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THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL.
Romans, X. 18.
- Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of
" The heavens declare the glory of God.'* The grandeur of the arch over our heads, the number and lustre of the stars, the beauty of the light, the splendour of the sun, the regular succession of day and night, and the seasons of the year, are such proofs of infinite wisdom and power, that the Scripture attributes to them a voice, a universal language, intelligible to all mankind, accommodated to every capacity. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. The combined effect of the visible works of the great Architect, presses a declaration upon the ear of reason—The hand that made us is divine. We must, however, understand it of the ear of right reason. The loudest voice is unnoticed by the deaf. Thus it ought to be, and thus it would be, if man were indeed a rational creature, as he proudly boasts himself. That the fact, in general, is otherwise ; that the bulk of mankind are no more affected by the works of God, than the beasts of the field ; that the philosophers who profess to study them, so faintly discern, so frequently deny, the great First Cause of all, is a proof that sin has darkened and depraved the noblest powers of the soul, and degraded man into the state of an inattentive idiot. However the evidence, if it does not excite bis admiration and praise, is abundantly sufficient to convict him of stupidity and ingratitude, and to leave him without excuse.t
This passage, taken from that sublime ode of David, the nineteenth Psalm, is applied by the apostle to illustrate the character and the progress of the still more wonderful display of the divine perfections, which God has made known by the glorious Gospel. A variety of truths shine (like stars in the firmament) in the system of revelation. But principally Jesus, the Sun of truth and righteousness, the source of spiritual light and life, answers to the description there given of the material sun. · His going forth is from the end of heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing bid from his heat.'*
* Psalın xix. 1.
4 Rom. i. 20.
But the fulfilment of the promises respecting Messiah's kingdom is progressive. So far as this prophecy has been accomplished, the arm of the Lord has been revealed. It is his doing, and may justly be marvellous in our eyes. The truth of the prophecy will be proved by its final completion ; which, though not likely to take place in our time, we may be assured that it cannot fail, for the Lord hath spoken it. And besides, we have a sufficient pledge and security for the whole, in what he has already done. It was not necessary for the fulfilling of this prophecy, nor consistent with the tenour of many other prophecies, that the spread of the Gospel should be instantaneous and universal on its first publication. Messiah is to rule in the midst of his enemies, till the appointed season, when all enemies shall be subdued under his feet. The Gospel, the rod of his power, is so admirably adapted to the necessities of mankind, that the obstructions it has met with must be ascribed to their wickedness and obstinacy. ‘Not that they could resist the will of God. Had he intended to give it universal success from the beginning, the event would have been answerable. But it was his pleasure to conduct the dispensation of it, so as on the one band to display his sovereignty, wisdom, and power, and on the other, to afford a full proof of the depravity and alienation of the heart of man. This point is so much misunderstood and misrepresented, that, though it is attended with great difficulties, especially if we give way to vain reasonings upon it, I shall venture in the present discourse, to offer a few thoughts towards clearing the subject, and vindicating (if the very attempt be not presumptuous) the ways of God to man.
When the Sun of righteousness, after a long night of darkness, arose upon the world, there appeared a strong probability that the prophecies concerning the extent of his vital influence, from east to west, from pole to pole, would soon be completely realized. In a very short space he was known and adored by multitudes, through the greatest part of the Roman empire, and beyond its limits. But, perhaps, for about seventeen hundred years since that period, the boundaries of his kingdom, though they have been altered, have not been much enlarged. If he has since in some measure enlightened the more western parts of the globe, the eastern regions, which once rejoiced in his light, are now overwhelmed with gross Mahommedan darkness. And if we
* Psalm xix. 6.
were capable of investigating the state of the world at this day, we should probably find, that five out of six of the human race now living, never so much as heard of the name of Jesus as a Saviour. There is reason to fear, likewise, that in the nations who professedly call him Lord, and are not unwilling to be themselves called Christians, a greater proportion than of five out of six, are no less strangers to his power and grace than the Mahommedans who reject him, or the Heathens who never heard of bim.
There is not, perhaps, a darker chapter in the book of divine providence, nor a meditation which calls for a more absolute subjection and submission to the holy will and unsearchable wisdom of God, than this. The first spread of the Gospel proved it to be a divine expedient, fully capable of producing all the great purposes which the prophets had foretold, and which the state of the world required. It reconciled men to God, to themselves, and to each other. It subdued their passions, regulated their affections, freed them from the guilt and bondage of sin, from the love of the world, and from the fear of death. Wherever the doctrine of the cross was preached, it produced that salutary change of conduct which philosophy had long attempted in vain ; and raised men to that life of communion with God, of which philosophers had no conception. Such was the bright morning of the Gospel day. But in time, yea, in a little time, dark clouds obscured its light, its progress was impeded, and in a manner stopped. On one hand, the profession and name of the Gospel gave occasion to mischiefs and abominations which had been unknown among the Heathens; so that the part of the world which received the name of Christendom was little distinguished from the rest, in a religious view, but by a fierce and rancorous superstition, which tyranized over the consciences, liberties, and the lives
On the other hand, as I have observed, the very name of Christianity was restrained to a small portion of the earth ; many nations have not heard of it to this day; and many who once professed it have renounced it long ago. Thus the fact stands. We cannot deny it.
But how shall we account for it? Infidels and petty reasoners think they here find an invincible objection against the truth. They say, If the Gospel you speak of be so salutary and necessary, if it be, indeed, the greatest effect of the divine goodness, why has not God, who is the cominon Father of mankind, afforded it to all the nations of the earth ? and why is it restrained to so few ?! But I think we may retort the question, and let them who propose it give such an answer (if they can) as shall not amount to a confession of the obstinacy and ungrateful folly of mankind. When the world saw
the happy tendency and effects of this Gospel in the age of the apostles, why did they not universally receive it? We know that when the use of the mariner's compass, the art of printing, and many other inventions that might be named, were discovered in one country, they were presently adopted by the surrounding civilized nations. Even the recent attempts to venture through
. the air with a balloon, hazardous as they certainly are, and insignificant with respect to real usefulness, are likely, in a little time, not only to engage the notice, but to excite the imitation, of Europe. Why then was the Gospel, the most beneficial and important discovery the world has been favoured with, the only one that has been treated with general contempt ? Certainly our Lord has assigned the true reason, Light is come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.'* They hate the light, they will not come to it, nor will they permit it to come to them if they can possibly prevent it. This glorious Gospel of the blessed God has been and still is shunned and dreaded, and every human precaution and exertion has been employed to withstand and suppress it, as though, like the pestilence, it was baneful to the welfare of society. May we not say, speaking after the manner of men, that the Lord has done enonghi to confirm his own express and solemn declaration, that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked may turn from his way, and live !* He has raised up a succession of faithful servants, from age to age, to publish these glad tidings. The reception they have met with, not only from the Heathens, but from nominal Christians, is well known to those who are acquainted with ecclesiastical history ; which contains little more than a detail of the arts and cruelties by which the civil and ecclesiastical powers of almost every kingdom where the Gospel has been known, have endeavoured to sup
The nation of Great Britain, in particular, has but little right to ask, Why the Gospel of Christ has been spread no further among the Heathens ? The providence of God has favoured us with peculiar advantages for this service. Our arms and commerce have opened us a way to the most distant parts of the globe ; and of late years the enterprizing spirit of our navigators has added almost a new world to the discoveries of former times. How far have our plans been formed with a subserviency to the great design of evangelizing the Heathen ? How much have we done to promote it in Asia, where our influence and opportunities have been the greatest? What impression of the name and spirit of
| Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
John, iii. 19. Vol. III.
Christianity has our conduct given the inhabitants of India ? But I forbear-facts are too well known to need recital; too glaring to need a comment. It is true, we have an incorporated society for propagating the Gospel in foreign parts, and we hear of missiona. ries; but of the good effects of their missions, as at present conducted, we neither hear, nor expect to hear. While America was ours, the efforts of a few individuals from the northern provinces, in the last and present century, were not without success. But I fear this is all the honour we can claim. Some good has been done by the Danish mission to Tranquebar; but I believe our influence in it has been rather nominal than effective. The extent and effects of the labours of the Unitas Fratrum,* compared with their circumstances and resources, must not be omitted on this occasion. They doubtless excite admiration, and thankfulness to God, in every serious mind acquainted with the subject. But, excepting in these instances, I believe the Heathens have derived but little knowledge of the Gospel from their connexion with Christendom, for some ages past. And I think none of the commercial nations in Europe have had the propagation of Christianity less at heart than the English. What obligations the natives of Africa, are under to us, for instruction or example, may be estimated, in part, by a cursory survey of the state of our West India Islands.
That the Gospel is so little known in the world, and so little received where it is known, cannot be so properly ascribed to the will of God, as to the wickedness and wilfulness of men. Undoubtedly he to whom all things are possible, who bas absolute power over the bearts of his creatures, could make a way for the universal reception of it. And we trust that in his own time he will do so. But power is not his only attribute. It would be rash and absurd to suppose that the great God will do every thing that he can do. We are sure that he will do what is worthy of himself; but of this his own infinite wisdom is the only competent judge. What is becoming of his perfections and holy government, we can know no further than he is pleased to inform
But it certainly becomes us to lay our hands upon our mouths, and our mouths in the dust, when we contemplate his conduct. Or, if we do speak, to adopt the apostle's language, 'Oh, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God ! how unsearchable are his judgments; and his ways past finding out ! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things : to whom be glory for ever.'t
* More generally known amongst us by the nanje of the Brethren, or Moravians.
+ Rom. xi. 33, 36.