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It may be asked in the fourth place, Are not many attentive hearers of the word left to perish, while not a few despisers of ordinances have been effectually called?
That many who hear the gospel, and attend upon other divine ordinances, are left to perish, is too evident. And although we cannot pretend to determine the eternal state of individuals, it is too certain that many have been suffered to perish, who once attended the ordinances of grace with great seriousness.There is nothing in natural seriousness that necessarily accompanies salvation. The only security of the holiest men in the world from perdition, is that everlasting covenant which is ordered in all things and sure. The high
est attainment of natural men does not raise them above the curse of the law, and the power of sin. No man at the last day will have it in his power to say, that he did every thing in his power to obtain salvation, and came short of it; but many will say in that day, We did many things required from us, and sought to enter in at the straight gate, and were not able. These persons will not be found worthy of excuse. Christ will say unto them, "Depart from me; I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity." They cannot pretend that they merited any favor at God's hand, nor will they be able to offer any excuse for their innumerable offences. Many of the first shall be last, and of the last first. But while the
last that become first must ascribe the happy change to divine grace, the first that are found to be last must leave their complaint on themselves.
From the whole, we may see what reason we have to bless God for the Bible, and those precious ordinances that we enjoy. Although we should be still found in a state of sin, we are under an administration of grace. We are favored with the hearing of the joyful sound, and the Bible tells us, that "it is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth."
We have reason to bless God, that he has determined us to hear the joyful sound."Faith cometh by hearing." If faith has not come by our hearing, we ought to mourn for our stubborn unbelief; but when our eyes are opened to see our sin and misery, we ought not to be insensible to our privilege. When our Lord saw many of the Samaritans coming to converse with him, he said to his disciples, "Lift up your eyes, and see the fields that they are already ripe unto the harvest; and he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting." If there were no more probability of the salvation of those persons who come to hear the gospel, than of. those who spend in idleness the most precious seasons of grace, what did our Lord mean by calling his disciples to look with pleasure at the multitudes that were coming to him? or why
did he compare them to the fields, or corn, already ripe for the sickle? or why did he allege that the prophets, by speaking beforehand of the coming of the Messiah, had prepared the way for the apostles, that they might labor with hopes of success ?
The doctrine under consideration is an encouragement to ministers of the gospel to preach the word in season and out of season, especially when men discover a disposition to hear the word. At Antioch in Pisidia, the apostles Paul and Barnabas were grieved to find the word of grace and truth, which they spake, despised by their own countrymen; but were glad to find that the Gentiles were not only willing, but earnestly desirous to have these words preached unto them. They hoped that some, though perhaps not all of them, would believe the gospel when they heard it, and this hope was not disappointed. "They were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
Ministers are excited to "give themselves to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine; to take heed to themselves and to their doctrine; because in so doing they shall both save themselves, and those who hear them." This argument to diligence and faithfulness is drawn from Paul's exhortation to Timothy, and, in him, to all who are put in trust with the gospel. The commandments of their divine
Master is a sufficient motive to the utmost exertion in ministerial duty; and if this had been the only argument used by the apostle, it might have been pretended, that, as success entirely depends upon the will of God, who can perform his work with equal ease by any kind of instruments or means, it is of no consequence to the salvation of souls, whether ministers are furnished with knowledge, and diligent and exemplary in doing their duty, or not.. But the apostle plainly declares, that ministers may expect to save not only themselves, but their hearers, by the due performance of of their work.
We justly blame the Roman Catholics for praying in an unknown tongue. The apostle Paul shews the absurdity of this practice. How shall the unlearned and ignorant say Amen to your prayers and praises, if they do not understand what is said? "These," says he, "might edify thyself, but thy brother is is not edified if he does not understand thy words." But if there is no more probability of the conversion of those who duly attend, than of those who despise the ordinances of religion, we might, without any prejudice to he souls of other men, go further than the Roman Catholics We We may preach sermons to them in Greek or in Latin, with the same hope of converting sinners as if we preached the plainest and most eloquent sermons that they ever heard in their own language.
But Paul teaches us rather to speak five words in a known tongue, than ten thousand in one which we do not understand. If we speak in an unknown tongue, he says, an unlearned person will think we are mad. But if we could prophesy, unbelievers would be convinced, and acknowlege that God is in us. We cannot indeed pretend to prophesy ; but the train of the apostle's reasoning proceeds on a principle applicable to ordinary ministrations of the gospel, according to Christ's appointment.
LET us now proceed to give some directions to unconverted persons who are solicitous about their salvation, and dare not neglect the use of means; but who often tremble, lest, after all they do, or all that has been done in them by the Spirit of God, they fall short of eternal life.
Of what use, it may be said, are directions to such persons, if they can do nothing to please God? All that I will say, or need to say, in answer to this question, is, that the holy writers give many counsels to such perAll that I design to say to them is deducible from what Jeremiah, and Amos, and other inspired men of God, say to them.