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Again : how full of interest are the biographical sketches of individuals distinguished for piety and every amiable and lovely trait of character ; such, particularly, as those of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, David, and a host of others, “of whom the world was not worthy." Sacred biography opens a storehouse of knowledge of pre-eminent utility, to such as love to examine the characteristics of the great and the good of past ages, who shone as lights in a dark world.
How vitally important is the subject of experimental piety as exhibited both in the old and new testaments. How clearly and forcibly inculcated is the necessity of spiritual renovation and divine illumination. The subject of special divine influence, in order to the removal of the sinful heart of man, holds a prominent place under every dispensation of the covenant of grace, so that according to explicit declarations of inspired penmen, no one of the race of Adam, either young or old, has ever entered, or will ever enter the kingdom of God without being “ born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” It is the language of the unerring Teacher, “ Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again."
It is another important branch of ministerial duty, to impart doctrinal instruction.
St. Paul was able to testify in the utmost sincerity of his soul, that he had not shunned to declare all the counsel of God." The phraseology employed in this passage, seems intended to denote the evangelical views of this distinguished champion of the cross. This language, however, is substantially the same as is adopted by other inspired writers. The word “counsel" may be intended to designate the prominent characteristics of the scheme or system of doctrines which the Apostle exhibited, viz: such a system as would exalt the moral governor of the world, as would show on what his holy administration was based, as would manifest the stability of his government, as would demonstrate the fact, that all things would ultimately ensue in the advancement of God's glory, and the highest felicity of his blessed kingdom. Now what scheme of religion, what system of doctrines has such bearings, and may be considered as leading
issue to such auspicious results ? Certainly no scheme, the prominent characteristics of which, are different from those exhibited by the Apostle Paul. All who peruse his epistles must be aware that they abound in doctrinal discussion. He lays down certain principles as a foundation on which to erect the superstructure durable as the throne of heaven.
The being and unity of God, and the divinity of persons in the Godhead exhibited together with natural and moral perfections of this Triune Jehovah, and the various displays of his essential and incommunicable attributes in the works of creation, providence and redemption. And it accords with explicit representations of the inspired penman, that all those displays are made according to a settled plan, devised and established in the councils of eternity. The following passages are selected and subjoined, as a specimen, to show what are the obvious decisions of inspiration upon the point before us. Psalm xxxiii. 11: " The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” Isaiah xlvi. 9, 10: “I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Proy. xix. 21 : “ The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”. Ephesians i. 11: "Being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Romans xi. 34-36: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor ? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, to whom be glory forever : Amen."
The Apostle affirms in the text--" I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God,” How clearly is the fact recognized in these passages that God ever acts from system, design or a settled plan. And how plainly is it a prime object with the inspired writers, to exhibit the character of God in this light, and to show that he is in deed at the head of creation, acting from motives originating in his own mind, “ working all things after the counsel of his own will.”
In the development of the divine plan, the various doctrines,
institutions and duties of revealed religion are stated as being constituent parts of a system devised by infinite wisdom and goodness, and in all respects worthy of the author and finisher of our faith. The plan of government adopted by Almighty God, will, in its operations, afford the most illustrious display of his own character, and bring into existence the highest possible felicity of his holy and blessed kingdom. We are led to this result from the following among other considerations.
The whole human race being utterly devoid of holiness, and totally depraved, must have eternally perished without an atonement, and such an atonement as was made by the Son of God, divinity and humanity being mysteriously united in the complex person of “the great God our Saviour.” Such is the opposition and enmity of the natural heart to holiness, that none will ever be saved without the direct renewal of the heart by the Holy Spirit. All who are ever saved were given to Christ in the covenant of redemption ; and the subjects of renovating mercy will, without a single exception, be " kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” The present is man's only state of probation, and the awards of the great day of retribution will be final. " These saith the judge, shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”
Another part of the message to be announced embraces the practical duties of religion.
This should be clearly unfolded to the understandings of men, and pressed upon their hearts and consciences by the combined weight of all such motives as are sanctioned by the authority of the law, and the provisions and disclosures of the gospel. No part of the evangelical system that has been adverted to, sets aside, or is in any sense hostile to personal obligations and responsibility. The claims of heaven are in the highest sense obligatory upon men, and upon
all God is as worthy of being loved and obeyed, as though no apostacy had occurred, and he treats as moral and accountable beings, such as have apostatized. In the claims he urges, and in the overtures he makes, there is nothing that bears the semblance of any thing to operate as an infringement upon the requisite powers of moral agency. The Most High displays and vindicates the preroga
tives of a righteous moral governor, in his treatment of both the righteous and the wicked. The friends of Christ exhorted to " work out their own salvation with fear and trembling;" as “it is God who worketh in them to will and to do of his good pleasure;" and to be “steadfast and unmoveable always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
Sinners are required by the authority of Zion's King to exercise repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, to flee from the wrath to come, and lay hold on eternal life; to strive to enter in at the straight gate, assured that many
will seek to enter in and shall not be able. And such are uniformly represented in the word of God, as inexcusably criminal and guilty, while they heed the infatuated counsels of the carnal mind, and spend the precious season allotted them to prepare for life eternal, in “ treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Then what the minister of Christ is required to announce is, “ all the counsel of God.''
This leads to the
II. Second topic of inquiry proposed, which is to show why the announcement of such a message is requisite on his part. This may be seen to be requisite,
1. From the nature and extent of his commission. He derives all his authority and binding instructions from the King of Zion. When the ascending Redeemer commissioned his disciples to go into all the world, it was to preach the gospel to every creature. What was enjoined upon an ancient prophet, is now as explicitly enjoined upon every one set for the defence of the gospel. "Preach the preaching that I bid thee." If any man speak," says an apostle, “ let him speak as the oracles of God.”' “ The prophet,” saith Jeremiah, “ that hath a dream let him tell
a dream; he that hath my word, let him speak my word faith+ fully; what is the chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord.” Such as
are intrusted with the ministry of reconciliation are employed as ambassadors from the court of Heaven, to negotiate a treaty of peace and reconciliation, with revolted subjects in this province of Jehovah's empire. And they are thus to disclose their testimonials, and announce their message.
66 We then are am
bassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray:you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.”—2 Cor. v. 20. They may not transcend the limits of their commission, or the obvious import of their instructions, nor keep back any part, however offensive that part may be, to proud worms of the dust; nor have they any license to mingle philosophical theories and speculations with what is guarded and sanctioned by a “thus saith the Lord.” Hence this language of caution uttered by an apostle, and couched in language most pointed and decisive in Col. ii. 8: “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of man, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
2. There is an intimate connection, and a beautiful symmetry between the doctrines of Scripture, or the several parts of revealed truth.
This is strikingly obvious in respect to what are usually distinguished as the doctrines of the reformation, or the doctrines of grace. All of discriminating views must perceive, that they will stand or fall together. That doctrine which elevates Jehovah to the throne of the universe, shows the stability and perpetuity of his government, that events, whether in the natural, or moral, or political world, do not take place by chance, or at random; but that all, without the possibility of failure, or of a contrary result, be controlled and overruled to subserve purposes of the highest utility, under the divine administration.
But on the other hand, a denial of the doctrine of God's absolute supremacy will inevitably lead to the conclusion that God may yet be thwarted in his designs, however benevolent; yea, that he may be infinitely disappointed in the final issue of events. If there be no fixed plan or system on the part of the Deity, no mortal can form even a probable conjecture as to the ultimate issue of things under his moral and providential government. So dark and confused are many occurrences, so intricate and perplexing the tenor of many providential dispensations, that without an unqualified admission of the fact that the Most High “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will—that he is able to bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, and order out of confusion, to make the wrath of man praise him, and