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instrumental causes, in exhorting, &c. and bringing the word to the ears of people.
2. The manner of the exhortation, beseeching, which de notes mildness and gentleness in dealing with souls, and withal earnestness and fervency of address.
3. The matter of it. The grace of God here denotes the gospel, as it is expressly called, Tit. ii. 11; It is so denomi nated, (1.) In respect of its rise, which was mere grace. (2.) Of its subject, being the doctrine of grace, offering the free favour of God to sinners in Christ. (3.) In respect of its end, which is grace. (4.) Of its revelation to particular places. To receive it in vain, is to have the gospel among them, but not to be the better of it to salvation, as the seed is in vain received by the ground, which grows not up, but is lost. The doctrine is,
Doct. That people to whom the gospel is sent, had need to take heed that they receive it not in vain.'
In discoursing from this doctrine, I shall shew,
I. I am to shew, how the gospel may be received in vain, And here it will be necessary to shew,
1. In what respects the gospel cannot be in vain.
2. In what respects it may be received in vain.
First, I am to shew, in what respects the gospel cannot be in vain. And it cannot be in vain,
1. In respect of God; he cannot fall short of what he purposeth to bring to pass by it, Isa. xlvi. 10; My counsel shall stand, (says he), and I will do all my pleasure." That looking for fruit, mentioned, Ísa. v. 4; is ascribed to God after the manner of men; but an omniscient omnipotent Being cannot properly be disappointed, Isa. Iv. 10, 11; For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it to bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the söwer, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.'
(2.) All his elect will be brought in by it. Hence, when the apostles Barnabas and Paul preached at Antioch in Pisidia, and met with much opposition, it is observed, however, that as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed,' Acts xiii. 48; The sound of the gospel-trumpet will gather the elect, however vain the sound be to others; for Christ's people shall be made willing in the day of his power, Psal. cx. 3; Though the rain fall in vain on the rocks, yet it does not so on the good ground. And that glorious instrument will be honourably laid by at the great day, having done its work.
(2.) His mercy and justice will be cleared by it, so as that gospel-despisers shall appear most justly condeinned, Acts xiii. 46; while men have rejected the counsel of God against themselves. The offer of reconciliation will justify God's procedure abundantly against gospel-despisers.
2. It cannot be in vain, in respect of faithful ministers, who, according to the grace given them, pursue the great end of their office, viz. their acting as ambassadors for God, and praying sinners in Christ's stead, to be reconciled unto God, 2 Cor. v. 20,
(1.) In respect of their acceptance with God. Though their labours do no good, God will accept of their sincere endeavours to serve him in his work, Gal. iv. 11; compare 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16; Preaching the gospel faithfully, and warning every man, is our duty; converting of souls is God's work. If ministers faithfully discharge their duty, and yet success answer not, God will accept their work, Ezek. xxxiii. 8, 9. Isa. vi.
(2.) In respect of their reward of grace. Some ministers God sets to tread out the corn, while they freely eat of their labours, and have the satisfaction to see the pleasure of the Lord prospering in their Master's hand. The mouths of others are muzzled; and they have nothing but weary work, like that of the disciples, when they said to their Lord, • We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing,' Luke v. 5; But it shall not be in vain: God does not proportion his faithful servants reward to their success, but to their pains and faithfulness. For as it was with the Master, so is it with the servants, Isa. xlix. 4; I have laboured in vain, (says he), I have spent my strength for nought; yet
surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.
3. It cannot be altogether in vain in respect of honesthearted hearers, Micah. ii. 7. Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly? When the word falls on good ground, it will bring forth fruit, though not always alike. It is hard to say, that ever God sends his gospel to any place, but there are some to be bettered by it, even then when he is taking his farewel of a people, as in the case of the Jews. There were seven thousand in Israel that had not bowed the knee to Baal in the time of Elijah, even when that prophet thought there had not been one.
4. It cannot be utterly in vain as to any that hear it, Is, lv. 11. forecited. It will have some effect following it. Even those who most of all receive it in yain as to good success, yet it is not in vain,
(1.) As to a testimony for God against them, to be produced at the last day, Rev. iii. 20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' Behold angels and men, be ye witnesses, that here is an offer of me to sinners. Though they should refuse to hear the message with their bodily ears, yet if it come where they are, it will be a witness against them, Matth. x. 14, 15. The dust of their feet shall witness they were there with Christ's message, and that salvation was in their offer. The servants of Christ must set up the standard, whether any will gather to it or not, Ezek. ii. 7. See ver. 5.
(2.) As to manifestation of unsoundness, Eph. v. 13. As the light of the sun will discover things in their own colours, though we wink never so hard; so the gospel will hang the sign of folly at every man's door out of Christ. The gospel was in vain to none more than the greatest pretenders to religion in Christ's time; but see the effect of it, Mal. iii. 2. 'But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like the refiner's fire, and like fullers soap.' Matth. iii. 12. His fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' The wind will discover chaff by corn, though omnipotency must be at the work to change it into good grain. Hence the gospel oft-times draws the pillow
from under people's heads, that never thoroughly awaken, tormenting them that dwell on the earth. Hence we read of some that say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophecy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophecy deceits: get out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the holy One of Israel to cease from before us,' Isa. xxx. 10, 11; There is much noise at this day about faithful preaching; and I do not doubt unfaithful preachers are wanting; but I greatly doubt if Christ's thoughts and men's thoughts will agree about what it is. Concerning this I would ask you,
Quest. 1. Whether that preaching which crosses the heartcorruptions of the hearers, even the best of them, or that which is suited and most agreeable to the humours of the hearers, and tickles them most, is the most faithful preaching? See Gal. i. 10; Do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, 1 should not be the servant of Christ.' Where I shall only observe, that Paul makes no difference of men, professors or others.
2. Whether can a soul, ignorant of Christ and its own natural state, a profane man and a formal hypocrite, sit softest under that preaching, whose main scope is to level at people's particular case, on which the balance will turn at the great day, or that which lies further off from the vitals of practical godliness, and rubs on none so little as the hearers? 2 Tim. ii. 15.
3. Whether the great stress of faithful preaching lies in insisting chiefly on such sins of the time as may be reformed, and yet we go to hell at the hinder end, or on those things that have been, are, and will be, the bloody sins of all times, which if they could be got reformed, Christ would get heart-friends, and we should certainly see his face for ever in heaven?
4. ult. Whether is it the most faithful preaching that fills the hearers with convictions of guilt, self-loathing, and deep humiliation before the Lord, or that which sends them away commending the preacher, and puffed up with self-conceit ? If faithful preaching were weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, the hearts of most hearers would say, that they have more of it than they can bear. I do profess, I have had less difficulty to preach things relating to the public, when I knew those were hearing me whose hearts would have been
galled with it, than amongst you, where there appears more zeal for these things than for true holiness of heart and life, lest my deceitful heart should be led aside to preach to please men. And not without grief of heart have I often seen the snare, when, upon my beginning to speak of such things, an unusual attention and liveliness has suddenly run through among us, which has presently died out with that particular, and become as flat and dead as before at the most weighty points of practical godliness. But I must discharge my con science according to my small measure, both as to the case of the public and private, whatever use men make of it.
(3.) As to execution on souls, if not on lusts, Christ's sword is two-edged, and with one of the two it will wound, Psal. xlv. 5; If it miss a man's lusts, it will not miss his soul, Hos. vi. 5; If it open not the blind eye, it will put it out: if it soften not the hard heart, it will make it harder, Isa, vi. 10; The gospel never left a nation, parish, or person, as it found them, but either better or worse. If I had not come,' says Christ, and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin, John xv. 22; The ministers of the gospel in its most unsuccessful times, drive not an empty chariot; Christ is in it, and his arrows are flying about him, either to kill or make alive.
(4.) Lastly, As to the aggravation of men's condemnation, Matth. xi. 22, 24; The more the light of the gospel is de, spised on earth, the more violent is the flame in hell. Where the ladder to heaven is set up and not used, there will be a more deep sinking into the pit. There is no sin like the de spising of the remedy of sin. Refused grace will burn like coals of juniper, Heb. x, 29.
Secondly, I come to shew, in what respects the gospel may be received in vain. A thing is received in vain when it falls short of its native effects and ends, as physic does when it purgeth not, Gal. iv. 11; Now, in the general, the gos pel is received in vain,
1. When it profits not men to salvation, which is the great end of the contrivance of the gospel, Phil. ii. 16; When men die eternally with the meat of their souls in their mouths, and starve while the manna rains about their tentdoors; while the soul remains and dies in the prison,. though Christ comes and proclaims liberty to it; thus it is often received in vain, Luke xiv.