From Congrgational Sermons
- Works Vol. 8 No. 1
THE NECESSITY OF THE SPIRIT TO GIVE EFFECT TO THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's
wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; that your faith
should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
I CORINTHIANS II. 4, 5.
PAUL, in his second epistle to the Corinthians, has expressed himself to the same effect as in the text, in the following words: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit."
In both these passages, the apostle points to a speciality in the work of a Christian teacher, - a something essential to its success, and which is not essential to the proficiency of scholars in the ordinary branches of education, - an influence that is beyond the reach of human power and human wisdom; and to obtain which, immediate recourse must be had, in the way of prayer and dependence, the power of God. Without attempting a full exposition of these different verses, we shall first endeavour to direct your attention to that part of the work of a Christian teacher, which it has in common with any other kind of education; and, secondly, offer a few remarks on the speciality that is adverted to in the text.
I. And here it must be admitted, that, even in the ordinary branches of human learning, the success of the teacher, on the one hand, and the proficiency of the scholars, on the other, are still dependent on the will of God. It is true, that, in this case, we are not so ready to feel our dependence. God is apt to be overlooked in all those cases where He acts with uniformity. Wherever we see what we call the operation of a law of nature, we are apt to shut our eye against the operation of His hand; and faith in the constancy of this law is sure to beget, in the mind, a sentiment of independence on the power and will of the Deity.
Now, in the matters of human education, God acts with uniformity. Let there be zeal and ability on the part of the teacher, and an ordinary degree of aptitude, on the part of the taught, - and the result of their vigorous and well-sustained co-operation may in general be counted upon. Let the parent who witnesses his son's capacity, and his generous ambition for improvement, send him to a well-qualified instructor, and he will be filled with the hopeful sentiment of his future eminence, without any reference to God whatever, - without so much as ever thinking of His purpose or of His agency, in the matter, or its once occurring to him to make the proficiency of his son the subject of prayer. This is the way in which nature, by the constancy of her operations, is made to usurp the place of God: and it goes far to spread and to establish the delusion, when we attend to the obvious fact, that a man of the most splendid genius may be destitute of piety; that he may fill the office of an instructor, with the greatest talent and success, and yet be without reverence for God, and practically disown Him; and that thousands of our youth may issue every year warm from the schools of philosophy, stored with all her lessons, and adorned with all her accomplishments, and yet be utter strangers to the power of godliness, and be filled with an utter distaste and antipathy for its name.
All this helps on the practical conviction, that common education is a business, with which prayer and the exercise of dependence on God have no concern. It is true, that a Christian parent will see through the vanity of this delusion. Instructed to make his requests known unto God in all things, he will not depose Him from the supremacy of His power and of His government over this one thing, - he will commit to God the progress of his son in every one branch of education he may put him to; and, knowing that the talent of every teacher, and the continuance of his zeal, and his powers of communication, and his faculty of interesting the attention of his pupils, - that all these are the gifts of God, and may be withdrawn by Him at pleasure, he will not suffer the regular march and movement of what is visible or created to cast him out of this dependence on the Creator. He will see that every one element which enters into the business of education, and conspires to the result of an accomplished and a well-informed scholar, is in the hand of the Deity; and he will pray for the continuation of these elements: and, while science is raising her wondrous monuments, and drawing the admiration of the world after her, it remains to be seen, on the day of the revelation of hidden things, whether the prayer of the humble and derided Christian, for a blessing on those to whom he has confided the object of his tenderness, have not sustained the vigour and the brilliancy of those very talents on which the world is lavishing the idolatry of her praise.
Let us now conceive the very ablest of these teachers, to bring all his powers and all his accomplishments to bear on the subject of Christianity. Has he skill in the languages? The very same process by which he gets at the meaning of any ancient author, carries him to a fair and a faithful rendering of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. Has he a mind enlightened and exercised on questions of erudition? The very same principles which qualify him to decide on the genuineness of any old publication, enable him to demonstrate the genuineness of the Bible, and how fully sustained it is on the evidence of history. Has he that sagacity and comprehension of talent, by which he can seize on the Leading principles which run through the writings of some eminent philosopher? This very exercise may be gone through on the writings of Inspiration; and the man, who, with the works of Aristotle before him, can present the world with the best system or summary of his principles, might transfer these very powers to the works of the Apostles and Evangelists, and present the world with a just and interesting survey of the doctrines of our faith.
And thus is, that the man who might stand the highest of his fellows in the field of ordinary scholarship, might turn his entire mind to the field of Christianity; and, by the very same kind of talent which would have made him the most eminent of all the philosophers, he might come to be counted the most eminent of all the theologians; and he who could have reared to his fame some monument of literary genius, might now, by the labours of his midnight oil, rear some beauteous and consistent fabric of orthodoxy, strengthened, in all its parts, by one unbroken chain of reasoning, and recommended throughout by the powers of a persuasive and captivating eloquence.
So much for the talents which a Christian teacher may employ, in common with other teachers; and even though they did make up all the qualifications necessary for his office, there would still be a call, as we said before, for the exercise of dependence upon God. Well do we know, that both he and his hearers would be apt to put their faith in the uniformity of nature; and, forgetting that it is the inspiration of the Almighty which giveth and preserveth the understanding of all His creatures, might be tempted to repose that confidence in man, which displaces God from the sovereignty that belongs to Him. But what we wish to prepare you for, by the preceding observations, is, that you may understand the altogether peculiar call that there is is in dependence on God, in the case of a Christian teacher. We have made a short enumeration of those talents which a teacher of Christianity might possess, in common with other teachers; but it is for the purpose of proving that he might possess them all, and heightened to such a degree, if you will, as would have made him illustrious on any other field, and yet be utterly destitute of powers for acquiring himself, or of experience for teaching others, that knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ which is life everlasting.
With the many brilliant and imposing things which he may have, there is one thing which he may not have; and the want of that one thing may form an invincible barrier to his usefulness in the vineyard of Christ. If, conscious that he wants it, he seek to obtain from God the sufficiency which is not in himself, then he is in a likely way of being put in possession of that power, which alone is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. But if he, on the one hand, proudly conceiving the sufficiency to be in himself, enter with aspiring confidence into the field of argument, and think that he is to carry all before him, by a series of invincible demonstrations; or if his people, on the other hand, ever ready to be set in motion by the idle impulse of novelty, or to be seduced by the glare of human accomplishments, come in trooping multitudes around him, and hang on the eloquence of his lips, or the wisdom of his able and profound understanding, a more unchristian attitude cannot be conceived, nor shall we venture to compute the weekly accumulation of guilt which may come upon the parties, when such a business as this is going on. How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep, when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow-sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, finds it a dearer object to his bosorn, to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself,- than to do, in plain earnest the work of his Master, and urge on the business of repentance and of faith, by the impressive simplicities of the gospel.
II. This brings us to the second head of discourse, under which we shall attempt to give you a clear view of what that is which constitutes a speciality in the work of a Christian teacher. And to carry you at once, by a few plain instances, to the matter we are aiming to impress upon you, let us suppose a man to take up his Bible, and, with the same powers of attention and understanding which enable him to comprehend the subject of any other book, there is much in this book also which be will be able to perceive and to talk of intelligently. Thus, for example, he may come, by the mere exercise of his ordinary powers, to understand that it is the Holy Spirit which taketh of the things of Christ, and showeth them to the mind of man. But is not his understanding of this truth, as it is put down in the plain language of the New Testament, a very different thing from the Holy Spirit actually taking of these things and showing them unto him?
Again, he will be able to say, and to annex a plain meaning to what he says, that man is rescued from his natural darkness about the things of God, by God who created the light out of darkness shining in his heart, and giving him the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But is not his saying this, and understanding this, by taking up these words in the same obvious way in which any man of plain and honest understanding would do, a very different thing from God actually putting forth His creative energy upon him, and actually shining upon his heart, and giving him that light and that knowledge which are expressed in the passage here alluded to? Again, by the very same exercise wherewith he renders the sentence of an old author into his own language, and perceives the meaning of that sentence, will he annex a meaning to the following sentence of the Bible : - " The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can be know them, because they are spiritually discerned." By the mere dint of that shrewdness and sagacity with which nature has endowed him, he will perceive a meaning here which you will readily acknowledge could not be perceived by a man in a state of idiotism. In the case of the idiot, there is a complete barrier against his ever acquiring that conception of the meaning of this passage, which is quite competent to a man of a strong and accomplished understanding. For the sake of illustration, we may conceive this poor outcast from the common light of humanity, in some unaccountable fit of attention, listening to the sound of these words, and making some strenuous but abortive attempts to arrive at the same comprehension of them with a man whose reason is entire. But he cannot shake off the fetters which the hand of nature has laid upon his understanding; and he goes back again to the dimness and delirium of his unhappy situation; and his mind locks itself up in the prison-hold of its confined and darkened faculties; and if, in his mysterious state of existence, he formed any conception whatever of the words now uttered in your hearing, we may rest assured, that it stands distinguished by a wide and impassable chasm, from the conception of him who has all the common powers, and perceptions of the species.
Now, we would ask what kind of conception is that which a man of entire faculties may form? Only grant us the undeniable truth, that he may understand how he cannot discern the things of the Spirit, unless the Spirit reveal them to him; and yet, with this understanding, he may not be one of those in behalf of whom the Spirit hath actually interposed with his peculiar office of revelation - and then there comes into view another barrier, no less insurmountable than that which fixes an immutable distinction between the conceptions of an idiot and of a man of sense - even that wonderful barrier which separates the natural from the spiritual man. We can conceive him struggling, with every power which nature hath given him, to work his way through this barrier. We can conceive him vainly attempting, by some energies of his own, to force an entrance into that field of light, where every object of faith has the bright colouring of reality thrown over it - where he can command a clear view of the things of eternity - where spiritual truth comes home with effect upon his every feeling, and his every conviction - where he can expatiate at freedom over a scene of manifestation, which the world knoweth not - and breathe such a peace, and such a joy, and such a holiness, and such a superiority to time, and such a devotedness of all his affections to the things which are above, as no man of the highest natural wisdom can ever reach, with all his attention to the Bible, and all the efforts of his sagacity, however painful, to unravel, and to compare, and to comprehend its passages.
And it is indeed a deeply interesting object, to see a man of powerful understanding thus visited with an earnest desire after the light of the gospel; and toiling, at the entrance, with all the energies which belong to him - pressing into the service all the resources of argument and philosophy - mustering, to the high enterprise, his attention, and his conception, and his reason, and his imagination, and the whole host of his other faculties, on which science has conferred her imposing names, and laid before us in such a pompous catalogue, as might tempt us to believe, that man, by one mighty grasp of his creative mind, can make all truth his own, and range at pleasure over the wide variety of her dominions. How natural to think, that the same powers and habits of investigation which carried him to so respectable a height in the natural sciences, will enable him to clear his way through all the darkness of theology! It is well that he is seeking, for if he persevere and be in earnest, he will obtain an interest in the promise, and will at length find : - but not till he find, in the progress of those inquiries on which he entered with so much alacrity, and prosecuted with so much confidence, that there is a barrier between him and the spiritual discernment of his Bible, which all the powers of philosophy cannot scale, not til1 he find that he must cast down his lofty imaginations and put the pride of all his powers and all his pretensions away from him, - not till he find that, divested of those fancies which deluded his heart into a feeling of its own sufficiency, he must become like a little child, or one of those babes to whom God reveals the things which He hides from the wise and from the prudent, not till he find that the attitude of self- dependence must be broken down, and he be brought to acknowledge, that the light he is aspiring after is not created by himself, but must be made to shine upon him at the pleasure of another, - not, in short, till, humbled by the mortifying experience, that many a simple cottager, who reads his Bible and loves his Saviour, has got before him, he puts himself on a level with the most illiterate of them all, and prays that light and truth may beam on his darkened understanding from the sanctuary of God.
We read of the letter, and we read also of the spirit, of the New Testament. It would require a volume, rather than a single paragraph of a single sermon, to draw the line between the one and the other. But you will readily acknowledge, that there are many things of this book, which a man, though untaught by the Spirit of God, may be made to know. One of the simplest instances is, he may learn the number of chapters in every book, and the number of verses in every chapter. - But is this all? No; for by the natural exercise of his memory, he may be able to master all its historical information. And is this all? No; for by the natural exercise of his judgment he may compare scripture with scripture, - he may learn what its doctrines are, - he may demonstrate the orthodoxy of every one article in our national confession, - he may rank among the ablest and most judicious of the commentatators, - he may read, and with understanding too, many a ponderous volume, - he may store himself with the learning of many generations, - he maybe familiar with all the systems, and have mingled with all the controversies, - and yet, with a mind supporting as it does the burden of the erudition of whole libraries, he may have gotten to himself no other wisdom than the wisdom of the letter of the New Testament. The man's creed, with all its arranged and its well-weighed articles, may be no better than the dry bones in the vision of Ezekiel, put together into a skeleton, and fastened with sinews, and covered with flesh and skin, and exhibiting to the eye of the spectators, the aspect and the lineaments of a man, but without breath, and remaining so, till the Spirit of God breathed into it, and it lived.
And it is, in truth, a sight of wonder, to behold a man who has carried his knowledge of Scripture as far as the wisdom of man can carry it, - to see him blessed with all the light which nature can give, but labouring under all the darkness which no power of nature can dispel, - to see this man of many accomplishments, who can bring his every power of demonstration to bear upon the Bible, carrying in his bosom a heart uncheered by any one of its consolations, unmoved by the influence of any one of its truths, unshaken out of any one attachment to the world, and an utter stranger to those high resolves, and the power of those great and animating prospects, which shed a glory over the daily walk of a believer, and give to every one of his doings the high character of a candidate for eternity.
We are quite aware of the doubts which this is calculated to excite in the mind of the hearer, - nor is it possible, within the compass of an hour, to stop and satisfy them all; or to come to a timely conclusion, without leaving a number of unresolved questions behind us. There is one, however, which we cannot pass without observation. Does not this doctrine of a revelation of the Spirit, it may be asked, additional to the revelation of the Word, open a door to the most unbridled variety? May it not give a sanction to any conceptions of any visionary pretenders, and clothe, in all the authority of inspiration, a set of doctrines not to be found within the compass of the written record? Does it not set aside the usefulness of tbe Bible, and break in upon the unity and consistency of revealed uuth, by letting loose upon the world a succession of fancies, as endless and as variable as are the caprices of the human imagination? All very true, did we ever pretend that the office of the Spirit was to reveal any thing additional to the information, whether in the way of doctrine or of duty, 4 which the Bible sets before us. But His office, as defined by the Bible itself, is not to make known to us any truths which are not contained in the Bible; but to make clear to our understandings the truths which are contained in it. He opens our understandings to understand the Scriptures. The Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit. It is the instrument by which the Spirit worketh. He does not tell us any thing that is out of the record; but all that is within it he sends home, with clearness and effect, upon the mind. He does not make us wise above that which is written; but he makes us wise up to that which is written.
When a telescope is directed to some distant landscape, it enables us to see what we could not otherwise have seen; but it does not enable us to see any thing which has not a real existence in the prospect before us. It does not present to the eye any delusive imagery, - neither is that a fanciful and fictitious scene which it throws open to our contemplation. The natural eye saw nothing but blue land stretching along the distant horizon. By the aid of the glass, there bursts upon it a charming variety of fields, and woods, and spires, and villages. Yet who would say that the glass added one feature to this assemblage? It discovers nothing to us which is not there; nor, out of that portion of the book of nature which we are employed in contemplating, does it bring into view a single character, which is not really and previously inscribed upon it. And so of the Spirit. He does not add a single truth, or a single character, to the Book of Revelation. He enables the spiritual man, to see what the natural man cannot see; but the spectacle which he lays open is uniform and immutable. It is the Word of God, which is ever the same ; - and he whom the Spirit of God has enabled to look to the Bible with a clear and affecting discernment, sees no phantom passing before him; but, amid all the visionary extravagance with which he is charged, can, for every one article of his faith, and every one duty of his practice, make his triumphant appeal to the law and to the testimony.
We trust that this may be made clear by one example. We have not to travel out of the record for the purpose of having this truth made known to us, - that God is everywhere present. It meets the observation of the natural man in his reading of the Bible; and he understands, or thinks he understands, the terms in which it is delivered; and he can speak of it with consistency; and he ranks it with the other attributes of God; and he gives it an avowed and a formal admission among the articles of his creed; and yet, with all this parade of light and of knowledge, he, upon the subject of the all-seeing and the ever-present Deity, labours under all the obstinacy of an habitual blindness. Carry him abroad, and you will find that the light which beams upon his senses, from the objects of sight, completely overpowers that light which ought to beam upon his spirit, from this ohjeet of faith. He may occasionally think of it as he does of other things; but for every one practical purpose the thought abandons him, so soon as he goes into the next company, or takes a part in the next worldly concern, which, in the course of his business comes round to him. It completely disappears as an element of conduct, and he talks, and thinks, and reasons, just as he would have done, had his mind, in reference to God, been in a state of entire darkness. If any thing like a right conception of the matter ever exist in his heart, the din and the day light of the world drive it all away from him. Now, to rectify this case, it is surely not necessary that the Spirit add any thing to the truth of God's omnipresence, as it is put down in the written record. It will be enough, that He gives to the mind on which He operates a steady and enduring impression of this truth.
Now, this is one part of His office; and accordingly it is said of the unction of the Spirit, that it is an unction which remaineth. Neither is it necessary that the light which He communicates should consist in any vision which He gives to the eye, or in any bright impression upon the fancy, of any one thing not to be found within the pages of the Bible. It will be enough, if He give a clear and vigorous apprehension of the truth, just as it is written, to the understanding. Though the Spirit should do no more than give vivacity and effect to the truth of the constancy of God's presence, just as it stands in the written record - this will be quite enough to make the man who is under its influence, carry an habitual sense of God about with him, think of Him in the shop and in the market place, walk with Him all the day long, and feel the same moral restraint ujon his doings, as if some visible superior, whose virtues he revered, and whose approbation he longed after, haunted his every footstep, and kept an attentive eye fastened upon the whole course of his history. The natural man may have sense, and he may have sagacity, and a readiness withal to admit the constancy of God's presence, as an undeniable doctrine of the Bible. But to the power of this truth he is dead; and it is only to the power of this world's interets and pleasures that he is alive.
The spiritual man is the reverse of all this, and that without earrying his conceptions a single hairbreadth beyond the communications of the written message. He makes no pretensions to wisdom, by one jot or one tittle, beyond the testimony of Scripture; and yet, after all, he lives under a revelation to which the other is a stranger. It does not carry him, by a single footstep, without the field of the written revelation; but it throws a radiance over every object within it. It furnishes him with a constant light, which enables him to withstand the domineering influence of sight and of sense. He dies unto the world, he lives unto God, - and the reason is, that there rests upon him a peculiar manifestation, by which the truth is made visible to the eye of his mind, and a peculiar energy, by which it comes home upon his conscience. And if we come to inquire into the cause of this peculiality, it is the language of the Bible, confirmed, as we believe it to be, by the soundest experience, that every power which nature has conferred upon man, exalted to its highest measure, and called forth to its most strenuous exercise, is not able to accomplish it; that it is due to a power above nature, and beyond it; that it is due to what the apostle calls the demonstration of the Spirit, - a demonstration withheld from the self- sufficient exertions of man, and given to his believing prayers.
And here we are reminded of an instructive passage, in the life of one of our earliest and most eminent reformers. When the light of divine truth broke in upon his heart, it was so new and so delightful to one formerly darkened by the errors of Popery - he saw such a power, and saw an evidence along with it-he was so ravished by its beauties, and so carried along by its resistless arguments, that he felt as if he had nothing to do, but to brandish those mighty weapons, that he might gain all hearts, and carry every thing before him. But he did not calculate on the stubborn resistance of corrupt human nature, to him and to his reasonings. He preached, and he argued, and he put forth all his powers of eloquence amongst them. But, mortified that so many hearts remained hardened, that so many hearers resisted him, that the doors of so many hearts were kept shut, in spite of all his loud and repeated warnings, that so many souls remained unsubdued, and dead in trespasses and sins, he was heard to exclaim, that old Adam was too strong for young Melancthon.
There is the malignity of the fall which adheres to us. There is a power of corruption and of blindness along with it, which it is beyond the compass of human means to overthrow. There is a dark and settled depravity in the human character, which maintains its gloomy and obstinate resistance to all our warnings, and all our arguments. There is a spirit working in the children of disobedience, which no power of human eloquence can lay. There is a covering of thick darkness upon the face of all people, a mighty influence abroad upon the world, with which the Prince of the power of the air keeps his thousands and his tens of thousands under him. The minister who enters into this field of conflict, may have zeal, and talents, and influence. His heart may be smitten with the love of the truth, and his mind be fully fraught with its arguments. Thus armed, he may come forth among his people, flushed with the mighty enterprise of turning souls from the dominion of Satan unto God. In all the hope of victory, he may discharge the weapons of his warfare among them. Week after week; he may reason with them out of the Scriptures. Sabbath after Sabbath, he may declaim, he may demonstrate, he may put forth every expedient; he may, at one time, set in array before them the terrors of the law, at another, he may try to win them by the free offer of the gospel; and, in the proud confidence of success, he may think that nothing can withstand him, and that the heart of every hearer must give way before the ardour of his zeal, and the power of his invincible arguments.
Yes; they may admire him, and they may follow him, but the question we have to ask is, Will they be converted by him? They may even go so far as to allow that it is all very true he says. He may be their favourite preacher; and when he opens his exhortations upon them, there may be a deep and a solemn attention in every countenance. But how is the heart coming on all the while? How do these people live; and what evidence are they giving of being born again, under the power of his ministry? It is not enough to be told of those momentary convictions which flash from the pulpit, and carry a thrilling influence along with them through the hearts of listening admirers. Have these hearers of the word become the doers of the word? Have they sunk down into the character of humble, and sanctified, and penitent, and painstaking Christians? Where, where is the fruit? And while the preaching of Christ is all their joy, has the will of Christ become all their direction? Alas! he may look around him, and, at the end of the year, after all the tumults of a sounding popularity, he may find the great bulk of them just where they were, - as listless and unconcerned about the things of eternity, as obstinately alienated from God, - as firmly devoted to selfish and transitory interests, - as exclusively set upon the farm, and the money, and the merchandise, - and, with the covering of many external decencies to make them as fair and plausible as their neighbours around them, proving, by a heart given, with the whole tide of its affections, to the vanities of the world, that they have their full share of the wickedness which abounds in it. After all his sermons, and all his loud and passionate addresses, he finds that the power of darkness still keeps its ground among them. He is grieved to learn, that all he has said has had no more effect than the foolish and the feeble lispings of infancy.
He is overwhelmed by a sense of his own helplessness, and the lesson is a wholesome one. It makes him feel that the sufficiency is not in him, but in God; it makes him understand that another power must be brought to bear upon the mass of resistance which is before him; and let the man of confident and aspiring genius, who thought he was to assail the dark, seats of human corruption, and to carry them by storm, let him be reduced in mortified and dependent humb1eness to the expedient of the apostle. And let him crave the intercessions of his people, and throw himself upon their prayers.
Let us now bring the whole matter to a practical conclusion. For the acquirement of a saving and spiritual knowledge of the gospel, you are, on the one hand, to put forth all your ordinary powers, in the very same way that you do for the acquirement of knowledge in any of the ordinary branches of human learning. But in the act of doing so, you, on the other hand, are to proceed on a profound impression of the utter fruitlessness of all your endeavours, unless God meet them by the manifestations of His Spirit. In other words, you are to read your Bible, and to bring your faculties of attention, and understanding, and memory, to the exercise, just as strenuously as if these, and these alone, could conduct you to the light after which you are aspiring. But you are, at the same time, to pray as earnestly for this object, as if God accomplished it without your exertions at all, instead of accomplishing it in the way he actually does, by your exertions.
It is when your eyes are turned toward the Book of God's testimony, and not when your eyes are turned away from it, that He fulfils upon you the petition of the Psalmist, - "Lord, do thou open mine eyes, that I may behold the wondrous things contained in thy law." You are not to exercise your faculties in searching after truth without prayer, else God will withhold from you His illuminating influences. And you are not to pray for truth, without exercising your faculties, else God will reject your prayers, as the mockery of a hypocrite. But you are to do both; and this is in harmony with the whole style of a Christian's obedience, who is as strenuous in doing as if his doings were to accomplish all, and as fervent in prayer, as if, without the inspiring energy of God, all his doings were vanity and feebleness.
And the great apostle may be quoted as the best example of this observation. There never existed a man more active than Paul, in the work of the Christian ministry. How great the weight and the variety of his labours! What preaching, what travelling, what writing of letters, what daily struggling with difficulties, what constant exercise of thought, in watching over the churches, what a world of perplexity in his dealings with men, and in the hard dealings of men with him! And were they friends, or were they enemies, how his mind hehoved to be ever on the alert, in counselling the one, and in warding off the hostility of the other! Look to all that is visible in the life of this apostle, and you see nothing but bustle, and enterprise, and variety. You see a man intent on the furtherance of some great object; and in the prosecution of it, as ever diligent, and as ever doing, as if the whole burden of it lay upon himself, or as if it were reserved for the strength of his solitary arm to accomplish it. To this object he copsecrated every moment of his time; and even when he set him down to the work of a tent-maker, for the sake of vindicating the purity of his intentions, and holding forth an example of honest independence to the poorer brethran - even here,we just see another display of the one principle which possessed his whole heart, and gave such a character of wondrous activity to all the days of his earthly pilgrimage. There are some who are so far misled, by a kind of perverse theology which they have adopted, as to hesitate about the lawfulness of being diligent and doing in the use of means. While they are slumbering over their speculation, and proving how honestly they put faith in it, by doing nothing, let us be guided by the example of the painstaking and industrious Paul, and remember, that never since the days of this apostle, who calls upon us to be followers of him, even as he was of Christ, - never were the labours of human exertion more faithfully rendered, - never were the workings of a human instrument put forth with greater energy.
But it forms a still more striking part of the example of Paul, that, while he did as much toward the extension of the Christian faith, as if the whole success of the cause depended upon his doing; he prayed as much, and as fervently, for this object, as if all his doings were of no consequence. A fine testimony to the supremacy of God, from the man, who, in labours, was more abundant than any who ever came after him, that he counted all as nothing, unless God would interfere to put His blessing upon all, and to give His efficiency to all! He who looked so busy, and whose hand was so constantly engaged, in the work that was before him, looked for all his success to that help which cometh from the sanctuary of God. There was his eye directed. Thence alone did he expect a blessing upon his endeavours. He wrought, and that with diligence, too, because God bade him; but he also prayed, and that with equal diligence, because God had revealed to him, that plant as he may, and water as he may, God alone giveth the increase.
He did homage to the will of God, by the labours of the ever working minister, - and he did homage to the power of God by the devotions of the ever-praying minister. He did not say, what signifies my working, for God alone can work with effect? This is very true, but God chooses to work by instruments, - and Paul, by the question, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?" expressed his readiness to be an instrument in His hand. Neither did he say, what signifies my praying, for I have got a work here to do, and it is enough that I be diligent in the performance of it. No - for the power of God must be acknowledged, and a sense of His power must mingle with all our performances: and therefore it is that the apostle kept both working and praying; and with him they formed two distinct emanations of the same principle: and while there are many who make these Christian graces to neutralize each other, the judicious and the clear- sighted Paul, who had received the spirit of a sound mind, could give his unembarrassed vigour to both these exercises, and combine, in his own example, the utmost diligence in doing, with the utmost dependence on Him who can alone give to that doing all its fruits and all its efficacy.
The union of these two graces has, at times, beeu finely exemplified in the later and uninspired ages of the christian church; and the case of the missionary, Elliot, is the first,and the most impressive that occurs to us. His labours, like those of the great apostle, were directed to the extension of the vineyard of Christ, - and he was among the very first who put forth his hand to the breaking up of the American wilderness. For this purpose did he set himself down to the acquirement of a harsh and barbarous language; and he became qualified to confer with savages; and he grappled for years with their untractable humours; and he collected these wanderers into villages; and while other reformers have ennobled their names by the formation of a new set of public laws, did he take upon him the far more arduous task of creating, for his untamed Indians, a new set of domestic habits; and such was the power of his influence, that he carried his Christianizing system into the very bosom of their families; and he spread art, and learning, and civilization amongst them; and to his visible labours among his people he added the labours of the closet; and he translated the whole Bible into their tongue; and he set up a regular provision for the education of their children; and, lest the spectator who saw his fourteen towns risen as by enchantment in the desert, and peopled by the rudest of its tribes, should ask in vain for the mighty power by which such wondrous things had been brought to pass, this venerable priest left his testimony behind him; and neither overlooking the agency of God, nor the agency of man as the instrument of God, he tells us, in one memorable sentence written by himself at the end of his Indian grammar, that "prayers and pains, through faith in Christ Jesus, can do any thing."
The last inference we shall draw from this topic, is the duty and importance of prayer among Christians, for the success of the ministry of the gospel. Paul had a high sense of the efficacy of prayer. Not according to that refined view of it, which, making all its influence to consist in its improving and moralizing effect upon the mind, fritters down to nothing the plain import and signiflcancy of this ordinance. With him it was a matter of asking and of receiving. And just as when, in pursuit of some earthly benefit which is at the giving of another, you think yourselves surer of your object the more you multiply the number of askers and the number of applications, - in this very way did he, if we may be allowed the expression, contrive to strengthen and extend his interest in the court of heaven. He craved the intercessions of his people. There were many believers formed under his ministry, and each of these could bring the prayer of faith to bear upon the counsels of God, and bring down a larger portion of strength and of fitness to rest on the apostle for making more believers.
It was a kind of creative or accumulating process. After he had travailed in birth with his new converts till Christ was formed in them, this was the use he put them to. It is an expedient which harmonizes with the methods of Providence and the will of God, who orders intercessions, and on the very principle, too, that he willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The intercession of Christians, who are already formed, is the leaven which is to leaven the whole earth with Christianity. It is one of the destined instruments, in the hand of God, for hastening the glory of the latter days. Take the world at large, and the doctrine of intercession, as an engine of mighty power, is derided as one of the reveries of fanaticism. This is a subject on which the men of the world are in a deep slumber; but there are watchmen who never hold their peace, day nor night, and to them God addresses these remarkable words: "Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth."
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