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ACTS liii, 2.
AS THEY MINISTERED TO THE LORD AND FASTED, THE HOLY GHOST SAID, SEPARATE ME BARNABAS AND SAUL, FOR THE WORK WHEREUNTO I HAVE CALLED THEM.
Prayer is never unseasonable. The acknowledgment of God in all our ways is the only sufficient safeguard against surrounding dangers, and the only sure foundation of success in our enterprises.
But in no circumstances are we so urgently called to this duty, as when we meditate the enlargement of Zion, and are putting in operation measures, that look forward to results deeply involving the glory of God and the everlasting welfare of men. Here, faith m%ist lead the way. We have no authority aside from the command, and no encouragement aside from the promise of Jehovah, on which to act. Prayer, or that spiritual intercourse with Heaven, opened bj the blood of Jesus, is therefore the indispensable preliminary to every successful effort in the cause of Christ.
When, by the labors of the apostles, a church had been gathered at Antioch, the new converts composing it were naturally led to survey the spiritual deso
lations spread around them. With the compassionate spirit of the Redeemer glowing in their bosoms toward those yet inthralled by wretched superstitions, and with a gratitude like that of the lepers shut out from Samaria, who first discovered the flight of the Syrian army, they said among themselves, "We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace." Wherefore, under the direction of the Holy Ghost, they assembled together, and with prayer and fasting resolved to send Barnabas and Saul abroad to proclaim the great salvation both to Jews and Gentiles.
I shall not stop to inquire into the nature of that influence which was exerted by the Spirit of God in this instance. It is enough for us to know, that the same "Holy Ghost" was promised by Christ to his disciples in all ages, as their Guide and Comforter— that when his influence leads to the exercise of the apostolic spirit, and to a course of conduct sanctioned by apostolic example, it is thereby distinguished sufficiently, for all necessary purposes, from every other species of influence. We are not to learn the mind of the Spirit from uncertain impulses—but to obey his will as revealed in the lively oracles; and then, we may affirm with confidence, that we are "moved by the Holy Ghost."
The consecration of any man to the office of the ministry is an act of very solemn import. The connexion established between a pastor and a congregation involves consequences of the most interesting nature: but even that must yield, in point of deep and affecting interest, to the consecration of men for evangelizing the nations that sit in darkness.
Permit me then to direct your attention,
I. To the work itself in which missionaries are employed; and, .
II. To the evidence, which they ought to possess, that they are called by the Holy Ghost.
Concerning the work itself, you will notice its importance—its magnitude—its difficulties and its pleasures.
1. Its importance. I scarcely need advert to the salutary influence of Christianity on the temporal interests of mankind. It will be questioned by none in this assembly, that even where it has failed to purify the heart and elevate the character to the highest standard, it has yet softened the ferocious passions— shed a balmy influence on the intercourse of social life—restrained the excesses of depravity, and produced a higher toned morality than is found in heathen lands. It has nurtured the arts—fostered science, encouraged the efforts of genius, and banished the spirit of Vandalism, so uniformly cherished by savage and half civilized nations.- Were no other blessings to flow through the human family with the promulgation of the Gospel, these alone would justify us in declaring the work of sufficient importance to engage the attention and zealous efforts of all good men.
But, there are blessings of a higher order connected with this work—blessings not bounded by time, nor confined to "this dim speck of earth"—but stretching forward, and laying hold on eternity. What saith an apostle? "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." He speaks of an everlasting salvation. "How then shall they call on Him, in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent." Whatever speculations we may indulge on the question whether God will appropriate the peculiar blessings of his grace to any, who are not favored with the light of revelation, it is very certain from this reasoning of Paul that the ordinary method of imparting those blessings, is, and ever will be, the instrumentality of a preached Gospel. "It hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe;" and he hath committed the treasures of his grace to earthen vessels, purposely that the excellency of the power may be ascribed to Him;—for his glory is more displayed by opening such a channel of communication, than it would have been either by the ministry of a higher order of intelligences, or by no ministry at all.
The publication of the Gospel is necessary, to convince men of sin, of righteousness and of judgment— to make them understand the spirituality and extent of God's law—the depths of their own corruption— the sovereignty of the divine counsels—the astonishing riches both of his wisdom and knowledge—the unsearchableness of his judgments, and the mysteriousness of his ways. Until the mind is enlightened on these subjects, in vain is the heart assailed either by argument or intreaty—in vain are all persuasions to that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. Philosophy may exhaust all her resource?, and