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Christianity, distinguishing it from all other religions. "1. That the knowledge of Christ Jesus, the doctrine of God's grace, is the means of turning our souls to God, and of cleansing us from our filthiness and our idols. And then, 2. That though that doctrine be an excellent means of turning us to God; that it is but a means, that it is but an instrument; the efficacy of it depends upon the manifestation of the power of God, that exceeding greatness of power that raises souls from the dead." Both these principles are brought before us, when we are told that the first Christian teachers went to Antioch preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord. Acts xi, 20, 21. This teaches us a most important practical lesson as to what we should expect and desire in hearing. Let us not attend a public ministry from curiosity, custom, love to a favourite preacher, or the mere alarms of conscience; but let us go in obedience to the will of God, hoping to obtain conversion if unconverted, and growth in grace if we have obtained mercy: in short, expecting to receive divine succour and strength in the way of God's appointment. O Christian reader, if you would derive profit in hearing, we beseech you mainly to look for God's help and blessing! No preacher in the world can do you good without God's special grace. While you go to hear, say with the Psalmist, Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. We are ever too forgetful of Him, from whom every good comes. We, poor and insufficient creatures, form a sad estimate of the need and value of his grace. Let us then, if we really desire spiritual blessings, look more to the Lord, the Spirit, and come to the Christian assembly, hear while in that assembly, and return
from it, in the spirit of prayer. Thus hearing the sermons, though poor in themselves, will be blessed to our spiritual and eternal good.
Thus they of old received the Holy Spirit. Cornelius is directed to send for Peter, who preaches the Gospel to him and those with him; and while Peter was speaking, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. The Apostle Paul appeals to the Galatians, This only would I learn of you; received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Wisdom is described as calling men from sin and ignorance, saying, Turn you at my reproof; behold, I will pour out my Spirit upon you, I will make known my words unto you. God honours the ministry of the word, and the doctrines of salvation, by making them the appointed means of communicating his grace, the very channel through which the waters of life flow down to us.
But do you question whether you may now hope to receive this gift, or ask whether it is still bestowed? We reply, God has declared that he will give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him. He has graciously promised, It shall come to pass in the last days, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh, a promise belonging to the whole period of the Christian Dispensation, and embracing in the comprehensive terms, all flesh, the whole human race, as St. Peter tells the Jews; the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Do you allege your unworthiness? Remember that the blessing is BESTOWED FREELY. True it is, it cost our Saviour much. He shed his most precious blood, rose from the dead, and ascended on high, that he might receive this gift for the rebellious also. Ps. lxviii,
18. But we obtain it most freely. The very expressiou, I will pour out of my Spirit, shews how freely it is given to us, even as freely as the clouds pour out the rain that refreshes and fructifies the earth. As free as the light of heaven, as free as the air we breathe, as free as the water we drink, so freely is this gift granted to all that seek. The invitation of Christ, with reference to this very gift, is, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.
Do you still doubt whether you are included? Remember that THERE IS NO RESTRICTION IN THE PROMISE. No blessing is more unreservedly, and unrestrictedly, more expressly and decidedly promised, than the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord appeals to the universal, and the strongest feelings of mankind, the love of parents to their children, and then adds, How much more shall your Heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him. The promise
includes, as we have just said, all flesh. Acts ii, 17. None need shut themselves out from so great a benefit. It belongs to the old; Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. It belongs to the young; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. High and low, rich and poor, converted and unconverted, all need, and all may be benefited by the communications of this divine gift.
Would you then, Christian reader, largely receive this divine assistance? use the means of grace only as the means, and not the end. Be much in reading the Holy Scriptures, and give a diligent attendance to the preaching of the Gospel, still looking upward for that divine unction by which these means shall be made a real blessing. Remember too, that this Holy Spirit, like his emblem, the tender dove, is easily driven away.
Grieve him not by the indulgence of a worldly and carnal temper; quench not his light by any impure and sinful passions. Resist not, provoke not this blessed Comforter. But walk in the Spirit, and mind the things of the Spirit; for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
This doctrine is peculiar to revealed religion, and it is of daily and constant use. It teaches us man's utter insufficiency, and God's fulness, and all-sufficiency. Let it lead us to the life of faith and love; to a simple dependance on divine strength, given through a crucified Lord, to a constant application to him for the supply of all our need, and to fervent prayers for the outpouring of the Spirit on the whole world.
This chapter cannot be concluded more suitably, than with the prayer of the Martyr Ridley,-“ O heavenly Father, the author and fountain of all truth, the bottomless sea of all understanding; send down, we beseech thee, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, and lighten our understandings with the beams of thy heavenly grace. We ask this, O merciful Father, not in respect of our deserts, but for thy dear Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
The relative Situations and respective Duties of Ministers and of People.
THE New Testament makes it sufficiently clear, that from the beginning of the Gospel, there has ever been a peculiar body of men set apart for the instruction and edification of the church. The twelve apostles were first appointed, and the foundation of the christian ministry is the direction to them---Go ye, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; leaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matt. xxviii, 19, 20. The apostles went forth and preached every where; and, as the work grew and extended, they appointed others, with directions to ordain fresh teachers, as the church was enlarged. St. Paul says to Titus, For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city as I had appointed thee: (Titus i, 5.) and he tells Timothy,-The things which thou hast heard of me, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. 2 Tim. ii, 2.
The necessity of this appointment for the salvation of men is strongly put by the apostle when shewing the connection of prayer with our salvation; he asks, How shall they call on him in whom they have not