Luke 14:23. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
God erected this visible world as a monument of his glory, a theatre for the display of his adorable perfections. The heavens proclaim his wisdom and power in shining characters, and the whole earth is full of his goodness. Man was in his original creation excellently fitted for the service of God, and for perfect happiness in the enjoyment of the divine favour. But sin has disturbed the order of nature, defaced the beauty of the most disconsolate circumstances of guilt and misery.
The all-seeing eye of God beheld our deplorable state; infinite pity touched the heart of the Father of mercies; and infinite wisdom laid the plan of our recovery. The Majesty of heaven did not see meet to suffer the enemy of mankind eternally to triumph in his success; nor leave his favourite workmanship irrecoverably to perish in the ruins of the apostasy. By a method, which at once astonishes and delights the spirits above, he opened a way for the display of his mercy, without any violation of the sacred claims of his justice; in which, the honour of the law is vindicated, and the guilty offender acquitted; sin is condemned, and the sinner eternally saved. To accomplish this blessed design, the beloved Son of God assumed the nature of man; in our nature died a spotless sacrifice for sin; by the atoning virtue of his blood "he made reconciliation for iniquity," and by his perfect obedience to the law of God, "brought in everlasting righteousness."
Having finished his work upon earth, before he ascended to his heavenly Father, he commissioned the ministers of his kingdom to "preach the gospel to every creature." He sent them forth to make the most extensive offers of salvation to rebellious sinners, and by all the methods of holy violence to "compel them to come in," and accept the invitations of his grace. We have a lively representation of this in the parable, in which our text is contained.
The evident design of it is, under the figure of a marriage supper, to set forth the plentiful provision, which is made in our Lord Jesus Christ for the reception of his people, and the freedom and riches of divine grace, which invites the most unworthy and miserable sinners, to partake of this sacred entertainment. The first invited guests were the Jews, the favourite people of God, who were heirs of divine love, while the rest of the world were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise" but these, through the power of prevailing prejudice, and the influence of carnal affections, obstinately rejected the invitation, and were therefore finally excluded from these invaluable blessings.
But it was not the design of infinite wisdom, that these costly preparations should be lost, and the table he had spread remain unfurnished with guests. Therefore he sent forth his servant "into the streets and lanes of the city," and commanded him to bring in "the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind,"—i.e. the most necessitous and miserable of mankind;— yea, to "go out into the highways and hedges," to the wretched and perishing Gentiles, and not only invite, but even "compel them to come in, that his house might be filled."
The words of the text represent to us—
1. The melancholy state of the Gentile world. They are described as "in the highways and hedges," in the most perishing and helpless condition.
2. The compassionate care, which the blessed Redeemer takes of them in these their deplorable circumstances. He "sends out his servants" to them, to invite them to partake of the entertainments of his house.
3. The duty of the ministers of the gospel, to "compel them to come in," and accept of his gracious invitation. These I shall consider in their order, and then apply them to the present occasion.
1. I am to consider the melancholy state of the Heathen world while in the darkness of nature, and destitute of divine revelation. It is easy to harangue upon the excellency and advantage of the light of nature. It is agreeable to the pride of mankind to exalt the powers of human reason, and pronounce it a sufficient guide to eternal happiness. But let us inquire into the records of antiquity, let us consult the experience of all ages, and we shall find, that those who had no guide but the light of nature, no instructor but unassisted reason, have wandered in perpetual uncertainty, darkness, and error. Or let us take a view of the present state of those countries that have not been illuminated by the gospel; and we shall see, that notwithstanding the improvements of near six thousand years, they remain to this day covered with the grossest darkness, and abandoned to the most immoral and vicious practices.
The beauty and good order every where discovered in the visible frame of nature, evidences, beyond all reasonable dispute, the existence of an infinite and Almighty Cause, who first gave being to the universe, and still preserves it by his powerful providence. Says the apostle to the Gentiles, (Rom. 1:20) "The invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." And yet many, even among the philosophers of the Gentile nations, impiously denied the eternal Deity, from whose hands they received their existence; and blasphemed his infinite perfections, when surrounded with the clearest demonstrations of his power and goodness. Those who acknowledged a Deity, entertained the most unworthy conceptions of his nature and attributes, and worshipped the creature, in the place of the Creator, "who is God blessed for ever." Not only the illustrious heroes of antiquity, and the public benefactors of mankind, but even the most despicable beings in the order of nature, were enrolled in the catalogue of their gods, and became the object of their impious adoration. "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." Rom. 1:23.
A few of the sublimest geniuses of Rome and Athens, had some faint discoveries of the spiritual nature of the soul, and formed some probable conjectures, that man was designed for a future state of existence. When they considered the extensive capacities of the human mind, and the deep impressions of futurity engraven in every breast, they could not but infer, that the soul was immortal, and at death would be translated to some new and unknown state. When they saw the virtuous oppressed with various and successive calamities, and the vilest of men triumphing in prosperity and pleasure, they entertained distant hopes, that, in a future revolution, these seeming inequalities would be rectified, these inconsistencies removed; the righteous distinguishingly rewarded, and the wicked remarkably punished. But after all their inquiries upon this important subject, they attained no higher than some probable conjectures, some uncertain expectations. And when they came to describe the nature and situation of these invisible regions of happiness or misery, they made the wildest guesses, and ran into the most absurd and vain imaginations. The heaven they contrived for the entertainment of the virtuous, was made up of sensual pleasures, beneath the dignity of human nature, and inconsistent with perfect felicity. The hell they described for the punishment of the vicious, consisted in ridiculous terrors, unworthy the belief of a rational and religious creature.
Their practices were equally corrupt with their principles. As the most extravagant errors were received among the established articles of their faith, so the most infamous vices obtained in their practice, and were indulged not only with impunity, but authorised by the sanction of their laws. They stupidly erected altars to idols of wood and stone; paid divine honours to those who in their lives had been the greatest monsters of lust and cruelty; yea, offered up their sons and daughters as sacrifices to devils. The principles of honour, the restraints of shame, the precepts of their philosophers, were all too weak, to keep their corruptions within any tolerable bounds. The wickedness of their hearts broke through every inclosure, and deluged the earth with rapine and violence, blood and slaughter, and all manner of brutish and detestable impurities. It is hardly possible to read the melancholy description of the principles and manners of the Heathen world, given us by St. Paul, without horror and surprise; to think that man, once the "friend of God" and "the lord of this lower world," should thus "deny the God that made him," and bow down to dumb idols, should thus, by lust and intemperance, degrade himself into the character of the beast, "which hath no understanding;" and by pride, malice, and revenge, transform himself into the very image of the devil, "who was a murderer from the beginning."
This was the state of the Gentile nations, when the light of the gospel appeared to scatter the darkness that overspread the face of the earth. And this has been the case, so far as has yet appeared, of all the nations ever since, upon whom the Sun of righteousness has not arisen with healing in his wings. Every new discovered country opens a new scene of astonishing ignorance and barbarity; and gives us fresh evidence of the universal corruption of human nature.
2. I proceed now to consider the compassionate care and kindness of our blessed Redeemer towards mankind, in these their deplorable circumstances. He "sends out his servants" to invite them "to come in," and accept the entertainment of his house.
God might have left his guilty creatures to have eternally suffered the dismal effects of their apostacy, without the least imputation of injustice, or violence of his infinite perfections. The fall was the consequence of man's criminal choice, and attended with the highest aggravations. The angels that sinned were made examples of God's righteous severity, and are reserved "in chains" of guilt "to the judgment of the great day." Mercy, that tender attribute of the divine nature, did not interpose in their behalf, in order to suspend the execution of their sentence, or to avert God's threatened displeasure. Their punishment is unalterably decreed, their judgment is irreversible; they are the awful monuments of revenging wrath, and are condemned "to blackness of darkness for ever." Now justice might have shewn the same inflexible severity to rebellious man, and have left the universal progeny of Adam to perish in their guilt and misery. It was unmerited mercy that distinguished the human race, in providing a Saviour for us; and it was the most signal compassion that revealed the counsels of heaven for our recovery.
But though justice did not oblige the divine Being to provide for our relief, yet the goodness of the indulgent Father of the universe inclined him to shew pity to his guilty creatures, who fell from their innocence through the subtlety and malice of seducing and apostate spirits. It was agreeable to the divine wisdom to disappoint the devices of Satan, the enemy of God and goodness, and recover the creatures he had made from their subjection to the powers of darkness.
He therefore gave early discoveries of his designs of mercy to our first parents, and immediately upon the apostacy opened a door of hope for their recovery. He revealed a Saviour to the ancient Patriarchs, under dark types and by distant promises; made clearer declarations of his will, as the appointed time drew near, for the accomplishment of the promises, and the manifestation of the Son of God in human flesh. "And when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that he might receive the adoption of sons."
This divine and illustrious person left the bosom of his Father, that he might put on the character of a servant; descended from the glories, of heaven, that he might dwell on this inferior earth; was made under the law, that he might fulfil all righteousness; submitted to the infirmities of human nature, to the sorrows and sufferings of an afflicted life, and to the agonies of a painful ignominious death on a cross, that he might destroy the power of sin, abolish the empire of death, and purchase immortality and glory for perishing man.
While our Lord Jesus resided in this lower world, he preached the glad tidings of salvation, and published the kingdom of God; confirming his doctrine by numerous and undoubted miracles, and recommending his instructions by the charms of a spotless life and conversation. He sent forth his apostles to pursue the same gracious design of gospelizing the people, and furnished them with sufficient powers to proselyte the nations to the faith. He also appointed a standing ministry, to carry on a treaty of peace with rebellious sinners, in the successive ages of the church, to continue till the number of the redeemed is completed, and the whole election of grace placed in circumstances of spotless purity and perfect happiness.
These ministers are styled "the servants of Christ," by way of eminence; they are in a peculiar manner devoted to the service of their divine Master: from him they receive their commission; and by him they are appointed to represent his person, preside in his worship, and teach the laws of his kingdom. To assume this character without being divinely called, and regularly introduced into this sacred office, is a bold invasion of Christ's royal authority, and an open violation of that order which he established in his church. These not only derive their mission from Christ, but it is his doctrine they are to preach, and not the inventions of their own brain;—it is his glory they are to promote, and not their own interest or honour. Their business is not to propagate the designs of a party, but the common salvation, and to "beseech all, in Christ's name, to be reconciled unto God."
The Apostles, the primitive heralds of the everlasting gospel, were sent to make the first tender of salvation to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel;" and they were commanded to begin at Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish commonwealth. But when the Jews obstinately persisted in their impenitence and unbelief, they were commissioned "to preach the gospel to every creature under heaven:" the sinners of the Gentiles were invited to come in, and accept of the offers of salvation.
The prophets pointed out a Messiah that was to come, and proclaimed the joyful approach of a Redeemer at the time appointed in the sovereign counsels of heaven. The ministers of the gospel now are sent to declare, that the prophecies are accomplished, the promise fulfilled, justice satisfied, salvation purchased; and all that will come in, shall receive the blessings of the gospel. They are not only free to invite sinners of all orders and degrees, of all ages and nations; but to assure them, that "all things are now ready," and to use the most powerful and persuasive methods, that they may engage them to comply with the heavenly call. Which brings me to the third thing proposed, viz:
3. To shew, that it is the great duty of the ministers of the gospel "to compel sinners to come in," and accept of the blessings of the gospel. This is so plainly contained in my text, that I shall not multiply arguments to confirm it. My only business shall be to explain the nature of this compulsion, or shew in what manner sinners are to be "compelled to come in" to the Christian church. And sure I am, not by the deceitful methods of fraud and disguise, nor the inhuman practices of persecution and violence. This text, indeed, has often been alleged by the persecuting bigots of all ages, and applied to support the cause of religious tyranny; to the infinite scandal of the Christian name, and the unspeakable detriment of the Christian interest. By this means, the enemies of our most holy faith have been strengthened in their infidelity, the weak have been turned aside from "the truth as it is in Jesus," and the peaceable kingdom of the Messiah transformed into a field of blood, a scene of hellish and horrid cruelties. If this were the compulsion recommended in the gospel, then absolute unrelenting tyrants would be the proper and most infallible teachers; then racks and tortures would be the genuine and most successful method of propagating the faith. But surely every thing of this kind, every violent and driving measure, is in direct opposition to the precepts and example of our blessed Saviour, and contrary to the very genius of his gospel, which proclaims "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men" (Luke 2:14).
The princes of this world exercise a temporal dominion over mankind, and by fines levied on their estates, and punishments inflicted on their bodies, force men to an outward subjection to their authority and government. But the kingdom of our Lord is of a spiritual nature; he erects his empire in the hearts of men, and reigns over "a willing people in the day of his power." External violence may necessitate men to an external profession of the truth, and procure a dissembled compliance with the institutions of Christ; but can never enlighten the darkness of the mind, conquer the rebellion of the will, nor sanctify and save the soul. It may transfigure men into accomplished hypocrites; but will never convert them into real saints.
The gospel was originally propagated by the powerful preaching of Christ and his apostles, by the astonishing miracles which they wrought in confirmation of their doctrine, and the exemplary lives by which they adorned their profession and character. Instead of propagating their religion by the destructive methods of fire and sword, they submitted to the rage and cruelty of a malignant world with surprising patience, and sacrificed their very lives in the cause of God, without any intemperate discoveries of anger and resentment. Instead of calling for "fire from heaven" to destroy their opposers, they compassionated their ignorance, instructed them with meekness, counselled and exhorted them with "all long suffering and doctrine," and even spent their dying breath in praying for their conviction and conversion, that they might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Now, in imitation of these primitive doctors of the Christian church, these wise and successful preachers of the gospel, it is the duty of the ministers of the present day, to use the same methods of compassion and friendly violence. A disinterested zeal for the glory of God, a steadfast adherence to the truth, and unshaken fidelity in our Master's cause, with universal benevolence to mankind, must constantly animate our public discourses, and be conspicuous in our private conversation and behaviour. We must diligently endeavour to convince the understandings, engage the affections, and direct the practice of our hearers. Upon this head, it may not be amiss to descend to a few particulars.
1. Ministers are to "compel sinners to come in," by setting before them their "guilty and perishing condition by nature." Sinners are naturally fond of carnal ease and security; they are delighted with their pleasant and profitable sins; they even "drink in iniquity like water," with great greediness, with insatiable thirst, and incessant gratification, but without fear or remorse. Upon this account, there is the highest necessity to sound an alarm in their ears, that they may be awakened, to see and consider their dangerous state; or else they will never be excited to "flee from the wrath to come." The secure sinner is insensible of his want of a Saviour: "The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick."
To this end, the ministers of the gospel are to set "the terrors of the Lord" in array against the sinner, and let him hear the "thunder of divine curses," that utter their voice against the unbelieving. They are to represent in the clearest light, and with the most convincing evidence, the evil of sin, and the danger to which it exposes; that "wrath from heaven is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;" (Rom. 1:18) that the flaming sword of incensed justice is unsheathed, and the arm of the Almighty ready to destroy such as are "going on still in their trespasses," impenitent, and secure. They are not only thus to shew them their danger, but to set before them at the same time their wretched and helpless circumstances;—that no human eye can successfully pity them, nor any created arm bring them effectual deliverance;—that, while in a state of unregenerate nature, they are destitute of strength to perform any acceptable service to the blessed God, and unable to make any adequate satisfaction to offended justice;—that indeed they can neither avoid the divine displeasure, nor endure the punishment that is due to their crimes. Thus, by a faithful application of the law, and its threatenings, we should endeavour, by God's blessing, to make way for the reception of the gospel and its promises. This was the wise method observed by our blessed Saviour, the first preacher of the gospel; and by the apostles, his inspired successors. So John the Baptist, who served as "the morning star" to usher in the appearance of the Sun of righteousness," did thus "prepare the way of the Lord," by enlightening the minds of men in the knowledge of their guilt and misery, and inciting them to flee from the "damnation of hell." The three thousand that were converted to the faith at one sermon, in the infancy of the Christian church, were first awakened with a sense of their aggravated guilt, in "crucifying the Lord of glory;" and brought in agony and distress to cry out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:36,37)
The method, I confess is disagreeable to the sentiments and inclinations of a secure world; and may expose us to the reproach of those "that are at ease in Zion:" but is agreeable to the dictates of an enlightened mind, conformable to the plan laid down in the sacred scriptures and has in all ages approved itself the most successful method of promoting the interests of real and vital religion.
2. They are to "compel sinners to come in," by a lively representation of the power and grace of our Almighty Redeemer. Not all the thunder and terror of curses from Mount Ebal, not all the tremendous "wrath revealed from heaven against the ungodly," not all the anguish and horror of a wounded spirit in an awakened sinner, are able to produce an unfeigned and effectual compliance with the gospel terms of mercy. The ministry of the law can only give the knowledge of sin, rouse the sinner's conscience, and alarm his fears: it is the dispensation of grace, that sanctifies and saves the soul. Nor is the former needful, but in order to the latter. So much conviction as gives us a sight of our sin and misery, as inclines us to "flee from the wrath to come," and disposes us to submit to the gospel-method of salvation "by grace through faith," by sovereign mercy through the Mediator, so much is necessary; and more is neither requisite nor useful, or desirable.
It is not the office of preachers to be perpetually employed in the language of terror, or exhaust their strength and zeal in awakening and distressing subjects. No; but as it is their distinguishing character, that they are ministers of the gospel, so it is their peculiar business to "preach the unsearchable riches of Christ." The person, and offices, and love of the great Redeemer, the merits of his obedience, and purchases of his cross, the victories of his resurrection, the triumphs of his ascension, and prevalence of his intercession, the power of his Spirit, the greatness of his salvation, the freeness of his grace, &c.; these are to be the chosen and delightful subjects of their discourses. They are to represent him as one—who has completely answered the demands of the law, rendered the Deity propitious to the sinner, and upon this account is able eternally to save us from the vengeance of an offended God;—who is clothed with Almighty power, to subdue the inveterate habits of sin, sanctify our polluted nature, and restore us to spiritual health and purity; who is Lord of the visible and invisible worlds, who knows how to defeat the most artful devices of Satan, and will finally render his people victorious over their most malicious and implacable adversaries;—who having "made reconciliation for iniquity" upon the cross, is pleading the merits of his blood in heaven, and powerfully interceding for all suitable blessings in behalf of his people;—"who is there exalted as a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance and remission of sins; (Acts 5:31) and is able to save unto the uttermost all those that come to God in and through him;" (Heb. 7:25)—in fine, who from his illustrious throne in glory, stoops to look down with pity upon guilty and perishing sinners, stretches forth the sceptre of grace, and opens the everlasting arms of his mercy to receive them. These peculiar doctrines of the gospel they are frequently to teach, upon these they are to dwell with constant pleasure, that sinners may be persuaded to hearken to the inviting voice of divine love, and put their trust in this almighty and compassionate Saviour. In order to which,
3. They are to shew sinners the mighty encouragement, that the gospel gives them to accept Christ, and salvation through his merits and righteousness. As for ignorant presumers, these hear the glad tidings of the gospel with a fatal indifference; and say in their hearts, "they shall have peace," though they go on in their evil way, stupidly "neglecting so great salvation," and regardless of eternal things. But awakened minds are rather apt to draw the darkest conclusions with respect to their case, and to judge themselves excluded from the invitations of the gospel.
Sometimes they imagine that the number and aggravations of their sins exceed the designs of pardoning mercy:—at other times, that they have so long resisted the heavenly call, that now the gate of heaven is irrecoverably barred against them:—and satan further suggests, that it would be the height of presumption in them to lay claim to the blessings of the gospel, till better prepared for the divine reception. Upon such imaginary and false grounds as these, multitudes of the invited guests make excuses, and exclude themselves from the "marriage supper of the Lamb." It is therefore the business of the servants of Christ to shew that "there is yet room," even for the greatest and vilest sinners to come in, and partake of the gospel-festival; that "all things are now ready," for their welcome entertainment;—that the door is still open, and there is free access, not only for those who have escaped the grossest pollutions of the world, but even "for the chief of sinners," whose guilt is of a crimson colour and a scarlet dye; that neither the number nor aggravations of their iniquities will exclude them a share in the divine mercy, if now they submit to the sceptre of grace;—that whatever their condition and circumstances may be, it is of present obligation upon them to accept the gospel-call, and their instant duty to come in; the Master invites them "to come to him, that they may have life;" and "whosoever does so," the Master of the house assures them, that "he will in no wise cart them out." (John 6:37)
4. They are to exhibit the unspeakable advantages that will attend a compliance with the gospel call. I know, indeed, the religion of Jesus is by its enemies often represented in the most frightful and hideous colours; particularly as laying an unreasonable restraint on the liberties of mankind, and sinking them into melancholy enthusiasts. It becomes us, therefore, who are "set for the defence of the gospel," to endeavour the removing of this ground. less prejudice, and to convince mankind by the light of reason and scripture, that "the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace:'' that verily a life of faith in the blessed Redeemer is the way to be happy, both here and hereafter.
Oh, what more honorable than to be "a child of God, an heir of the kingdom of heaven!" What more pleasing than to look back, and behold our past iniquities all buried in the depths of eternal oblivion;—then to look forward and view our dear Saviour acknowledging us his friends and favourites, and adjudging as to a state of unperishing glory? What more advantageous than to have the divine favour engaged for our protection, the promises of divine grace for our consolation, and an assured title to "an inheritance undefiled, incorruptible, and eternal?" This is the portion of the true believer. These are the privileges that attend a compliance with the gospel-call.
These things are to be represented in such a manner as may tend to captivate the hearts of men, and engage them in a solicitous care and resolution to renounce the degrading servitude of sin, and resign themselves to the power of redeeming grace. Thus by the most effectual and persuasive methods, the ministers of Jesus are to compel sinners "to come in, that his house may be filled."
It was not in my design, to consider the duty of the ministry in its just extent; but only to insist upon those things that more properly belong to my subject, and lie directly in the view of my text.—It will now doubtless be expected, that I apply my discourse more immediately to the present occasion.
And suffer me, dear Sir, in the first place, to address myself to you, who are this day coming under a public consecration to the service of Christ, "to bear his name among the Gentiles; to whom the Master is now sending you forth, to compel them to come in, that his house may be filled." We trust you are a chosen vessel, designed for extensive service in this honourable, though difficult employment. We adore the God of nature, who has furnished you with such endowments as suit you to this important charge. We adore the great Head of the Church for the nobler gifts and graces of his Spirit; by which, we trust, you are enabled to engage in this mission with an ardent love to God, the universal Father of mankind, with a disinterested zeal for the honour of Christ, the compassionate friend of sinners, and with tender concern for the perishing souls of a "people that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death;" who have for many ages been wandering out of the way of salvation, "without Christ, and without God in the world."
The work of the ministry, in every place, has its difficulties and dangers, and requires much wisdom, fortitude, patience, and self-denial, to discharge it in a right manner, with an encouraging prospect of success: but greater degrees of prudence, humility, and meekness, mortification to the present world, holy courage, and zeal for the honour of God our Saviour, are necessary where any are called to minister the gospel unto those who, through a long succession of ages have dwelt in the darkness of Heathenism, have from their infancy imbibed inveterate prejudices against the Christian faith, and from time immemorial been inured to many superstitious and idolatrous practices, directly opposite to the nature and design of the gospel.
What heavenly skill is required, to convey the supernatural mysteries of the gospel into the minds of uninstructed Pagans, who are "a people of a strange speech and hard language?"—What deep, self-denial is necessary, to enable you cheerfully to forsake the pleasures of your native country, with the agreeable society of your friends and acquaintance, to dwell among those who inhabit not indeed "the highways and hedges," but uncultivated deserts, and the remotest recesses of the wilderness? What unwearied zeal and diligence, to proselyte those to the faith of the gospel, who have quenched the light of reason, and by their inhuman and barbarous practices have placed themselves upon a level with the brute creation?
Methinks I hear you crying out, "who is sufficient for these things!"—And indeed, if you had no strength to depend upon but your own,—no encouragement but from human assistance, you might justly sink down in despair and utter the passionate language of Moses, "O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send:" thy servant is insufficient for so great a work.—But it is at the command of Christ, the great Head of the Church, that you go forth; who by a train of surprising providences, has been preparing your way for this important embassy; and therefore you may be assured, that he will support you in a faithful discharge of your duty, accept your unfeigned desires to promote the interests of his kingdom, and finally reward your imperfect services with his gracious approbation. You have his divine promise for your security and consolation; "Lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." This will afford you light in every darkness, defence in every danger, strength in every weakness, and a final victory over every temptation. If Christ be with you, "in vain do the Heathen rage," in vain will their confederated tribes unite their forces to obstruct and discourage you. Infinite wisdom will be your guide, almighty power your shield, and God himself "your exceeding great reward." The presence of your divine Master will make amends for the absence of your dearest friends and relatives. This will transform a wild and uncultivated desert into a paradise of joy and pleasure: and the lonely huts of savages into more delightful habitations than the palaces of princes.
Let not then any difficulties discourage, any dangers affright you. Go forth in the name and strength of the Lord Jesus, to whom you are now to be devoted in the sacred office of the ministry. "Be not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." Let zeal for the honour of God, and compassion for the souls of men, animate your public discourses and private addresses to the people committed to your charge. Always remember, that your character is a minister of Jesus; and therefore with the inspired doctor of the Gentiles you "are to know nothing among them, save Christ, and him crucified." Frequently consider, that the gospel is a divine discipline to purify the heart, and set up the kingdom of the Redeemer in the souls of men: and therefore it is not sufficient to bring sinners to a profession of the name of Christ, and an outward subjection to the institutions of divine worship: "You am sent to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in Christ." Unless this be effected, (whatever other improvements they gain,) they are left under the dominion of sin, and exposed to the wrath of God; and their superior degrees of knowledge will only serve to light them down to the regions of death and misery. This then is to be the principal design of your ministry; for this you are to labour with unwearied application, and with incessant importunity to approach the throne of that God, whose peculiar prerogative it is "to teach us to profit;" whose grace alone can make them "a willing people in the day of his power."
And for your encouragement, I will only add: When I consider the many prophecies, in sacred scripture, of the triumphant progress of the gospel in the last ages of the world, I cannot but lift up my head with joy, in an humble expectation, that the day draws near, yea, is even at hand, when the promises made to the Son of God shall be more illustriously fulfilled:—"when he shall have the Heathen for his inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for his possession; when his name shall be great among the Gentiles, and be honoured and adored from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same." But if the appointed time is not yet come, and the attempts made to introduce this glorious day, fail of desired success, "your judgment will be with the Lord, and your reward with your God." If the Gentiles "be not gathered" in, you will "be glorious in the eyes of the Lord," who accepts and rewards his servants according to the sincerity of their desires, and not according to the success of their endeavours.
I shall conclude with a few words to the body of the people. God our Saviour, in infinite condescension, hath sent his servants to invite you to come in, and receive the blessings which infinite wisdom has contrived, and astonishing grace prepared for your entertainment. And surely, my brethren, it is your important duty and incomparable interest, not to despise "the salvation of God sent unto the Gentiles," nor make light of the gospel message to you.
God has been pleased to employ us the messengers of his grace, men of like passions with yourselves, subject to the common infirmities of human nature: but the message comes from him, who is King of kings and Lord of lords; whom you are under the strongest obligations to hear and obey, in point of interest, gratitude, and duty.
What gracious and condescending methods has he taken to allure and invite you! Has he not descended from heaven to earth; from the boundless glories of eternity to all the sufferings and afflictions of this mortal life, that he might purchase and reveal salvation; that he might engage your love, and persuade you to comply with his saving designs? Does he not send his "ambassadors to beseech you in his stead, to be reconciled to God?"
What excuses have you to make, that will stand the trial of an enlightened conscience, or justify you at the awful tribunal of God? Will the vanishing enjoyments of sin and sense, or the perishing riches of this transitory world, make amends for the loss of the divine favour, or support you under the terrors of eternal damnation?—Are there any honours comparable to the dignity and character of a child of God, and a title to the privileges of his house and family? Are there any pleasures equal to the smiles of God's reconciled face, the refreshing visits of his love, and the immortal joys of his salvation?
But how deplorable, how desperate will be your case, if you finally refuse the gospel-invitation, and perish in your natural state of guilt and misery? The compassionate Jesus, who now addresses you in the inviting language of love, will then speak to you with the voice of terror, and "swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest, that you shall never taste of his supper," the rich provision which he has made for the eternal entertainment of his guests. "When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door," you will in vain stand without and knock for admission.
In a word, Now, he declares by his servants, that "all things are ready," and all that are bidden shall be welcome, upon their coming in, to be partakers of the benefit. The blood of Christ is now ready, to cleanse you from all your guilt and pollution; his righteousness is now ready to adorn your naked souls with the garment of salvation; his Spirit is now ready to take possession of you, and make you eternal monuments of victorious and redeeming grace. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come; and whosoever (of the lost and perishing sons of Adam) will, let him come," and participate of the gospel "freely, without money, and without price." The arms of everlasting mercy are open to receive you: the treasures of divine grace are open to supply your wants: and every one of you that now sincerely accepts this gracious invitation, shall hereafter be admitted" to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven."—For which, God in his infinite mercy prepare us all, through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory and dominion world without end. Amen.
From Memoirs of the Rev. David Brainerd...New-Haven: Printed and Published by S. Converse, 1822.
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