KING & BAIRD, PRINTERS, NOS. 607 & 609 SANSOM STREET.
II Cor. iv: 7. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
The text contains one of the most sublime sentences of Holy Writ. The proclamation of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour is represented under various images borrowed from human things. Its spiritual applications are just as certain as the outward facts from which they are taken; for when God uses the similes of natural things to explain spiritual things the illustrations are just and instructive: for instance, when the gospel is as "a net cast into the sea," or the change produced by its power, "a resurrection from the dead," "a day spring from on high," "a good seed deposited in the earth," or its proclamation committed to the ministry of reconciliation, "a treasure in earthen vessels," its spiritual applications are as true in a spiritual sense as are the outward facts from which they are taken in their natural sense.
In this light I view the beautiful imagery of the text. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
I propose now to lay open this casket by answering the question--What is it to preach the gospel? To preach the gospel is to proclaim salvation to all [3/4] who hear its joyful sound--no matter how deep their guilt, odious their pollution or black their crimes. God hath made known to our guilty race that no prerequisites are required to entitle us to salvation other than a believing sense of our wants and a true reliance upon Christ, as he is freely offered in the gospel. "Unto you O men I call and my voice is to the sons of men." "Ho, every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters, and you that hath no money come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price." "Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon." "And the spirit and the bride say come, and let him that heareth say come, and let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely." "The lost sheep of the house of Israel," and the lost sinners of every nation and people were the objects of Christ's atonement. The greatest crimes are no insurmountable barrier in the way of saving grace. None are excluded until they have excluded themselves by unbelief and contempt of the gospel.
Were I permitted to withdraw the canopy of heaven and thus expose to your view the redeemed of the Lord in the clime of bliss; we would recognize there those who were once odious with pollution, and some who had even grown hoary in crime; but they were "washed, sanctified and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the spirit of our God." These are this day shining ornaments of pardoning mercy around the throne of God. Encouraged by the gracious [4/5] reception of our fellow sinners,--bigwith expectation and sure of success, let us draw near unto God with full faith in his wisdom and mercy. And O! "how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
2. To preach the gospel is also to preach the law in subserviency to the gospel. It is to preach the law evangelically. That is--"as our school-master to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." "By the law is the knowledge of sin." When it is preached in all its spirituality and extent to drive the sinner from every legal refuge, and show him how impossible it is for him to obey its precepts, and to endure its penalties in its covenant form--"This do, and thou shalt live," and that it admits of nothing short of a perfect obedience, and that for the least disobedience in thought, word or action it exposes him to God's consuming wrath; for "cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them," and "he that offendeth in one point is guilty of all"--I say when the excellence of the power of the Holy Spirit brings the sinner to such a knowledge," sin revives and he dies. He is thus brought to Christ who is "the end of the law for righteousness." The law instructs him in the nature of his disease and impresses upon him the need of the Saviour. But to preach the gospel, the proper distinction must be made between the law in its covenant form, and the law considered as the rule of life. When the sinner takes shelter in Christ he is saved from the law in its penal [5/6] force; but is kept under it as the rule of his life and measure of his sanctification. In other words Christ does not save his people from the necessity, of being holy in heart and life; but having saved them from the penalties of the law, he enforces the duties of life as enjoined in the moral law in conformity with his own life; so that they "walk not after the flesh but after the spirit."
3. To preach the gospel is to preach "God in Christ reconciling the world to himself," to the glory of all the divine attributes. Jehovah considered out of Christ is an object of terror to men. But when viewed in Christ, all the perfections of Deity appear softened with the mild radiance of mercy, unmerited love and free grace. Indeed, the atonement of the Son of God is the only full display of the divine character ever made before the moral universe. When from the dark and formless mass the fair system of nature arose when confusion heard the voice of God, and light and life and beauty and order sprung out of chaos, the wisdom, grandeur and power of God were shown forth with peculiar lustre. But the whole material universe was a display too contracted for an adequate exhibition of the moral perfections of God. These were part of his ways, but oh how small a part of them was yet known. But the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ furnishes a full and adequate display of God's moral attributes in the full splendor of divine grace, and in all the charms of eternal love; for as the bow in the cloud, the token of God's covenant with man, exhibits all the delicacy of shade and color which adorn the [6/7] fair system of nature, so in the token of "the blood of the new covenant,"--as the rainbow about the throne, (Rev. 4: 3,) we perceive all the attributes of God mixing their radiant and friendly beams, reflecting the brightest lustre upon each other, and blazing forth in all the splendor of the most effulgent glory. In this, mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace embrace each other. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself," and bath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
4. To preach the gospel is to proclaim Jesus Christ the sum and substance of the gospel. He is "the Alpha and Omega" of divine revelation, and the only foundation of true morality. Ministers of his holy Word ought to make their sermons as the star of Bethlehem standing over where Jesus is. "He was rich, but for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich." His riches consisted in "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was." All our rational powers are swallowed up in such a thought. All the conceivable grandeur of mortals is eclipsed in such a thought. St. John represents the united intelligences of heaven as gazing upon the essential glory and infinite fulness and Supreme Deity of Christ, until their conceptions become too big for utterance, and their astonishment is expressed in the sublimity of silence. "There was silence in heaven." We gaze upon his Deity like one gazing upon a sky hung around with the lovely drapery of [7/8] the visible heavens. Star vies with star in adding dazzling beauty to the scene. But as Aurora gilds the morning with her golden hues, the bright king of day rising from his "chambers in the east" advances with steady tread until all the planets are lost to our view in the glory of his blaze. Where can we look in the vast creation of God where proofs of the Deity of the Son of God do not meet us! We cannot even look upon the midnight sky, and admire its divine loveliness and superb architecture, without reflecting upon the wisdom and glory of Him who made them, and who calls the stars forth in their shining order, and marshals them according to their midnight rounds. All were created by Christ: and when the "first begotten" appears all the angels of God worship Him. Such were his riches; but "for our sakes he became poor." "He took upon him the seed of Abraham." He added to his divine nature a true body and a reasonable soul. This made Him susceptible of dying and gave legality to his atonement:--"For as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death--that is the Devil." For "since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." Thus "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."
"We have this treasure in earthen vessels."
5. And lastly, to preach the gospel is to observe it practically in life as well as doctrinally with the lips. I. do not wish that any mere man should be set forth as a perfect model for imitation. "Follow me as I [8/9] follow Christ," are the words of the inspired Saint Paul. It has been well and wisely said that "a minister's character is the lock of his strength, and if once this is sacrificed he is like Samson shorn of his hair, a poor, feeble, faltering creature, the pity of his friends and derision of his enemies;" but to preach Christ's gospel the preacher must make the things of God familiar to his mind by cherishing such feelings as make his own head feel its resting place on the bosom of Jesus, and his meat and drink to do the will of his Heavenly Father. There is a blessed unction in the administrations of such a man. Do not "our hearts burn within us" when such a man talks with us by the way and opens to us the sacred scriptures?
Goldsmith beautifully portrays this in his Faithful Minister.--
"At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorned the venerable place,
Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray."
But all this, "that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
What then are we to understand by "the excellency of the power?"
I answer, the triumphs of the gospel in the true conversion of men--The divine energy of the Holy Ghost, which alone can make the preaching of the gospel effectual to "the pulling down of the strong holds." And it may also refer to the miracles by which attestation and confirmation attended the first ambassadors of the gospel of the Son of God.
 When we look at the beginning of the reign of Jesus Christ, under so feeble earthly auspices of a few simple hearted men, against the united strength of Judaism, heathenism, the natural corruptions of the human heart, and the predjudices of birth and education, we must perceive in it a power beyond what flesh, blood and worldly influences, could effect. How wonderful that power which brought so many of the Pharisees who trusted in their own righteousness, to renounce it, and to accept the righteousness of another, and, laying aside the idea of a sacrificial priesthood, to receive the poor fishermen of Galilee as ambassadors of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." How wonderful that power which led the polished Greeks and Romans, the rugged and warlike Britons--the heathens, which either believed in no God,--or idolaters, which believed in many gods, to renounce their infidelity and idolatry, and to accept Jehovah as their God, and Christ their Saviour and King. These turnings unto "God and his Christ," are the more wonderful when considered in the face of the most bitter calumnies, the most terrible persecutions and ignominious deaths; and with the full power of civil authorities on the side of the persecutors, and no protection but the invisible hand of God, on the part of the persecuted. When we look at the triumphs of the gospel under these circumstances, who can forbear perceiving that this is the power of God, the outstretched arm of Jehovah. The apostle, however, views matters in their natural tendencies, and clearly perceives," that men are apt to [10/11] ascribe to secondary means, that which is producible by a great first cause only. This is most discernible in the religion of the world, and not unfrequently by men of God. We read of this in the Lycaonians, whose priests were ready to offer sacrifices to Sts. Paul and Barnabas, because that they had healed at Lystra "a certain man impotent in his feet." (Acts, 14: 14; Acts 3: 10, 12.) And even among the Jews, we find something of the same spirit; for seeing the lame man walking with Peter and John, who had been known unto them as a cripple from his birth, they were ready to attribute his recovery to the power and holiness of the apostles. And we see an instance of it (Rev. 22: 8, 9,) in a holy apostle who fell at the feet of the angel, who showed him the wonderful things which the book of the Apocalypse unfolds. And I wish that I *could say that that feeling was nowhere to be found among Christians of the present age.
To stem this torrent of abuse, God places his gospel treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellency of the power of the gospel may be of God and not of us.
No man can diligently read the Epistles of the New Testament, without perceiving, that whenever the ministry of the apostles was contemned or undervalued, they exalted it with the idea that they were "Ministers of Christ," "Ambasadors of God," and "Stewards of the mysteries of God." But when the excellency of their ministry led them to be overestimated, so that men attributed to them "the excellency of the power," they humbled themselves in the [11/12] dust, calling themselves "earthen vessels," and inculcating the idea, that human excellence is but "a fabled flower," and when parted from God, it is like beauty shrouded in death. When the dispensation of this gospel was committed to angels, it was put in heavenly vessels. When committed to the prophets, it might be said to have been put into dark vessels. When in dreams and visions of the nights, it might be said to be without vessels; but when committed to the apostles and New Testament agencies, these are like Gideon's pitchers, earthen vessels."
2. This much appears in this dispensation, that glory might redound to God out of their very feebleness.
It is agreeable to the analogy of faith, that the glory of God is most manifest when great results are produced by feeble means. When God chose to deliver Israel, and abase the pride of Pharaoh by the simple rod of Moses, his power certainly appeared more glorious than if he had used legions of angels; for in the latter case, there would have existed such proportion between the instrumentality and the work, that men would have overlooked the power of God in it, and would have attributed its accomplishment to the angels. Never was the power of God more manifest than when "the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days," at the simple sounding of Joshua's ram's horns." The success of the gospel is of the same nature; for never was the power of Jesus more felt than when he subjugated principalities and powers, nailing them to his cross. And surely when [12/13] we see twelve men taken from among fishermen, tax gatherers and tent-makers, without power, without intrigue, without human helps, without human learning, without philosophy, and in opposition to the strongest governments and powers, triumph over the world by the simple declaration of the truth, and the proclamation of the gospel of God, the power of God in Christ is illustrious indeed.
At the proclamation of this gospel, idols fell, heathen temples were demolished, oracles were stricken dumb, the reign of the devil was abolished, all superstitions annihilated, and "the Kingdom of God," and of His Christ, set up among men.
The great, the small, the learned, the ignorant, kings and emperors, became subjects of the Kingdom of Christ, "And we have (still) this (same) treasure in earthen vessels, that the (same) excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
I have chosen this simple subject for my text this day, for your and my encouragement in the proclamation of the same divine truths.
I might, truly have adverted to that three-fold minis try instituted by Jesus Christ, and might have dwelt upon the glory and stability of its triple chord, stretching from our day back until the time when the commission was intrusted to the Church,--"Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." I might have justly shown that this golden apostolic chain has not lost a single link, back until it originated in "the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls," now at the right hand of God, whose promise is that He will be with us always, even until the end of the [13/14] world. But this is not only a matter of history, but of promise--"upon this rock (Christ) I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." But I have chosen this subject, because it is the greatest encouragement to us to preach the gospel, looking to God for "the excellency of the power;" for surely, if twelve men laid the superstructure upon Jesus, with such great results, what may not we do, guided by the same spirit, and minding the same things! Nay, viewing the life of Saint Paul, whose conversion "formed the main root of his whole life, outward and inward," what may not one man, zealous for the word of God and testimony of Jesus do! But every period has had its own trials, to draw men off from this blessed work, and we are not an exception from this rule. Saint Paul and his co-laborers had heathenism and Judaism to contend with. In our blessed Apostolic Church, we have a pedantic skepticism, and a blind superstition to contend with, in the preaching of the gospel; men who overlook and deride the Holy Sacraments of the New Testament, and men who would make these holy ordinances the almost only work of the Christian ministry. Let us learn from Saint Paul, that our first and chief work is to preach the gospel. (1 Cor. 1: 17.) And, secondly, let us learn to regard these sacraments as "Holy ordinances instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the New Covenant, are represented, sealed and applied to believers. "By the one we call the excellency of the power" to our aid, by strong cryings and prayers to God, in, order to bring an [14/15] unbelieving world to embrace the truth as it is in Jesus; and by the preaching of the gospel and the administration of Baptism and the Holy Communion, and covenant in His blood, we build up believers in holiness, and strengthen them in "the faith once delivered to the saints." For these holy principles the apostles and first ministers of the gospel shed their blood like water; and for the re-establishment of these principles and their rescue from the palpable absurdities and blasphemies of the ancient superstitions, our reformers were willing to face, and did face, the faggot and the flames, and mounted up to Heaven in clouds of smoke and flame, to leave us our bright inheritance of a "de jure ministry," and a pure gospel. (Rev. 11: 12.) And although now we are on the field of fight, yet the time is not far distant when we will be able, after our complete deliverance from the guile and falsehood of both these enemies of our Church, to say with Moses: "Happy art thou, O Israel! Who is like unto thee O people! Saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places."
May God speed the day.