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The Gospel Ministry in its Man-ward and God-ward Aspects.
“For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish : to the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life.”—2 Cor. ii. 15, 16.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Fifty-eighth. The apostle speaks of the minister of God as a chieftain engaged in a campaign of stirring interest, often achieving illustrious triumphs, and sometimes experiencing most saddening defeats. The text leads us to consider two things :
I. THE MAN-WARD ASPECT OF THE TRUE GOSPEL MINISTRY. Its bearing on humanity is two-fold and of surpassing moment, -a matter of life or death to all ; it is either "the savour of death unto death, or of life unto life.” The allusion is here to ancient warfare. It was customary to strew the roads, through which the triumphant general in returning from his victories passed, with flowers, and to draw after him in his victorious car, in chains, those of the greatest distinction and celebrity, whom he had taken captive. Some of these captives were to be saved, and some were to perish; to those who were to be saved, the fragrance of the flowers would be sweet and refreshing, but to those who knew they were to perish, those flowers would emit an offensive and deadly odour. Such is the allusion. First : Consider the vivifying influence of the true ministry. Men, in their unregenerate state, are spiritually dead ; the vital principle of the soul, supreme love to God, is extinct; and the whole spiritual nature, like a corpse, is prostrate, the creature of external influences, and loathsome to behold. The Gospel is the quickening power. It is the vital shower that is to refresh the parched desert; the trumpet that is to awake the dead ; the recreative breeze that is to stir the valley of dry bones. As by nature's sun and showers God creates the new life of spring, so by the gospel ministry He pro
duces new spiritual life in the souls of men. Secondly: Consider the deadly influence of the true ministry. It is “the savour of death unto death,” as well as “the savour of life unto life.”
There are three unalterable principles which render it certain that the men who reject the gospel will be injured by it. One is founded in eternal justice, and the other two in the moral constitution of man. The first is this :--That the greater the mercy abused the greater the condemnation. The Bible is full of this truth. “Unto whomsoever much is given,” &c. “If I had not come and spoken unto them,” &c. “Woe unto thee Chorazin," &c.“ And thou Capernaum,” &c. “He that despised Moses' law,” &c. The second is this :- That man's susceptibility of virtuous impressions decreases in proportion to his resistance of them. The third is this :—That man's moral suffering will always be increased in proportion to the consciousness he has that he once had the means of being happy.
From these three undeniable principles the gospel must prove “the savour of death unto death” to those who reject its overtures and resist its impressions. Every fresh sound of it decreases the moral sensibility and augments the guilt. From “death to death” they pass under its influence. The hearing of the gospel puts a man on a new level in the universe. To have heard its accents is the most momentous fact in the history of man. Do you say you will hear it no more ? But you have heard it. This is a fact you cannot deny; which you will ever remember; which you will always feel. You can no more blot out the consciousness of the fact than you can blot out your existence ; no more destroy its influence than you can reverse the wheels of nature. If the gospel does not save you, better you had never heard it,-better you had never been born. When I think of the terrible influence of the gospel upon those who reject it, I tremble at the moral condition of our country. Oh Britain, Britain ! the scene of temples ; the land of Bibles; the home of Evangelists; under whose lovely sward sleeps the sacred dust of gospel poets, martyrs, preachers, and reformers without number,-how great is thy responsibility! How Vol. IX.
long has the trumpet of salvation sounded over thy hills, and echoed through thy dales! Shouldest thou be lost ! What then? Thy hell will be deeper and darker than that of heathen lands. Nations, above which thou art now 80 exalted, will press thee with their ponderous weight, and cover thee with their midnight gloom.
The text leads us to consider :
II. THE GOD-WARD ASPECT OF THE TRUE GOSPEL MINISTRY. In both cases, whether men are blessed or cursed by our preaching, if we are true to it, “we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ.” The idea is, that the true ministry is pleasing to God, whatever may be its results on humanity. As the odour, emitted by the flowers that were strewn on the road of the ancient heroes returning from their triumphant victories, was delightful to the conquerors as it floated on the balmy breeze, so are the true services of the gospel ministry to God, whatever be its aspects on humanity. If this be so, two inferences seem irresistible :-First: If the gospel ministry is in itself grateful to God, it must be in itself an institution for good, and for good exclusively. Never can I entertain the thought that an institution in itself calculated to deaden and destroy the souls of men could be grateful to the heart of infinite love. No! The gospel ministry while but the occasion of evil, is the cause of good. For the sake of clearness of conception and rightness of feeling on this subject, I must hold forth three facts :-(1) That while the true Gospel ministry saves by design, it destroys in spite of its design. That it is designed to save, who can doubt? “God so loved the world," &c. Men can, men do, pervert divine things. Did God give steel to be wrought into weapons for the destruction of human life? Did he give corn to be transmuted into a substance to drown the reason and to brutalize the man? No! But man, by his perverting power, turns God's blessings to an improper and pernicious use. So it is with the Gospel. He wrests it to his own destruction. (2) That the true gospel ministry saves by
its inherent tendency ; it injures in spite of that tendency. Is there anything in the doctrines, precepts, provisions, promises, and warnings, of the gospel adapted to destroy souls? Was the ocean made to injure man, because it has terrified many a mariner and engulfed many a barque? Was the Sun created to injure man, because by leading to the discovery of the robber and the assassin, it has proved their ruin ? Was food created to injure health, because by intemperance and gluttony, it has brought on disease and death} (3) That the gospel ministry saves by divine agency ; it destroys in spite of that agency. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost."
The gospel ministry then must be regarded as an institution for good, and for good exclusively. Like the waters of the sea, the light of the firmament, the breeze of the atmosphere, it is the divine cause of good; but man, through the perversity of his nature, may make it the occasion of his ruin. In the salvation of man through the gospel I see the grace and power of God ; in his ruin through the gospel I see the power and wickedness of man. The man who preaches the utter powerlessness of human nature commits a cardinal error. Why his history proves that he has power to make the gospel, designed by God, fitted by God, and worked by God, for salvation; the means of his destruction. In salvation we see God's power not man’s, ; in destruction we see man's power, not God's. Let not the infinite be blamed for any man's ruin.
“THE light that led astray,
Was light from Heaven ;”—
“It could not be ; no light from Heaven
Has ever led astray ;
And never to betray.
May lure the foot afar,
Would say it yas a star.
When passion drives to wild excess,
And folly wakes to shame,
To cast on heaven the blame.
And break from virtue's rule,
And doubly play the fool.
And led them on to sin,
From passion's fire within.
And reason raised her voice ;
But freely mad'st the choice.”—BURNS. Secondly: If the gospel ministry is in itself grateful to God, it must be an institution from which a much larger amount of good than of evil will result.
If greater evil resulted from it than good, I cannot believe that it would be grateful to INFINITE Love. Remember the following things. Remember that the rejection of the gospel does not make the hell of the rejector; it only modifies and aggravates it
. As a sinner he would have found a hell, had the sound of the gospel never greeted his ears. Remember the restorative influence which the gospel ministry has already exerted upon the race. It has swept from the world innumerable evils ; it has planted institutions amongst us to mitigate human woe, abolish human oppression, heal human diseases, human ignorance, and correct human errors; and it has conducted millions to heaven. Remember that what it has done is but a very small instalment of the good it is destined to achieve. It is to bless a nation in a day. There are millennial ages awaiting it. I believe that in the long lapse of the coming centuries, it will be found that the evil which the gospel ministry has occasioned is no more to be compared with the good which it will cause, than the pain which the light of the sun gives to the few tender eyes, with the streams of blessedness it pours into every part of nature.