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vast multitudes followed him into the wilderness, eagerly listening to his preaching, and with one accord enquiring, 6 What shall we do ?” He was, literally, according to another prophecy,.“ The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. The success of his ministry exceeded that of any man who had gone before him.
It is said figura. tively, that « There went out to bim all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” Some, however, and even not a few, “ rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” But all who came to his baptism, professing true repentance, and faith in the coming Messiah, were solemnly required to bring forth fruits meet for repentance ; and not to begin to say in their hearts, . We have Abraham to our father ;" nor to rely on any thing, as an evidence of their justification, short of personal holiness, and union of heart to the promised Saviour. Such were the nature and effects of the ministry, of John the Baptist. Thousands of sinners were converted ; and all the saints were edified. A far more glorious revival of pure religion was effected by his single ministry of the gospel, than had ever been witnessed before. But is it not evident, from the history of his ministry, that not a single soul was converted, who had opportunity, but neglected to attend to his preaching ? The infinite importance of the ministry of John, must be acknowledged by the candid world. But the improvement of his ministry was as important as the ministry itself. In this instance it was exceedingly manifest, that faith came by hearing, and by no other means.
Very soon after the commencement of the short ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ also made his appearance, as a minister of God to this fallen world. The substance of his doctrine was like that of bis forerunner, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 66 Repent ye, therefore, and believe the gospel."
For a full view of the ministry of Christ, the whole of the eyangelical history must be quoted. A specimen
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or two only, will be exhibited. 66 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say
you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Another specimen of the preaching of Jesus Christ may
be taken from the same sermon on the Mount. 6 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless then that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of
Father who is in heaven." Such was the doctrine and spirit of the preaching of Jesus Christ: and, 6 Never man spake like this man. His great system of morals was comprised in a few comprehensive points : “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself. And all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." And finally; "if any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
The ministry of Christ was not only attended with an irresistible influence on the consciences of men ; but it was established by many incontestable miracles : and more than once, was there a voice from heaven, saying, “ This is my beloved son: hear ye
him.” Many of the chief priests and scribes, however, refused to hear him. And was not the ancient prophecy of Moses verified in their utter destruction ? Alluding to the Saviour, the prophecy of Moses was, " A prophet shall the Lord your
your brethren, like unto me;
God raise up
him shall ye hear. And it shall come to pass,
The Saviour did not, like John the Baptist, labor chiefly in desert places. But he declared, 'under trial before the high priest," I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing." Christ not only taught the people himsell, and preached the gospel of the kingdom of God; but he employed above four score men to preach in his name; and in his name to work miracles. "These he sent forth into every part of Judea ;
them a solemn charge, that if any would not receive them, nor hear them, to shake off the dust of their feet for a testimony against them. These disciples and ministers of Christ, having performed the first part of their missionary service, returned with joy, saying, “ Even the devils are subject unto us, through thy name.” Irresistible was the influence of the Saviour, and complete 'was his success, in setting up, and establishing his kingdom, even though he was persecuted to the death of the cross; and made his way to the throne, through the valley of the shadow of death.
Thus, it appears, that, from the beginning of the world, down to the death of Jesus Christ, God never failed to support a succession of evangelical ministers, and preachers of righteousness. And by their means, the church has existed, and will exist to the end of the world. And it has always been fatal to the best interests, and to the souls of mankind to neglect their opportunities to hear the ministers of the word of God. While refusing to hear the ministry of the word, according to .divine institution, no sinner has ever been convicted, and no soul has ever been converted to the christian faith. Thus faith cometh by hearing.
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Soon after our Saviour arose from the dead, he established his church under a new dispensation. He appoin, ted new ordinances and institutions, more significant of the great subjects of grace and salvation. Great was the increase of light and privileges; but not to supercede the ministry of the word. This, instead of being superceded, was greatly improved ; and was extended to all nations. Jesus Christ, before he ascended to heaven, solemnly delivered to his apostles, and through them, to the whole body of faithful ministers, in their successive generations, a commission to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 6. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” In other words, “ Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanda ed: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
From this time forward, more evidently than before, faith was to come by hearing. Now, as far as possible, all nations and classes of people were to be furnished with the ministry of the word of God. All people, there, fore, had they been disposed, might, long before now, have had opportunity to bear and embrace the gospel. Of the apostles and primitive ministers of the gospel, it is said, “ Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world;" meaning, at least, the whole known world; or the Roman empire. In the time of the Apostles' ministry, preachers of the gospel were greatly multiplied; and their object was, according to their commission, to preach the gospel to every creature ; well knowing, that faith cometh by hear. ing, and hearing by the administration of the word of God. From the history of the labors and sufferings of the first ministers of the gospel, it is evident, that the conversion of the world was their object; and, that, according to divine appointment, the preaching of the gospel was the principal means to accomplish their object. And were not this the case, why all this provision of
preachers ? If perishing sinners could, consistently with the plan and purpose of God, be converted from Jewish infidelity, or heathen idolatry, and be brought, by any other means, to the acknowledgement of the truth; the labor and expense of preaching and hearing might have been saved. Had not the preaching and hearing of the system of divine truth been essential to the salvation of sinners; would the ministers of Christ have been required to spend and be spent, to labor and suffer, and die in the cause ? Certainly not. Many say in words, and many more in practice, that preaching is a traditional thing, a useless ceremony. It certainly is so, unless it be essential, in the plan of infinite wisdom, to produce the christian faith. But, that it is essential, we have abundant proof. It has, in all ages, been the principal means of salvation. Why do men plough, and manure, and sow, and plant their fields ? Because there are no other means appointed to obtain a harvest. As no man ever gathered a literal harvest, without first sowing the seed; so no man ever gathered a spiritual harvest of precious souls, where no spiritual seed is sown. Scripture and observation testify abundantly, that among
all who have proudly refused to hear God's preachers, not one has ever been found to embrace the Saviour, or to give the least evidence of religion. In every instance that can be named, where the least evidence of the christian faith exists, it manifestly came by hearing, even by hearing the ministry of the word of God. Where opportunity for hearing is granted, hearing is essential to salvation.
Some indeed are so situated in life as rarely to have opportunity to hear, or to refuse to hear, the preaching of the gospel. Of such it may be said, If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted, according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” He who has a benevolent and Christ-like temper of heart, shall inherit eternal life. But whoever neglects to hear, when opportunity is presented, will perish in unbelief. Hence the Apostle sounds an alarm in the ears of the Hebrews, in these words, " Not forsaking the assembling of your