Delivered on Sabbath Morning, May 27, 1855, by the
"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. And who is sufficient for these things?"2 Corinthians 2:15-16.
HESE ARE THE words of Paul, speaking on the behalf of himself and his brethren the Apostles, and they are true concerning all those who by the Spirit are chosen, qualified, and thrust into the vineyard to preach God's gospel. I have often admired the 14th verse of this chapter, especially when I have remembered from whose lips the words fell, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place." Picture Paul, the aged, the man who had been beaten five times with forty stripes save one,' who had been dragged forth for dead, the man of great sufferings, who had passed through whole seas of persecution only think of him saying, at the close of his ministerial career, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ!" to triumph when shiprecked, to triumph when scourged, to triumph in the stocks, to triumph under the stones, to triumph amidst the hiss of the world, to triumph when he was driven from the city and shook off the dust from his feet, to triumph at all times in Christ Jesus! Now, if some ministers of modern times should talk thus, we would think little of it, for they enjoy the world's applause They can always go to their place in ease and peace; they have an admiring people, and no open foes; against them not a dog doth move his tongue; everything is safe and pleasant, For them to say, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph" is a very little thing; but for one like Paul, so trampled on, so tried, so distressed, to say it-then, we say, outspoke a hero; here is a man who had true faith in God and in the divinity of his mission.
That slight the joys above!
What chains of vengeance must they feel,
Who laugh at sov'reign love!"
It will increase your condemnation, I tell you all, unless you find Jesus Christ to he your Saviour; for to have had the light and not to walk by it, shall be the condemnation, the very essence of it, This shall be the virus of the guiltthat the, "light came into the world, and the darkness comprehended it not;" for "men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."
Again: it must increase your condemnation if you oppose the gospel. If God devises a scheme of mercy, and man rises up against it, how great must be his sin? Who shall tell the great guilt incurred by such men as Pilate, Herod, and the Jews? Oh! who shall picture out, or even faintly sketch, the doom of those who cried, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" And who shall tell what place in hell shall be hot enough for the man who slanders God's minister, who speaks against his people, who hates his truth, who would, if he could, utterly cut off the godly from the land? Ah! God help the infidel! God help the blasphemer! God save his soul: for of all men least would I choose to be that man. Think you, sirs, that God will not take account of what men have said? One man has cursed Christ; he has called him a charlatan. Another has declared, (know that he spoke a lie) that the gospel was false. A third has proclaimed his licentious maxims, and then has pointed to God's Word and still, "There are worse things there!" A fourth has abused God's ministers and held up their imperfections to radicals. Think you God shall forget all this: it the last day? When his enemies come before him, shall he take then by the hand and say, "The other day thou didst call my servant a dog, and spit on him, and for this I will give thee heaven!" Rather, if the sin has not been cancelled by the blood of Christ, he will not say, "Depart, cursed one, into the hell which thou didst scoff at; leave that heaven which thou didst despise; and learn that though thou saidst there was no God, this right arm shall teach thee eternally the lesson that there is one; for he who discovers it not by my works of benevolence shall learn it by my deeds of vengeance: therefore depart, again, I say!" It shall increase men's hell that they have opposed God's truth. Now, is not this a very solemn view of the gospel, that it is indeed to many "a savour of death unto death?"
(3.) Yet, once more. I believe the gospel make some men in this world more miserable than they would be. The drunkard could drink, and could revel in his intoxication with greater joy, if he did not hear it said, "All drunkards shall have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." How jovially the Sabbath-breaker would riot through his Sabbaths, if the Bible did not say, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!" And how happily could the libertine and licentious man drive on his mad career, if he were not told, "The wages of sin is death, and after death the judgment!" But the truth puts the bitter in his cup; the warnings of God freeze the current of his soul. The gospel is like the skeleton at the Egyptian feast. Though by day he laughed at it, by night he will quiver as the aspen leaf, and when the shades of evening gather around him, he will shake at a whisper. At the thought of a future state his joy is spoiled, and immortality instead of being a boon to him, is in its very contemplation the misery of his existence. The sweet wooings of mercy are to him no more harmonious than peals of thunder, because he knows he despises them. Yea, I have known some who have, been in such misery under the gospel, because they would not give up their sins, that they have been ready to take their own lives. Oh! terrible thought! The, gospel is "a savour of death unto death!" Unto how many here is it so? Who are now hearing God's Word to be damned by it? Who shall retire hence to be hardened by the sound of the truth? Why, every man who does not believe it; for unto those that receive it, it is "a savour of life unto life," but to unbelievers it is a curse, and a savour of death unto death."
2. But, blessed be God, the gospel has a second power. Besides being "death unto death," it is "a savour of life unto life." Ah! my brethren, some of us could speak, if we were allowed this meaning, of the gospel as being "a savour of life" to us. We can look back to that hour when we were "dead in trespasses and sin." In vain all Sinai's thunders; in vain the rousing of the watchmen; we slept on in the death-sleep of our transgressions; nor could, an angel have aroused us. But we look back with joy to that hour when first we stepped within the walls of a sanctuary, and savingly heard the voice of mercy. With some of you it is but a few weeks. I know where ye are and who ye are. But a few weeks or months ago ye too were far from God, but now ye are brought to love him. Canst thou look back my brother Christian, to that very moment when the gospel was to theewhen thou didst cast away thy sins, renounce thy lusts, and turning to God's Word, received it with full purpose of heart? Ah! that hourof all hours the sweetest! Nothing can be compared, therewith. I knew a person who for forty or fifty years had been completely deaf. Sitting one morning at her cottage door as some vehicle was passing, she thought she heard melodious music. It was not music; it was but the sound of the vehicle. Her ear had suddenly opened, and that rough sound seemed to her like the music of heaven, because it was the first she had heard for so many years. Even so, the first time our ears were opened to hear the words of lovethe assurance of our pardonwe never heard the word so well as we did then; it never seemed so sweet; and perhaps, even now, we look back and say,
How sweet their memory still!"
When first it was "a savour of life" unto our souls.
Nothing from his love can sever."
It is "a savour of life unto life." And not only, "life unto life" in this world, but of "life unto life" eternal. Every one who has this life shall receive the next life; for "the Lord will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
I am obliged to leave this point; but if my Master will but take it up, and make his word a savour of "life unto life" this morning, I shall rejoice in what I have said.
II. But our second remark was, that THE MINISTER IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS SUCCESS. He is responsible for what he preaches; he is accountable for his life and actions; but he is not responsible for other people. If I do but preach God's word, if there never were a soul saved, the King would say, "Well done, good and faithful Servant!" If I do but tell my message, if none should listen to it, he would say, "Thou hast fought the good fight: receive thy crown." You hear the words of the text: "We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, as well in them that perish, as in them that are saved." This will appear, if I just tell you what a gospel minister is called in the Bible. Sometimes he is called an ambassador. Now, for what is an ambassador responsible? He goes to a country as a plenipotentiary; he carries terms of peace to the conference; he uses all his talents for his master; he tries to show that the war is inimical to the prosperity of the different countries; he endeavours to bring about peace; but the other kings haughtily refuse it. When he comes home does his master say, "Why did not you make peace?" "Why, my Lord," he would say, "I told them the terms; but they said nothing." "Well, then," he will say, "thou hast done thy duty; I am not to condemn thee if the war continues." Again the minister of the gospel is called a fisherman. Now a fisherman is not responsible for the quantity of fish he catches, but for the way he fishes. That is a mercy for some ministers, I am sure, for they have neither caught fish, for neither caught fish nor even attracted any round their nets. They have been spending all their life fishing with most elegant silk lines, and gold and silver hooks; they always use nicely polished phrases; but the fish will not bite for all that, whereas we of a rougher order have put the hook into the jaws of hundreds. However, if we cast the gospel net in the right place, even if we catch none, the Master will find no fault with us He will say, "Fisherman! didst thou labour? Didst thou throw the net into the sea in the time of storms?" "Yes, my Lord, I did." "What hast thou caught?" "Only one or two." "Well, I could have sent thee a shoal, if it so pleased me; it is not thy fault; I give in my sovereignty where I please; or withhold when I choose; but as for thee, thou hast well laboured, therefore there is thy reward." Sometimes the minister is called a sower. Now, no farmer expects a sower to be responsible for the harvest; all he is responsible for is, does be sow the seed? and does he sow the right seed? If he scatters it on good soil, then he is happy; but if it falls by the way-side, and the fowls of the air devour it, who shall blame the sower? Could he help it? Nay, he did his duty; he scattered the seed broad-cast, and there he left it. Who is to blame? Certainly not the sower. So, beloved, if a minister comes to heaven with but one sheaf on his shoulder, his Master will say, "O reaper! once a sower! where didst thou gather thy sheaf?" "My Lord, I sowed upon the rock, and it would not grow; only one seed on a chance Sabbath morning was blown a little awry by the wind, and it fell on a prepared heart; and this is my one sheaf." "Hallelujah!" the angelic choirs resound, "one sheaf from a rock is more honour to God than a thousand sheaves from a good soil; therefore, let him take his seat as near the throne as yon man, who, stooping beneath his many sheaves, comes from some fertile land, bringing his sheaves with hm." I believe that if there are degrees in glory, they will not be in proportion to success, but in proportion to the earnestness of our endeavours. If we mean right, and if with all our heart we strive to do the right thing as ministers if we never see any effect, still shall we receive the crown. But how much more happy is the man who shall have it in heaven said to him, "He shines for ever, because he was wise, and won many souls unto righteousness." It is always my greatest joy to believe, that if I should enter heaven, I shall in future days see heaven's gates open, and in shall fly a cherub, who, looking me in the face, will smilingly pass along to God's throne, and there bow down before him and when has paid his homage and his adoration, he may fly to me, and though unknown, shall clasp my hand. and if there were tears in heaven, surely I should weep, and he would say, "Brother, from thy lips I heard the word; thy voice first admonished me of my sin; here I am, and thou the instrument of my salvation." And as the gates open one after another, still will they come in; souls ransomed, souls ransomed; and for each one of these a starfor each one of these another gem in the diadem of gloryfor each one of them another honor, and another note in the song of praise. Blessed be that man that shall die in the Lord, and his works shall follow him; for thus saith the Spirit.
What will become of some good Christians now in Exeter Hall, if crowns in heaven are measured in value by the souls that are saved? Some of you will have a crown in heaven without a single star in it. I read a little while ago, a piece upon the starless crown in heavena man in heaven with a crown without a star! Not one saved by him! He will sit in heaven as happy as he can be, for sovereign mercy saved him; but oh! to be in heaven without a single star! Mother! what sayest thou to be in heaven without one of thy children to deck thy brow with a star? Minister! what wouldst thou say to be a polished preacher and yet have no star? Writer! will it well become thee to have written even as gloriously as Milton, if thou shouldst be found in heaven without a star? I am afraid we pay too little regard to this. Men will sit down and write huge folios and tomes, that they may have them put in libraries for ever, and have their names handed down by fame! but how few are looking to win stars for ever in heaven! Toil on, child of God, toil on; for if thou wishest to serve God, thy bread cast upon the waters shall be found after many days. If thou sendest in the feet of the ox or the ass, thou shalt reap a glorious harvest in that day when he comes to gather in his elect. The minister is not responsible for his success.
III. But yet, in the last place, TO PREACH THE GOSPEL IS HIGH AND SOLEMN WORK. The ministry has been very often degraded into a trade. In these days men are taken and made into ministers who would have made good captains at sea, who could have waited well at the counter, but who were never intended for the pulpit. They are selected by man, they are crammed with literature; they are educated up to a certain point; they are turned out ready dressed; and persons call them ministers. I wish them all God-speed, every one of them; for as good Joseph Irons used to say, "God be with many of them, if it be only to make them hold their tongues." Man-made ministers are of no use in this world, and the sooner we get rid of them the better. Their way is this: they prepare their manuscripts very carefully, then read it on the Sunday most sweetly in sotto voce, and so the people go away pleased. But that is not God's way of preaching. If so, I am sufficient to preach forever. I can buy manuscript sermons for a shilling; that is to say, provided they have been preached fifty times before, but if I use them for the first time the price is a guinea, or more. But that is not the way. Preaching God's word is not what some seem to think, mere child's playa mere business or trade to be taken up by any one. A man ought to feel first that he has a solemn call to it; next, he ought to know that he really possesses the Spirit of God, and that when he speaks there is an influence upon him that enables him to speak as God would have him, otherwise out of the pulpit he should go directly; he has no right to be there, even if the living is his own property. He has not been called to preach God's truth, and unto him God says, "What hast thou to do, to declare my statutes?"
But you say, "What is there difficult about preaching God's gospel?" Well it must be somewhat hard; for Paul said, "Who is sufficient for these things?" And first I will tell you, it is difficult because it is so hard as not to be warped by your own prejudices in preaching the word. You want to say a stern thing; and your heart says, "Master! in so doing thou wilt condemn thyself;" then the temptation is not to say it. Another trial is, you are afraid of displeasing the rich in your congregations. Your think, "If I say such-and-such a thing, so-and-so will be offended; such an one does not approve of that doctrine; I had better leave it out." Or perhaps you will happen to win the applause of the multitude, and you must not say anything that will displease them, for if they cry, "Hosanna" to day, they will cry, "Crucify, crucify," to-morrow. All these things work on a minister heart. He is a man like yourselves; and he feels it. Then comes again the sharp knife of criticism, and the arrows of those who hate him and hate his Lord; and he cannot help feeling it sometimes. He may put on his armour, and cry, "I care not for your malice;" but there were seasons when the archers sorely grieved even Joseph. Then he stands in another danger, lest he should come out and defend himself; for he is a great fool whoever tries to do it. He who lets his detractors alone, and like the eagle cares not for the chattering of the sparrows, or like the lion will not turn aside to rend the snarling jackalhe is the man, and he shall be honoured. But the danger is, we want to set ourselves right. And oh! who is sufficient to steer clear from these rocks of danger? "Who is sufficient," my brethren, "for these things?" To stand up, and to proclaim, Sabbath after Sabbath, and week-day after week-day, "the unsearchable riches of Christ."
Having said thus much, I may draw the inferenceto close upwhich is: if the gospel is "a savour of life unto life," and if the minister's work be solemn work, how well it becomes all lovers of the truth to plead for all those who preach it, that they may be "sufficient for these things." To lose my Prayer-book, as I have often told you, is the worst thing that can happen to me. To have no one to pray for me would place me in a dreadful condition. "Perhaps," says a good poet, "the day when the world shall perish, will be the day unwhitened by a prayer;" and, perhaps, the day when a minister turned aside from truth, was the day when his people left off to pray for him, and when there was not a single voice supplicating grace on his behalf. I am sure, it must be so with me. Give me the numerous hosts of men whom it has been my pride and glory to see in my place before I came to this hall: give me those praying people, who on the Monday evening met in such a multitude to pray to God for a blessing, and we will overcome hell itself, in spite of all that may oppose us. All our perils are nothing, so long as we have prayer. But increase my congregation; give me the polite and the noble,give me influence and understanding; and I should fail to do anything without a praying church. My people! shall I ever lose your prayers? Will ye ever cease your supplications? Our toils are nearly ended in this great place, and happy shall we be to return to our much-loved sanctuary. Will ye then ever cease to pray? I fear ye have not uttered so many prayers this morning as ye should have done; I fear there has not been so much earnest devotion as might have been poured forth. For my own part, I have not felt the wondrous power I sometimes experience. I will not lay it at your doors; but never let it be said, "Those people, once so fervent, have become cold!" Let not Laodiceanism get into Southwark; let us leave it here in the West-end, if it is to be anywhere; let us not carry it with us. Let us "strive together for the faith once delivered unto the saints:" and knowing in what a sad position the standard. bearer stands, I beseech you rally round him; for it will be ill with the army,
For never saw I promise yet, of such a deadly fray."
Stand up my friends; grasp the banner yourselves, and maintain it erect until the day shall come, when standing on the last conquered castle of hell's domains, we shall raise the shout, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!" Till that time, fight on.