This is a true saying," Paul tells Timothy, "if a man desire the office of a bishop," that is, a plain evangelical minister, "he desireth a good work." The goodness of an office ought to be estimated according to the ends which it is designed and adapted to subserve; but judging by this rule, no other work of which man is capable, can be compared with the ministry of reconciliation.
To glorify God, is the greatest good at which one can aim; and it ought to be the chief end of all our actions but there is no work of men on earth, which so directly tends to advance the declarative