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ridiculous terrors, unworthy the belief of a rational and religious
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 authorized 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.
II. 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 a great day." Mercy, that tender attribute of the divine nature, did not inter
pose 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 forever." Now justice might have shown 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 show 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
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 gospellizing the people and furnishing 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 suc
cessive 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 centre 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:
III. To show, 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 show 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."*
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
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.
I. 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 ; 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 show 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.
Rom. i. 18.