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this, that the kingdom of God has come NIGH unto you!
Finally, From what has been advanced, we may form a judgment of our duty as ministers of the word, in dealing with the unconverted. The work of the christian ministry, it has been said, is to preach the gospel, or to hold up the free grace of God through Jesus Christ, as the only way of a sinner's salvation. This is doubtless true; and if this be not the leading theme of our ministrations, we had better be any thing than preachers. Wo unto us, if we preach not the gospel! The minister who, under a pretence of pressing the practice of religion, neglects its all important principles, labours in the fire. He may enforce duty till duty freezes upon his lips; neither his auditors nor himself will greatly regard it. But on the other hand, if by preaching the gospel be meant the insisting solely upon the blessings and privileges of religion, to the neglect of exhortations, calls, and warnings ; it is sufficient to say that such was not the practice of Christ and his apostles. It will not be denied that they preached the gospel: yet they warned, admonished, and intreated sinners to repent and believe; to believe while they had the light; to labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life; to repent and be converted, that their sins might be blotted out; to come to the marriage-supper, for that all things were ready: in fine, to be reconciled unto God.
If the inability of sinners to perform things spiritually good were natural, or that which existed independent of their present choice, it would be absurd and cruel to address them in such language. No one in his senses would think of calling the blind to look, the deaf to hear, or the dead to rise up and walk; and of threatening them with punishment in case of their refusal. But if the blindness arise from the love of darkness rather than light; if the deafness resemble that of the adder, which stoppeth her ear, and will not hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely; and if the death consist in alienation of heart from God, and the absence of all desire after him; there is no absurdity or cruelty in it.
But enforcing the duties of religion, either on sinners, or saints, is by some called preaching the law. If it were so, it is enough for us that such was the preaching of Christ and his apostles. It is folly and presumption to affect to be more evangelical than they were. All practical preaching, however, is not preaching the law. That only is preaching the law, as I apprehend, in which our acceptance with God is, in some way or other, placed to the account of our obedience to its precepts. When eternal life is represented as the reward of repentance, faith, and sincere obedience, (as it too frequently is, and that under the complaisant form of being through the merits of Christ;') this is preaching the law, and not the gospel. But the precepts of the law may be illustrated and en
forced for evangelical purposes: as tending to vindicate the divine character and government, to convince of sin, to shew the necessity of a Saviour, with the freeness of salvation; to ascertain the nature of true religion; and to point out the rule of christian conduct. Such a way of introducing the divine law, in subserviency to the gospel, is, properly speaking, preaching the gospel: for the end denominates the action.
If the foregoing principles be just, it is the duty of ministers not only to exhort their carnal auditors to believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls; but IT IS AT OUR PERIL TO EXHORT THEM TO ANY THING SHORT OF IT, OR WHICH DOES NOT INVOLVE, OR IMPLY IT. I am aware that such an idea may startle many of my readers, and some who are engaged in the Christian ministry. We have sunk into such a compromising way of dealing with the unconverted, as to have well nigh lost the spirit of the primitive preachers; and hence it is that sinners of every description can sit so quietly as they do, year after year, in our places of worship. It was not so with the hearers of Peter and Paul. They were either pricked in the heart in one way, or cut to the heart in another. Their preaching commended itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. How shall we account for this difference? Is there not some important error or defect in our ministrations? I have no reference to the preaching of those who disown the divinity or atonement of Christ, or the one hand, whose ser
mons are little more than harangues on morality: nor to that of gross antinomians, on the other, whose chief business it is to feed the vanity and malignity of one part of their audience, and the sin-extenuating principles of the other. These are errors, the folly of which is manifest to all men who pay any serious regard to the religion of the new testament. I refer to those who are commonly reputed evangelical, and who approve of addresses to the unconverted. I hope no apology is necessary. for an attempt to exhibit the scriptural manner of preaching. If it affect the labours of some of my brethren, I cannot deny but that it may also affect my own. I conceive there is scarcely a minister amongst us, but whose preaching has been more or less influenced by the lethargic systems of the age.
Christ and his apostles without any hesitation, called on sinners to repent and believe the gospel : but we, considering them as poor, impotent, and depraved creatures, have been disposed to drop this part of the Christian ministry. Some may have felt afraid of being accounted legal; others have really thought it inconsistent. Considering such things as beyond the power of their hearers, they seem to have contented themselves with pressing on them things which they could perform, still continuing the enemies of Christ; such as behaving decently in society, reading the scriptures, and attending the means of grace. Thus it is, that hearers of this description sit at ease in our congregations. Having done their duty, the minister
has nothing more to say to them; nothing however, unless it be to tell them occasionally that something more is necessary to salvation. But as this implies no guilt on their part, they sit unconcerned, conceiving that all that is required of them is 'to lie in the way, and wait the Lord's time.' But is this the religion of the scriptures? Where doth it appear that the prophets or apostles ever treated that kind of inability, which is merely the effect of reigning aversion, as affording any excuse? And where have they descended in their exhortations to things which might be done, and the parties still continue the enemies of God? Instead of leaving out every thing of a spiritual nature, because their hearers could not find in their hearts to comply with it, it may safely be affirmed, they exhorted to nothing else; treating such inability not only as of no account, with regard to the lessening of obligation, but as rendering the subjects of it worthy of the severest rebuke.-To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? Behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they CANNOT hearken: Behold the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach, and they have no delight in it. What then? Did the prophet desist from his work, and exhort them to something to which, in their present state of mind, they could hearken? Far from it. He delivers his message, whether they would hear, or whether they would forbear. Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We