AS DESCRIBED IN ST. LUKE XIII. 18, 19.
OCTOBER 22, 1832.
"Unto what is the kingdom of GOD like, and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and cast into his garden: and it grew and waxed a great tree, and the fowls of the air lodged under the branches of it."
OUR Saviour, intending to announce a splendid property of the Church which he was founding, begins with a question calculated to awaken the attention of his hearers: "Unto what is the kingdom of GOD like?" The kingdom of GOD, that is, the state of things under the Gospel, unto what is it like? Or, what is the property, the most distinguishing it as a visible society, from that which had subsisted, under divine institution also, among the Jews? The blessed speaker thus answers the question which he had himself proposed: "It is like a grain of mustard seed." Commentators bring authorities to prove, that the smallness of this seed was proverbial; agreeably to the expression of another of the evangelists, that it was "the least of all seeds." So, the infancy of the Gospel was suited to a dispensation, under which the Divine Being had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." "And it grew, and waxed a great tree." Authorities [3/4] are also brought to show, that in the mild climates of the East, the shoot from the mustard seed is the greatest of plants, and such as sometimes to acquire, agreeably to the expression in the text, the strength and the size of a tree. In like manner the Christian Church, not instituted, like the Jewish, for a single nation, was to offer its inestimable benefits to every people, and, at last, to embrace all nations in its communion. What is added in regard to the tree, that "the fowls of the air lodged under the branches of it," elegantly expresses, by the images of shade and shelter, the consolations of Gospel grace.
Brethren, there are to be solicited the benefactions of this respectable congregation, in aid of the funds of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of our Church. This branch of the tree of the Gospel, as had been the case with its parent stock, was small in its beginnings; but, as we trust, in continuance of the resemblance, is progressing to its maturity. In the meantime, it has to encounter discouragements; and although they are not sufficient to overbalance our hopes, yet, for the realizing of the latter, we depend considerably on congregational collections; abundant proceeds from which will be the best evidence of the estimation in which our labors are held by the, Church at large.
In order to forward so good a design, there shall be taken occasion from the text, first, to state some remarkable facts connected with the subject; and secondly, to apply them for the [4/5] confirming of our faith, for the encouraging of our hope, and for the exciting of our charity.
First, there are to be stated some remarkable facts connected with the subject.
The first to be mentioned is, that under the Mosaic dispensation there was a distinct and frequent foretelling of this circumstance, as what should take place under the evangelical economy which was to succeed. If we go back even to the time of Abraham, it is not more evident that he was to be the father of the chosen people, than that "in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed." Long after, when Judah was prophesied of as the subject of his brethren's praise, there was a limitation of his tribual dominion to the coming of a Personage to whom there should be a "gathering of the people" generally. The prophets are full of scenes to this effect, displayed to them in vision. One of them beholds the distant isles, in eager expectation of the promised messenger of heaven. Another of them hears him "speaking peace to the Heathen;" and another foresees the time, when, "from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, the name of GOD shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto his name, and a pure offering." These are but a few of the rays of the glory of the Messiah breaking in on us from the Old Testament. They are displayed at this time merely to constitute a link in the chain of providence, designed to reach through all [5/6] ages. For, that such a dispensation as the Mosaic, with so many institutions restraining it to a single people, should yet extend its prospect to the improvement of the world at large, is itself a singular fact; and the looking back to it furnishes an illustration of what has since opened on the world, of " the breaking down of the partition wall between Jew and Gentile, making them both one in CHRIST;" and ordaining, that in him, "neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love."
The second fact intended, is our Saviour's declaring frequently and explicitly, that in his person there was to be a fulfilment of the already mentioned object of the divine counsels. The text is direct authority to the purpose; and that such was the sense of the speaker, appears not only from the circumstances which have been stated of the delivery of it, but from his announcing of the same truth, in the varied dress of a similar comparison, with the same summons to an attentive hearing. For, after the words of the text, he again asks--"Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of GOD?" Again answering his own question, he compares it to "leaven hid in three measures of meal, until the whole is leavened." In this he keeps in view, alike in the metaphor, and in the subject to be illustrated, a cause scarcely discernible, its gradual operation, and at last, its pervading of the mass to which it had been applied. Besides these covert [6/7] intimations of our Saviour, he explicitly declared the same high truth, as on many occasions, so especially when he gave to his apostles the commission "go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;" and when he instructed them that before the end, "his Gospel should be preached to all nations." This application to himself of prophecies so extraordinary, taken with the fact, that in the person in whom they were affirmed to centre, there were many circumstances descriptive of the Messiah, whom he professed to be, such as, to name no more, his pedigree and the place of his birth, is a matter which., considered with a retrospect to what has been already mentioned, and in connexion with what is to follow, forms a train of events clearly demonstrative of divine interposition.
To proceed to a third fact; the extent of the kingdom of the Redeemer, as announced by him, was an event contrary to all human appearance and expectation. That "a man of sorrows" should see such an end of "the travail of his soul," that "not having where to lay his head," and followed but by few, of whom he foreknew and foretold that they would forsake him; he should afterwards have a name that is above every name," could not. have been known on earth otherwise than in the instance in which it was declared from his own sacred lips to his disciple St. Peter--"Flesh and blood bath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven." As such an issue was disproportioned [7/8] to the selected instruments, so there existed impediments, apparently insurmountable, in the civil and in the religious policy of the world. The first national establishment threatening the destruction of this spiritual kingdom, was that of the Jews; who, glorying in a law delivered to them from a mount on fire, "in the midst of blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words," could not be expected to tolerate pretensions, according to which "old things were to be done away, and all things were to become new." The rest of the civilized world was under that iron dominion, which, as was foretold by the prophet Daniel, had "broken in pieces the other kingdoms of the earth." At the same time, the throne of the Caesars seemed not more stable than was that of the idolatry allied to it; and which its institutions had introduced, not only into the public sacrifices and other acts of worship, but into almost every transaction of secular life. How unlikely was it that such a fabric should be prostrated before "a kingdom not of this world," the weapons of which are effectual only to the pulling down of the strong holds of sin in the human heart.
Yet, for this is the next fact to be stated, the religion of the Redeemer, agreeably to the metaphor in the text, made an early and a wonderful progress. In the age of the apostles, there was scarcely a part of the known world, concerning which we have not authentic evidence, of its [8/9] having been successfully visited by one or more of them. In the next and in the following age, we find the Christian apologists appealing to men in public stations for the known fact, that every profession of secular life comprehended numbers of their brethren, who repaid the injuries of their persecuting rulers in prayers for their prosperity, and in peaceable submission to their authority.
It has been made a question, whether a new faith may be the most injured by persecution or by neglect. Christianity has sustained both of these trials, and has risen superior to both. The more humane of the Roman emperors seem to have looked with indifference on a religion which was undermining the worship of their gods. The savage spirit of others of them pursued it with unrelenting fury. Yet, during this alternate reign of contempt and of oppression, the spiritual kingdom of the Redeemer took deep root in the capital of the civilized world; in. the numerous and vast provinces subjected to her empire; and even in countries to which her victorious arms had never penetrated. Why was this stupendous event, but that the faith in question stood "not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of GOD;" and that thus there was a beginning of the spiritual dominion, to which at last every knee shall bow?
It may be asked--Why has there not been a proportionate progress in the succeeding ages of the Church? The question shall be answered by the next fact. It is, that the thing spoken of, [9/10] and the causes of it, were foretold. It is to be remarked, that the Church having been established by the arm of omnipotence, the visible state of it was afterwards left to the influence of second causes; and accordingly, Was acted on by the ignorance and by the depravity of men: still under the control of the providence of GOD; who, in this, as well as in what regards the civil interests of communities, makes the errors and "the wrath of man to praise him," by the instrumentality of events, generally beyond, and sometimes contrary to, their intentions. In regard to the present subject, that there was to be an arresting of the progress of divine truth, by an obscuring of the brightness of it, was revealed in Scripture. This one apostle saw, under the image of "the man of sin" establishing his throne within the Church, and there claiming divine honors on the ground of lying wonders." And another apostle saw the same character, under the figure or" the beast," to whom "the dragon gave his seat and great authority," sustained by another beast, who "had two horns like a lamb, and spake like a dragon" horns like a lamb, expressive of an authority professed to be spiritual; but speaking like a dragon, to denote deeds of antichristian idolatry and persecution.
There might be mentioned several passages of Scripture, which cannot be referred to any thing else than to the event which has occurred of corrupting the word of GOD, and of misapplying it to the worst abuses of temporal power and [10/11] policy. This is taken notice of merely for the purpose of applying it as a link in a connected chain of facts to be laid down. For, as it is said of that scene of darkness, "here is the faith and the patience of the saints," in respect to the trials to which they were to be subjected by it; so, in an argumentative point of view, neither our faith in the accomplishment of promises of past times, nor our patient expectation of the fulfilment of promises which regard the times to come, should be shaken by a delay of which we have been therefore warned by Him with whom "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
For, notwithstanding the delay, the Scriptures are express in their declarations and this is the last fact of a happy consummation of what had thus been spoken of by " all the holy prophets, who had been since the world began."
"We bring glad tidings of great joy," said the angels in their message to the Shepherds, "which shall be to all people." "Blindness in part has happened unto Israel," says St. Paul, "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." "All the kingdoms of the world," says St. John, after having displayed in significant metaphor the series . of the fortunes of the Christian Church, "all the kingdoms of the world," says this Apostle, or rather an angel whom he introduces, winding up the sacred drama, "all the kingdoms of the world, have become the kingdoms of our LORD and of his CHRIST," It was the same, or [11/12] probably a more splendid scene, that was displayed to the same Apostle in vision, when he "heard every creature on earth, or under the earth, or in the sea, giving praise, and honor, and glory to Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever."
These are the facts, the reviewing of which, has been thought to be suited to the present occasion; and it remains to apply them, for the confirming of our faith, for the encouraging of our hope, and for the exciting of our charity.
In regard to the confirming of our faith, there is weighty evidence in this consent of prophecy and history, and of prophecies and events of different ages, in a long succession, respectively answering to one another. Here is an extraordinary series, which, like that of the fortunes of the seed of Abraham, is addressed to all ages. Our Saviour, having read in a synagogue, from the Prophet Isaiah, a description of the character in which he was at that moment manifesting himself, made the appeal to their senses and to their understandings--"This day, is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears." But in the present subject, we have the detail of successive prophecies, which have been fulfilling through many ages; which, in this, our day, are going on in their fulfilment, and which will continue to be fulfilled, in what remains of time. Balanced with this evidence, how light are difficulties lying on the face of detached parts of the Christian system; the meaning of which we may have [12/13] mistaken; while this sentiment, pervading it, may be made luminous to every understanding! a sentiment, which a succession of impostors would have found it impossible to sustain through a long tract of time, as it would also have been for them, had they so continued it, to have brought the state of the world, and the conduct, as well of enemies as of friends, to correspond with the extraordinary scheme, thus supposed to have been contrived. What then should be the result; but our being rendered by it the humble disciples of the blessed Person who once "tabernacled among men," and who is now exalted far above "all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."
Let not the improvement of the subject rest here; but let it be an encouragement of our hope. This cheering result, is especially to be perceived, in the reference which the text has incidentally made to the consolations of the Gospel, represented under the figures of shade and shelter. Of this, the improvement to our minds should be an examination of ourselves, in order to know, whether the discoveries vouchsafed to us be winged, with their reviving virtue, to our spirits? To whomsoever the Gospel of CHRIST is preached, the tree spoken of holds out its branches. Do we then, refresh ourselves under its shade? Do we find it a shelter from the pelting storms of angry consciences? And [13/14] have we consolation, proportioned to what has been thus beneficently bestowed as the mean of it? If not, let there be the inquiry whether the want of it be the consequence of corruption, or of constitutional infirmity. In the former case, let there be a "purging out of the old leaven," leaving "a new lump unleavened to the LORD." In the latter, let there be recourse to those lively oracles, the true spirit of which, is not that "of fear, but of a sound mind." When thus conducted by the subject, we shall have obtained such views of the divine beneficence made known, to us by the Gospel, as issues in the sense of an interest in its promises; let us cultivate it as a light, which, during a continued advance in grace, will "shine more and more unto the perfect day."
Of there being ground for the hope of this result, one evidence must be, its excitement of our charity.
Of the exercise of this grace, the branch especially contemplated, is the doing of what lies in our power, to the extending of the kingdom of the Redeemer, and the thus being agents in carrying the progress of the Gospel, figuratively represented in the text, to the glorious period of its completion.
Independently on pecuniary contribution, and on what, in virtue of divine promise, may be expected to be the effect of earnest and persevering prayer, there may be the aid of every child of GOD, in the many opportunities which [14/15] cannot but occur, for the giving of testimony in favor of a cause, involving whatever has a bearing on the eternal or on the temporal interests of men. A remark seasonably made, may prove an admonition to the profane, or an encouragement to the devout. And all genuine evidence of a spirit moulded to the graces of the Gospel carries with it a charm, which, independently on words, strengthens the faith of the one, and not seldom carries conviction to the consciences of the other.
This is a benefit which may be attendant on any of the ordinary intercourses of life. But there arise occasions, and it is supposed that one of them is now before us, when there are calls of more than common pressure, for the manifesting of an interest taken in the inestimable treasure of the Gospel, by some sacrifice of expense, for the imparting of it to those who are destitute, or in danger of being deprived of it.
Brethren; your preacher, during the whole of his Episcopacy, has been in the habit of receiving from various parts of the United States, applications for ministerial supply; of the need of which he could not but have a strong conviction; while relief was beyond his power. The prospect has brightened. What with systematic exertions of the people immediately concerned, and an interest taken in their favor by some of the clerical order in visits made for the gathering of congregations, it has happened, that there is the hope of an early organization of our [15/16] Church, in the vast fields of labor to the west, to the north, and to the south. In all these directions, we have the prospect of extending the branches of the tree, which cannot but cast their shelter and their shade, in the sanctity of Christian morals, and in the consolations of Christian hope.
It would be a mournful contrast, if, in territories submitting to cultivation under labors of emigrants from states in which Christianity is the profession of the inhabitants, the sound of the Gospel should not be heard; and if, in consequence, the progeny of the settlers should be surrendered to the reign of irreligion, perhaps to that of barbarism.
Probably, however, there is no danger of this. On the contrary, if we should be regardless of the spiritual wants of our fellow members of the same communion, the zeal of other bodies of professing Christians may be expected to furnish them with instructers, more or less conforming to the standard of truth in holy Scripture. With us the question is, whether, under the persuasion that our principles are the most agreeable to the integrity of the Christian faith, we shall be the only communion insensible to such claims as those now made on us; and whether, in consequence of our want of zeal and of sympathy in this matter, they shall be exposed to the alternative of being without any public profession; to the manifest depravation of the morals of a rising generation; or else, shall exchange the [16/17] profession of their ancestors for some other, under which there is, at the least, sensibility to the duty of being regardful of what is strongly set forth in the text, the being agents in the extension of the kingdom of the Redeemer,
Of late years, we have been in the habit of hearing of stupendous exertions, put forth for the extension of the faith of the Gospel beyond the bounds of Christendom; greater, perhaps, than have been known at any period since that of the original publishing of it. We learn also, on unquestionable evidence, that it is now spreading in countries in which it had been hitherto unknown. In these laudable efforts it is easy to discern the interposition of Providence, over-ruling the high-handed measures which had preceded, for the general propagation of infidelity; and educing from them results, the opposite to those which had been contemplated.
In these vast efforts for the Christianizing of the world, it has been the earnest desire of many pious persons among ourselves, to contribute a portion of their bounty; being aware that there can be little proof of our esteem of our ecclesiastical institutions, or of the Christian cause itself, if they have not a sufficient potency to excite to the honorable competition of vieing with other bodies of our fellow Christians, in what ought to be accounted a labor of love by all.
Brethren; in reference to the Society whose funds are expected to be aided by your contributions on this occasion, there are two facts, the [17/18] statement of which may be hoped to tend materially to the design. There have been already noticed the many solicitations for ministerial aid before the existence of the Society. Since its formation, they have multiplied exceedingly; so as more and more to address to those who take the lead in it, some such entreaty as that made in vision by a man of Macedonia to St. Paul,--"Come and help us."
The knowledge of the existence of such a Society has naturally this effect; and it is painfully felt in the present instance, from an increase in the number of claims, beyond the possibility of their being met: the claimants from every quarter naturally undertaking to judge of the comparative reasonableness of their respective expectations. The amount of supplies has been very far from being in proportion to the exigency.
One cause of this, and it is the other fact contemplated, is, that after the constituting of this Society by the General Convention, there became organized, in several of the States, their peculiar Diocesan Societies, directed to the same object, within their respective bounds. So far as good is accomplished, it is of no consequence by whose agency the same is effected. But, when there are taken into view the immense districts in the west, in the north, and in the south; which are not endeavored to be benefited by those partial organizations; setting aside also the debt due to what is beyond the bounds of our civil Union; it is evident, that the said [18/19] Diocesan Societies, however usefully they maybe conducted, detract materially from the means, which would otherwise have been at the command of that constituted by the general voice of our Church.
Its being so far deprived of the aids of several expected sources of support, can be compensated for no otherwise, than by concurrent appeals to the beneficence of those, who contribute within their respective bounds. Of such appeals, there is one at this time brought before the respectable audience here assembled, and as may be trusted, it will not be without effect.
It is not uncommon, to hear the expression of a difference of opinion, as to the comparative weight of the claims of the Domestic and of the Foreign Departments of the Society. Its constitution has been wisely accommodated to this diversity of views, by submitting to every donor, to which of the branches his gift shall be applied, and if no will on the alternative should be expressed, to the discretion of those who have the management of the whole concern. Although under this circumstance, there will fall the amount of what may be given on the present occasion, yet the Society are entitled to avail themselves of the fact, that they have not been accused of favoring either branch of their trust at the cost of indifference, or of faulty privation, in regard to the other.
Brethren; we are holding our meeting during the assembling of the General Convention of our [19/20] Church. The interest to be taken in their proceedings, will in some measure take its coloring from what shall appear on them, of successful agency in the cause which has been at this time advocated. Before that body, there will be brought the transactions, during the last three years, of the Trustees of the Society and of their Executive Committee, constituted by the authority of the Convention, and answerable to them for the faithful discharge of their trust. It has been at the expense of much time and labor; accompanied by the satisfaction of believing, that, under the blessing of GOD, they have not been without effect. Under the head of the contributions which must be received by them, there will be that to be bestowed by the congregation now assembled. Their preacher cannot but encourage in himself the expectation, that it will be such as shall furnish a test of the stand taken in the whole respectable Diocese in which we are met, by the cause which has been pleaded for at this time, the diffusing at home and abroad, the knowledge of the glad tidings of salvation; and verifying the promise of the Saviour in the text, that the tree, planted by his sacred hand, however small its seed, should extend its shelter and its shade of Gospel grace and consolation, to all who might be brought to retreat, for their safety to its branches.