THIS is one of those beautiful and touching declarations which place the Advent of Jesus Christ, now about to be celebrated, in its proper and engaging light; as one of infinite beneficence and mercy. Not less true than engaging, my brethren, is this delineation of our faith. Jesus, a Saviour; the Gospel, good news; the ministry, a ministry of reconciliation; these are such definitions of what Christianity is, and of what we are permitted to represent it to be, as make it a pleasure and a privilege, on our part, to proclaim it; and should disarm of opposition and of enmity those to whom it is addressed. And if to this it be objected, as doubtless it will, that severer views, and harsher representations, of our religion, [47/48] are sometimes presented; that theme of fearful and confounding import, are those on which this ministry of reconciliation is often found to dwell; that from the Gospel are drawn appalling denunciations of judgment and terrors, as from an armoury of wrath, while Jesus, the Saviour, is exhibited to the shrinking spirit in the awe-inspiring character of an avenger and a judge; we deny not the fact, seemingly variant as this representation may be from the former, nor do we hesitate to vindicate the propriety of both, as being equally necessary and true. Indeed, so far from this being an objection to the Gospel message, the question might well be asked, how it could be otherwise. With what propriety could we make known a Saviour, if there were no evil from which it was important to be saved? Why should we commend the Gospel as good news, if there were no danger impending over those to whom it is proclaimed? And how could ours be in any wise a ministry of reconciliation, if all of human kind whom we are commissioned to address, were not by nature at enmity with God?
These are views of our condition and character, which are not less plainly revealed to men than the intention and willingness of God to rescue and to save them. They are views, therefore, which, equally with those they should expect and desire to have enforced--views, which truth requires that we should make known on our part. [48/49] and which, on the part of those to whom we preach, are often even more needful to be impressed, in order to convince their minds of the necessity of embracing that remedy which we are empowered to offer. "The whole," said our Saviour, "need not a physician, but they that are sick;" and to feel that such is our case, is the first step in order to induce the application for relief. Who ever thought of seeking for deliverance so long as he felt secure from danger? Who ever asked, What shall I do to be saved, until he was first in reality convinced that without some means of salvation he must infallibly be lost?
But why should I attempt any further to vindicate or to defend those views of man which represent him to be in a perishing and fearful state, or that honest and candid exhibition of those views (uncalled for, harsh, and severe, though it be often termed,) which proclaims to him its unavoidable consequences, when these are necessarily implied in the most consoling declarations of goodness and of favour, which the Gospel offers? And if the former be not true, the latter are but vain, and useless, and deceptive. Take, for instance, the passage which is before us, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost," who does not confess that it is delightful 1o reflect upon this picture of mercy? That it is cheering thus to contemplate the beneficent mission of the Son of God, who [49/50] for our sakes became also the Son of man? that it dilates our hearts to regard him under this gracious character of a kind, and compassionate, and reclaiming Shepherd? But why is it so? or how can this with any justice be? How can we thus at all consider and regard him, if we confess not at the same time the truth of that representation, which in these very views is involved, respecting ourselves and our undone condition; that we are wandering sheep strayed from his fold; that we are in need of his help and of his interposition; that our state is one of danger and of error; that unless we profit by the goodness of him who came to seek and to save us, we fatally perish I There is then no inconsistency in this Gospel, nor any in that ministry to which it is committed, when they speak at the same time of judgment and of mercy; of danger and of the means of deliverance; when they proclaim the terrors of the law, and yet persuade men to embrace a Saviour who has freed them from its curse.
But not to urge at length a point so plain, let it be granted, as it must, that to bring men to a just perception and acknowledgment of their spiritual state, is necessary in order to dispose them to a glad acceptance of the Gospel, and a just appreciation of its benefits; and therefore, that to inculcate the representations which it gives of their sinfulness and danger, and of their ruined [50/51] condition, is a part, and not the least important part, of our duty, in setting forth the excellence of the Gospel, and the desirableness of the message which it brings.
"The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
In what sense, and how widely, the appellation of lost applies to man, and to the things with which he is conversant: in what manner, and how freely, the interposition of the Son of man becomes its antidotes: these are the subjects to which your attention will be called in this discourse. First. In what sense, and how widely, does the appellation of lost apply to man and to the things with which he is conversant. The fallen world, my brethren, this disordered earth, the vast creation of instinctive and unintelligent beings, the whole race of guilty man, every individual among them all, these, and each of these, are included in the description of lost, perverted from their purpose, perished from their original destination and glory.
My brethren, have you seen the potter throw aside, condemn, and give over to destruction, the vessel which was marred; which answered not the purpose for which he had employed upon it his care; which was worthless, spoiled, unfitted for its end?
Look around you; look within you; and behold a counterpart in your condition and state, [51/52] an awful and a fatal counterpart to this melancholy emblem.
In a system of which God is the author, whatever deviates from the strictest order, and most perfect harmony, whatever induces suffering, or results in infelicity, must be regarded as varying from his plan, opposed to his design, invading the beauty, and disturbing the proportion of his works; and must of necessity be disapproved and frowned upon by him; and though it be permitted to continue for a time, must in the end be banished from his universe. Especially is this the case with moral evil, the melancholy cause of all our misery; with sin, which is rebellion and voluntary opposition to God; which arrays itself against him, and provokes his vengeance. And indeed so abundant is the proof which he has given, that he observes, and that he will punish it; that there is nothing on which we look upon, which he has not fastened, and imprinted, and caused to be reflected back, the evidence of his displeasure. In heaven, this lesson was taught by the expulsion of the angels that sinned. In hell, it is responded from amidst chains of darkness, and groans of despair. And on earth, most signally was that his wrath expressed, when, on account of the abounding of transgression, he sent the waters of destruction upon the former race of men, and upon the world which they inhabited, whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with [52/53] water, perished. Signal have since been the marks of his displeasure. The cities of the plain were made an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and in proof of the necessary connexion between guilt and punishment, we may point to the public calamities in which he often visits for the sins of men; and lest we should think that his anger slept, or that it was confined to the punishment of public crimes, if we look around, every thing is defaced by sin, every thing is marked with the spreading, and desolating, and deadly blight. Instability, malediction, ruin, have lighted on all that is fair and pleasant. Not merely the boast of the exalted, and the pomp of the proud, but the innocent joys of the cheerful, the hopes of the young, the moderate desires of those whom experience has chastened, and affliction taught humility, the unambitious repose of virtuous contentment, and the quiet joys which domestic affection cherishes in the retired bosom of home: all, all are doomed to wither, to decay, to be made desolate, to depart. Upon all are inscribed the character of transient, fading, passing away, and perishing. Such is the evidence that man has sinned, that his happiness is ruined, that he himself is lost.
Still farther than this, not only do the Scriptures declare that for his sin the whole creation groaneth, and travaileth in pain together until now; but also, that so deadly is its pollution, so fatal like [53/54] leprosy its touch, that it has spread its poison over all the habitation that God has given him. Long since, the earth was cursed for his sake, and the very heavens and the earth which are now, are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men. Thus in the view of Scripture and experience, man himself, and all that he beholds, must be regarded as lost; but chiefly man himself, created upright, made in the image of God, destined to glorify him and to enjoy him for ever--man is lost. If we would know how universally we are gone astray, and fallen from our destiny, we may learn it in the language of Scripture--"The whole world lieth in wickedness;" "There is no man that liveth and sinneth not;" "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." These declarations evince how entirely, in the view of the Most High, mankind are lost; how entirely his purpose in their creation is defeated; how totally unqualified they have become for his presence and his favour. And if, appealing from the decision of Scripture, we revert to the testimony of experience, to ascertain the justice and the truth of this decision, it cannot but be fully corroborated. Enmity--enmity against God--is written on the heart of every human being, as opposition and disorder are inscribed on his conduct, and unhappiness on his life.
But while, as the result of sin, the material [54/55] scene around us is to be given back at a coming day to its pristine elements; as respects man, a more fearful destiny awaits him. Even now before our eyes, a part of the sentence pronounced upon him is daily executed. His body returns to the earth from which it was taken. His soul, destined to survive the dissolution of all material things, returns to him that gave it, returns to render its account. And in further and conclusive proof how wide spread and universal is the empire of sin, universal is this sentence of death; for death hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. This, however, as I have said, is but a part of the sentence of man. He is yet to die in a more awful sense, even in the loss of happiness for ever. For being a moral agent, a willing instrument in this perversion of his faculties, a participant in the guilt of defacing God's image, and marring his work, the sentence of the second death is pronounced against him.
Thus completely ruined and lost is man; thus far from fulfilling the first object of his creation, that of glorifying God. And as to the second, that of enjoying him for ever, how distant must the expectation and prospect of this be in any bosom which is unrenewed by grace, when even now, the love of God, and the desire of enjoying him, are strangers there! My brethren, this is the dark side of the picture of the character and the destiny of man. It is that which regards him only [55/56] as he is in himself, a being ruined, helpless, lost. With lightened feelings I direct your thoughts to that better and brighter part of the picture; while with him who, as at this season, proclaimed the Advent of the Saviour, I would say, "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world;" and using his own most gracious language, would declare, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
My brethren, how shall I sufficiently pourtray to your view the goodness of God, which prompted this mission of the Saviour. When looking upon the mass of wretchedness which sin had caused; beholding the devastation, the awful ruin which impended over us; anxious to save from misery his creatures, to renew in them the moral image they had lost, to restore to them the happiness which by guilt they had forfeited, he was touched with compassion for our case, and devised, though at the price of the sufferings and death of his own Son, the plan of our redemption. Listen to that touching description of the paternal goodness of our heavenly Father, which the Gospel gives--"He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever ' believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." Yes, he was made a ransom and a sacrifice for us. God laid on him the iniquity of us all. He hath received at his hand [56/57] double for all our sins; while we, reprieved, delivered, ransomed, set free, are only required to believe in the offered mercy, to accept the reconciliation which is tendered, to desire and seek the advantage which is placed in our power, and by grace becoming meet for its enjoyment, to enter upon the promised reward. Simple, beautiful, sublime, is this remedy which is proposed to a ruined world. Let not the pride of reason come in to deprive us of the benefit. Reject not the Son of man through unbelief. Let no man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and ye are complete in him. Neither let any doubt as to the necessity of his atonement, or any hesitation in respect of the mysteries which, it involves, induce you to deny the Lord who bought you.
The fitness of some expiation to Divine justice for the sins of a guilty world, is a thing which we can all perceive. But what that expiation should be, and how great the victim, it belonged to the all-wise Being, whom we had offended, to determine. With him who has set forth the provision he has made, let us leave the difficulties, if any there be, which attend it. Let us rest content with his goodness, nor be so unwise as through a presumptuous and unjustifiable curiosity, to reject a mystery of love, even though it contain things which the angels desire to look into.
 Sufficient for us, that though we were dead in trespasses and in sins, he gave himself for us, that we might live through him; that on the cross he made, by the one offering of himself, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and that by him, when he had suffered the sharpness of death, the kingdom of heaven was opened to all believers. These are views which Scripture largely unfolds, and by virtue of these we are commanded to declare that a new probation is placed before men. A way of escape is opened, and the prospect of a heavenly inheritance restored. No limit is fixed to the fulness and the freeness of this mercy. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And vile, and undone, and perishing, as any may feel themselves to be, there is here a remedy suited to their guilt, a provision equal to their need. An apostle has declared, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." And that none might think their case desperate, and give themselves up as destitute of hope, it is the language of the Saviour himself, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." To seek as well as to save them did he come; and therefore did he commission a ministry, and send them forth in his name to preach the Gospel to every creature; to invite all men to look unto [58/59] him and be saved; to proclaim pardon and forgiveness in his name; to set forth his own most gracious promise, that whosoever cometh unto him, shall in no wise be cast out. With authority we declare that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
What various motives, my brethren, does this Gospel present! How are they adapted to all the varying dispositions and desires of men, and fitted to influence their reception of it! To all the world glad tidings of great joy, it is to the contrite a declaration of favour, to the penitent of pardon, to the ignorant the knowledge of salvation. To creatures born of the dust, it is a message which invites them to aspire to heaven. To those who must soon be divested of their earthly possessions, it brings to view an existence beyond the grave--an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away. To the afflicted it offers a state where sorrow and sighing are unknown, and where tears shall be wiped from all faces. To the weary it tells of a rest which remaineth for the people of God. And while to the gay and the pleasure-seeking, it speaks of joys which eye hath not seen, nor ear [59/60] heard, and which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive--of pleasures at God's right hand for ever more; it cheers the hearts of the bereaved, the disconsolate, and the dying, by the certain disclosure and promise of life, and immortality, and felicity, in a world to come.
Such is the Gospel, and these are the advantages which are offered to the lost and wretched, by him who came to seek and to save them. But while he tenders to all men remission of sins that are past, and grace and strength to obey God for the future, he asks of all (and what less could he possible require?) repentance of the sins so freely pardoned, faith in him by whom they are forgiven; and such a new life of obedience, and such a progressive increase of holiness, as shall prove the former unfeigned and sincere.
My brethren, these are the terms on which lost and fallen man may recover the favour of heaven, and inherit everlasting life. Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only but indispensable conditions of that Gospel which has brought life and immortality to light. Where these are duly and truly exemplified, the merits of Christ will avail to their intended purpose, in effecting the salvation of men; sin will be forgiven and blotted out; the ruins of the fall repaired; and its misery effaced. To the aspiring soul there will be restored its primeval hopes. To those lofty faculties which God has implanted [60/61] in every bosom, there will be given their appropriate exercise; to its infinite desires and capabilities of happiness, the originally destined scene of their enjoyment.
I appeal to you, my brethren, has the world, the fleeting and changing world, any promises to compare with these? Has time any advantages which you would be content to receive as an equivalent for their surrender? Has the grave any solace to compensate for their loss? And if to these inquiries you are compelled to answer in the negative, how, I again ask, can this transient, this uncertain life be so well employed as in securing that felicity which the Gospel offers? Or, to put a more fearful question, in the language of an apostle, "How shall we escape"--escape the necessary consequences of our guilty state--"if we neglect so great salvation?" I pray none may expose themselves to the remotest chance of danger in a matter so irreversibly, so fatally important. I pray none may perish while this Gospel is so freely spread before them. I pray none may go down to the pit of the destroyer, while the Son of man is proclaimed as having "come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Should such--I shudder to think of the possibility that such should be the case (and yet, my brethren, I ask you, is there not danger that it may?)--should such be the case of any to whom the Gospel is offered, how will the misery of their [61/62] self-destruction be increased by the justice of their self-reproach! How will it add tenfold to the stings of their anguish, that when Jesus Christ had paid the penalty of their sin, tendered his grace to elevate them to a holy and heavenly condition, come himself to seek and to save them when they were lost, they refused to come unto him that they might have life,
My brethren, he will come again to reward and to doom. Oh! seek him then with your whole hearts. Repent of those sins which separate you from his favour. Live a life of holiness here. Secure a life of happiness hereafter. Do it now, I pray you, while jet you may. Delay not the beginning of the work for any inducement which earth and time can offer. It is the one thing needful. Make it yours ere the door be shut, and it be for ever--for ever--too late!
In conclusion, my brethren, let us contrast for a moment, that coming of our Lord, which we are now about to celebrate, with the motives and objects which govern the great men of the earth. They have come only for the purposes of ambition and self-aggrandizement. They have come to gain for themselves the name of conqueror. They have come to make heavier the burdens of the poor; to carry desolation into the peaceful fields of industry; to deprive of its humble joys the lowly cottage; to increase the miseries of humanity; to call forth the tears and groans of widowhood [62/63] and orphanage; to lay waste; to scatter; to ruin; to destroy.
Jesus Christ is come on an errand of mercy. He is come to comfort those that mourn, to bind up the broken-hearted, to speak peace to the troubled spirit, and consolation to the afflicted soul, to widen the sphere of human happiness, to extend and to exalt its hopes. By him poverty is reconciled to its privations; earthly sorrow is cheered with celestial prospects; death is despoiled of its sting; and heaven, with the fulness of blessedness, is open to all believers. These are the blessings which the Saviour, veiling his divinity in human flesh, came to offer and to impart to the wretched and the miserable. Yes, my brethren, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Let us who are lost, embrace with gratitude the extended benefit. Let us with gladness hail the birth of this divine, this beneficent Messenger from the courts of heaven. Worthy of angels hymns is this gracious Advent of our Lord. Let us prepare to take up their anthems of praise--"Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men."