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Sermons by the Late Rev. Cornelius R. Duffie, A.M.
Rector of St. Thomas' Church, New-York.
To which is Prefixed, A Memoir of the Author.

New York: T. and J. Swords, 1829.

Volume One

Sermon XX. The Spirit's Agency in Propagating the Gospel.

[A Sermon for Whitsunday.]

St. Matthew xxviii. 19. Go ye therefore and teach all nations.

THESE words are a part of the commission under which the apostles and their successors were sent forth to affect the conversion of the world. My object in bringing them before you, is to derive an argument from the spread of Christianity, and from the means by which it was affected, in favour of its truth. In other words, to show the divine character of its author, and the operation of a supernatural influence, in the efficacy and success which accompanied the preaching of the Gospel; from which we shall, of necessary consequence, be bound to infer the certain accomplishment of all which, in that Gospel, God has promised to those who shall receive it, and denounced against those who reject it.

[287] My brethren, if Jesus Christ had been a mere man, or if his religion were only a cunningly devised fable, an injunction more preposterous than that which is now before us could not well be imagined--"Go ye and teach all nations," addressed to a few Galilean fishermen; to men who were hated by the people, and regarded with suspicion by the rulers of their own nation; to men who, so far from being esteemed or encouraged, were alternately buffetted and scourged, rebuked and imprisoned; to men without power or influence, without wealth, or figure, or education, or address; to men who, so far from atoning for these defects by superior boldness and enterprise, had shown themselves destitute even of that ordinary courage which would prevent them from deserting a friend in danger; a commission to such men to convert all nations! My brethren, if Christianity be not from heaven; if Jesus Christ were not God; God possessing all power both in heaven and in earth; and if the Holy Spirit, in its supernatural influences, had not prospered and succeeded the work; what might we not say of the folly of such a commission, and what name shall we find to express their more than rashness, and worse than weakness, who should undertake to fulfil it!

Yet such was the commission of Jesus Christ, and such were the persons (obscure, and to all human reason inefficient and incompetent,) to [287/288] whom he assigned a work, for the accomplishment of which the most learned, and influential, and courageous men would seem not to be adequate.

They were directed too to commence their enterprise, not in places where distance might conceal, and ignorance give room to gloss over, and perhaps even heighten, and make imposing, the circumstances of their origin; but they were directed to preach the Gospel, beginning at Jerusalem, at Jerusalem where their Master had terminated his life in ignominy, and where they themselves were held in aversion. They were to proclaim a crucified Messiah to a nation who looked for an earthly conqueror, and a glorious prince; to instruct in the way of salvation a people whose very birth-right was religion, who boasted that they had Abraham to their Father, and to whom were committed the oracles of God.

They were to go forth to those barbarous lands where ancient superstition sat enthroned on cruel altars; where vice and impiety, in their most odious shapes, were sanctioned by religious opinion, and consecrated by the forms and rites of religious worship; and where ignorance of God, vying with the innate depravity of man, had, for ages, shut out reason, and virtue, and truth; and there they were to enjoin the religion of him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, a [288/289] religion which takes cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart, which applies its rule of action to the inmost soul, which represses the first outgoings of evil at their source, and pronounces the unhallowed desire to be sin.

They were commanded to go to those more favoured nations which lay basking in the fail-light of knowledge, and were irradiated by the brightest emanations of cultivated intellect. At Rome, which applied to all other nations the epithet, "barbarian;" at Rome, whose power enabled, and whose pride emboldened, her to proclaim herself "mistress of the world;" they were to make known the exclusive and uncompromising claims of the Christian faith. And in Greece, great in fame, and though subdued, yielding more to its conquerors, in the communication of its arts, than they had been able to gain for themselves by the power of their arms, even there, and at Athens, the pride of Greece, they were to lift their reproving voice. Standing in the midst of Mars' Hill, they were to charge home upon the people, before the august assembly of the Areopagus, their superstition in bowing at the shrine of "the unknown God," and to declare to those who called themselves sages and lights of the world, "him whom they ignorantly worshipped."

They were to go forth, Galileans, fishermen, as they were, to teach the world, at a period then unprecedented for knowledge, and never [289/290] since surpassed; at a time when almost every art had attained the greatest eminence, when every intellectual pursuit had its successful votaries, when genius had its cultivated admirers to excite, and its Maecenas' to reward, its efforts; and when all that the human mind, unenlightened and unaided from heaven, could achieve, was put in requisition to shed lustre upon the Augustan age; they were commanded to go forth, Galileans, fishermen though they were, and addressing the men who, with affected humility, assumed the name of "lovers of wisdom," and those who, with bolder pretensions and greater self-complacency, claimed for their acquisitions and their doctrines, the proud name of science; these they were "to disciple and to teach."

They were to enter the groves of the Academy r and proclaim to the disciples of Plato loftier and more ennobling principles than those which Plato taught. They were to go to the walks of the Lycaeum, and there to banish and dispel the subtilties of the Stagyrite by "the foolishness of preaching." The portico and the schools they were to cause to be deserted, and the names of Stoic and Epicurean, and every rival appellation of a proud but earthly philosophy, they were to cause to be superseded by the despised name of Christian.

All this was to be effected, and it was to be effected too, by ignorant and unlearned men.

[291] Truly, my brethren, this was an undertaking which the world, in its pride, would call presumptuous, and in its wisdom, pronounce impossible. But we know that it was liable to neither of these imputations. Weak and insufficient as they were for its performance, it was neither presumptuous nor impossible in their hands; for not only was it the cause of God, but there was a promise annexed which made all things practicable. It was the promise of his Son. "Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Thus, though committed to men, it was the work of God; and if he saw fit, by such feeble instruments, to "destroy the wisdom of the wise, and to bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent;" if he saw fit, by thus choosing the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise, and by employing the weak things of the world, to confound the things that are mighty, it was, as we may well perceive, "that the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of man." In his hands, therefore, the work was not impossible, neither was it in theirs presumptuous. He could prosper them, though unqualified, or he could invest them with supernatural fitness. In either case, their success had demonstrated his interposing and miraculous help. But because, in all the dealings of God, we behold the operation of means, and of means ever adapted to the end; and because he would [291/292] have his Gospel owe its progress to the perfect conviction and enlightened persuasion of those to whom it was addressed; he did not send forth his apostles ignorant nor unqualified for the task. The opinion that he did so, is an error from which even our own age is not exempt. And there are still those to be found who, in reference to the qualifications requisite for the Christian ministry, believe, and assert, that the apostles themselves were sent forth by their Lord destitute of knowledge, of culture, and of intellectual endowment. But, my brethren, nothing can be farther from the fact; for though our Saviour found the apostles unlearned men, destitute of power and influence; yet by such he did not propose to effect the conversion of the world; and therefore such he did not send them forth. So long indeed as they were merely required to be the witnesses of his actions and of his miracles, their native integrity and love of truth were all sufficient qualifications; and even their misconception of their Master's character and designs, and of the nature of his kingdom, while it hindered not in any way their testimony to the facts which passed before them, effectually shielded both him and them from the remotest suspicion of collusion. But when they were to succeed their Lord, and to make known the mystery of that redemption which he had accomplished, even the mystery which had been hid from ages [292/293] and from generations; he saw that other qualifications were necessary; that they required evidence of their authority, and credentials of a higher kind, to give effect to their testimony, before they should go forth to speak of the things which they had both seen and heard. These, therefore, he himself undertook to provide and supply; and never since have any been so qualified and fitted as those whom he prepared.

Being assembled together with them at Jerusalem, after his resurrection, and immediately before his ascension, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye have heard of me; for "ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the utmost part of the earth." This was his last communication to the apostles whom he had chosen; for when he had spoken these things, "while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight."

The events which followed, when the day of Pentecost was fully come, sufficiently explain what he intended, when he said, "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." They are recorded in the Epistle for this day, and while the gifts which were then poured out were of a nature which might well [293/294] cause those who witnessed them to be confounded, to marvel, and to be amazed, they sufficiently account for the ingathering, on that day, of three thousand souls, the first fruits of all nations, for a testimony to the Christian faith.

Nor were these gifts confined to that day on which they were so bountifully shed forth. They were continued to the apostles, and their immediate successors, and to the Christian Church, until its doctrines had obtained that footing, and that establishment in the world, which all the malice and opposition of men have not been able to shake, and against which even the gates of hell shall not prevail.

To those outward evidences of their mission, which they possessed in the power of working miracles, of casting out devils in the name of Jesus, of healing the sick, of foretelling future events, of discerning spirits, of speaking in languages they had never learned, of interpreting tongues; to all these undoubted attestations of the power and presence of God, by which he gave testimony to the word of his grace, there was added, not only the inward testimony of his spirit in their hearts, bearing witness with their spirits, but also, among many other gifts, the word of wisdom, and the word of knowledge, by the same spirit. An immediate ray from heaven enlightened their minds, and they received, by direct inspiration, that fitness for their ministry which [294/295] others cannot hope to acquire but by patient toil, by persevering diligence, by assiduous and untiring study. Thus abundantly qualified, thus, fitted for their labour, by the Lord of the vineyard himself, clad in heavenly armour, and invested with power from on high, the humble disciples were transformed into ambassadors for Christ. The fishermen of Galilee were fitted to become fishers of men. However slow of speech, and slow of tongue, they might before have been, they now had given to them an eloquence and a wisdom which all their adversaries could neither gainsay nor resist; and when they appeared before governors and kings for his sake, it was not they which spake, but the spirit of the Father which spake in them. Valiant in their Master's cause, bearing his commission, and having the promise of his abiding presence to be with them, they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. When, therefore, they declared to the Jews "that the God of their fathers had raised up Jesus, whom they slew and hanged on a tree," "that he had exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to "give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins," they were not merely heard to assert that they were "witnesses of these things," but appealing to those miraculous gifts which they exercised, and which they had power to communicate [295/296] likewise to such as believed, they added, with irresistible force and authority, and so also is the Holy Ghost which God hath given them that obey him.

With so great demonstrations of the Spirit and of power, my brethren, did God see fit to establish and confirm the truth of his religion, the truth which is mighty and has prevailed. Still, it did not prevail without many a long and fearful struggle; and there is something which is calculated to excite a deep and overwhelming feeling of shame for the depravity and perversity of human reason in resisting the most evident proof; and which presents our religion before us in an imposing attitude of moral grandeur, and of celestial strength; when we look back to the days of its promulgation, and thence along the succession of nearly two thousand years, during which its progress has so often been tracked by the blood of its professors. Indeed, from the very birth time of its Founder, it has been a strange mark for the hatred and malevolence of the world. At its very first announcement, a Herod was not wanting to endeavour to crush it at its rising; and the murder of the innocents was the prelude of a tragedy which has filled the Church with "lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning." The Baptist, who was the long predicted fore-runner of the Saviour; the Saviour himself, who came down from heaven to fulfil the work of [296/297] reconciliation and of mercy; and the messengers whom he sent forth to proclaim the tidings of salvation and of peace; these all, though spotless, unoffending in their lives, and though employed on an errand of the purest disinterestedness and benevolence, bowed their heads, in meekness and in silence, before the rage of wicked and infuriate men. From such a beginning as this, it was easy to anticipate, for the professors of our religion in after times, the fulfilment of the prediction; "In the world ye shall have tribulation;" and it is not to be wondered at that dungeons, and racks, and flames, the cross, the sword, and the less cruel ferocity of untamed beasts, should have been employed to terrify or to destroy those who dared to avow their adherence to the hated Christian faith. These were the characteristic instruments by which the prince of darkness strove to prevent the overthrow of his tottering kingdom. And herein was verified the declaration of our Saviour, "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword." The sword did indeed speed its work without remorse; but it was in the hands of thine adversaries, O meek and compassionate Jesus! It was employed against thy religion and thy followers. Yea, and it pierced through thine own soul also. If there be any, then, who would know the truth and divinity of this religion, which by its Author is commanded to be taught to all the nations, let them read it in the difficulties, nay [297/298] the impossibilities, (so far as human power is concerned, or human reason could judge,) with which it had to contend, and in the victories which it has achieved. Let them go back to those early days of persecution, when a faith which boasted no ancient and long accustomed hold of its votaries; which enjoined no splendid rites, nor costly sacrifices; which possessed not the influence of public opinion in its favour, nor the patronage of the great to recommend it; which offered no honours to the worldly, nor indulgence to the sensual; which pretended to no deep and ingenious philosophy, and was set off by no allurements of a captivating eloquence; but recent, simple, severe, calumniated, hated, despised, aided by no sword, save that of its enemies, and by no army, save that of its own martyrs, forced its perpetually resisted way from the cross, between malefactors, to the throne of the Caesars; from the hill of Calvary, to the imperial hills of Rome and of Byzantium.

I need not trace it in its subsequent vicissitudes, in which it partook of the depression, and was restrained in its progress by the superstition, by the corruption, and darkness, of the human mind; for from the night of its temporary obscurity, it has emerged to the clear and cloudless sky of a prosperous day. The seed which was the least of all seeds, when sown, has become a great tree. It has sent out its boughs unto the [298/299] seas, and its branches unto the river. The hills are covered with the shadow of it. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. And now before our eyes, extending far and wide its blessings and its fruits, the religion of the Gospel has become the religion of the world. And if we turn our eyes from this view of the successful establishment which Christianity has gained to the individual results it has effected, and the influence it has exerted on the characters of men, the evidence of its necessity, of its truth, and of its divinity, will only be the more confirmed. What scenes of patient endurance, of holy confidence, of rapturous hope, has not Christianity caused to be witnessed! what magnanimity in difficulties and trials; what serenity in the face of dangers; what fortitude under unmerited suffering; what deep resigned submission under the most appalling terrors, and excruciating tortures; what lives of devotion and of holiness, of self-denial and of sublimest virtue; what deaths of triumph and of exultation; have not Christians exhibited to the word! It is, indeed, elevating to look back "through the long perspective of ages, to call up the mighty dead, to encompass ourselves with the vast cloud of witnesses who have triumphed in the contest with the powers of darkness."

It is a relief to the eye too long occupied by pictures of selfishness and of ambition, of insincerity, of cruelty, and of crime, to turn from those [299/300] dishonourable exhibitions of our nature, to rest upon the calm and tranquillizing scenes of righteousness and peace, to which our religion can point. In tracing the benignant effects of Christianity upon individual character, our faith is strengthened as we observe the excellency of its consolations, the sufficiency of its supports, the fitness of its promises, the certainty of its rewards. Our minds are encouraged to lay hold on the same hopes of blessedness to which others, in the very article of death, have ventured to aspire, and to the full enjoyment of which, we doubt not, they have attained. We dare to look forward to the hour of our own mortality with confidence. We venture to anticipate the composure and the trust which righteous men, when dying, have realized. We feel assured that through the strength in which they triumphed, we also shall achieve the victory over the king of terrors; and at last be more than conquerors, through him that loved us.

My brethren, I have endeavoured to vindicate, from its apparent impossibility and unreasonableness, the commission of Jesus Christ to the first preachers of his religion, to "Go, teach all nations." In this rapid view of the triumph of Christianity, you have beheld the supernatural means which he relied on for its propagation, and which evince conclusively that it is a revelation from God; and you have also perceived [300/301] something of that beneficial influence which it exerts upon the lives, the deaths, and the eternal hopes, of those who embrace it; while in the benefits resulting from its continual advancement and increasing extension, we are reminded, every day, of the effect which it is destined to produce in the world; when that predicted period shall arrive, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. The question why that religion, whose benefits are offered to all, has not been universally accepted, and made available, is one which may well be referred to them to answer, who themselves continually neglect the great salvation. And as to another inquiry, connected with this subject, and urged, like the former, as an objection to revelation, how it comes to pass that the Gospel, which is directed to be carried into all the world, and preached to every creature, is, in many places, to this day, unheard, it is too satisfactorily explained by the apathy which has distinguished Christians of every name, in every age of the world, that of the apostles alone excepted; and involving, as it does, a deep and twofold reproach, a doubt of the efficacy of our faith and the sincerity of our obedience, it should stimulate to greater exertions and a zeal more worthy of the cause.

If then, my brethren, Christianity indeed be true, and its author clearly demonstrated to be God, of what tremendous importance is it for [301/302] each individual to know, not merely what part he is bearing in its progress, but how he himself shall stand affected when its final and individual results shall come to be disclosed. There is life eternal, or there is death eternal, for every one among us, according as he has accepted or refused the offer of the Gospel. Our salvation is the end which God proposes in its promulgation; and wherever it is made known, there is added all the power and ability which are needful in order to our realizing its benefits.

The Holy Spirit, by whose supernatural and extraordinary agency the Gospel was first attested and established, is felt in its ordinary operations in every age; and I appeal to yourselves, when I assert it, is felt in every bosom. Its teachings direct, not only to the duty of keeping the whole law of God, but to that of resorting to those appointed means, in the use of which offered supplies of grace may be obtained--of grace sufficient to enable you to work out your own salvation. And these means are continually within your reach, and the obligation to employ them continually represented. Neglecting to profit by them, refusing to turn from the world, and to seek the favour of God, you may acknowledge the excellency of the Christian faith; you may desire its progress, and rejoice in its success; but you can never hope to share its future triumphs, its everlasting rewards. Personal religion alone can [302/303] avail to secure a personal interest in the high and glorious promises of life and immortality which are brought to light in the Gospel. For it is only they who cherish and improve that grace which bringeth salvation, turning, by its help, from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, who can at all be qualified to receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified through faith in Jesus Christ. Blessed are they who do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

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