The Treasure in Earthen Vessels or, the Dispensation of the Gospel, Committed to men of like Passions with the Hearers
Preached at the Ordination of Mr. WILLIAM STEVEN, at the Bridge of Weir, on the 4th of September, 1777.
By the Reverend
Minister of the Gospel, at Newton-Head, near Douglas.
F A L K I R K:
Printed by DANIEL REID, and sold by him, and other Booksellers,
[This sermon is numbered I. because it appeared with the sermon by John McMillan, HERE, numbered II.]
II. CORINTHIANS 4:5.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
The occasion of this day’s meeting, and our work, lead me to the consideration of a most interesting subject;—the ministry, here stiled a treasure in earthen vessels, or the gospel of Jesus Christ, the best treasure in the field of free grace committed to men of deserving characters, here stiled Earthen Vessels.—A considerable part of this epistle is apologetical, in which the apostle vindicates his office an the dignity of it, from those prejudices and aspersions that the false apostles and deceitful workers had raised against him.—In this chapter, he puts himself in the balance with these men, and without pride, or vain glory, prefers himself in point of things, he by far excels them, as in patience and constancy in his duty, in not fainting under trials and sufferings, in the loss of all things for the sake of the gospel;—He says, ‘by manifestation of he truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God,’—we ‘have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty,’ all uncleanness, ambition, and covetousness, which false apostles allow themselves to practise; ‘ not walking in craftiness, not handling ‘the word of God deceitfully,’ as they do, in their daily ministrations.—In the fifth verse, he gives an instance of his integrity and faithfulness, which very far exceeds their pretensions;—‘we preach the word with evidence, with perspicuity, with sincerity, an with the power and authority of Christ; we have courage to declare his gospel; we have boldness in preaching the word of God, and are exemplary in our doctrines and lives to others.
If it should be asked, when do men of perverse minds preach themselves? It may be answered,—when they are the authors of their own ministry, self-created preachers, running unsent,—when they make themselves the matter of their preaching,—their own passions, prejudices, and private opinions, instead of Christ and his gospel, when not actuated by the highest motives, the divine glory, and the salvation of men’s souls under their charge, they make themselves the end of their preaching, and labour for gain and a name, to profit themselves, and to please others.
If again it be demanded, when do we or any set for the defence of the gospel preach Christ Jesus the Lord? I make this reply,—when Christ is the author of our ministry, of our mission, the object of our preaching, the matter and substance of all our sermons,—when we preach Christ, we enunciate al we should preach, our views are to promote the honour, and interest of Christ, to gather his people, edify his body, propagate his gospel, subdue his enemies, and to have Christ admired in all them that believe on him by our ministry.
There is nothing so excellent and complete in this world, but it hath its own diminution to disparage and abate its worth; and this holds true, not only in worldly things, but also in spiritual things, as to the enjoyment of them in this life; of this Paul a great minister of experience gives an instance in this text, ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels,’ &c. In the verses before the text, he had told us the great privileges which ministers an others have by the gospel of Christ, but adds as a qualification to balance the greatness of our privileges, and the sweetness of our present comforts, ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels,’ &c.—Among the Hebrews, the word treasure signifies any thing collected, such as great magazines for store and provisions: in scripture, we read of the treasures of corn, of wine, and of oil:—the snow, winds, hail, and rain, are said to be in God’s treasure:—we read of the treasure of gold and silver:—we read of the treasures of heaven, i.e., when men lay out their wealth for the relief of Christ’s poor members, and account God, heaven and spiritual things, their best portion and richest treasure, upon which they fix their hearts, and habitually place their affections:—we read also of the treasures of wickedness, and of wrath, ill gotten riches, that will profit no man, because the treasures of wrath are followed with the treasures of punishment, the just reward of the treasures of wickedness:—But then we read of the treasure of wisdom and knowledge being hid in Christ, and here we read of the treasure of the gospel, which is put for the knowledge of the gospel and the ministry of it;—A gospel treasure put into an earthen vessel, or the gospel being a treasure in ministers, who are earthen vessels, is the first thing, with some degree of confidence we ascertain, as the just and safe sense of the treasure spoken of in the text. Christ keeps the key of the treasure house, and commits the trust of the treasure only to these, whom he calls to and furnished for it.—The second thing in the text is the repository of the treasure itself, earthen vessels; so the apostles were, and so the ministers of the gospel are called.—The third thing in the text is the reason assigned why ministers of the gospel are called earthen vessels, (men) and not heavenly vessels, (angels) that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us, from the weakness of the instrument there arises the greater glory to the agent: God’s grace and power are most seen in the conversion of sinners, in the success and effects of the gospel, when it is preached by men of like passions and infirmities with the hearers of it.
The gospel of Christ is deposited in ministers, that God may get the glory of all its success,—no less is included in the commission Christ had from his Father, and which he conferred upon his apostles, ‘as thou hast sent me, even so have I also sent them,’ [John xvii.13] ‘go ye into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature,’ [Mark xvi.15] they are his sent legal ambassadors in his stead, to beseech sinners to be reconciled to God’ [2 Cor. v.20].
First, To speak of the gospel being a treasure.
Second, To speak of it being a treasure committed to gospel ministers.
Third, To illustrate the reason why it is committed to gospel ministers, that God may get the glory of the dispensation and the success.
The first thing proposed was, to speak of the gospel being a treasure, a sacred treasure in an earthen vessel;—the gospel is the depositum, the treasure itself, ‘an invaluable blessing to mankind, what is the gospel of Christ, this invaluable thing proposed to sinners of mankind? It is no less than that treasure hid in the field of God’s grace, where we are to dig for all the unsearchable riches of Christ. The treasure when rightly understood and laid open, gives us all the account we have of God being in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, it is called God’s good things, glad tidings from God, in relation to Christ an our benefits by his mediation: the gospel eminently gives us the knowledge of God, of our duty to him and one another;—of the covenant of grace in all its parts, and of what is contained in it, appertaining to the church’s glory; and the saint’s happiness through grace an glory,—of Christ, his incarnation and the design of it, his natures sustained in our salvation, his person and offices in the work of our redemption,—of all his works in the execution of his different offices,—of his righteousness and all the essential parts of it, active and passive, in the all of his obedience consummated in his sufferings and death upon the cross;—it shows us how ministers are to preach Christ in truth, and as really crucified for our sins, and how people are to believe upon him for union, for pardon, for righteousness, for actual holiness and eternal life with God.
We come to speak more particularly of the gospel being a treasure,—the gospel is a treasure in two respects—first, for its matter, and second, for the dispensation, and the ministry of it.
First, for its matter, worth and excellency,—many pebbles make not a treasure, its worth and excellency: the gospel contains in it many precious things, ministerial gifts and abilities adapted to disclose its intrinsick dignity and worth to mankind, who have no natural perception of its excellencies.—Many truths, mysteries and doctrines are in it, many graces and comforts, even glory, and immortality, encouraging benefits and motives to excite both speaker and hearer to get the saving knowledge of this treasure.
Second, Moreover, the gospel is a treasure for abundance and variety: one thing of worth an value does not make a treasure, but many invaluable things do. The gospel is called ‘the manifold wisdom of God, the rich treasure of wisdom an knowledge.’ Christ the wisdom and power of God for salvation completes this glorious treasure, and it is so full, that eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of men to conceive what is laid up in store for them that love God. It is true, the treasure is one thing for substance, but many things for improvement. It’s a chain with many links, yet there is but one faith, but then it is diverse in its articles.
Third, Again, it is a treasure for closeness and secrecy, it is one of the choice secrets which are revealed to them that fear God. We do not open our treasures to every common person, this entertainment is reserved for our best favourites, believers in Christ are so with God, his gospel is a hid treasure, a secret mystery unknown to the men of the world. It is hid from the wise and prudent of this world,—carnal men may have in the theory, and by outward profession; but they have it not spiritually, in the mystery, in the truth and in the good of it. This privilege and property have only the real disciples and faithful followers of Jesus in the regeneration [John xv.15]. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.’
Fourth, The gospel is a treasure for excellent riches, we read of the ‘riches of grace,’ the riches of the gospel with great propriety, are called by one, ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ This treasure is very rich. It contains whatsoever is real and solid in true riches, its exhibitions are vastly large and extended: here is the flock of the gospel minister for his work and duty, either as a Christian, or as a minister in his distributions to others. The same treasure is also a stock for the believer’s improvement, to grow in all grace, and to abound therein, till he is filled with the sweet fruits of righteousness.
2d: The gospel is a treasure, as was said; for its dispensation, the ministry of it.
First, For its dispensation, it is a light that shineth in a dark place. How dark was our land before the gospel came into it? And how dark are these parts of the world, that remain ignorant of this treasure? Since it is said, where there is no vision the people perish. Its productions do even shine into dark hearts, ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus.’ [2 Cor. iv.6]—The several gifts and graces of the ministry for predicating the gospel, together with the seasons, opportunities and advantages for preaching make up a treasure, to be employed for the benefit of men fitting in darkness and in the awful regions of death. Let us improve this precious gospel treasure as our best good, and live upon it, as our highest gain for immortal bliss.
Second. In the dispensation of the gospel, speaker and hearer may be fed by it, ‘every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, bringeth forth things new and old.’ In the want of all other things, these are rich who are made partakers of it:—said Peter to the cripple man, ‘silver and gold have I none; but ‘such as I have give I thee [Acts iii.6]. ’It’s a great privilege of ministers poor in the world, and perhaps, poor in themselves, that they are rich to others, all the riches in the gospel are committed to ministers for dispensation. Yet they are allowed to feed themselves, left their souls become lean for neglecting their own vineyard, while they profess to keep the vineyard of others, but at the same time, they must make known the excellent riches of the gospel to all who have access to hear them,—the gospel is a treasure opened; not a spring shut up; not a fountain sealed. It is laid open in the public preaching of it for the free use of the church, and it should be our care to preserve and maintain it pure and undefiled, for the heavenly nourishment and edification of Christ’s mystical body.
Third. The gospel in the dispensation of it, is so calculated as that, it may be proposed to all the hearers of it rich and poor, here no man may avail himself on account of his goodly robe, his greatness, or distinguished superiority above the inferior rank and class of mankind: to the poor the gospel is preached. The gospel must be declared and offered to all for the knowledge of Christ crucified, for illumination and conversion, that the saving fruit thereof may appear in a holy life, and peace of conscience with God. Sinners of mankind are the objects of salvation,—to them the gospel must be preached without distinction.
Fourth. In the dispensation of the gospel, zeal must be used, and care exerted to maintain and preserve its freedom, as well as to preserve its purity,—said the best pattern for preaching; ‘freely ye have received, freely give.; In the free market without money, and without price, the only price from the person to whom the gospel treasure is exhibited is; the person’s cheerful choice, delight, and soul satisfaction in the treasure offered.—Proper notice must be taken of its infinite worth; all depreciating limits, all clogging restrictions; with the thorn and brier, must be reserved for rejection: every legal condition, every discouraging qualification, and every selfish motive must be discarded from the gospel treasure, and left with the legal preacher, and the hot-headed Arminian.
The second thing proposed was, to speak of the treasure being committed to gospel ministers, called earthen vessels—In relation to these earthen vessels, here is a word of description, and word of diminution.
First, A word of description, (Vessels), in allusion to their original extraction:—Ministers are called Vessels of Earth, to keep them humble, careful, and circumspect in all their actions, because they are vessels of dissolution; yet, as ministers, they are not natural vessels: Earthen vessels are not natural, but artificial, the work of the potter.—No man is by birth a Christian, much less is he by birth a minister; he must be made such, under a certain designation and character: Besides his learning, and other necessary furniture, he must have his warrant and mediate call from Christ himself, by the hands of the Church; otherwise he assumes to himself a sacred trust without allowance, and, at his own hand, breaks open the forbidden treasure.
Second, As ministers are Vessels of Earth, they are not of the same size.—All vessels are not of equal extent and capacity; some are less, some are greater. In like manner, ministers of the gospel abound in different properties and excellencies; they have different gifts and qualifications; they have also different endowments and graces; yet, like the lesser and larger vessels, all serve their own purposes,—each completes his station in his own orb, in making full proof of his ministry. There are diversities of operations; but the manifestation of the spirit is given to every man to profit withal; for to one is given by the spirit, the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge, by the same spirit, &c.
Third, Gospel ministers, Vessels of Earth, are not to use themselves at pleasure.—Vessels are not simply for reception, but also for effusion.—Ministers must be receivers, otherwise they cannot be dispensers;—they are only God’s stewards in his house, his large house, the visible church, and each hath his own house or family, to which, as a steward, he must dispense what God allows to his little children. For this purpose, ministers must receive, retain, and lay up; but they must also again lay out their acquisitions to others. This heavenly treasure, like the charitable loaves, is often multiplied in the distribution, at least it is never impaired by imparting it to the needy.
Fourth, Ministers are not the fountain of their own fullness.—They must look to heaven,—to their great Lord and Master, for the abundant store of their daily provision. Vessels are not the original of what they hold; what they have, is poured into them, and received by them. It is certain, ministers are not their own authors, (if they be not self-created preachers;) they are only receivers of those truths they publish to others. Paul himself would dispense nothing without having first received it; ‘I have received of the Lord, that which also I have delivered unto you.’ [1 Cor. xi.23] Thus far we have ministers described as Vessels of Earth, to teach them wisdom and prudence in their station, and not to lord over God’s heritage. 2d, I pass to the word of diminution, Earthen Vessels, with the reasons for it. We understand those apostles and ministers of Jesus Christ to be Earthen Vessels, in regard of their outward man, and terrene condition.
First, In regard of their meanness.—Ministers are divine in regard of their doctrine, and the sublimity of it, but human as to their state and condition: For the most part, they are low and little in this world, nay, they are often low and indigent Vessels that publish and preach the gospel of the great salvation; sometimes, they are remarkably distinguished for person, estate, and manner. The first ministers of Christ were so; Christ made use of persons outwardly very mean, and in very ordinary circumstances, to do his work, and preach the gospel in his name.—Christ himself was low, as to his human birth, ‘a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a root out of a dry ground,’ and, by most, was judged of according to his birth, parentage, and mean extraction; It is no less so with the servants of Christ; generally, their persons are in base disesteem with the world, though they serve in the colours of the highest office, and under the honours of the greatest and best of Lords.
Second, They are Earthen Vessels in regard of defilement and pollution; this is occasioned by their many weaknesses an infirmities; they are men of the like passions with others: Indeed, they have better advantages than many others to be good—exemplary good. They have, or ought to have, the qualities of righteousness and holiness in possession, as ministers and Christians. The best of opportunities is theirs; they have better education than the common class of the people; and, by their works and employments, if well improven for the Church’s good, they have a higher teach of knowledge and gifts, than many others; yet, through the remains of various corruptions—the many sinful infirmities of the flesh, together with their parts, calling, and business, they are, in reality, more subject to temptations than many other men; for which reason, Satan desires to have them, to winnow and sift them as wheat; he knows, if they shall fall, decline, and make defection from Christ and his gospel, that they stand fair to seduce and draw many along with them, into the same measure and degree of apostasy, into which themselves have fallen; yet, God can, and sometimes hath outshot Satan from his own bow, in making use of the worst sort of men—men of the most vicious characters, to do his work, in spite of hell.—In time past, Paul was a great persecutor, yet was God’s chosen Vessel, to carry his name unto the Gentiles.
Third, They are Earthen Vessels, in regard of the frailty and contemptibleness of their persons. Earthen vessels are set by; they stand in open places, and are used by every hand, almost at every turn,—while plate, gold and silver vessels, are laid up with great carefulness.—Ministers of the gospel are sometimes accounted objects base, vile, contemptible, and despised in the eyes of the world,—vessels wherein there is no pleasure. To some, not only our persons are despicable, but our very function and office also are held contemptible.
Fourth, They are Earthen Vessels, in regard of their constitution, and the mortality of their persons.—This heavenly light of the gospel often shines thro’ dim lanthorns [lanterns] of brittle glass.—Our bodies are earthen,—our constitution is declining towards the earth:—We, that preach eternal life to others, are ourselves dying men:—While the word of life is in our mouths, many a time death is in our faces.—Abstract from this, we have frail and weak bodies, sometimes, a great encumbrance to ministerial business.—Timothy had his bodily infirmities;—Trophimus was to be left sick at Miletum;—Epaphroditus was sick, nigh unto death;—and, it is probable, Paul had need of Luke the physician in his own sickness—evidences for our conviction, and all which proclaim us to be Earthen Vessels.—It now remains, and it will be expected, that I should declare for what purposes the gospel is committed to the preachers of it.—One special design is, That they may preach Christ, and not themselves, and be servants to the Church for Jesus’s sake: It is undoubtedly their work, and their greatest honour, to serve Christ and the church, in all the various parts of their station and office. Servants we are, in all things, to the souls of men; but not slaves to the humours of any men; for, at the same time that we are servants to their souls, we are to rule over them, and they are to obey and submit themselves to us, as those that watch for their souls.—Another singular end is, That the gospel may have that saving produce, and all those valuable effects that are proposed by Christ in its being preached unto the world of mankind sinners. Subordinated to the divine glory, it is designed, that men should be turned from sin to God, and be brought from a graceless, to a gracious state. No less is put into our hands, than the word of life, the gospel of our salvation. It is committed to ministers, that they may set it forth in the most winning terms, in order to gain sinners unto Christ. We have a special warrant from Christ and his gospel for this same end;—for what end? That sinners may be interested in the sure mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, it is our indispensable duty; to proclaim these gospel-tidings with some sacred zeal and faithfulness.—Have we tasted of God’s goodness? Tasted of his unspeakable love in Christ? And felt how gracious he is to ourselves?—Let us beseech sinners to come and share with us of those divine blessings; to taste, by faith, the heavenly pleasures of pardoning grace, saving and sanctifying grace, with all the rich comforts of grace thro’ Christ, in his gospel.—Another great end why the sacred treasure is intrusted to ministers is, an end that chiefly concerns the vitals and credit of our Christian religion. The religion of Jesus very much depends upon a right and sound Evangelical preaching of the gospel. Their commissions to preach, are received from the higher Court,—from Christ himself; they have inestimable blessings to publish to the world,—the invaluable blood of the Lamb, peace with God the Father, pardon of sin in the soul, and salvation from sin in heaven. It is unworthy of our office, to act deceitfully in such interesting matters. The souls of men are upon the brink of hell. Our conduct will certainly influence men, some way or other, to imitate our manners, and either encourage them to piety, or harden them in vice, and run them headlong to hell and misery. The gospel to all its hearers, will be the favour of life or death.—Again, another reason why the gospel is put under the trust of ministers, may be taken from what ministers should be, in a consistency with the gospel, and their own character.—How awful must it be, if, with God, they are reckoned the chief instruments of promoting the defections that are in the Church, in opposition to religion and godliness! Certainly, it is required, that our lives and doctrines be consistent with our characters. Shortly, we must lie upon our death-beds like other men. It is no less certain, the hour is at hand, when we must lie between the two extended worlds: Within a little, we must pass thro’ the shades of death.—A gloomy hour, indeed, when conscience will review the conduct of our past life, and examine the care and zeal of our sacred office!—God grant we may so conduct ourselves, in every part of our trust charge, that the terrors of a death-bed, and the horrors of future wrath, may never aghast us in that hour!—It is added, lastly, that ministers must give up the trust of the gospel, and the charge of souls committed to them.—In a little, we must be before the throne of God, and of Christ the Lamb; there we must resign our stewardship; there an impartial view will be taken of our ministry, and the discharge of it. Let the consideration of the judgment day, excite us to zeal and steadfastness in preaching the gospel; that the scenes of that dreadful day may issue in joy and peach to our souls and consciences. The flames of that day will decide the cause between the righteous and the wicked. No doubt, it will be enquired, what we have done with the gospel given us to preach by the authority of God,—what we have done with the promises of graces, he authorized us to preach in his name?—What is become of the souls committed to our trust? Let a due regard to the doctrines of Christ, the souls of his people, and ourselves, make us seriously to think, how we shall stand before the Judge, in that tremendous day!
The last thing proposed in the method, was, the reason assigned in the text, That God may get the glory of the gospel-dispensation.—It is our comfort, that the glorious power and excellency of the gospel, together with the fruit and success of it, are of God.—In opening up the great, and which is the only reason specified in our text, we may consider the sense of the words, both connectively and absolutely. If we take them connectively, as reflecting upon the words going before, then the sense is this:—Therefore is this treasure in Earthen Vessels, that the excellency of the power may be acknowledged to be of God, and not of us.—Was this treasure in angels, or, had we bodies ever so strong, the power of God would not be so clearly seen, as in putting it into Earthen Vessels: Here the power, the lustre, and glory of God, are most apparent. But, if we take the words absolutely, then here is the excellency of the gospel.—It is called power: as the gospel is called the power of God, in it, three things must be considered:—Its original is from God,—It is positively of God,—And all its productions are of God.—As its original is from God, the very nature of it is powerful and efficacious:—The ministry of it is powerful.—Said one, who could preach it well, I am no ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth [Rom. i.16].—It is called the sword of the Spirit, and the arm of God’s power:—It must be preached in the power of the Spirit, to make it sharp, quick, and powerful, like the two-edged sword, for dividing asunder the soul and spirit.—It is positively of God, in the full extent of it, and in all things relating thereto,—Ministerial gifts are of God; ‘He makes us able ministers of the New Testament.’—Ministerial performances, even to the perfection of required strength, and the rich supply of necessary grace, are of God.—The habit and the act are from him; he gives his ministers edifying gifts, and enables to exercise them. Success is from God: Alas! Our best endeavours are abortive, without his aid; if we have any success, or get any measure of ability and freedom to preach the gospel, let us not boast, or foolishly sacrifice to our praise; adding, for caution, and a lesson of humility, ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory.’ All the productions of the gospel are of God.—The awakening power, the convincing power, whereby men bethink and express themselves in gospel language, as did the Jailor, and others; the quickening power to spiritual life in duties, and the heart-changing power to holy works and religious actions, are of God, as it was with Paul, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’—Power to enlighten the mind, before a seat of darkness, and power to convince the conscience, before hardened in sin, for then the power of the Spirit opens their eyes, and turns them from darkness to light, and from the power of sin and Satan, to the love and grace of the living and true God; power to convert the soul that lies in sin, is of God; by which the person is renewed in the whole man to actual union with Christ, and communion with the Father, by the one Spirit.—Power to rejoice and strengthen the heart against sin, Satan, and all temptations to the practice of those sins and evils which were committed, without control, before conversion; in a word, the confirming power is of God, towards a lively hope in Christ, and the believer’s establishment in a state of grace, with his perseverance in holiness, and its gradual progress to the perfection of glory in heaven.—All the power of the gospel, in its different effects, either upon saints or sinners, is of God. In many other ways, we might show, that the excellency of gospel-power is of God, according tot he various operations which it performs upon the minds of men; but time will not allow particularly to insist upon each of them apart; I shall, therefore, confine myself to the three following, namely, conviction, conversion, and consolation; in which, it may be seen, that the excellency of the power is of God, and not of us.
I observe, in relation to the first of these, that the gospel is powerful in regard of conviction. The conviction of sinners, is one prime part of the minister’s work: He is to labour to convince the word of sin, to open men’s eyes, and to show them the vileness of their original and actual ways; to discover the courses of non-conversion to be highly sinful, and extremely dangerous. It is the convictions of the Spirit, that awaken the sleepy—the secure conscience, and disquiet the rest of the hardened sinner, and make him cry, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ The ministry, through God’s Spirit in the word, is powerful for these things:—How powerful was the word to Felix, when Paul preached to him ‘of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come? He ‘trembled: [Acts xxiv.25] ’ Strange! that the judge upon the bench should tremble at the word delivered by the panel at the bar! When Peter preached in the power and demonstration of the Spirit, his auditors ‘were pricked in their hearts [Acts xxii.37].’ No doubt, at this time, their sin was discovered, and they mad sensible of being guilty in crucifying the Son of God. When Christ opened the scriptures to the two disciples, their hearts burned within them, and their unbelief left them.
Second, In respect of conversion, the gospel is no less powerful. Conviction is one thing; conversion is another. Men may be convinced, without any real change wrought upon them. Some stay in the place of the breaking forth of children; some come only to an untimely birth; and some travel in sore pain, and have birth: But the change in conversion, is commonly the effect of the deep work of the Spirit of God in conviction, or its consequent. Said compassionate father of converted souls, ‘In Christ Jesus I have begotten you, through the gospel [1 Cor. iv.15].’ James, the pious apostle, said, ‘Of his own will, begat he us, with the word of truth [James i.18].’ This saving change, in real conversion, we may perceive, by some lasting and infallible evidences, when men are actuated by a divine principle, and the influence of religious motives, in the whole of their conduct, are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan, and the love of sin, unto God, and, from hence, are habitual in the practice of all commanded duties, abounding in the work of the Lord, filled with the sweet fruits of the divine righteousness, which always produces holiness, in the fear of the Lord.
Third, Moreover, the gospel is powerful in respect of consolation and comfort. Its power lies in the nature and suitable matter of the gospel, handled in the Spirit’s demonstration, and its matter must be consonant to the nature of mankind. The necessity of Christ, the covenant of grace, and certainty of a future judgment, with the graces and privileges belonging to the hearers of the gospel; these being faithfully dispensed, have a great deal of power and efficacy in the hand of the Spirit. The best of elocution, with all the enticing words of man’s wisdom, are greatly deficient in the consolation of diseased and sin-sick souls. Moral discourses have their own use; but, however pertinent and well digested upon the subject in hand, yet, in the matter of salvation and consolation to distressed souls, are like window casements painted over with fine colors, that not only keep out the light, but make the house within dark and uncomfortable to its guests.—But, in opposition to this false and rejected, but, we fear, too common method of healing the wounded, the word of the gospel is powerful of God, to comfort the heart, quiet the mind, pacify the conscience, and fill the soul with joy in believing. These things are commonly the effect of pardon, and the seal of the Spirit; and, though ministers cannot forgive sins, yet they may speak a word of comfort very seasonably to the weary, by the administration of the promises. In this respect, they are not only declarative, but operative, when God is pleased to sanctify and bless the word.—Thus we see, the power of the gospel is of God, both in itself, and in its dispensation, without that weakness which is incident to the preacher.—Paul was with the Corinthians ‘in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling [1 Cor. ii.3];’ yet his speech was in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; and so the power is of God, even when the gospel is delivered by one of human weakness, that the power may be of God, and not of us.
Lastly, It is proposed, to conclude the discourse with a few inferences.
Inference 1st, Is the gospel a treasure? Certainly; ay, and the richest treasure in the whole world: It must be so, if we consider its original, God; its medium to the church, Christ; its fruit, a joy unspeakable, and full of glory, in the soul. This gospel treasure is the result of the heavenly counsel among the Divine persons,—of the Redeemer’s personal appearance in our nature: He brought the gospel and salvation, to a people fitting in darkness, and the regions of spiritual death. The price of this treasure is the blood of atonement; it must, therefore, be an invaluable treasure, worthy of our cordial reception.
Infer. 2nd Has the church a treasure in an Earthen Vessel? Then, see the wisdom, the goodness, the power, and the providence of God to his church, in all ages, since the commencement of the Christian religion, down to the present times. All the storms of hell, and all the floods of persecution, and all the malice of wicked men, could never yet corrupt the treasure in its nature, power, and virtue. Men may be corrupted, and their judgments perverted; but the treasure always has been, now is, and for ever will continue the same.—The manner of its preservation is truly wonderful It is preserved, even in the greatest danger, by the weakest means. Men commonly keep treasures in the best defenses, and in the strongest repositories; but this is not God’s way; he goes to work different from the world: Sometimes, he lays aside ties, parts, and qualities, and makes use of poor, mean frail creatures.
Infer. 3rd, Are ministers Earthen Vessels? Indeed, their words, expressions, and phrases, the vehicles of this treasure, through which they convey the truths and doctrines of the gospel, are often very like the earthen vessels, of an earthy uncertain nature. It is true, we have earthy hearers to deal with, when we preach the gospel; for which reason, God makes use of men under the same infirmities, with them that have the gospel preached.—Israel desires to speak with Moses, and not with God; and why? Because he was like themselves, and would be compassionate to them; therefore, they desired to receive the commands of God from his mouth: They say to Moses, ‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die [Exod. xx.19].’ Though none be more compassionate and easy in his commands than the Most High, yet men cannot deal with the great God immediately nor even bear the ministry of glorious angels: they need men of their own species, temper, and disposition, that necessary communication ma subsist between them in using the treasure.
Infer. 4th, Is the gospel a treasure? Then let us carry ourselves answerable to it, in our doctrine and lives: Let us be diligent, and search deep for this hid treasure; let us lift up our voice for understanding and wisdom from above, and dig, with all due care, for this enduring treasure of heavenly riches. What will the men of the world not do for their perishing treasures? They will pass a great deal of time, with a great deal of care and pains; they will even go over sea and land in peril, and at a venture; they will to make friends with the Mammon of unrighteousness.—And shall we be outdone by them, when the massy crown of glory, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, is set before us? Let us pursue it, with an ardor proportioned to its real importance, and never stop short, till we can call it our own: And then, whatever be our outward estate in the world, this will become our lasting joy, that, through free grace, we are rich in faith, and heirs of those treasures which the thief of hell cannot carry away, and the moth of sin cannot consume.
Infer. 5th, But if it is a treasure, then see what esteem we should have of this treasure, this heavenly wisdom, this heavenly doctrine—Let us labour to understand it, and to feel its all-conquering power, and sweet efficacy, upon our hearts, for our own comfort, and in order to the benefit of it appearing in the fruits of our ministry. It is our incumbent duty, to labour to understand and rejoice in it, as those that are made partakers of the joy. David rejoiced in God’s word, as those that found great spoil,—David, the type of our dear Lord, who much more rejoiced in God’s word, when there was any moving in the hearing of it.—Commonly, the word hath a twofold joy, the joy of faith, and the joy of affection only; this is found in the stony-ground hearers; and it is the sad condition, and awful misery of very many, that, like John’s hearers, they rejoice but for a while in the word; that is found in true believers, and springs from their union to Christ, and is in them a well of water, springing up unto eternal life. Hence it is said of the city Samaria, that when they received the gospel, they had ‘great joy.’[Acts viii.9]
Infer. 6th, But then, are we Earthen Vessels taken out of the dust?—Let us improve our constitution and frailty, to make us humble and diligent in our work, more meek and compassionate in our duty to others, and more sensible of their weakness. We commonly pity men in the like condition with ourselves; so our Lord took our nature in flesh and blood upon him, that he might pity us: He was tempted, that he might succour us in a tempted condition; and, indeed, afflicted ministers will readily preach and speak with more experience and sympathy to others in similar cases, than those ministers who never had affliction or sickness in their own persons or families.
Infer. 7th, We may see, from the different accounts of the Treasure and the Vessel, that the Vessel is one thing, and the Treasure is another.—Let not people esteem the gospel as according to the Vessels; because, a vessel of dishonor may be a vessel of honour for the treasure it contains. Look to on the vessel, without looking at the treasure. Wicked men are called base men, children of fools, sons of the earth, or, viler than the earth, as Job speaks; but good men, much more good ministers, are Vessels of honour: It may be said of them, as of the giants of old, they are men of renown. Worldly men look at the outside of persons, matters, and things, and esteem them accordingly:—So the Jews looked at Christ, and so they dealt with him, ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? [Matth. xiii.55]’ so those false teachers in Corinth, their design against Paul was, to make his presence weak, and his speech contemptible also; but when Paul preached through infirmity of the flesh and manifold temptations, how did these Corinthians receive him? Was it not as an angel of God?—even as Christ himself? In like manner, the Thessalonians, not regarding the Vessel, received the gospel of Christ not as man’s word, but as God’s word.
Infer. 8th, Are ministers transitory and frail Vessels, soon broken? Be tender of them. What is sooner broken than glass, or an earthen vessel? They will soon be taken from you; ‘our fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever?’ [Zech. i.5]—The word of God endures for ever, but not the preacher; the gospel is eternal, but not the dispenser; the calling is lasting, but the minister is passing, and is not:—Take heed of grieving their spirits; improve by them, and get good of them.—That scripture is an argument, and should have some weight with people, ‘Work while it is day; because the night comes, when none can work.’ As our preaching-time is our working season, so your hearing-time is your season for improving under our ministry, that, in this world, you may be rich in grace, and, in the other world, our crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Infer. 9th, This text and doctrine is sufficient for answering the allegations of legal objectors, who speak as if some power were from us in preaching the gospel: Because we concur with God in this work, therefore they allege, the power is, at least, partly ours with God.—It is easy answering from scripture, what, in this matter, expresses the judgment of God according to truth. Paul and Apollos were ministers of the word; but it was God that gave the blessing upon their labours. It is owned, we are recipients, subjects of the ministry, persons employed in God’s work, and, in this sense, said to be workers with god, but the power, efficacy, and blessing, are from God alone; they are merited by Christ, and not by us; they are of his procuring, and not of ours.—Paul knew the power and extent of his mission better than any of us, yet he says, he obtained mercy of God to be faithful. We do not perform any work by our own power. Said Peter, ‘Not by our own power or holiness, is this man restored [Acts iii.12].’ It is not by our own power, or gifts, or industry, that our ministry is powerful on sinners for their salvation. Let us look to our God, and, in the words of Moses, desire his gracious assistance, O Lord, ‘if thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence’ to thy work [Exod. xxxiii.15]. What can we do without his presence? If we get any measure of ability to speak and preach in his name, or if our ministrations become successful on souls, see into what we must resolve it, into the promise, the accomplished promise of an ascending Redeemer, who said, for the encouragement of his apostles and succeeding ministers, to proceed in preaching the gospel, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen [Matth. xxviii.20].’
Infer. 10th, Let us study good matter, and the excellent language of the Holy Ghost. The matter of our ministry should be powerful, that the handling and dispensing of it may powerful, and come home with efficacy upon the conscience. It is said, ‘The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the Masters of assemblies [Eccl. xii.11].’ Let us not only love to speak truths, but even love to digest those truths in our own hearts, before we enforce and commend them to others. This is likely to be the might that is powerful to the beating down of strong holds. The matter of our ministry doe not consist in fine words, and a fine delivery; though, those are even necessary for the matter in hand, providing the expressions are powerful, and uttered with gravity, sobriety, and tender affection.—That which is spoken from the heart, seems to be most effectual to go to the heart with a power which cannot be resisted. Let is suffice us in the ministry, that though we are Vessels, Earthen Vessels, and, on this account, ready to be discouraged, and may think it hard, that we are followed with so much weakness, when we have such work upon our hand, great and difficult work, respecting the different parts of our office, and our faithfulness therein, that Christ will get the greater honour; for this reason, he hath put the treasure in Earthen Vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.—What remains, I refer till afterwards, when the solemn part of the work is over, to be delivered in some words of exhortation. [Here follows what was said to the Ministers, and his People.]
I shall conclude my discourse, at this time, with an address, in the form of exhortation.
First, to the MINISTER.
First, I address myself to you, REVEREND AND DEAR BROTHER:—You Have, this day, as an Earthen Vessel possessed of a gospel treasure, solemnly dedicated yourself to the whole work and service of Christ, in the sacred office of the holy ministry; and, in particular, you have been solemnly set apart to the work of the ministry over this part of Christ’s vineyard, where your lot is to labour, in this day of great defection.—According to the place I now occupy, I would urge upon you your duty, in the three following respects:—1st, In respect of your personal religion;—2nd, In respect of your private studies;—3rd, In respect of your public services in the church of Christ.
First, In respect of your personal religion:—A real work of grace, sin-mortifying, sin-killing, and soul-sanctifying grace, is of very use to ministers, nay, it is absolutely necessary to a right discharge of the ministerial office. You are under many strong and forcible obligations to holiness, both as a Christian, and as a minister of Jesus Christ. Your obligations as a minister, arise from the character you now sustain, the office you now fill, and the grace of the gospel you are now to publish and set forth in the name of Christ to others. Consider, for a minister to preach what he does not believe and practise, is certainly to act very far below the character he sustains in the church of Christ.—A minister should be expert and well skilled in the Christian spiritual warfare.—It is expected by the church and also by the world, that he should exceed others, not only in gifts, but in all graces; and your great Master, and your own conscience, require, that you should exceed as a pattern in holiness:—Take heed that you have real personal holiness, and that your evidences of this be clear. Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure. A minister would be strict and nice in this inquest; because, a mistake in a weighty matter of this kind, may be fatal. Though a minister should preach truths purely, and doctrines soundly, yet he will lie under sensible disadvantages, if the evidences of a real Christian be a-wanting—Take care, also, that you have a vivid and powerful religion, lest what you possess, be some dormant and inactive principle without life,—inactive and without vigour in your soul.—Keep your heart untied unto the God of spiritual life: Beware of alienation, or deadness in he life and fruits of grace: Be careful to preserve fellowship with God, through the mediation of Christ: Be much in reading, meditation, and prayer;—walk, at all times, our and in, as seeing him who is omniscient and invisible.—Observe if your personal holiness grows and advances daily:—Be sensibly affected with every wandering affection from God to some fruitless object. It may be a daily exercise for us all, to lament the neglect of duty, as well as the commission of sins;--to avoid both, be daily acting in conformity the God, and cheerfully serving him, as one of his ministering angels in mortal flesh.—Be like Christ, our great Pattern and Exemplar, who, through his life, in all its imitable parts, shewed that life which his disciples after him were to lead. An abiding interest in Christ, will produce true holiness, in all its various branches, in ministers, as well as in Christians, and is attended with many benefits and advantages to you, Sir, in particular. A personal interest in Jesus, spiritually improved by faith, will yield a real growth; by it, you will advance in friendship with God, and become intimate with divine things, which will enable you to teach both truth and duty among your people; nay, you will be more fit to speak with God at all seasons, and upon all occasions. This way, you will undoubtedly grow in duties, prayer, and in graces, as well as in gifts, which will greatly recommend you in all your religious administrations; then you will speak, and act, like one that hath been with God, to the notice of all your observers.
Second, In respect of your private studies.—That you may discharge the duties of your office the better, do as Paul advised Timothy to do, ‘Give attendance to reading, meditation, and exhortation; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all [1 Tim. iv.13, 15].’ This is necessary to furnish the mind with knowledge, to qualify you for your office, and to assist you in preparing pulpit discourses. You must not appear among your auditors as a Jewish doctor, only nice in rites and ceremonies; consider that you occupy the place of a Christian teacher, which obliges you to search into, and to unfold the rich promises of free grace. In all your subjects and texts chosen, in every part of your administration, let God’s end be yours, namely, god’s honour, Christ’s glory, and the salvation of souls, all which, are the great end of your sacred office. Seek your text from God; seek his direction, both as to the matter and manner of your discourses, that they may answer to pious ends and purposes. Let your speech be simple, but your discourses well composed;—informing to the ignorant, convincing to gainsayers, humbling to the profane and obstinate, comforting to the humble, and supporting to the weak. Set your discourses in a clear and proper light, that the judgment of your auditors be not confused. Avoid over nice and useless criticisms, unintelligible expressions, empty phrases, and foolish terms, with all derivative untranslated words, where you have abundance of English language to fill up the blank. Let the language of Jesus beautify his own gospel:—Let gospel-arguments pervade your whole discourses, and be the glory of all your performances, in place of those arguments drawn from nature, and natural things. Still, when you speak upon the great things of God, consider whose officer you are, what character you bear, that you are the messenger of the great God, and must reveal his mind in Christ, from his sacred word, to a lost world.
Third, In respect of your public services:—When you come to the public with well prepared discourses, preach the gospel of Christ and his truths, with a Thus saith the Lord.—Consider what doctrines must be laid before all your hearers—It is the voice of sin-pardoning grace from a God in Christ, that only can encourage sinners awakened, to return to God.—It is the promise of divine assistance for the mortification of sin, and the practice of holiness, that only can encourage and animate poor humble souls to attempt what is required. Indeed, the divine fitness of the gospel, to restore fallen man into the favour and image of God by Christ, is so various and wonderful, that human wisdom fails in a just description of its properties, power, and virtue; yet, it is certain, gospel truths were the sacred weapons, with which the first gospel-preachers went through the dominions of Satan, to gather a church unto Christ:—All their rules, arguments, and principles were drawn from his gospel.—From the rules, arguments, and principles of the gospel, your business is to preach Christ, and him crucified.—None of the Gentile world ever was reformed by any other means than the gospel; and, the very design of its being preached, was to reform men from their vices; and by what? But by its ministration. Were fornicators made chaste? Did idolaters become worshippers of the true God? Did thieves become honest men? Were the covetous taught to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, and did drunkards become temperate?—‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thievers, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. and such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God [1 Cor. vi.9, 10, 11].’—These, with such like, are the effects of the gospel in power; besides, the gospel treasure will furnish you with all necessary doctrines and truths to be preached; such as, the mystery of the Trinity, the son’s incarnation, death, satisfaction, and intercession. The gospel treasure reveals the mystery of the new birth, of justification, adoption, and sanctification complete. And, if your life be godly, and your doctrine found, applied against the sins of the time, you shall be an able minister of the New Testament.
Second, to the PEOPLE.
Second, I now address myself to you, MY DEAR FRIENDS, in a few things, in the name and by the authority of the Lord Christ: remember whose servant your minister is, receive him as an angel of God—even as Christ Jesus—you see what a work and charge your pastor is entering upon, to bring about your eternal salvation. Labour to make his work and charge as easy to him as possible: your only way to do this is, to obey the word, and receive the truths of God from his mouth, with faith and love.—Beware of being peevish, quarrelsome, and contentious among yourselves, or with your minister, upon unjust grounds: The consequence of contention is often very bad, of which cometh strife and debate, with every evil work.—Pity your minister and pray for him.—Before you hear him, at any time, go to God for Divine aid to assist him in his work; that he may be enabled to deliver his message with power and authority from his great master; that he may be the instrument of God for humbling your proud hearts, and for framing them to receive with meekness the ingrafted word of life:—The more free he is in reproving your vices, irregularities and deficiencies in duty, the more your should regard and live him; and would you have him give no offence to the ministry, then give you no offence, and offence undoubtedly you will give him, if you unduly neglect his gospel-administration.—Bear with his infirmities, and if possible cover them with the robe of charity. Endeavour by all means to be a help to his faith and labours of love, among you, for the glory of God and your own salvation.—Let elders do their work faithfully, assist him in rebuking the irregular, zealously putting your hands to the Lord’s work, maintaining the discipline, and supporting the government of he church, and in every thing adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour.—And, as your minister must attend upon his work, for the good and safety of your souls; do you dutifully attend to support your minister in his work, allowing him a comfortable maintenance for his body, consider him in his station and work, that he labours among you, and is over you in the Lord; he has not an opportunity to work for his maintenance, and though he had, it is not what God calls him to as his duty, but he commands you to provide him in seasonable supply with your carnal things.—It is the will of God, that he who preaches the gospel should live by the gospel; this is agreeable both to religion and right reason: when people in a capacity to support their minister are refractory to this, it is far from acting like good Christians, It is rather like those Gentiles that know not God.—Strengthen one another in supporting the cause of Christ and religion: pray much for your pastor, and the whole congregation, the church of Christ, and the whole reformed interest, that Zion and her religion may be the praise of the whole earth. I conclude by recommending to your after serious perusal those scriptures, And we beseech you brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you [1 Thess. v.12].’ ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account; that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you [Heb. xiii.17].’ And that suitable prayer of the apostle’s, ‘Now he who ministereth seed to the sower, both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness [2 Cor. ix.10].’ This I suppose to be founded upon that promise you have at large, ‘For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, an maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, 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 send it [Isai. lv.10, 11].’ Amen.