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SUCCESS OF MINISTERS BY THE POWER OF GOD.
OCCASIONED BY THE DEATH OF REV. SAMUEL SPRING, D.D., OF NEWBURYPORT,
MARCH 14TH, 1819.
"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God
to the pulling down of strong holds.”—2 Cor. x. 4.
The scripture represents mankind to be in a state of rebellion against God, who has determined to reduce them to terms of submission and reconciliation. Accordingly, he has commissioned and armed his ministers to go and attack them in the strong holds, in which they have fortified themselves. Paul and the other apostles were the first ministers, under the gospel, whom he sent forth armed in this spiritual warfare, and whom he crowned with signal success. This, therefore, they gratefully acknowledge was owing, not to their own bravery or dexterity in using their weapons, but to the nature of their weapons, and to the divine influence, which made them mighty and irresistible. “ The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." Or as it follows, “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
In treating upon the text, I shall,
I. Inquire what weapons the ministers of the gospel are armed with.
II. Show that they are adapted to pull down the strong holds of sinners. And,
III. Show that it is God, who makes them mighty to bow the hearts of his enemies to submission.
I. Let us inquire what weapons the ministers of the gospel are armed with.
Though the apostles had some arms, which were never given to their successors in the ministry; yet they had no carnal weapons. They were not the soldiers of any earthly potentate, nor engaged in any such war as nations wage against nations, by the sword and bayonet; and consequently had no occasion for carnal weapons. But as they were engaged in a spiritual warfare, they were amply supplied with spiritual arms. They were armed not only with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, but with the gifts of the Spirit. They were endued with supernatural gifts and miraculous powers. To one was given “the word of wisdom ; to another the word of knowledge ;" “ to another the gifts of healing ;" “to another the rking of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues.” These supernatural endowments were spiritual weapons, by which they were peculiarly enabled to carry on their spiritual warfare against a rebellious world, involved in pagan ignorance, superstition, and idolatry. But as the apostles had greater difficulties to surmount, than their successors in the ministry, the whole spiritual armor of the latter consists, in the girdle of truth, “the breast-plate of righteousness,” “the shield of faith,” “ the hel
, met of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is, indeed, from the gospel they preach, that they are to draw all their spiritual weapons, to attack the strong holds of sinners; and they are forbidden to employ any others in their spiritual warfare. I now proceed to show,
II. That the spiritual weapons, which they may draw from the magazine of the gospel, are mighty, and perfectly adapted to pull down the strong holds of the enemies of God, and bring them to a cordial reconciliation and submission to their injured and offended Sovereign. Though the apostles had other arms; yet it was principally by means of the spirit and truths of the gospel, that they gained their signal victories over both Jews and Gentiles wherever they went. With these spiritual weapons, they silenced pagan priests, overturned pagan altars, and converted pagan orators, poets, and philosophers. They renounced all carnal weapons, and vain philosophy, and employed the plain and pungent truths of the gospel, in attacking and subduing the hard and obstinate hearts of sinners. It was with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, that Peter pierced and subdued the hearts of three thousand, on the day of Pentecost. And it was with the same spiritual weapons, that Paul attacked the Athenian philosophers, converted one of the Athenian judges, and made Felix tremble. But that the
gospel affords spiritual weapons that are mighty, to pull down the strong hold of sinners, will more fully appear, if we consider,
1. The gospel affords ministers the best weapons, to pull down the strong hold of carnal security. Sinners are continually fortifying themselves against danger, and are ready to imagine, that they are entirely safe in their strong hold. They say to themselves, “We shall have peace, though we walk in the imagination of our hearts;" and "to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant." “ Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue forever, and their dwelling. places to all generations," and that they shall live forever, and not see corruption. They put far away the evil day, settle upon their lees, and say in their hearts, the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil. With such thoughts, they fortify their minds against the fear of danger, and feel themselves perfectly secure in their entrenchments. But the great and solemn truths of the gospel are mighty to pull down their strong holds, and destroy their refuges of lies. The gospel tells them, that they are serpents, a generation of vipers, and deserve the damnation of hell; that they are condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth upon them; and that except they repent, they shall inevitably and eternally perish. These divine truths, properly pointed at their hearts and consciences, are mighty to pull down their strong hold of carnal security, to alarm their fears, to cause them to cry for mercy, and bring them to unreserved submission to the terms of reconciliation proposed in the gospel. The terrors of the Lord have, in ten thousand instances, proved irresistible to the most careless secure sinners, driven them from their entrenchments, and constrained them to flee from the wrath to come.
2. The gospel affords ministers the best weapons, to pull down the strong hold of self-righteous sinners. This strong hold is built of more solid materials, than the strong hold of carnal, security; and those who build it, feel much more safe in their fortifications. The self-righteousness of some consists in their amiable dispositions, decent deportment, inoffensive conduct; and in their private and public virtues. They resemble the Pharisee, who went up to the temple to pray, and thanked God that he was better than other men. They resemble the scribes. and Pharisees in general, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. And they resemble Paul before his conversion, who in respect to the law; viewed him.. self altogether blameless. But there are some of the self-righteous, who consider this fortification too weak, and therefore
build their strong hold upon what they deem a firmer foundation. They place no dependence upon their native goodness, and external virtues; but fortify themselves in the confident belief, that they have been awakened, convinced, and converted; though their carnal mind has never been slain, or their hard heart been taken away. There is reason to fear, that not a few under the light of the gospel build this castle, and feel themselves absolutely secure in it. But no strong hold of selfrighteousness is impregnable. The gospel affords ministers weapons sufficiently pointed and powerful to demolish any selfrighteous fortification. By describing the essential difference between true ve and false, or between true holiness and selfrighteousness, they may make the most self-righteous sinner feel
, that except his righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, he shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. The experiment has been made. One single prohibition of the divine law carried conviction to the conscience of Paul, destroyed his self-righteous hope, and laid him prostrate and defenceless at the foot of divine Sovereignty. The divine law is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The command, “Thou shall not covet,” thou shall not be selfish, is mighty to pull down the strongest hold, that a self-righteous sinner can build,
3. The gospel affords ministers the best weapons, to drive sinners from their strong hold of native depravity. They are indeed by nature children of wrath. Their hearts are completely depraved and desperately wicked. They are naturally opposed to God, and to all good. And this moral depravity which they call original sin, they plead as an excuse for all their impenitence, unbelief, and disobedience to the divine commands. While they continue in this strong hold of native depravity, they are stout-hearted, and vainly imagine, that they can repel all the spiritual weapons, that ministers can employ against them. But one single spiritual weapon is sufficiently mighty, to pull down their strong hold, and bury them in its ruins.
Their depravity is their rebellion, and their rebellion is altogether groundless and criminal. They hate and rebel against God, without a cause, for which they deserve to die. God, therefore, has expressed his wrath against them, ånd solemnly declared, that "the wages of sin is death;" that “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them;" and that “he that believeth not shall be damned.” 66 Now we know that what
things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” When this law comes home to the consciences of sinners, it puts them to silence, destroys their defence, and turns their excuse into self-reproach and selfcondemnation and despair. It had this powerful and irresistible effect upon Paul. He frankly confesses, “ when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death."
4. The gospel affords ministers the best weapons, to drive sinners from their strong hold of divine decrees. Though they are often reluctant to believe, that God has from the foundation of the world, foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; yet when they are constrained, from reason and scripture, to believe this doctrine, they often exert all their ingenuity to turn it into a strong hold against God. They vainly imagine that upon
the ground of this doctrine, they can fairly reason away both their guilt and danger. They say, if God has decreed all things, then he has decreed all their actions, and they cannot help acting just as he has decreed that they should act; and consequently, they are neither praise or blame-worthy for anything they do. This is reasoning away all their guilt. And by another train of reasoning, they reason away all their danger. For there is no danger of God's punishing them for doing what he has decreed, and for what does not deserve punishment; and there is no danger of their being lost, if he has decreed to save them. When sinners have built this fortification, they feel strong and able to meet and repel any arguments drawn from reason; and they are often bold enough to contend with their Maker on this, which they deem solid ground. But the gospel afforded Paul a spiritual weapon sufficiently mighty, to reach and convince, or destroy sinners in this entrenchment. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharoah, Even for the same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt then say unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will ? Nay but, О man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou