“Then flew one of the Seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” – Isaiah 6:6-7.
With more than eastern pomp of diction – in language sublime, beyond the power of art – the sacred poet here represents the Almighty, in awful emblems of divine majesty. Uzziah, the king of Judah, with a complex character, had reigned upon the throne of the house of David for more than fifty years: but kings, as well as slaves must die. In the year that Uzziah died, the prophet Isaiah had a vision of the King, the Lord of Hosts, sitting upon a throne, more resplendent than the ivory throne of Solomon – higher than the heavens – with a train which filled the superb temple of glory, while the dazzling seraphims, with veiled faces, clapped their golden wings, and proclaimed, “the whole earth is full of His glory.”
Whoever reads the visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and John, will not hesitate to pronounce them the same in substance. Isaiah calls these winged songsters, seraphims. Ezekiel calls them living creatures and cherubims. John calls them four beasts, but their appearance and employment is the same in all their accounts, except the more particular description given by some, which is omitted by the others.
Various are the opinions of men respecting these seraphims, and perhaps no man can certainly tell what or who they represent. The greatest number of expositors, however, that I have read after, conclude that the angels of God are intended. They seem to imagine that their appearance and employment are too celestial to be accommodated to any beings on earth. But one insurmountable difficulty attends their account. In Revelations, 5:9, they sing to the Lamb, “Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” If angels in light were confirmed by God in a Mediator, which is highly probable, yet, as they never left their first estate, it cannot be admitted that they were ever redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Of course then angels cannot be intended.
With all the embarrassments that attend the interpretation, yet, with Dr. Gill, it appears most likely to me, that the ministers of the Gospel are to be understood by these singular creatures. In this light, therefore, I shall consider them. And, as there is the most minute description given of them in the first chapter of Ezekiel, I shall make many of my bearings upon that chapter.
They are there said to be Living creatures. Ministers are creatures, made by God, and poor feeble creatures they are - earthen vessels, subject to human passions and frailties. But yet they are living creatures, being raised from the death of sin to the life of holiness. Though they die daily, and are crucified with Christ, yet they live, and the life which they live is by the faith of the Son of God, who lives in them. Their number is Four. Reference may here be had to the four principal standards of the Hebrew camp in the wilderness, on which it is said, the four emblems of a lion, ox, man, and eagle, were inscribed: or to the four evangelists who wrote the Gospel, and all their successors in the four quarters of the world.
And every one had four faces. First, the likeness and face of a man. Ministers are men, not angels – their work is among men, unto whom they are sent, and they should ever remember that THEY ARE BUT MEN. To prevent Ezekiel from being self-exalted through the abundance of sublime revelations, he is called the son of man about thirty times.
Second. The face of a Lion. The righteous are bold as a lion, and surely ministers, who are clothed with the garments of salvation, and the robe of righteousness, may, ought to be, and are, bold as lions. Peter and John, though unlearned and ignorant, by their boldness, made the rulers and elders of Israel marvel. They spake the word of God with boldness. The religion of Jesus makes men bold, but not impudent – modest, but not shame-faced and hypocritical.
Third. The face of an ox. The Israelites were not to muzzle the ox that trod out the corn, which Paul says, was written for the ministers. Much increase is by the strength of the ox. Ministers are patient and laborious, like oxen, bending their neck in obedience – drawing the plough of God’s word, to break up the fallow-ground of the heart.
Fourth. They four had the face of an eagle. As lions are the strongest among beasts, and turn not aside for any – disdaining all subtle arts, and trusting alone to their strength - so eagles are the kings of the air, taking the loftiest flight of all birds, having the keenest eyes of any, which can gaze on the sun without winking, and fixing their eyes on the sun, will steer their course upwards, until they lose sight of the earth. So the ambassadors of Christ take their lofty flights to the throne of God - having their conversation in heaven - gaze on the Son of Righteousness by faith - and are so allured by heavenly objects, that they lose sight of earth and earthly things; and, like the eagles, where the slain are, there is she: where Christ, the slain Lamb the sacrifice for sin, is revealed in the Gospel - there the preachers dwell.
It is moreover said, that these living creatures were full of eyes within - before and behind. Ministers have eyes within, to see their own corruption and weakness; eyes before to look unto God for instruction and strength; eyes behind to see the world lying in wickedness, and also have an eye over the saints, who are following them, as they are following Christ.
These Seraphims had every one of them fixed wings. Ezekiel speaks of but four of them, but Isaiah and John describe six. With twain he covered his face. Repentance and humility cover the face of the minister of Jesus, and, indeed, the face of every human saint. As creatures, we are needy – as sinners, we are guilty; as creatures, we would be humble – as sinners, repentant; that, as creatures we may be supplied, and as sinners be pardoned. The call to the ministry does not exalt the preacher to be Lord over God’s heritage, nor deliver him from the internal mass of corruption, or the outward adversities of life: hence humility and repentance ever cover his face.
With twain he covered his feet. That is, he runs as if he flew: at least, like the ostrich, his wings assist his feet. Fervency and resolution are subservient to his feet. When the preacher turns his course to heaven, with what fervency does he pursue the road of prayer, and with what resolution does he resist the fiery darts of the wicked – the accusations of Satan – his inbred unbelief at the delays of divine beneficence. When he steers his course among men, with what fervency does he run to and fro; being fervent in spirit, he speaks and teaches diligently the things of the Lord, with a resolution so great that neither entreaties nor threats can prevent him from finishing his course with joy.
And with twain he did fly. Faith and love are the two wings with which he flies. Faith in God – in the mediation of Christ – in the divinity of the Scriptures – in the accountability of all rational beings – in the resurrection from the dead, and a future state of reward and punishment; together with love to God – to the Gospel, and to the souls of men, constrain him to preach and bear him up as on wings. By these six wings the heralds of Christ fly through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth.
When they went, their wings were lifted up, but when they stood, they let down their wings. When ministers are engaged in preaching, and repentance and humility, fervency and resolution, faith and love are all in lively exercise, how charming is their voice, how beautiful their feet; but when they cease, and attend to the lawful callings of this life, to provide necessary things for their own houses, and those heavenly accomplishments do not appear, how different they seem to be: a bystander, with difficulty believes them to be the same men.
And their feet were straight feet. It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful. A bishop must be blameless – must have a good report of them who are without – must be an example to the flock – a pattern of them that believe – must make straight paths for his feet, and walk uprightly without crooking in conversation or practice.
In some preachers, there is so great discordance between their preaching and conduct, that when they are in the pulpit we wish they would never come out, and when they are out, we wish them never to ascend it again: but the true ministers of Jesus have straight feet. The sense of the phrase, however, seems to be, that they were cloven-footed like an ox or calf. Beasts of prey have crooked feet, at least crooked claws in them, with which they devour the lives of others; but the ministers of Christ carry neither mental or material weapons to deceive the souls, or destroy the lives of men with. Like the clean beasts of Moses, they chew the cud of God’s precepts and promises, and are cloven-footed, without claws to devour.
And they sparkled like the color of burnished brass. Ministers like John the Baptist, are burning and shining lights, and, like the prophet, are like iron pillars and a brazen wall. It is further added, their appearance was like unto burning coals of fire, to consume the chaff and stubble of error and hypocrisy, sin and self-righteousness: and also to warm the affections and soften the hearts of the saints, as well as to frighten and drive off the wolves and dogs, and all the enemies of the flock. And like the appearance of lamps, it went up and down among the living creatures. From this it seems that each cherub had a lamp in his hand, and as they sometimes were rising on their wings, and at other times standing on their feet, the lamp of each went up and down among them. The word of the Lord is a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path, and preachers hold forth this word of life, the entrance of which giveth light: preach the word, the sure word of prophecy, which is a light shining in a dark place, and thereby enlighten the children of God to walk on in this world of darkness.
And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. The light of Scripture is bright. All the mighty volumes of philosophers are trifling to the Bible. They give no account how sin can be pardoned, or the dead raised, but the sacred volume informs us how the first can be, and assures us that the last shall take place: and from this fountain of bright light, lightning proceed. When ministers have their wings up – full of burning love – holding up the lamp of the Gospel, and succeeded by the Holy Ghost, the effect on the hearers is frequently like a flash of lightning. Lightning will burst the strongest wall; break down the loftiest tree; follow the vein of a tree from top to bottom; melt the buckle in the shoe, and spare the man who wears it; kill the child unborn without injuring the mother, etc. All which seems to be expressive of the power of the Gospel in the hand of the Spirit, when ministers are proclaiming the Truth. This word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It tears off the veil of the heart; rends the stupor from the conscience; removes the film from the eye of the soul; lays death naked, and destruction without a covering; destroys self-righteous props and hypocritical hopes, and teaches the sinner that he must perish forever unless he repents of his sin, believes in the Saviour, and submits to His laws.
When preachers are thus assisted, and thus succeeded, it may with truth be said, the sound of the cherubim’s wings is heard, even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when He speaketh.
When Isaiah had this vision of the King, the Lord of Hosts, on His dazzling throne of glory, and saw the splendor of His attendants, and heard their celestial doxology, he cried out, woe is me! Unlike those shining songsters; unfit to dwell among them! this body of sin renders me obnoxious, and sinks me beneath a heavy wo; nor can I extricate myself, for I am undone! Undone in character, for I have risen in rebellion against the Lord of Hosts, and am guilty of high treason. Undone in health and strength, for the first born of death is in my tabernacle. I am reduced to perfect weakness, and my obstinate disease will reduce me to the caverns of death. Undone in interest, being a fugitive and bankrupt, owing ten thousand talents, and having nothing to pay; nor can I solicit remission from my creditor, in a manner that becomes His majesty and my own wretchedness, for I am a man of unclean lips. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. My heart abounds with corruption, which vitiates all I say and do. Had I the hallowed lips of these seraphims, how would I address the throne of glory, and plead for my life! but now, like a crane or a swallow, so do I chatter; I mourn sore, like a dove; nor can I expect relief from any around me, for I dwell among a people of unclean lips, who are in a state of apostasy like myself, none of whom can, by any means, redeem a brother, nor give to God a ransom that he should still live, and not perish. But, ruined and unclean as I am, and vile as all my fellow creatures are, I did not perceive it till of late. While I only heard of God with the hearing of the ear, and was ignorant of the nature of the divine law, I conceived myself to be better than my neighbors; worthy of heaven, and peculiarly interested in the favor of God. But now mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts, which discovers to me how wretchedly I am fallen from that image in which I was created. Now I see the holiness, justice and goodness of the divine law, whereby sin revives, and I see how unclean I am. In the presence of the Lord of Hosts, and the holy throng of seraphims, I abhor myself, repenting in dust and ashes.
Then flew one of the seraphims. By special commission from the Lord of Hosts, He came, not reluctantly, but of a ready mind; He flew on wings to my relief. I did not go to Him, nor meet Him half way, but He came unto me, not empty handed, but having a living coal in His hand. An emblem of the promise of eternal life through the Mediator; which promise God made era time began to Christ the Lord, and revealed it unto men in ancient times; which runs through the Old Testament like a golden cord, and which was sent unto them that believed by the apostles. But this coal, which ever lives, ever glows, and never burns out, cannot be taken by merely human hands, but with the tongs – the dispensation of the Gospel. Though men, as such, cannot lay hold of, carry, and apply this coal to its designed use; yet, by the dispensation of the Gospel, committed to their trust, the ministers of Christ can and do. This promise comes to penitent sinners, through Christ; who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself to God, who was Himself priest, offering and altar. Hence this coal is said to be taken from off the altar.
And He laid it upon my mouth. Which encouraged him to pray; enabled him to offer the calves of his lips in praise, and prepared him to speak to the people, unto whom he was now sent. And said, lo, this has touched thy lips. For the purpose just mentioned. And thine iniquity is taken away, through the atonement of Christ, who was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And thy sin purged, by the grace of God, which is shed abroad in the hearts of men, by the Holy Ghost, through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
It is probably that the narrative, which I have been animadverting upon, is a history of the first conversion of Isaiah to God; if so, then, like Paul, he was called to the prophetic work at the time when he was called out of darkness into the light of truth. He began his prophecies in the days of Uzziah; and, if not until the last year of his reign, this vision was his inauguration. But, if he had begun before the year in which Uzziah died, then this vision was made to him, to prepare him for greater usefulness.
At the close of this vision, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send? and who will go for us? To which the prophet answered, here am I, send me. And He said, go. And as the seraphim has done to you, so do you to all humble penitents. Whenever you find any person lamenting thus, “Wo is me, for I am undone,” fly with all speed to administer relief, and say unto the penitent, “thine iniquity is forgiven, and thy sin purged.”
In this view of the subject, the character of an humble penitent, and work of a Gospel-preacher, solicit the attention of this august assembly.
Though repentance can never atone for the crime, yet it is an essential characteristic of the sinner who shall find pardon and salvation. There is one excellency of mind which is preferable to repentance, and that is innocence. It is better to be innocent, free from any crime, than it is to repent of a crime committed. But when men have become criminal, repentance may be considered a qualification of the first grade. That all have sinned, is certain, and, therefore, to expect salvation by innocency, is out of the question.
Such is the relationship between the Creator and rational creatures, that, whatever the Creator reveals and commands, the creatures are under obligation to believe and obey; and no place or condition that the creatures can be in, does in any wise free them from this obligation. The apostasy of men, therefore, forms no good excuse for them to disbelieve or rebel, either in this life or in that to come. That all men, everywhere, are commanded to repent, is certain; and he who does not obey this command, condemns the law and lawgiver, and pleads for the usurpation of sin. Such, however, is the apostasy of men – so great is their obstinacy, pride, rebellion and love of sin, that neither the precepts of the law, the threatenings of God, the lashes of conscience, the pangs of death, nor the torments of hell, will bring them to that repentance, to which is annexed forgiveness of sins. Until the Lord works first in the human heart, by His gracious influence, nothing is to be expected, to purpose. In the change of mind, commonly called conversion, or in the new birth, there are three distinct things to be conceived of.
First. The communication of divine life. Not the same life that Adam possessed in innocency, for that was lost, whereas this which is given is called eternal life. In some respects, it is like the Adamic life, in that it makes us love holiness, and take complacency in the character and government of God. In other respects, it is inferior, not delivering us from all moral evil; but, in other respects, vastly superior, being eternal in its nature, and tending to a station far more exalted. Whether this grace is called living water – incorruptible seed– new creation – an unction from the Holy One, or by what name soever, it comes down from God, through the Mediator, and rectifies all the powers of the soul. This lays a foundation for spiritual instruction; for, as well may a lifeless corpse understand natural things, as a natural man understand spiritual things. In this detached part of the work, the preachers and preaching are out of the question, Christ having reserved the power to do this in His own hands. It should be carefully noticed, that a change of heart, is one thing, and the information of the mind, another. When the soul is renewed, then follows:
Secondly An active and voluntary turning to God. In this stage of the work, nature and grace, sin and holiness, truth and error, darkness and light, ignorance and information, hope and fear, desire and languor, Christ and Satan, all assail the soul. Some are held years in this restless state, and others but a short time. But, notwithstanding all embarrass-merits, the soul is willing, and comes to Christ voluntarily, and chooses the good part. After men repent and believe, and before they are scaled with the Holy Spirit of promise, their views are accurately described, by the prophet, in my text. “Wo is me, for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” Or thus: “Lord, I am a sinner, and deserve to perish. Thy character is good, Thy law is just, but I am carnal, sold under sin. If Thou sendest me to hell, I cannot impeach Thy righteousness; but, oh! spare me, if pardon may be had. My sins are many and great, and my best works need to be washed, as well as my soul. I have no hope, but in Thy mercy, through the mediation of Christ. At the feet of Jesus, I cast me down, and, if I must perish, I will perish there”
The Bible is full of encouragements and promises, to such gracious penitents; all these promises of God are in Christ Jesus. From this Altar, the preachers may take their living coals, and ministerially apply them to all such humble mourners. For, if preachers and preaching are excluded from the first part of the work, yet in the stage of which I am now speaking, they are workers together with God.
But, Thirdly. Free Pardon, which is graciously bestowed by God, and gratefully received by the returning, humble penitent. It is not to be wondered at, that those who believe that pardon of sin is the change of heart, that men are not renewed until they obtain sealing deliverance, should have so high opinion of the self-exertion of natural faculties, to forward them on to a change of heart; for they well know that before they obtained pardon, they had sorrow for sin, longings after God, love to the saints, and a regard for the worship of God, and perhaps found the pardon of sin, while they were praying and striving for it. Taking it for truth, that they were not graciously changed, before they obtained pardon and deliverance, they suppose that others, in their natural state of mind, can do what they did. Hence the opinion, that self-exertion of the natural powers greatly helps the sinner, and lays God under obligation to bestow pardon. I cannot by any means concede to this opinion, for a multitude of reasons; but am full in belief that the exercises of humble penitents, before they receive a sealing pardon, are as acceptable to God as the exercises of those who have had the forgiveness of sins sealed to them, and equally bring them within the compass of the promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” For I cannot conceive of any difference of internal character between them. No difference in the subjects; the difference is objective; one having the comfort of believing his sins pardoned, and the other without that comfortable hope. Men are either for Christ or against him, enemies or friends, dead or alive; no medium can be conceived of. To say that a sinner has spiritual light, but not life; that he is quickened, but not renewed; that he mourns for sins, but does not love holiness; that he feels the burden of sin, but has no gracious sensation; that he loves the saints, but is not born of God, etc., to me is perfectly absurd!
From the moment a sinner receives the grace of life (infants and those who are incapable of reflection excepted) he begins to cry like the leper, “unclean, unclean.” Or like the prophet before us, “wo is me, for I am undone.” And not only continues this cry, until he obtains pardon, through Christ, but on thereafter as long as he draws mortal breath. For when a penitent receives pardon of sin, it only gives him new and pleasing views of his state, not of his internal character. Of course repentance is not an exercise, confined to the period between being changed and pardoned, but continues to operate in the soul of a saint through his whole pilgrimage on earth. The complaint of Isaiah, “wo is me”, etc., was not the complaint of a backslider, fallen from grace; for these things said Isaiah when he saw His glory and spake of Him. Now, as the saints are constantly sighing and crying, repenting and lamenting, (at least these complaints are mingled with all their heavenly joys,) ministers, like the seraphims, are sent by God, with a “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God” – “feed My lambs and sheep” – let your profiting appear to all; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” etc.
Nor is the preacher to confine his address to penitents alone, but is commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature. There is no article in Christendom, in which ministers are more divided, than in that of addressing a congregation of sinners, as such. Most of the addresses of the prophets, were unto the children of Israel, a people in circumstances dissimilar from all other nations, or unto other nations in their political capacities; for which reasons, a Gentile Gospel preacher cannot find a sure example in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ, who spake with authority, spake as man never spake, confined His ministry to the twelve tribes, which still continues the difficulty of finding a sure precedent in the four evangelists. But when we come to the tenth chapter of the Acts, we find something direct. Peter was called by a heavenly vision to go and preach to a Gentile congregation, the principal of which was warned by a holy angel to send for Peter; and who, with the congregation, presented themselves before God, to hear all things which God commanded Peter to preach. Here the drama opens. Here the first Gospel sermon was preached to the Gentiles. From this instance we may expect the best pattern. And what is it?
After Peter had introduced the subject, of declaring his conviction that God did not respect the Jews more than the Gentiles, but equally accepted those of all nations, who feared Him and wrought righteousness; and spoken a little of the word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ, who was Lord of Jews and Gentiles; that this word was published from Galilee, through all Judea; testifying that God had anointed Jesus Christ with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed with the devil; he then proceeds to the main business of his calling: “And we are witnesses of all things which He did, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it was He who was ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and dead. To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” This short sermon was delivered extempore. Without abstruse questions or metaphysical niceties, the preacher gave a detail of important facts and doctrines, in the most simple manner, in which we discover the following truths:
1. That God does not respect the person, rank or national character of one man more than another.
2. That He accepts of such, and only such, as fear God and work righteousness.
3. That the word of the Gospel, which was first sent to the Jews, by John, and afterwards prevailed abundantly, proclaimed peace to men, through Jesus Christ.
4. That Jesus Christ is Lord of all worlds, nations and beings.
5. That the work of Christ on earth was doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.
6. That the miracles, precepts and examples of Christ were incompetent to save men. That without the shedding of His blood there could be no remission of sin. That the Jews contrived His death; - slew Him and hanged Him on a tree; they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. That He died both as a martyr and Mediator.
7. That He was raised from the dead after the third day; being the first born from the dead; thereby, opening the way for the resurrection of all men.
8. That ministers are commanded to preach and testify, that this same Jesus, Who died and rose again, is ordained of God to judge the world, both those who are living and those that are dead.
9. That the prophecies of the Old Testament united in the truth of Christ’s character; that whosoever believeth in Him, shall receive remission of sins.
10. That ministers are only witnesses to declare the truth, Christ having reserved the power of changing hearts in His own hands.
These seem to have been the main topics of Peter’s sermon, the language of which, to all Gospel ministers, among the Gentiles, is, “Go ye, and do likewise”.
As Peter spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell upon all those that heard the word. While the truth fell from Peter’s lips, the Holy Ghost fell from heaven, which, when Peter beheld, he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. On the whole, may all of us, who are ministers of Christ, take Peter for our model in preaching, and may we meet with at least a portion of the same success.
Another article, which the foregoing discourse and the solemnities of this day seem to call for, is a description of a ministerial call: That is, how men are called to the ministry.
First. The call to the ministry does not depend upon the brilliancy of natural talents. The mysteries of the Gospel are hidden from the wise and prudent. The world by wisdom know not God. Natural talents furnish men for usefulness in the things of this world, but do not qualify them for Gospel ambassadors.
Second. Nor does it depend upon the acquisition of schools. By some, the striplings of genius, or striplings without genius, are sent to school with the avowed purpose of preparing them for the ministry; as if the preaching of the Gospel was but the declension of nouns, or the conjugation of verbs, with the knowledge of a little Greek and Latin. Supposing, however, they excel, and equal Newton, Milton, or Jefferson, they are but prepared for the study of astronomers, the closet of the poets, or the chair of state. Amos was a rustic herdsman; John the Baptist was brought up in the wilderness; and the apostles, for the most part, were ignorant Galileans, who followed the trade of fishing; yet these were called by God, while the learned among them were neglected.
Third. It is not included in a gracious call out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel; this call is experienced by all the saints, but all the saints are not preachers.
Fourth. It is not subservient to the will or choice of men. Where preaching is a lucrative business, the avaricious(insatiable greed for riches) may choose it; where it is honorable, the proud may desire it; where it is attended with ease, the indolent may covet it; but all these are ignorant of it.
Fifth. It is not miraculous. It is true that miracles have sometimes attended the commission, as in the case of Moses, Jeremiah and Paul. But the commissions to the twelve, and to the seventy, were without miracles, which prove that miracles are not essential to the call. If the call was miraculous, we should have as good reason to believe that God would call infants, idiots or dumb men, as any others; but this we know is not the case.
Sixth. The call is by special mission. Men, who have the common use of their senses; who are delivered from darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of God, receive a special gift to qualify them for the work of the ministry. When Christ ascended on high, he redeemed gifts for men, and these gifts He bestowed on them: and He gives to some apostles, to others prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry, etc. This spiritual gift includes two things. First, the furniture of the mind: and secondly, a constraint to improve. By the furniture of the mind is not meant extraordinary endowments of talents or science, but a gift bestowed with the commission. It is a treasure given to earthen vessels; a dispensation of the Gospel committed in trust. When Jesus was on earth, He called to Him whom He would, and sent them to preach; so, in every age, the call depends on the will of God. Whether the persons called excel in science or not, when they are sent, they have a roll given them to eat. The great decree of salvation is opened to them, and words and arguments given them to communicate it to others; and yet what they thus receive is but a small part of the treasure, for they have the key of the kingdom of heaven given to them, to unlock the treasure-house (the Bible) and constantly draw things new and old out of that sacred treasure, as occasion calls, in their ministration. When they have eaten the roll and received the key, they feel such constraint to run and point out to men their ruin, and the way of recovery, that, like the prophet, they say, “here am I, send me.” They have such love to God; to the Mediator, to the Gospel, and to the souls of men, that like Paul, they declare, “the love of Christ constraineth us.” And like him, they will neither be disobedient to the heavenly vision, nor confer with flesh and blood.
The customary address to the candidate elect, I shall pass by, reserving that part of the solemnities for my worthy brother, who is assigned to administer the charge and whose age and experience qualify him in an eminent degree for the task. But when I look around me, and see nearly one thousand souls assembled in this grove, to hear and see what is said and done today, it affects my heart. Pardon the falling tears. I learned to weep over a multitude of Jesus. Seeing the multitude, I feel compassion swelling my aching breast. Were my talents equal to my wishes, I would bring forth the riches of the Gospel, and hold them up in all their winning forms. But (applying the words of the prophet to myself) by whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small?
Without attempting to solve the questions, how it was possible for sin to take its rise among sinless creatures; whether sin was necessary or otherwise; whether God decreed it or not; what part of Adam’s transgression and corruption of nature is attached to us; whether the atonement of Christ is infinite or limited; whether apostasy has affected the will only, or equally all the faculties of the soul; whether the debility of a sinner is moral, natural, or both; whether the want of the holy unction is a crime or not; I say, passing these questions, and a thousand more, which puzzle the minds of men, I would aver, that my hearers, in their natural estate, are such guilty rebels and bitter enemies of God, and a life of holiness, that notwithstanding all the warnings of God; the reproofs of ministers; the laws of state; the sword of magistrate; the ethics of philosophy; the pangs of sickness; the fears of death; the threatening of future torments, and the glories prepared for the righteous, they will choose the road that leads to death. “The wicked will do wickedly.” The same disposition, which neglects the love and service of God for one minute, would for one eternity. I, therefore, utterly despair of ever seeing a single sinner in this attentive assembly ever turning to God, until the Lord touches his heart with the finger of His gracious power.
If men are ever honest, they will be honest when they pray; and it is a matter of notoriety, that, whenever good men pray for themselves, or for others, their language is: “Lord, have mercy on me, or I perish – Lord, have mercy on these poor, needy, guilty sinners; turn them, O Lord, and they will be turned; opened their eyes to see, their ears to hear, and their hearts to understand. Grant them repentance and remission of sins, in the name of Jesus Christ.” How would my poor soul rejoice to see the goings of my God and King; to hear the sound of His goings in the top of these oaks, or rather from the mouths of these people.
It is possible, yea, (from the attention of all, and the tears of some,) it is probable, there may be some brokenhearted, heavy-laden penitents in this assembly; some, who see the extent and propriety of God’s law, and the evil nature of sin; who feel the plague of corrupt nature, and the painful load of guilt; who see the imperfection of all their works, and the vitiation of all their powers; who discover the excellency of true religion, and long to possess it; who entertain no scruples about the power of Christ to save, but question His willingness to receive themselves, who are so vile; who do not hesitate to bear all reproaches that attend religion, but fear they shall perish at last, for want of it. If such there be among you today, in addition to the complaint of the prophet, “wo is me, for I am undone,” you make the inquiry, “what shall I do to be saved?” and supine the prayer of the publican: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” To such I would address myself, and fly, like the seraphim, with a promise of eternal life, to administer relief. Your case is very uncomfortable, but not desperate. Had God been disposed to slay you, He would not have shown you such things as these; and, as He has begun to teach you, you will see greater things than these. Verily, you are Galileans, for your speech agreeth thereto: and He that has begun the work will finish it. He that has raised you out of the grave of carnal security, will loose you and let you go. He that has opened your eyes to see your dungeon and chains, will also bring you out of the prison-house, and set you free. Today He is willing to receive such of you; He calls you to come; He commands you to believe. Nor is there any danger of your being damned, if you see yourselves bad enough to be saved wholly by grace. Then, like the blind and the lame, come to Jesus, and He will heal you. If your father and mother forsake you for your religion, the Lord will take you in. His promise stands thus: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Then stretch out the withered hand, and touch the hem of His garment; cast away your clothes, and come unto Him begging, and you will receive the sight of pardoned sin.
Preached at Ankram, Dutchess County, N. Y., at the ordination of Luman Birch.