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vineyard; to tell them what to work and how to work. There is a principle of sloth in the sons of men; they need monitors to stir them up to their business, to deal with their consciences, to put them on.
Lastly, Where there is no vision, the people perish, they die for lack of instruction, are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Good motions once raised in them are weakened and extinguished, and the case of their souls goes to wreck. Let us now,
II. Confirm the truth of this point.
I. The depriving of a people of the ministry of the word is a stroke of the Lord's anger. It is threatened as such, when he says, "I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." It is inflicted as such. "But go ye now, says he, unto my place which is in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it, for the wickedness of my people Israel." It is a spiritual stroke and therefore the more heavy. It concerns men's souls, and therefore makes the case deplorable. It is a stroke laid on for a grievous quarrel, namely, the misimproving of the gospel.
2. The right notion of the excellency of the ministry of the word Iwill evince their case to be sad that want it. Ministers are the light of the world, and they are dark places of the earth that want the gospel. The ministry of the word is the ordinary means of convincing and converting sinners; and when the gospel goes from a place, it is a sad sign that that work there is near an end. It is appointed for the edifying of the body of Christ, therefore to be continued till the temple be finished. The word is the bread of our souls the water to quench their thirst, rain to make them fruitful; and it is our counsellor in doubts and fears.
Use 1. Let us pity the case of those that are altogether without the light of the gospel, as many places in the world are. What though they have many precious things which we want, yet our gospel is better than their gold. Whatever they have in this world, where is the solid grounds of hope with them of a better? For our text looks sternly on the opinion of the salvation of heathens, telling us that where no vision is, there the people perish.
2. Let us pity the case of persecuted Christians and churches. Where there is no open vision, where silent Sabbaths are forced upon professors by the rage of enemies. As also the case of desolate congregations amongst ourselves, where many are perishing for want of vision, being brought up in ignorance of the precepts of religion, and have not the means of instruction, direction and comfort, when they most need them. Did men consider the sad case
into which the want of vision brings a people, they durst not raise obstacles in the way of planting congregations. Though in the mean time we have reason to bless God, that our land is a land of light, and if the ministry of the word be wanting in one corner. it may be had in another.
3. How injurious are they to their own souls, that wilfully slight the ministry of the word, whom a very little thing will keep back from ordinances. How do they wrong themselves that quite turn their backs on the ministry, and make it religion to them, not to be present at the ordinances dispensed in the congregation. The experience of such whose souls are helped thereby in their Christian course, will witness their sin, and the injury done to themselves, as well as to the ordinances.
Lastly, Let us be thankful to God, for the late favourable event in keeping this congregation from the desolation that was intended. There are few places that could have worse borne a desolation ; there being in our case several things not common to render a desolation heavy. The Lord hath heard prayer, let us render to him the calves of our lips. We proceed now to show,
II. That the mere having of the ministry of the word is not sufficient to make a people happy. This is evident if we consider,
1. That people may have it, and yet get no saving benefit by it. It may be to them like a sounding brass, that reaches no farther than the ear. We find people going on in horrible profanity, notwithstanding they enjoyed the means of grace, Jer. vii. 8, 9. Some again sink into formality. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Outward privileges make no man a happy man. What avails the light if men will not open their eyes to see our food will not nourish us, unless we eat and digest it; nor clothes warm us, unless we put them on; so the word preached did not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
2. The mere having of the word is so far from saving men, that it will aggravate the condemnation of those that have it, and walk not answerably to it. It will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for Capernaum; for them that never heard the gospel, than for unbelieving ungodly men. The brighter the light shines among a people, their works of darkness are the more heinous and their outward privileges will be to them at length like a bag of gold on a drowning man.
Use. You my brethren have shown on the late occasion a great concern to have the ministry continued among you, and I hope you are convinced that the design pursued was very unacceptable to me. Now providence has turned this matter according to the desire of us
both. But let us not sit down upon it, as if that were enough to make all well with us in the relation of pastor and people. We need the Lord's hand to it, to put efficacy in the mercy for the good of us both. Many have got their desire; but it has turned to an empty husk in their hand, because they did not look to the Lord, and depend upon him for the good of it. "Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it: Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man to his own house." If the Lord be not with us to bless us, we may come to be a weary burden to one another, for no creature can be more to us than God makes it to be. We need the blessing to make the ordinances effectual among us; for Paul may plant and Apollos water, but God giveth the increase. O! pray, pray for the blessing on this continuance. -Protest before the Lord that you will not be satisfied without it. We need the blessing to make the mercy lasting, for an unblessed mercy will either be very comfortless, or else it will not continue long.
It remains for us to shew,
III. That a right improvement of the mercy of the word will make a happy people. This improvement consists in two things, which come both here, under the notion of keeping the law.
1. Faith in Jesus Christ. It was to him the ceremonial law pointed the sinner, under the Old Testament; and without faith there is no keeping of the moral law. For in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, the apostle shows us, that it was by faith that the Old Testament saints did perform duties and bear trials and crosses.
This is the great call of the gospel; to close with Christ there offered. We are sent to espouse you to our Master's Son, and do not come speed, but by gaining your consent.
2. Holiness of life. The doctrines of the gospel believed with the heart, teach us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world. As Christ is the end of the law, so I may say, the law is the end of the gospel; for it is the great design of the gospel revelation, to bring back sinners, to that righteousness and holiness which the law requires. The gospel never gains its end among a people, till a strain of piety and holiness run through their whole lives.
Now to confirm this point. Consider,
1. This improvement will make happy souls here, and hereafter. Here in peace with God, pardon of sin, yea, all spiritual blessings. in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and hereafter in eternal salvation. For he that believeth shall be saved.
2. It bids fair for prosperity in earthly things, and as far as it will serve for God's glory and your good, will secure it to you. "For godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come."
3. It will give happiness under your crosses and trials with which you meet in the world. Troubles in the world will make the saints more attentive to the word; and they will find the word lighten, yea, sweeten their burdens.
Lastly, It will put a happiness into the relations in which we stand, for religion is the grand cement of society, and makes it most comfortable. The corruptions of men make them hurtful to one another, and this would cure them; under the enlightening and purifying influence of the gospel, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them."
Directions For improving the ministry of the word.
1. Pray much for a real benefit from ordinances; brethren, pray for us.
2. Diligently attend upon ordinances.
3. Meditate upon what you hear, and converse with one another about it.
4. Set yourselves humbly to obey the truths delivered from the Lord's word, embracing them by faith.
5. Put your hand to the Lord's work in your several stations in your families, and among those with whom you converse to prosecute the great ends of the gospel.
Lastly, Let us live in love and unity; and as ever you would see the gospel do good in the place, beware of division, for unhappy is that minister and people between whom it creeps in, and little success or comfort can there be where it prevails. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work, to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
National Fast Day, July 7, 1726.
UNFRUITFUL PROFESSORS CUT DOWN AS CUMBErers of the
LUKE Xiii. 7.
Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?
WE have here the doom of the unfruitful fig tree, and in it the doom of all such as are utterly barren, under the enjoyment of the gospel. And here let us consider, that the fig tree is the Jews, to them it first looks; though no doubt it is designed for hearers of the gospel in all ages. The vineyard is not mankind in general; for the far greater part of mankind were, and yet are, left without the inclosure; but it is the church as having the means of grace. See Isaiah chap. v. The owner of the vineyard is Christ himself. He is the heir of all things, the head of the church in particular, and he came seeking the fruit. The coming and seeking the fruit imports the Lord's taking notice what use sinners make of the means of grace; how they answer the design of the pains and cost bestowed on them. The finding none, imports the barrenness of sinners, particularly of the Jews, under the means of grace; not brought to faith and repentance. The dress of the vineyard is his apostles and ministers. The three years mentioned, may refer to the three years of Christ's ministry: or if that doth not so well agree, since they were after that spared, not one year only, but forty, it may be taken more generally for the whole time of the Jewish church under the prophets, John the Baptist, and Christ himself; fig trees if they are not hopeless, bringing forth in three years' time at least. So it denotes the great patience exercised towards the Jews, and the hopelessness of their case, notwithstanding all the means and time which they have enjoyed. In the text we have,
1. The orders given respecting it, Cut it down. The case is hopeless. The pruning knife prevails not, take the axe and hew it down. This was accomplished in the destruction of Jerusalem, when the people were unchurched and destroyed.
2. The reason of this severity. It cumbers the ground. The ground in which it stands is rendered useless. It draws to it the sap that might nourish other plants, and its shade is hurtful to men. So the barren Jews were to be removed.