by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, July 30th, 1849
One of Satan's artifices, in his perpetual war against the kingdom of Christ, is to induce men, and men of mind and literature, to attempt to reduce the precious gospel of the Son of God to a mere system, a mere science, something within the reach of human intellect; and in this attempt they have gone far to deny and reject everything supernatural in the gospel of God and in vital godliness. Just in proportion as this artifice of Satan succeeds, the waters of the sanctuary will run low, and vital godliness will decline, and real Christians will be despised of men as enthusiasts. But so long as we have the precious Book of God in our hands, and so long as we have the power of the Spirit of God to accompany its hallowed truths, we shall dare, at least attempt, to trample upon those Infidel-like tamperings with the gospel of God, and insist upon that gospel being "the power of God unto the salvation of every one that believeth." If the mere doctrines of God's grace, or the mere exhortations of His Word, or the mere promises contained in the Divine oracles, are set forth as a theory, and men are spoken to as if there were a theory proposed or offered to them to make use of by dint of human powers, natural free-will, and fallen intellect, God the Holy Ghost is denied. The statements in the precious Book of God are contradicted; Jesus is crucified afresh, and those agents of the Prince of Darkness, however sanctimonious their appearance, are doing all they can to destroy eternally the whole human race.
Paul, under the Divine inspiration, always advocated the old-fashioned doctrine of the prophet Zechariah, "It is not by might or by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord;" (Zech. 4:6) and opportunities enough offered, if the pride of his fleshly nature had been permitted to seize them, in which he might have worn great honours, and have set up a popedom, himself being the Pope. But no, whenever such opportunities were offered him, he rebukes and rejects them, and says, "We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God." (Acts 16:15) Yet Paul's ministry was in those days questioned, and hence he was obliged sometimes to assert and defend his commission from the Most High. Possibly you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me. Mark, then, what the gospel ministry is. It is Christ speaking in His minister, and it requires a proof. "Since ye seek a proof," says he, "of Christ speaking to, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you;" (2 Cor. 13:3) yet he is brought again and again so to state so much of the Lord's dealings with him, and the success of his ministry, as to say, "Forgive me this boasting: ye have compelled me to it, in order to advocate this grand truth that everything successful in the preaching of the gospel is by the power of the Spirit of God:" and this is my subject for today. God, assist me.
First of all, let us throw out a hint or two upon the success of Paul's preaching; for he certainly was a very successful preacher. Secondly, a word or two upon the efficiency with which he acknowledged that he taught--it was by the power of the Spirit of God. Then, thirdly, the triumphs in which he so freely indulged. It is a matter of rejoicing to his soul that God condescends to make use of him. Hence I hear him exult, "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Eph. 3:8) Again, he says, "I who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13) "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." (1 Tim. 1:16) All asserting that, in his own experience as well as in the experience of those to whom he preached, everything was of God, from first to last.
I. Let us then, in the first place, glance at the success of Paul's preaching the gospel. And here I am met at once with the important and unavoidable inquiry, "What was Paul's preaching? Of what description was it?" He himself says, in the closing language of the verse, the former part of which I have taken for my text, "I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (Rom. 15:19) "Fully." Then whilst we dwell upon the success of Paul's preaching, we must insist that it was a pure gospel. He himself was so tenacious on this point, that he says, "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accused. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8,9) He doubles the anathema. Mark, then, the preaching of Paul which was so successful was pure gospel. He did not mix law and gospel together. It is true that he gave the statements of the law, and showed what they were; but he never mingled them with the gospel. He asserted, and proved, that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified" in the sight of God. (Rom. 3:20) Then he turns, and says, "Being justified freely by his grace." And again, "By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8)
In his preaching I mark four things prominent: principles, privileges, promises, and precepts. And I insist that that man does not preach a pure gospel who does not preach all four.
Principles stood first with him. He said, "I have laid the foundation, for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid." (1 Cor. 3:11) What were the principles he preached? They are summed up in very few words. "By grace are ye saved." (Eph. 2:8) That is the principle if I go no further--if I add no more than these five words, "By grace are ye saved." Well, then, there is nothing for works. No. He urges elsewhere, "If by grace, it is no more of works." (Rom. 11:6) They neutralize one another. Then it is an act of grace. It is the fullness of grace. It is an operation of grace. That is the principle of the gospel, and saves the ruined sinner--an act of grace passed in the covenant council of peace before all time--a fullness of grace treasured up in Christ, of which some of us have read to our hearts' delight this morning. "My grace," says Jesus, "is sufficient for thee;" (2 Cor. 12:9) and thousands and millions have been receiving out of that fullness--"grace for grace"--ages by-gone. Then it is the operation of grace--the Holy Ghost putting forth Omnipotent power without the creature's assistance, and making him participant of that grace which is treasured up for him before all time.
Then there were privileges set forth by him in his preaching. "Because ye are sons," "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:6) "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ." (Rom. 8:16) I pray you, was it ever known among mortals that beings had anything to do with making themselves children, with making themselves heirs, with making themselves joint heirs? Is it not an act done for them? So Paul sets forth privileges as well as doctrines. Moreover, if privileged to be sons, heirs, joint heirs, and to have the spirit of adoption bestowed, then all the freedom of access is reckoned among the privileges, all the fullness of the covenant is pleaded as the portion which belongeth to the family of God, all the education, all the clothing, the robes of righteousness put on the children of the living God, all the provisions, all the guidance, all the protection, all the perseverance, and all the glorification too of the entire family of God, are a matter of privilege, a matter provided, a matter enacted, a matter secured unto the entire family of God. That is Paul's preaching, a pure gospel; not only the principles, the sovereign grace of God, but the privileges bestowed by the hand of God, recorded in the Word of God, and realized only by the people of God.
Paul preached also the "exceeding great and precious promises," "that by these," says his brother Peter, "we might be partakers of the Divine nature." (2 Pet. 1:4) Paul dwelt on these with delight, and they always formed a part of his preaching; but he never set forth these promises as dependent upon creature doings; he never set them forth as having contingencies attached to them as in the Old Testament dispensation on account of their inhabiting the land of Canaan, and their Church organization there. That was gone by, and the promises of the gospel he set forth as "Yea and amen in Christ Jesus." Mark you, not yea and nay, but "Yea and amen in Christ Jesus, unto the glory of God by us." (2 Cor. 1:20) I don't wonder at his success while he thus honoured God.
Then again, whilst he insisted on promises, which are so exceeding great and precious, numerous and varied, that there is not a case or circumstance into which the child of God can be brought, but he has promises in the Holy Book exactly suited to that case or circumstance; and, moreover, the promise of the Holy Ghost that He will apply those promises in answer to prayer; so that when He gives the spirit of prayer with any particular promise, the answer is at hand to the seeking child of God. Whilst he insisted in these promises, Paul also preached the precepts of the Word of God; and in his Epistles, which he commences with the boldest expressions of gospel doctrine, and proceeds with experimental godliness, and the peculiar features of the character of the Churches to which he writes, he always closes his exhortations with the preceptive contents of the Word of God, and with the most pressing exhortations to the people of God to "every good word and work." Just as our blessed Lord did when He told His disciples, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)
Now, in order to preach that pure gospel, in the preaching of which Paul was so successful, the preacher must insist upon principles to their full extent, as found in the oracles of God. He must insist upon privileges as the Lord's gift to His whole family. He must insist upon promises, as "Yea and amen in Christ Jesus," as in no way dependent upon the creature. And he must insist upon precepts as enjoined upon the living family of God, and who are "a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
I have hastened over this view of the pure preaching of the gospel in which Paul was so successful, and I come now to say a word or two about that success. He talks about "mighty signs and wonders"--and many there were; he names one in the preceding verse as a prominent one, that the Gentiles who had been so rebellious, such idolators, so far from God, and accounted by the Jews as creatures scarcely human, that the Gentiles should be made "obedient by word and deed." "Mighty signs and wonders indeed!" Whether Gentiles or Jews, it is one of the greatest miracles known upon the face of the earth when God brings a poor ruined sinner, a rebel and a traitor, down to obedience to the scepter of Christ. And therefore the apostle speaks of the importance of supernatural "weapons and warfare" to accomplish this. He says, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds," (2 Cor. 10:4) and the bringing down of "every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God." And this is the point to which I particularly refer, "the bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," pulling the man down, humbling him, laying him low, bringing every thought into subjection to Christ, so as to conquer the poor sinner and bring his every thought into obedience to Christ. This is indeed a "mighty sign and wonder."
Let us speak of these signs and wonders more generally. The success of his ministry in the rescuing of Satan's slaves, the refreshing of the living Church of God; and thus the glorifying of Jesus's name. His success lay in the rescuing of Satan's slaves. I have often told you, and I must repeat it this morning, that every child of Adam born into the world, is born a slave to Satan and sin; and that a rescue must be effected by supernatural power, or he perishes eternally, because he is not only incapable of effecting his own escape, but is as unwilling as he is unable. He lives in slavery, and he hugs his chains. It is, therefore, a "mighty sign and wonder," when, by the preaching of the everlasting gospel, a poor ruined sinner, who was just before in Satan's captivity, loving sin, wallowing in iniquity, a stranger to God, and probably wrapped about with notions of self-righteousness, is rescued, delivered, brought out, made to bow to the scepter and to the honour of King Jesus, and reject the slavery of Satan at the hazard of all consequences. It is a "mighty sign and wonder;" yet it was done by Paul's preaching, and he never claimed the efficiency for himself. All was ascribed to his glorious Master. And when the work was accomplished, in delivering his congratulations to the Thessalonians, he says "Our entering in unto you was not in vain; for ye were turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God"--to look for His Son from heaven--to turn from idols. A "mighty sign and wonder," when a man has been pursuing a course of rebellion against God all his lifetime, to be suddenly turned, not only in his external conduct, but in the bias of his will, the current of his affections, the whole stream of his inclinations turned, so that with one mind and mouth he is turned to worship God, whom before he had insulted. A "mighty sign and wonder!" And I would not be without the joy in my soul this morning that this sign and wonder hath been manifested amongst us here during the last thirty years, by the power of the Spirit of God; that while the gospel has been preached, pure principles laid down, the privileges of the saints set forth, the promises of the Word urged, and the precepts of the Word enjoined, the Holy Ghost has taken you out of Satan's captivity, broken your hearts, melted your consciences, turned your feet, reversed your affections, and given you "a new heart and a right spirit." Glory to His name that "signs and wonders" are not yet at an end.
Moreover, Paul's success in preaching lay greatly in refreshing and establishing the Churches of the living God; so that under his labours they were "built up in their most holy faith." Here I must remind you that, in most instances, the poor slaves of Satan that have been delivered and rescued, and taught to hate sin, and flee from their former practices, that begin to read their Bibles, to bend the knee, and to attend the means of grace; yet, as if they still could be nothing else than slaves, seek to fabricate another slavery for themselves, to forge legal bonds for their souls, to depend upon a conditional, contingent, and an uncertain plan of salvation, which shall rest chiefly upon their own exertions; and a tremendous slavery this forms. You will recollect how vehemently Paul wrote concerning this evil to the believing family of God at Galatia. "I marvel," said he, "that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of God unto another gospel, which is not another." (Gal. 1:6,7) Having begun in the Spirit, they were seeking to be made perfect in the flesh, because certain Judaising teachers crept in amongst them and taught them erroneous things. Alas, alas! for the Churches of God in the present day which swarm with Judaising teachers, who insist upon conditions, contingencies, uncertainties, proposals, and matters which they say are left with the creature to accomplish, and perfect God's work. When Paul found out that this was the case with the Churches he had been instrumental in establishing, he wrote to them, he preached to them, and rebuked them sharply; and his ministry was so successful, that multitudes became rooted and grounded in the truth of God. They saw that it was of grace, and not of works; they abandoned the Popish or Puseyite system of creature doings; and, under the operation of the Spirit of God, acknowledged that it was all of grace, from first to last, that their salvation was obtained. This was the success of Paul's preaching; and I believe that the same success would attend the preaching of the present day if it were all like Paul's. So successful was his preaching, that it overcame all obstacles that stood in the way. It was of no use to fight against him, to oppose him, or to withstand him. They might put him in prison, they might thrust him into the inner prison, they might make his feet fast in the stocks, still he would pray to the Lord. It was of no use to send him to Rome as a prisoner. He would there preach the same pure gospel. He would even plant the Church in Caesar's household, where he was taken to be tried and condemned. It was of no use to attempt to stone him to death; for up he would get, though left for dead, and preach the same gospel to the same people, and in the same places in which he had been so ill-treated, and confirmed the souls of the disciples. "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24) Oh that we had a few Pauls raised up in our day! Oh that our God would send a few veterans into His Church who would regard nothing but the glorification of God--who would have nothing of self-interest, nothing of creature doing, and nothing of human systems; but who would aim but at this one point--Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death. Satan may tempt, the world may frown upon him; he is in perils by land, he is in perils by sea, he is in perils of robbers, he is in perils among false brethren, and that is the most deadly of all perils; yet amidst all these the Lord stands by him, for he says, "That by me may be fully known the gospel of Christ." That was Paul's work, and it overcame all obstacles, whether of earth or hell. Well, I sometimes cherish the blessed hope that I shall fare as he fared--that the precious gospel of God shall be fully told out, and bear down all before it, and enable me to exult, with the patriarch of old, "Oh, my soul, thou hast trodden down strength;" and in the last chilly moment that I shall be permitted to speak on earth, I wish to be able to exclaim, "More than conqueror, more than conqueror, through Him that hath loved me."
II. Let us now, in the second place, speak a word or two about the efficiency of Paul's preaching. It was by the power of the Spirit of God--and truly such "mighty signs and wonders" are never accomplished otherwise, or by any other power--I would not, God forbid that I should, depreciate the powers of the human soul with which God may have endowed any of His sent-servants. He endowed them with those powers for the purpose of making the best use of them; but I insist that if all the created powers of all the twelve apostles were concentrated in one preacher, all their fervor, all their eloquence, all their erudition, all their diligence and ardour of spirit concentrated in one spirit, and that one preacher were to preach the whole age of man, with unabated fervor, but with no power from above, there would not be a single soul converted to God, not a soul rescued from Satan's grasp, or a soul receive the least benefit therefrom. True, that most probably the judgment might be informed to some extent; but for saving purposes--mark the expression, for saving purposes--the power of the Spirit of God must be granted. Wonder, oh heavens, and be astonished, oh earth, that this marvel is still going on at the present hour. May the Holy Ghost continue to descend here, that the same congratulations which Paul addressed to the Thessalonians may apply to us, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." (1 Thess. 1:5) Such is the vast privilege of genuine Christianity.
I don't intend to waste your time by examining theories that have obtained amongst men--they may be right, or they may be wrong; but they end in mere amusement if we have nothing more. It is only by the power of the Spirit of God, and it is the province and the office of the ministry of the Holy Ghost to manifest Christ, and nothing is done until Christ is manifested. "It is God that separated me from my mother's womb," said Paul, "and called me by His grace to reveal His Son in me." (Gal. 1:15,16) Whose office is this? Certainly not of the tutor, not of the president of an academy, not of books: it is not a human gift; it is just the province of the Holy Ghost, as set down by Jesus Himself. "He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." (John 16:14) That is the work of His ministry. There, while Paul preached in the various directions in which the providence of God led him, the Holy Ghost accompanied his ministry; and just as it was with Peter, "While I was yet speaking," said he, "the Holy Ghost fell on them who heard the Word." (Acts 10:44) Paul proves this to be by the power of the Spirit of God; so that while, to use his own language, in immediate connection with our text, he was delivering God's truth "From Jerusalem, and round about, even unto Illyricum, in all the fullness of the gospel of Christ," as he marched, the third Person in the glorious Trinity hovered over him, rested upon him, taught him what to say, broke open the fullness of eternal truth to his view, fired his soul with zeal and love to proclaim it, caught the sentences off his lips, applied them to the hearts of his hearers, and mighty signs and wonders were effected. Thus is He accustomed to work now, and to give success to the ministry of the gospel. And are not your hearts uplifted to Him that He may thus work for you, in the manifestation of Christ, the glory of His person, "the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person," (Heb. 1:3) in the adaptation of His official character, having all power in heaven and on earth, to rescue, recover, transform, and bring home to glory, all that the Father gives into His hands. This the Holy Ghost manifests, and applies to the heart.
Here I pause a moment to mark the difference between that knowledge of Christ which is obtained in theory by mortals, and that knowledge of Christ which comes from above by the teaching and ministration of the Holy Ghost. The former leaves man as dead as it found him, as cold as the marble statue, and as incapable of moving in anything spiritual; a speculator, a carnal reasoner, one that may take upon him, by the keenness of his natural intellect, and by dint of reading, to raise a theory, argue a point, and attempt to oppose by polemic skill, the precious truths of God, in more simple hearts. But such a person is "dead in trespasses and sins," and knows nothing of being brought into communion and fellowship with the persons and perfections of the Deity: while, on the contrary, the power of the Spirit of God, applying the truth of God to the heart of the sinner, literate or illiterate, for it makes no difference in regard to that, brings him to the feet of Jesus, convinces him of the need of Jesus, shows him that there is no salvation but in Jesus, and unfolds the glories and beauties of Jesus in a manner that no bystander can perceive, creates a willingness in his soul to accept of Jesus, applies His precious blood, cleansing his conscience to serve the living God, works mightily by the grace and power of Christ, with the righteousness of Christ, and unfolds more and more the glory, and excellency, and beauty, and preciousness of Christ. All this is by the power of the Spirit of God.
I grant that creature powers, I grant that that which is natural among men may succeed to a wonderful extent in producing a flimsy morality, a certain decency of character and external circumspection; but never in one instance did it rescue a sinner from Satan's thralldom, or communicate a capacity to enjoy God. Moreover, we ought not to lose sight of the fact, that Paul preached that this power was invincible. I know some people prefer the old school phrase of "irresistible." I never liked it. It is not strong and expressive enough for me. But when I say it is "invincible," I mean that all resistance is in vain. It is invincible--it is sure to conquer. It is sure to conquer, of course, and accomplish that for which it was designed. Therefore we look at the power of the Spirit of God as invincible. Oh, how is every other power found to be vincible, how is every other power found to be resistible, how is every other power found to be conquerable! All that has been said by the most faithful and affectionate persuasions of the faithful and affectionate preachers of Christ Jesus, all that has been said of most solemn warnings, all that has been said in the most eloquent strains, all that has been said to support and defend orthodoxy, all that has been said of the consequence of living and dying in sin, never had power enough to arrest one sinner, so as to bring him to Jesus' feet, until the power of God's Spirit mastered him. It leaves man emphatically where he was before. They may set up a howl from night to morning, as at an Irish wake, and have the room full of lighted candles, and to all they can do to bring the dead to life; but there it lies, a dead corpse. Then I conceive Arminian preaching to be emphatically like an Irish wake. They may do all they can to stir the poor dead sinner; they may lament over him, and put forth every human effort; but in vain. When, however, the power of the Spirit of God is felt, and goes forth with the Word, "the dead hear the voice," not merely of the man, but of the "Son of God, and they that hear live." (John 5:25) My God, let it be so this morning in our experience, if it be consistent with thy holy will and purpose. The power of the Holy Ghost is so invincible that the most stubborn hearts must yield. It is so invincible that the most confirmed habits of idolatry, or of licentiousness, must be vanquished; the most finished and thickest coat of mail torn off, and the vail of the covering thrown over all flesh removed. The stubborn heart which said, "I will not have this man to reign over me," will be obliged to change its tone, and sing, "O Lord our God, other lords besides Thee have had dominion over me; but by Thee only will I make mention of Thy name." (Isa. 26:13) You may argue a man into almost anything, and the more skillful the reasoner, the more dangerous a companion is he, if he be destitute of the grace of God. Just as a painter may change the colour of a post from white to blue, from blue to yellow, from yellow to green, from green to black; yet, after all, it is but a post. So you may change the sentiments, the external appearances and courses of a mortal, yet after all leave him "dead in trespasses and in sins;" and we maintain that not a soul of Adam's posterity will ever live to God here or in heaven, but such as "hear the Divine voice of the Son of God," and begin to live spiritually.
Moreover, this invincible power defies all hostility, and all attempts to hold the poor slave. God says, "Let my servant go, that he may serve me in the wilderness." Satan may say, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? I will not let him go." Parents, carnal relatives, may say, "I will not allow my son to be a Christian. I will not allow him to become an Antinomian, which is worse than all. I will not allow him to become a Dissenter." But it is of no use. You may cavil, you may raise a tumult if you please; still the power of God is invincible. The great Eternal has got hold of the son, or the wife, or the husband. Poor carnal relative! and you cannot draw him back to the world. He belongs to God, and God claims His own; and the power with which He grasps his heart is invincible. Satan may oppose with his temptations; but he shall not overcome, and God will bruise him under His feet. The world, with its wiles, it frowns, and its menaces, may oppose, but it cannot overcome; "And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4) The believer fights, not as one that beateth the air, but goes on sure ground; for
"The work which wisdom undertakes,
Moreover, the power of the Spirit of God is and must be a new creating power. I introduce this because it is a truth which is warred against by modern divinity; and we are told sometimes that there is no new existence imparted, or new creating work going on; and that the work of conversion consists in nothing more than rectifying, cleansing, and properly instructing the powers and faculties which already exist. Now I read in my Bible that "if any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation;" (2 Cor. 5:17) and this is the work of the Spirit of God. It is His as in the old creation, when the Spirit of God moved upon the face of chaos. All creation, in a spiritual point of view, is a chaos under the fall, until the Spirit of the Lord moves, and calls to a new state of existence the souls that were destitute of it. Ezekiel may preach, and whilst preaching and prophecying, the bones may shake--they may come together, bone to their bone, and appear with all the symmetry and proportion of human beings; but there will be no breath in them until "the Spirit of God breathes upon them, and they live." (Ezek. 37) So in the preaching of the everlasting gospel we may shake man's consciences, and promulgate theories and systems when are very like Bible truth and Christianity; but there is no breath in them until Jehovah the Holy Spirit puts forth His own power, and "breaths on the slain, that they may live." Will you not plead with Him for this? Is it not the subject matter of your petitions to the throne daily, especially on the Lord's day, that the Spirit of Jehovah may breathe on the slain that they may live? That very breathing will refresh and cheer the followers of the Lamb; for when the north wind awaketh, and the south wind bloweth--to use the language of the Canticles--upon the garden of the Lord, an emblem of the work of the Spirit, then the spices of the Lord will flow out.
III. Let us now proceed, in the third place, to say a little about Paul's triumphs concerning his success in which he so freely indulged. I wonder not that, as in the case of Peter and other apostles, they lifted up their voices, and praised God for the wonders of His grace, the miracles accomplished, the triumphs of the cross, and the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom. It was this that made Paul to rejoice. Now here is a criterion to be established, by which we are to judge of every faithful minister of Jesus Christ. I need not to enlarge upon this, because there are not many of them here present; but if you were all ministers of Jesus Christ, I should put it before you in this form:--If the prominent desire, the most ardent longing of your soul, in the matter of preaching, is not the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, there is reason to fear that you have your commission from the devil, and not from Christ. That may go forth in as severe language as we can express it. I do not wish to soften it; that if this is not foremost with you, the glorifying of Christ, and the extension of His mediatorial kingdom on earth, you have reason to fear that you have your commission from Satan, and not from Christ. Bear with me in this honesty, while I urge that, if creature-applause be the aim, if a respectable profession be the object, if to live apart from secular employments be the only intention, it is an awful proof that there is no commission from God, and that there is nothing here to exult in. But when the Holy Ghost gives success to that ministry which aims to glorify Christ in the rescue of Satan's slaves, and the refreshing of the followers of the Lamb, as we have already shown, the soul has something to exult in, and yet nothing to glory in himself--something to exult in, but nothing to boast of for himself. He exults in the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, finding that the promise is carried out, "I saw Satan fall like lightning to the ground." One precious soul rescued from the foul drudgery of sin and the slavery of Satan, is worth a man's whole life to work and preach for; and yet I confess I should not be satisfied. My soul would not be at ease in my work if I did not hear of such instances in constant succession. I am always on the look out for them, and whenever I meet with them I exult with Paul, that I have not run in vain, that I have not laboured in vain. Shall not that which is the joy of heaven, be the joy of God's ministers on earth? Shall not that, over which the angels of God shout in glory, even the repentance of one sinner, be matter of joy and rejoicing to the servants of the living God?--that they may say of many such, "Ye are our glory and joy" in the day of Christ Jesus? Even when Paul had to encounter the fiercest opposition and persecution, and the name of Christ was talked of profanely, "Well," said he, "what of that? Christ is preached and proclaimed, and so long as His name is extended, I will rejoice in it." Though some may do it in contention and strife, and others in good will, still He is preached; the triumphs of His kingdom must extend, His Church increase, idols be "cast to the moles and to the bats." The Jews shall see their stubbornness and rebellion--the Gentiles shall be called by grace, and the whole elect family of God be gathered in by God's Spirit and power, through the preaching of the gospel.
Moreover, in all his exultations he took care to neutralize and give the negative to the boastings of proud free-will. This is a main point with Paul in his preaching. The whole Epistle to the Galatians tells to this point. That to the Romans abounds with the most expressive and bold statements. During the whole of his ministry, he warred against the will and the vain pretensions of proud man; and if he were the preacher in Grove Chapel pulpit, I have no doubt whatever that he would be as much censured as your present preacher is. They say that I won't let other people alone; and all I meddle with is their heresies and abominations; and I should be a traitor to Christ if I did not do that. Therefore Paul says, "Knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel." (Phil. 1:17) In defending the gospel of Jesus Christ, I must throw down the ramparts of the enemy--I must storm the citadel of free-will--I must draw the wheels of the gospel chariot over the car of Juggernaut--I must tread to the ground all the idols and superstitions of the day, and publish salvation in, through, and by the precious Christ of God, upon whom all the glory of the eternal victories of His Church and her entire glorification must be hung. I should like to see a little more of this happy exultation amongst preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Among those I meet with from time to time I find one wailing that his hearers are so few, another lamenting that he seldom hears of conversions to God, another that he sees no fruit from his labours. Bear with me if I am censurous. I strongly suspect that those matters which I described at the commencement of this sermon, as constituting pure gospel, are not boldly and prominently brought out in their preaching. If they were, I query much if we should hear of any cause of complaint. "The Word of God is quick and powerful." (Heb. 4:12) But if you put the word of man along with it, it is like blunting the edge of a tool--it is like blunting the cutting edge of the sword of the Spirit, which must have nothing of creature doings with it. If it be the Word of God in its purity, we shall exult that the Redeemer's kingdom is extending, that the farrago of superstition, will-worship, and external observances, is rejected, despised, and contemned; and that the pure gospel of God, "which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," (Rom. 1:16) has supplanted all the heresies that Rome and Satan have devised for tarnishing the gospel of God.
One thought more, and I draw to a close. Paul's exhortations always contained a testimony to the sovereignty of God's grace. By the grace of God I am what I am." And if he had nothing, did nothing, was nothing, received nothing, but through the grace of God, he would never insinuate that others could. He wished them to stand on the same ground; and he says again and again, "By grace ye are saved." And believe me, if we have to exult in the success of the gospel, it is through the sovereign operations of grace, which take fast hold of the sinner's heart, bring him to the Saviour's feet, and transform him to Jesus' image. It must be in those sovereign communications, in the comforting, cheering, stablishing, rooting, and grounding the people of God in the precious things of God, which the Holy Ghost is pleased to apply in the most sovereign manner; so that while the preacher is delivering the truths of the gospel, some promise is applied by the Holy Ghost, fills the hearers with joy and peace in believing, and they shout with the apostle, "Thanks be to God who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place." (2 Cor. 2:14)
Before I sit down, do suffer me to address one appeal to the consciences of my hearers. Is your Christianity of man or of God? Hath it wrought for thee or upon thee by dint of creature effort, by literature, by books, by preaching, by catechisms (against which I say not one word;) but, if this be all, you have a lamp without any oil in your vessel, the chill damps of death will put it out, and leave you to sink into utter darkness. But if your Christianity be rooted in your souls by the power of the Spirit of God creating a new life--communicating the Divine nature, as saith the apostle concerning it, strengthening, refreshing, and encouraging that life; and you are brought to discover that the whole work is of the Lord, from beginning to end, I congratulate you, in the name of Him I serve, and who sent me for this purpose, with the assurance that all the powers of darkness may rage, and all earth be in arms, and ten thousands vile corruptions war against this Christianity; but the power of the Spirit of God shall make it victorious, and you more than conqueror, "because He hath loved you."
May He command a blessing on these few hints, and His name shall have all the glory. Amen.