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of ourselves? It behooves us to use the language of Nehemiah to many proposals and pursuits which our inclination may plead for, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down why should the work cease, while I leave it and come down to you ?"* Seldom is any man remarkably successful and eminent in arts or sciences, in the acquisition of wealth or power, who does not resolutely deny himself in other respects, and make every secondary point give place, so far as it stands in competition with his leading and favourite object. Such a determined resolution, to follow the avowed design of our calling as the one thing, in comparison with which every thing else is to be undervalued and neglected, if likely to hinder us is essential to that wisdom which alone can qualify us for winning souls.
4. This wisdom implies fortitude also. If we engage in this work without counting the cost, and without being apprized of the difficulties and snares to which it may expose us; or if we cannot, in some measure, say with the apostle, "None of these things move me," we shall, probably, be soon discouraged. What should we think of a statesman, who, having formed a wise and noble plan for the benefit of a kingdom, and having the means necessary to accomplish it within his power, should be deterred from carrying it into execution, though it was approved by all competent judges, merely because he could not bear to be misunderstood or misrepresented by the very lowest of the people, or by the children who play in the street? His want of spirit, upon such a supposition, would, doubtless, be esteemed a want of wisdom. But this is a faint representation of our folly, if believing ourselves to be the servants of God, being convinced, as we say, of the worth and danger of souls, and knowing that the Gospel of God, committed to our trust, is the only possible mean of their recovery, a regard to the fear or favour of men should prevail on us to suppress or soften our message, and to accommodate ourselves to their taste, instead of conforming to our instructions, lest we should displease them. Would an earthly king bear with an ambassador who was guilty of such timid treachery? We cannot, my brethren, think too humbly of ourselves; but we may magnify our office, and we ought. In this sense, at least, we are ambassadors "for Christ," that the message we are to deliver is not ours, but his by whom we are sent. We are not answerable for the success, but we are under the strongest obligation to be faithful. And he whose we are, and whom we serve, is well able to support us. Let us not fear the reproach of men, nor be afraid of their revilings.|| In the sight of our Lord God all the nations + Acts, xx. 24. +1 Thess. ii. 4. § 2 Cor. v. 20.
*Neh. vi. S. Isali. 7.
of the earth collected are less than nothing, and vanity, inconsiderable as the drop which falls unperceived from the bucket, or the dust which cleaves to the scales without affecting the balance.* The apostles were wise to win souls. They tried the spirit of the world before us, and were despised and insulted by it. They were accounted the offscouring and filth of all things, and suffered much shame for their Lord's sake ; but they esteemed shame, in such a cause, their highest honour. Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame for them and for us. He was buffeted, spit on, treated as a madman, a demoniac, and laughed to scorn. Let us go forth, bearing his reproach, in meekness of wisdom, instructing those who oppose, not rendering railing for railing, but pitying and praying for them; but let us be firm and unmoved, and not hesitate to speak the truth in love, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. We shall not speak wholly in vain; and to be instrumental in saving one soul from death, is an honour sufficient to compensate for all the slights and contempt we can meet with from an unkind world. It is, indeed, our duty to study to find out acceptable words, to endeavour to please men for their edification, and to be careful not to add to the unavoidable offence of the Gospel, by debasing our zeal with the unhallowed fire of an angry spirit; but degrade our character, if we appear too solicitous to concilate the good opinion of men, or to depend upon their favour. The Lord, who employs us, will take care of us; and to live in a spirit of unreserved dependence upon him, will raise us to a noble independence with respect to creatures. All hearts are in his hands. He will protect our persons and characters, supply our wants, control our enemies, and raise us friends so far as he sees it needful, without any solicitude on our parts, if we can but put our trust in him. Such are the principles of Christian fortitude. He who is wise to win souls, loves his fellow creatures; but he cannot fear them, because he fears the Lord. He will neither provoke nor dread their frowns, nor will he meanly court their smiles. He knows that if they receive his message, they will love him for the truth's sake, and he neither expects nor desires their favour upon other terms. By the cross of Christ he is crucified to the world, and the world to him. He has chosen his side. He will serve the Lord,g and he will use his utmost influence to prevail on others to serve him likewise; so far as he succeeds, he feels a joy superior to the joy of harvest, or of those who divide the spoil. When he cannot succeed, he is grieved, but not disconcerted; and for the most part, his calm but steadfast perseverance in well-doing, will gradually establish his character, stop the mouth of calumny,
* Isa. xl. 15. † 1 Cor. iv. 13. Acts, v. 51. Gal. vi. Joshua, xxiv. 15. Isa. ix. S.
and extort a reverence to his person, even from those who cannot bear his doctrine.
5. I shall mention but one particular more, which though experience shows to be not so absolutely necessary as those which I have already specified, because, in fact, it has been too little regarded by many who have been wise to win souls, yet is certainly a branch of that wisdom which, as ministers, we ought incessantly to ask of God: I mean, a due attention to the importance of union among those who are engaged in the same cause. A great stress has, indeed, been often laid upon uniformity of sentiment and modes of worship; but this, in the present state of human nature, can no more be effected either by force or persuasion, than men can be forced or persuaded to a uniformity of stature or complexion; and, if it were practicable, it might prove of little value. The form of religion may be strenuously contended for by those who are strangers to the power of it; but the best form we can conceive, if destitute of power, is lifeless, like the body without the soul. The true unity of spirit is derived from the things in which those who are taught and born of God agree, and should not be affected by those in which they differ. The church of Christ, collectively considered, is an army; they serve under one Prince, have one common interest, and are opposed by the same enemies. This army is kept up, and the places of those who are daily removed to the church triumphant, supplied entirely by those who are rescued and won from the power of the enemy, which is chiefly effected by the Gospel ministry. This consideration should remind ministers, that it is highly improper (I might use a stronger expression) to waste much of their time and talents, which ought to be employed against the common foe, in opposing those who, though they cannot exactly agree with them in every smaller point, are perfectly agreed, and ready to concur with them in promoting their principal design. A wise statesman, who has a point much at heart, which he cannot carry without assistance, will gladly accept of help from persons of all parties on whom he can prevail to join with him; and will not, at such a crisis, preclude himself from this advantage, by an unseasonable discussion of more minute concerns, in which he knows they must and will be against him. When I see ministers of acknowledged piety and respectable abilities very busy in defending or confuting the smaller differences which already too much separate those who ought to be of one heart and one mind, though, while they are all fallible, they cannot be exactly of one judgment; though I give them credit for their good intention, I cannot but lament the misapplication of their zeal, which, if directed into another channel, would, probably, make them much more successful in winning souls. Let us sound an alarm in the enemies' camp, but not in our own! I have some
where met with a passage of ancient history; the substance of which, though my recollection of it is but imperfect, I will relate, because I think it very applicable to this part of my subject. It is an account of two large bodies of forces which fell in with each other in a dark night. A battle immediately ensued. The attack and resistance were supported with equal spirit. The contest was fierce and bloody. Great was the slaughter on both sides, and on both sides they were on the point of claiming the victory; when the day broke, and, as the light advanced, they soon perceived, to their astonishment and grief, that owing to the darkness of the night, they had been fighting, not with enemies as they had supposed, but with friends and allies. They had been doing their enemies' work, and weakening the cause they wished to support. The expectation of each party to conquer the other, was founded upon the losses the opponents had sustained; and this was what proportionably aggravated their lamentation and distress, when they had sufficient light to show them the mischief they had done. Ah! my friends, if shame be compatible with the heavenly state, as perhaps, in a sense, it may, (for believers, when most happy here, are most sensibly ashamed of themselves,) shall we not, even then, be ashamed to think how often, in this dark world, we mistook our friends for foes; and that, while we thought we were fighting for the cause of God and truth, we were wounding and worrying the people whom he loved; and, perhaps, indulging our own narrow, selfish, party-prejudices, under the semblance of zeal for his glory?
II. I hope what I have hitherto offered, though more directly addressed to ministers, may not be altogether uninteresting or unuseful to the rest of my auditory; but you who are not in the ministry, if you have tasted that the Lord is gracious, have a desire in common with us, to win souls. And there is not only ample room and scope for your endeavours, in concert with ours, but without concurrence on your parts we can expect but little success. You, likewise, if animated by the wisdom which is from above, even those of you who are in the most confined situations, may be greatly instrumental in winning souls,
1. By your example. If you walk agreeably to your profes sion, blameless and harmless as the children of God, shining as lights in the world.* When we preach a free salvation by the blood of Jesus, they who know no better, misrepresent our doctrine, as being unfavourable to the practice of morality, supposing that by the stress we lay upon faith in his atonement, as the only solid ground of hope for acceptance with God, we encourage men to expect to be saved at last, whether they obey his command
*Phil. ii. 15,
ments or not. We endeavour to convince them of this mistake, and to prove that, as without faith it is impossible to please God ;* so it is no less impossible for any person to possess true faith, without earnestly endeavouring to please and obey him in all things, from principles of love and gratitude. The proof of this is easy to those who understand the Scriptures, and acknowledge their divine authority. But many, yea, most people, are more likely to be convinced by what they observe of you, than what they hear from us. We assure them that our Gospel teaches those who receive it to renounce all ungodliness and worldly lust; to live soberly, righteously, and godly ;t to be temperate in prosperity, patient under affliction; to fill up their several relations in life with integrity and diligence; to be cheerfully submissive to the will of God under all changes; to be meek, gentle, and benevolent, forbearing and forgiving ;. in a word, to do, in all cases, to others, as we would they should do unto us. Happy for us, if when we look around upon our hearers, we can with confidence say, "ye are our epistles, known and read of all men."g If any ask us concerning the tendency of our doctrines, shall we send them to you, that they may notice, not only your serious and constant attendance upon public worship, but the good order of your families; your behaviour as husbands or wives, parents or children, masters or servants; your punctuality in business and to all your engagements and promises, and the tenderness you discover to the characters and concerns of your neighbours? Shall we send them to you when you are in trouble, when you are visited with sickness and strong pain, or when the desire of your eyes is taken away with a stroke, that they may see with their own eyes and be satisfied, that you have neither followed cunningly devised fables, nor contented yourselves with mere lifeless notions of the truth; but that your religion is real and powerful, and not only inspires you with a good hope respecting a future state, but is the source of your comfort, and the spring of your conduct, in the present life? May we venture, my friends, to make this appeal? Then, undoubtedly, you are wise to win souls. A profession like yours cannot be without an influence within your own circle. Do any persons, who know your whole deportment, affect to scorn or pity you? If they treat you as hypocrites, they are hypocrites themselves; they are contradicted by their own consciences. I will not say they love you; but, be assured, they secretly reverence you. It is only the trifling half professor who hears the Gospel and talks about it, but dishonours it by his practice, whom the world real* Heb. xi. 6. Tit. ii. 12. + Matth. vii. 12. 2 Cor. iii. 2. || Ezek. xxiv. 16.