THE LONDON SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIANITY
AMONGST THE JEWS,
B. WERTHEIM, ALDINE CHAMBERS, 13, PATERNOSTER ROW.
"And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befal me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying, that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry that I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God."
"MY thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways," saith the Lord. This, beloved brethren, is a truth, which, if we are not entirely regardless of the hand of God as ruling and guiding the affairs of men, we must experience every day and during every hour of our life. We make plans, we form resolutions to do this thing or the other, and often in a moment we find them frustrated by the hand of Him who seeth the end from the beginning, whose thoughts and ways are not [3/4] as ours. But if this be true as it regards the things of this life, how much more is it true as it respects those which have reference to eternity? What! says the natural man, he who knows nothing of the things of God, which he cannot receive because they are spiritually discerned, what! shall I believe that all my salvation depends upon one who came into this world in a state of poverty, lived a life of privation, died an ignominious death, shall I believe that he only can save me? This, we know, is the language of hundreds and thousands of those with whom we come in contact; and yet the Word of God from beginning to end teaches us, that "There is salvation in none other, and that there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved, except the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," who thus came into this world, lived a life of privations, as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, who died an ignominious death, "the just for the unjust, that he might bring them unto God."
Of this truth we have a striking proof in the extraordinary occasion on which we are assembled. Much as it might have been desired by those who have long stood forth as the honoured champions and advocates of Israel's claims, yet the most sanguine could scarcely have ventured to entertain a serious thought of the [4/5] circumstances which have now become familiar to us. Had it been said but a short time ago, that ere long this pulpit would be occupied by a humble member of the despised race of Israel, raised and consecrated to be the Bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland in Jerusalem, it would have been rejected as absurd, visionary, and altogether impossible; yet, brethren, here I stand a monument of the Divine sovereignty and power, a proof that nothing is too hard for the Lord, that with him all things are possible, and that his thoughts and ways are not as ours. Surely, then, brethren, it becomes us to wonder and adore, joining in the language of David, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory;" and in the language of the apostle, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Surely, no one will now venture to doubt the possibility of the literal fulfilment of God's promises to Israel. "He is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent," &c.; and when the Lord shall build up Zion, the time to favour her being come; though Zion's children may now seem most unpromising, and reluctant even to throw off the yoke of superstitious observances of men's inventions, which neither they nor their fathers could [5/6] bear; yet he who is the God of heaven and earth can and will make his people willing in the day of his power, and so "All Israel shall be saved."
The present very peculiar, and to me, in every respect, painfully interesting occasion, will, I am persuaded, ensure the kind indulgence of my beloved and respected hearers; and he "who knoweth our infirmities" will bear with us whilst, in humble and entire dependence upon his blessing, we proceed to the consideration of our text.
We shall, First, consider the apostle's circumstances as compared with our own; and, Secondly, his holy determination as an example for us to follow in his steps.
1. The circumstances in which the apostle was placed were undoubtedly peculiar. Christianity was yet in its infant state as to the extent of its influence, none of the noble and mighty of the earth were its supporters; on the contrary, it had to contend with principalities and powers on every side; "The kings of the earth had just set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed." Jerusalem, formerly the seat of the Divine glory, had just become the scene and instrument of Divine suffering; the children of Zion, the peculiar and beloved people of God, in their blindness and ignorance, had just publicly rejected Him, who in love and in mercy came to redeem them, [6/7] and exclaimed, "Away with him! Crucify him!" in consequence of which the sword of Divine vengeance was hanging over them. In the midst of this a few of God's people, who had received him, and to whom he had given power to become the sons of God, were in the habit of assembling in an upper chamber to worship God in spirit and in truth. The Apostle Paul, miraculously converted from darkness to light, became a chosen instrument in the hand of God of bearing his name amongst the Gentiles. In his great and arduous work, he had indeed an almighty power to rest upon, who, when he commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel among the nations, promised to be with them always, even to the end of the world; but as to the Church of God on earth, he had but few to co-operate and sympathize with him, and even amongst them the enemy had succeeded in sowing his tares, so that the apostle's ministry was indeed, in every respect, a very trying one. But in many of these respects the case is very different in our day. The knowledge of the Gospel has spread over a great part of the world; many of the nations of the earth, formerly in a state of heathen darkness, have been enlightened by its blessed precepts; kings, and queens, and princes are amongst its chief supporters; Christianity has become the established religion of some of the most powerful kingdoms [7/8] of the earth; and the ambassador of Christ, whithersoever his message may be directed, if connected with any branch of the universal Apostolic Church, has many to second his efforts and to strengthen his hands; and especially in reference to Jerusalem there is this grand distinction between the time of the apostle and our own. He went to an expiring Church; he knew the awful judgments which the Saviour himself had denounced upon that devoted city and her people; we are privileged to go as repairers of the breach, in obedience to the call of the prophet, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she bath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." For though Jerusalem has been and still is trodden down of the Gentiles, yet we know it was only to be for a time, until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled, and whilst we must confess that it is not easy to determine the precise period meant by that expression, we must also admit that there are strong indications in our day of God's returning mercies to Israel, and that "the time to favour Zion is come, yea, even the set time;" and brethren, the very occasion on which we are assembled proves more than ever, even to a demonstration, that the servants of God, the [8/9] rulers both of Church and State, take pleasure in the stones of Zion, and favour the dust thereof;" and whenever that is the case, we are plainly told by the inspired Psalmist, "That the time to favour Zion is come." [Ps. cii. 13, 14] Our circumstances, therefore, are far more different than those of the time of the apostle. Our encouragement for proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation is indeed great in every sense of the word. We might enlarge upon this delightful subject, and bring forward some of those striking passages of Scripture which plainly predict the universal kingdom of Christ, and the restoration of Israel in particular; but we must for a moment return to the words of the apostle, and see how far they are applicable to ourselves. "Behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befal me there, save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying, that bonds and afflictions abide me." The apostle went bound in the Spirit, i. e., he was constrained by the Spirit, necessity was laid upon him, he felt it to be his bounden duty; it was not from natural inclination or choice he thus went. These would rather have deterred him from going to a place, which has always been a place of suffering, and which he moreover knew would shortly experience the most awful judgment [9/10] of God. This is the peculiar characteristic of the servants of the Most High; not being their own, they are waiting the commands of their Lord and Master; and these they are ever ready to follow, even at all hazards; the prevailing language of his heart is, "Father, not my will, but thine be done." "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way." And, brethren, herein alone is our path of safety. We are all but poor short-sighted creatures; we know not what is good for us. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Happy are we if we wait for the Divine guidance and direction; and happier still, if, when we know the Divine will, we are ready and willing to obey it--not considering the consequences. "Behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem." This was the declaration of the apostle; and this, brethren, I can truly say, is the language of my heart. Naturally, I would gladly have shrunk from so awful a responsibility, and said, like Moses of old, "Send by whom thou wilt send;" for whilst I would not wish for a moment to depreciate the high honour which the Lord hath put upon me, through the medium of his Church, which would be base ingratitude, I cannot but feel at the same time that, "to whom much is given, of him much will be required;" but so convinced am I that I follow [10/11] the call of my heavenly Master that I must say, "I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem;" and though, like the apostle, I know not what will befal me there, save that difficulties and trials of every kind, official, personal, and domestic, await me; there are and will be the trials common to us all, for, through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of heaven;" and there will be the trials peculiar to the office, arising from the peculiar state of the country and the character of the people; and in proportion as the work is of God, in the same proportion will the fury of the enemy be increased, and we would by no means wish to be ignorant of his devices. Yet, beloved brethren, by the grace of God I am also able to join in the language of the apostle in the text, "None of these things move me," &c. We have nothing to do with such considerations; the future must be left to the Lord. The present duty is what we are bound in the Spirit to follow, and going forward in that duty, under the guidance and protection of the Lord of all power and might, we have nothing to fear, for "greater is He that is for us than all who are against us."
2. This leads me to consider, in the second place, the apostle's holy determination as our example for us to follow in his steps. There are two [11/12] features in it which particularly deserve our attention.
1. The holy courage of the apostle; and,
2. The foundation on which it rested.
Not only was he unmoveable in his apostolic course, and the ministry which he had received of the Lord Jesus, but in the exercise of that ministry he counted not even his life dear unto himself. Life is man's dearest possession; he would part with everything rather than life: but even this the apostle counted not dear unto himself. Hence he manifested on all occasions that holy boldness by which he became the instrument of such universal good. Not counting his life dear unto himself, he was instant in season and out of season. No prospect of trials, chains, and imprisonments, prevented him from declaring the whole counsel of God. In the very face of them he declared, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ," &c. "We preach Christ crucified," &c. There are many who possess great talents and high qualifications for usefulness in the Lord's vineyard, who remain inactive on account of an undue regard to their health and life; others, again, do not all the good they might do, because of fear lest they should injure their health or constitution. Indeed, brethren, on this account we shall all find reason, more or less, for [12/13] humiliation. We are all too much inclined to leave undone what we ought to do, from selfish considerations. Our blessed Lord does not require of us generally that we should injure or sacrifice our health or life in his service; on the contrary, the Scriptures often enjoin upon us the duty of preserving our life, and to take all necessary care of it; but, on the other hand, our Lord declares, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." It was in this sense that the apostle counted not his life dear unto himself; for him to live was Christ, and, therefore, to die was gain. This, then, was the true foundation of his holy courage. He had obtained mercy from the Lord, and like David of old, his language was, "One thing I have desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after," that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God." As a private disciple of Christ, his great desire was, that he might finish his course with joy.
The Christian's course is one of great difficulty; it is indeed a warfare between light and darkness, a fighting against principalities and powers. Whilst carrying about him a body of sin, the flesh will ever be warring against the Spirit; but, nevertheless, it is our privilege in the midst of [13/14] it all to rejoice; and in this respect the Christian's joy is pre-eminently distinguished from the joy of the world. No mere worldling can understand the possibility of rejoicing in the midst of affliction, this is the peculiar prerogative of the Christian, "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." Thus the apostle exhorts the disciples of Christ, "Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice." He knew that in proportion as the Christian can bear up in the midst of trials, and rejoice even in tribulation, in the same proportion will God be glorified; he therefore counted not even his life dear unto himself, so that he might finish his course with joy. If the prospect of bonds and afflictions, of which the Holy Ghost everywhere testified, had discouraged him, it would have been highly dishonouring to God; but he was not moved by them to turn aside from that course, which God in his love and mercy had pointed out to him. He was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and, as a private follower of the Redeemer, his great desire was that he might finish his course with joy; but, as the ambassador of Christ, he also wished that he might finish the ministry which he had received, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. Much as he valued his own salvation, the service of his Lord and Master was, if possible, still dearer to [14/15] him. Of this he gave abundant proof in the incessant labours in which he was engaged. "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God," may be said to have been the constant motto of the apostle.
Here then, brethren, we have a blessed example for our imitation. That ministry, in the promoting of which the apostle counted not his life dear unto himself, is still in the Church; and, blessed be God, there have never been wanting men who have received that ministry, and who have pursued it, though not with equal, yet with some of that zeal which the Apostle Paul possessed: men who have hazarded their lives for the sake of that Saviour who laid down his life for the salvation of sinners. And now, brethren, what shall I say respecting that ministry which I also have received of the Lord Jesus? Behold, I also am bound in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, there to testify of the Gospel of the grace of God; to preach to both Jews and Gentiles repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." In the wonderful and mysterious providence of God, who first called me by his grace from a state of darkness to the marvellous light of the Gospel, and [15/16] afterwards put me into the ministry, I am now set apart for one of the highest offices in the Church, destined to go to the land of my forefathers. I know not what shall befal me there, save that trials and afflictions abide me; but shall I thereby be discouraged from following the call of my Lord and master, who has done so much for me? God forbid! In holy confidence and in humble reliance on the mighty arm of the God of Jacob, I would say with the apostle, "I am persuaded that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord." By that love which I have tasted, and which is stronger than death, I am constrained to go forward, "not counting my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy." "Lifting up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help, even from the Lord who made heaven and earth," His promises which have hitherto sustained me, shall still be my support "I will be with thee, I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee." "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of [16/17] Israel, thy Saviour." "And if the Lord is for us, who shall be against us?"
Only thou our leader be,
And we still will follow thee.
I cannot, however, conclude without saying a word to the members of the Society, with whom I have had the privilege of being connected for more than fourteen years. I would say it in the way of encouragement, and in the way of sincere gratitude. Surely, honoured brethren, the occasion on which we are assembled ought to be one of great encouragement. You have embarked in a holy, but very arduous work. You have had, and still have, many trials and difficulties to encounter: but surely this occasion proves that if we go on steadfastly pursuing a Christian course of duty, we shall certainly reap in due season if we faint not. Be not then discouraged in your work of faith and labour of love. You have the express command of our Saviour to guide you, the sure promises of God to sustain you: and surely there are not wanting many indications of encouragement, that the time to favour Zion is at hand; that he who scattered Israel will again gather him, and keep him as a shepherd doth his flock. You are God's chosen instruments to be the bearers of glad tidings unto Zion. Oh, how [17/18] great and blessed is the privilege to be thus fellow-workers with the Lord in bringing about his glorious purposes! You also, as a body, commenced these your labours, being bound in the Spirit, like the apostle, to go to Jerusalem. You knew not what would befal you there, save that mountains of difficulties were in your way. You have, by the grace of God, persevered hitherto; you have seen many of those mountains removed: you have this day the joy of seeing one of those who have long been the objects of your earnest solicitude, bound in Spirit to go to Jerusalem, as the representative of your Church, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. You have yet many, many difficulties to encounter; but let the language of the apostle be also yours: "None of these things move me;" and be assured, brethren, that the God of Israel will be faithful to his promise, "I will bless them that bless thee."
But I must finally express thus publicly my gratitude for all the kindness and attention I have received from those with whom I have been privileged to be so long associated, and to assure you, dear brethren, that though I may see your face in the flesh no more, and though seas and distant lands may separate us, yet I shall never cease to think of you with affection and prayer [18/19] that the God of Israel may abundantly bless you in your own souls, and in your labour of love, that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive a crown of glory which fadeth not away.
And now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints: and the God of peace be with you all. Amen.