The Complaints of an Unsuccessful Ministry
A Sermon Preached to the Ministers and Messengers of Several Churches, in the West of England, Met together in Association, At Bratton, in the County of Wilts, June 9, 1752.
By Joseph Stennett
Published at the Unanimous Request of the Assembly.
The Second Edition.
To the Reverend Ministers, and the Messengers of the Churches, in the Western Association.
Honoured, and Beloved Brethren,
The length of the following discourse would have forbidden this addition to it, had not I found myself under some necessity to apologize for the delay of its publication. And this, upon a review of it, has, indeed, been chiefly owing to a conviction, that, however well it was designed, it deserves not that good opinion you have formed of it. The renewal of your request has, however, obliged me to submit it to your direction.
The subject is copious, as it is important. And as but few of the plainer sort of Christians have the opportunity of perusing, and considering the larger and more elaborate treatises in defence of Christianity; possibly, with your recommendation, what is here set before them, in a plain dress, and a narrow compass, may be of some use, to establish their faith, in these bad times.
I am sure you are convinced, that the present circumstances of religion call upon all good men to maintain the most public, explicit, and united testimony, not only for its truth in general, but for its fundamental articles in particular; since it is easy to see, that the artful, and gradual increase of the opposition, which has, of late years, been made to the Deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, with the great concerns which both these Divine Persons have in our salvation, has paved the way for the very threatening advances, which infidelity has made among us.
May no bad example, no temptation whatsoever prevail on you to lessen your regard to these important doctrines, to that holiness, which is the genuine fruit of true faith in them, to the maintenance of regular discipline in the churches, and the increase of Christian charity,--the great and good ends for which this association was at first formed, and ends which, by your united prayers, and counsels, on these occasions, have been hitherto happily promoted.
If what is attempted in this discourse may, in any measure, subserve these very valuable purposes, it will afford the truest pleasure to
Your very affectionate Brother,
in the Gospel of Christ,
Charterhouse Square. London, Aug. 20, 1753
Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
Among all the inspired writers of the old testament, no one was favoured with more explicit and evangelical revelations, concerning the character and the sufferings of the Messiah, as well as the great salvation he has wrought out, than the prophet Isaiah: and of all his evangelical discourses, the context affords us one of the most remarkable;--a prophecy which, by its exact accomplishment, has given such divine testimony to both dispensations, that, one would think, a little attention to it should put the most resolute infidelity out of countenance; and that a believer of the gospel might even venture the whole argument on this single evidence. But (blessed be God) of Jesus and his salvation give all the prophets witness, every since the world began (Acts x.43).
He that run may read , (ch. iii. 23) in this chapter a summary description of the humiliation, and exalted circumstances of our Lord; and whoever well considers the several parts of it, will find a very plain, and methodical account of his incarnation, miraculous birth, the humble appearance he made in the world, the cruel treatment he met with from men, and the various, and most pungent sufferings he underwent, together with the unparalleled patience and fortitude with which he bore them; he will find an account of his arraignment, of his death, and even the particulars of his burial. And as the grand design of all was the security and advancement of the glory of the divine perfections, the honour of God’s law, the making an end of the sins of his people by a proper atonement, and the bringing in an everlasting righteousness (Dan ix. 24); so this wonderful scheme is, in great variety of expression, displayed through the whole. Thus our Saviour is represented as having born our griefs, and carried our sorrows; it is said of him, that he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; that the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed (v. 5); that the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all (v. 6); that for the transgression of the people he was stricken (v. 8); that though he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth, yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, to put him to grief, and to make his soul an offering for sin (v. 9-10); and that thus this righteous servant of God, having poured out his soul unto death, and been numbered with the transgressors should justify many, for he should bear their iniquities (v. 11-12). To which the prophet adds a short, but very expressive account of our Lord’s exaltation and reward, in his resurrection from the dead, his appearance before the throne, and the success of his advocacy there, together with his triumphant victories here below;--that he should see his seed, that he should prolong his days, that the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hand and that he should see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied; and moreover, that God would divide him a portion with the great, and he should divide the spoil with the strong, and make intercession for many (v. 10-12).
That these things can with no propriety be applied to any person but the Messiah is so evident, that the Chaldee paraphrast (Jonathan Ben Uzziel composed this Targum before the time of our Lord, and this as well as that of Onkelos is held by the Jews of equal authority with the sacred text) and many of the earlier Jewish doctors understood this prophecy of him: and that passage in the 13th verse of the foregoing chapter, where it is said, Behold my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high, is thus explained by one of their ancient expositors: "This," says he, "is the King Messias, he shall be exalted above Abraham, extolled above Moses, and above the angels." The later Jews indeed, perceiving the absurd consequence of allowing such an exposition of this prophecy, and yet rejecting Christianity, have endeavoured to overthrow the opinion of their wiser fathers; and have, some of them, attempted to apply it to the Jewish church, others to particular eminent persons under that dispensation, such as Abraham, Moses, Josiah, Ezra, Zorobabel, and especially to Jeremiah; but with no appearance of propriety to either of them. As this nation was so deeply concerned in the execution of the cruel things on our Lord Jesus Christ, which are recorded in this prophecy, and as they still continue their avowed opposition to his mission and doctrine, it is a matter easy to be accounted for, that they endeavour, though it be by an exposition ever so unnatural, to explain it away. But it is very extraordinary that any one should be found among Christian divines, and one of great parts and learning too, who has employed his eminent talents to the same dangerous purpose, by torturing this whole context, in order to apply it to the prophet Jeremiah; and this, though he could not possibly be ignorant, that almost every verse of this prophecy is applied to our Saviour, in the new testament. Thus the evangelist John, speaking of the Jews, says, Though our Lord had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Isaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake; Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed (John xii. 37, 38). And the apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, says of them, They have not all obeyed the gospel, for Isaias saith, Lord who hath believed our report (Chap. x. 16)? And again, when Philip joined himself to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch, you know, he was reading a passage in this prophecy, and having asked Philip of whom the prophet spoke, of himself, or some other man, it is said, Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus (Acts viii. 30-35).
The three last verses of the foregoing chapter were very inconsiderately separated from this; for the prophecy evidently begins at the 13th verse of that chapter, where the Lord says, Behold my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee, (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men) so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him; for that which had not been told them, shall they see; and that which they had not heard, shall they consider. And thus, the character and sufferings of our Saviour, having been represented in a general manner, together with the design of his coming, and the nature and importance of his doctrine, the prophet breaks out with astonishment, in the words of my text, that so few should receive him by faith, or embrace the tenders of salvation in his gospel: Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
These words you see contain two questions, complaining of the paucity of those who give suitable credit to the report of the gospel, on the one hand; and unto whom Jesus Christ is, by the power of God, effectually revealed on the other.
This form of the complaint, by way of interrogation, is not only very elegant, but carries in it the strongest representation of the fewness of their number of whom the prophet speaks. Who hath believed our report? "Who," as if he had said, "have believed it, under this dispensation? Or who will believe it, under the fuller evidence of that which is to come/ who among the Jews? or who among the Gentiles? who of either sex, of any age, or degree? Who among the great, the wise, and the prudent, or among the mean, the ignorant, and the weak, have embraced these happy tidings, or will by faith receive them; when compared with the innumerable multitudes who boldly go on in rebellion and unbelief, and make haste to eternal ruin, in the utter contempt of this salvation; or pacify their consciences with a formal profession of its doctrines, without a practical subjection to its precepts?"
And then it is added, To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? By the arm of the Lord we may understand the divine counsel, according to that passage in the Acts of the apostles, where the people are said to be gathered together, to do whatsoever the hand of the Lord and his counsel determined before to be done (Chap. iv. 28); or it may refer to the attribute of power, which is often thus represented (Acts iv. 21, Exod. vi 6, Jer. xxvii. 5, Acts xiii. 7, etc.); or to the operations of the holy Spirit of God, by which the gospel becomes the power of God unto salvation (Rom. i. 16, I Cor. i. 18): For, says the apostle Paul, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds (2 Cor. x. 4). And what was performed by the gospel of old, in a miraculous way, is said to be in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor. ii. 4). If by the arm of the Lord you understand either of these, it will come to the same thing. But it seems to me to be most justly interpreted of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, because this best agrees with the words immediately following the text. He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground, &c. (Ver. 2). And we know our blessed Saviour has most eminently displayed this, as well as the other attributes of his divine Father, that he is himself omnipotent, and is called, by the apostle Paul, the power, as well as the wisdom of God (Chap. i. 24).
Revealing the divine arm alludes to a man’s making bare his arm, in order to the performance of some powerful and important work. So says this prophet, in another place, The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Isai. liii. 10). Thus Christ and his gospel being hid from the wise and prudent, are revealed unto babes (Matth. xi. 25). And thus, in his personal character, and mediatorial undertaking, he is most powerfully revealed by the work of conversion in the soul. And both these must go together. He that evangelically believes the report, must have the divine arm revealed to him, and pass under the effectual influence of it; agreeable with that passage of the apostle Paul to the Philippians—Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Chap. ii. 12, 13).
If we inquire by whom these questions are put; we should understand them, as containing the concurrent complaints of all the faithful ministers of the gospel. The obstinate incredulity of mankind was the burden of the ancient patriarchs, of Noah and of Lot, of the great lawgiver of Israel, and of the man after God’s own heart; and not only of Isaiah himself, who utters this lamentation, but of all the rest of the prophets. But I think we are chiefly to understand the words in a prophetical view of the opposition and neglect the gospel should meet with, at its publication under the new testament, of which our Saviour himself complains in so pathetic a manner, when he reproaches the cities where he had often preached, and confirmed his doctrine by many miracles: --Woe unto thee Charazin, woe unto thee Bethsaida: for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matth. xi. 21, 22). And to the same purpose, how moving is his expostulation with Jerusalem itself? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under wings, but ye would not (Matt. xxiii. 37)! This was the frequent complaint of the apostles, and so it has been of the ministers of Christ in every age of the church. And perhaps there was never more occasion for it, than in our own times.
If it be inquired to whom this mournful complaint is addressed; no doubt it is intended to carry in it all the force of an expostulation with inattentive and unbelieving hearers. For thus the same prophet is represented by the apostle Paul, as speaking to Israel, All day long have I stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people (Rom. x. 21, Isai. xlix. 4). And as the prophets mourned in secret for the obstinacy, unbelief, and disobedience of the people; so these words express the affliction, that few feel in so pungent a manner, as those, who knowing the terrors of the Lord, and having received a true taste of the grace of the gospel themselves, persuade men; and yet find those terrors despised, and that grace rejected. This grievous reflection often loads their breasts with secret sighs, and extorts from them, in their retirements, many a mournful soliloquy of this kind. And it is in this manner they complain to one another, and frequently mix their tears with those of their fellow-labourers in the same work, and other friends of Christ, and of immortal souls. But here the words chiefly represent the complaint they make to heaven; for as it is from thence they have their commission, and from thence they expect their success, so they very properly lay their sorrowful disappointments at the divine feet. Thus the Septuagint translation renders this passage, and thus the apostle Paul repeats it: For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
In treating on these words, I shall,
I. Inquire a little into the nature of this report, and why the gospel is so called;
II. What propriety the ministers of Christ have in it, and why it is called theirs;
III. What it is to believe it;
IV. How worthy it is of religious regard, and credit; and
V. Since it has met with, comparatively, but little success, I shall inquire into the reasons of this. And from hence,
VI. It will appear, what just occasion those, especially, who are concerned in making this report, have to wonder and expostulate, to lament and complain. And,
I. Then, I proposed to inquire into the nature of this report, and why the gospel is so called.
All divine revelation indeed comes under this character. Not that it is calculated to gratify the vain curiosity of the foolish, bold, and roving minds of sinful men; but, if it be duly considered, with relation to its author, its evidence, its various parts, and its design, together with the character and circumstances of those to whom it is sent, it will certainly appear to contain everything of the most important and interesting kind to the souls of men; everything of a religious nature, that may satisfy the reasonable expectations of the most inquisitive; and everything becoming the wisdom and goodness of the divine Being to reveal. And thus it is a perfect revelation. As we find ourselves rational creatures, what could be more becoming the attributes of God to acquaint us with, or what more useful for us to inquire after, than the nature and perfections of his Being, and the rights of his government?—what more worthy of himself, or more important to us, than an information into our own original, our relation to him, and the condition of our nature as it came out of his hands?—what more needful to be revealed to us, than the reasons of that ignorance and alienation from our great Creator and Governour, and that propensity, which our consciences too sadly testify we have to that which is evil; the true origin of the various and innumerable afflictions, to which we are subject in this life; the necessity of death, as well as those terrors which attend the apprehensions of its approach, and an entrance into our future and eternal condition? These inquiries are not only abundantly provided for in the sacred scriptures, but, what is yet of infinitely more importance, we have there a most astonishing, and yet clear, and well supported discovery, of the great design and method of our restoration to the divine favour, and to everlasting happiness, by our Lord Jesus Christ. That these good tidings of salvation are chiefly intended, in the passage under our consideration, as they are to be found in the prophecies of the old testament, and in the evangelical report of the new, will evidently appear from the context. The original word includes the idea of hearing, and is sometimes rendered doctrine; and it is therefore very properly used in this place to represent this report, which is the revelation that the prophets and apostles received, on the fullest evidence, and which they faithfully instructed the people into (Acts iii, 21); as the apostle John expresses it, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life, declare we unto you (I John i. 1,3). It is that which was thus revealed from heaven, published by Christ himself, and delivered by holy men, under the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God; that which stands recorded in the sacred and unerring volumes of the scriptures, and from thence is daily reported in the ministration of the gospel. Which leads me,
II. To inquire more particularly whose this report is, what propriety the ministers of Christ have in it, and why it is called theirs. —Who hath believed our report?
And whether this be confined to inspired men, who appeared in the character of prophets, under the old testament, and of apostles under the new, or be considered as the more general ministration of the faithful preachers of the gospel in every age,
1. It is not called theirs, in order to represent it as the discovery of mere human powers, though in the most exalted condition to which they have been capable of arising, since the fall. For whatever remains of capacity, to answer the purposes of God’s glory, the carrying on the designs of his providence, and the welfare of society, may be connected with our nature, under the sad defection in which we find it; yet reason and experience abundantly confirm, what the whole current of divine revelation testifies, that the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Where is the wise? Where is the Scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? —for the world by wisdom knew not God. And the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (Rom. viii. 7, I Cor. i. 20-21, 2 Cor. ii. 14). If it had been otherwise, then, undoubtedly, the men of the greatest natural and acquired abilities would have been constantly employed in this work; whereas, for the manifestation of the infinite wisdom and power of God, the contrary of this very often appears: insomuch that the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise—that no flesh should glory in his presence (I Cor. i. 26-29).
2. Much less is it called their report, as if it were invented or contrived by them. The variety of religious schemes among the heathens were indeed the product of the policy of their lawgivers, the craft of their priests, or the imagination of their poets: and the extreme absurdity and folly which appear in them all, abundantly testify the judicial infatuation which men are left to, when they dare venture to usurp this peculiar prerogative of the divine Being. This is fully evident also in the inventions and traditions, which were, with so much justice and severity, condemned by our Saviour in the Scribes and Pharisees. And we abundantly behold it in the monstrous, and idolatrous doctrines, and superstitions of the church of Rome: and it were to be wished there were less appearance of any thing of this kind in other churches. No—the religion of the Bible is not a human contrivance, but is all of divine original. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the holy Ghost (2 Pet. I. 21). And therefore, says the apostle Peter, We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power, and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty (Ver. 16). And so the great apostle of the Gentiles, speaking of one of the ordinances of the new testament, says, --What I received of the Lord, that deliver I unto you (I Cor. xi. 23). Thus it is God’s message, and the report of his ministers; and it can be no further esteemed true, than it is strictly agreeable with the instructions which they have received from him. Again,
3. It is not so their report, as to be at their disposal, to deliver it only when, where, and to whom they please. The commission of the prophets, under the legal dispensation, was indeed often confined, though then it was subject to the immediate direction of God himself; but it is the peculiar glory of the gospel, that is great Founder has commanded the ministers of it to publish it, in season and out of season (2 Tim. iv. 2), and, as they have opportunity, to go, and teach all nations (Matth. xxviii. 19), and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark xvi. 15). The manner of this also is under special regulations in the new testament; and the opportunities of it under the peculiar direction of divine providence.
4. Nor is it so theirs, as that the success of it should be in their power. No, they have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of them (2 Cor. iv. 7); and, though Paul had planted, and Apollos watered, it is God only that giveth the increase (1 Cor. iii. 6).
But the gospel may be very properly called the report of the ministers of it,
1.) As they themselves are supposed to be convinced of its truth and authority, its excellency and importance; to have embraced the salvation it proposes by a living faith, and as the fruit of it, to have the disposition of their minds, as well as their external behaviour, under the influence of its sacred government. And then they are supposed to speak from knowledge and experience. Men that have had no true taste of divine things, nor have felt any of this influence upon their own hearts and lives, may report the faith and experience of others, but it is not their own report. This indeed is a dreadful, but I fear too common a case in our times: and as one can scarce conceive of persons in a more scandalous and dangerous situation, among the professors of Christianity; so the frequency of this wicked and adventurous undertaking, has done more injury to real religion, than can be easily imagined. And such men would do well to consider, that, whatever secular advantages they may hereby obtain, it is reasonable to conclude, that their fearful retribution hereafter will be in proportion to the mischief they have done. But those who may venture to call the gospel their report are such, who, having been found faithful, are enabled by Christ Jesus, and put into the ministry (1 Tim. I.12); such who having themselves known the terrors of the Lord, persuade others (2 Cor. v.11) The doctrines they have sincerely believed, and the things which they have effectually experienced, they report to the people: and like Caleb and Joshua, they say to them, The land we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land—a land flowing with milk and honey (Numb. xiv. 7).
2. It is their report, as a strict and industrious inquiry into the subject matter of it, and a faithful discovery of the result of this inquiry, is the peculiar business of their lives. It is by prayer, study, and meditation they inquire, and by their public ministrations they report. And though it is indeed the most important concern of all men, yet it is more professedly theirs, in behalf of the salvation of the souls of others, as well as their own.
3. It may be called so, as they are principally, and in a special manner appointed, and employed by the church of God in this great and important business. To this purpose they are chosen, and set apart (Acts i.23, Chap xiv. 23): and for this end they are, or ought to be freed from the anxious cares and business of this world (2 Tim. ii. 4), and honourably supported and encouraged, by those, in whose spiritual service they are engaged (1 Cor. chap. ix). But,
4. What I think is chiefly intended, and which gives the greatest confirmation, and dignity both to their character, and their report, is, that they have received a divine commission to deliver the pleasure of the Lord to mankind. Thus the apostle Paul magnifies his office, when he insists, that the people should account of those that sustain it, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God (chap. iv. I), as dispensers of the gospel, the word of reconciliation which is committed to them (2 Cor. v. 19). I proceed,
III. To enquire what it is to believe this report. And,
1. This undoubtedly includes the illumination of the understanding, and such a rational and spiritual acquaintance with its meaning and design, its nature and importance, as will be the proper effect of the revelation of the divine arm. The Lord opens the eyes of them that believe, that they may behold wondrous things out of his law (Psal. cxix. 18). And thus the prophets foretold, that our blessed Saviour should be a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house; that he might be God’s salvation unto the end of the earth (Isai. xlii. 6,7. Chap. xlix. 6). And Christ himself says, that what his Father has hid from the wise and prudent, he has revealed unto babes;--neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him (Matth. xi. 25, 27); for unto some it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to others it is not given (chap. xiii 11, 13). A faith founded in ignorance is no true faith; and yet all natural knowledge is insufficient to it. It is said of Christ when he was risen, that he opened the understanding of his disciples, that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke xxiv. 45). And thus, as he is the true light, and his people know of his doctrine (John I, 9. Chap. vii, 17); so God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in their hearts, to give them the light of the knowledge of his glory, in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. iv. 6). He hath given them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, in the knowledge of him: that the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, they might know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power towards them that believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. I. 17-20).
2. To believe this report is to give full credit to the truth of it. It is not only to entertain speculative notions about it, or faint suppositions of its possible reality; but, from full conviction, to entertain it as unquestionable truth. Or, as John the Baptist says concerning faith in Jesus Christ, He that hath received his testimony, hath set to his seal, that God is true (John iii. 33). And, as the author to the Hebrews explains its nature, when he calls it the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen (Heb. xi. 1). And thus,
3. A believer, having a proper acquaintance with the nature and design of the gospel, and an effectual conviction of the truth of it, most joyfully accepts its proposals; and like those primitive confessors, at the first sermon of Peter, after our Lord’s ascension, gladly receives the word (Acts ii. 41), and becomes obedient to the heavenly call (ch. xxvi. 19). Thus true converts are represented as looking to Jesus for salvation (Heb. xii. 2); coming to him, as to the living stone (1 Pet. Ii. 4); flying to him for refuge (Heb. vi. 18); saying, To whom shall we go but unto thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life (John vi. 68). And then,
4. They that truly believe this report, entirely rely on the principal subject of it for salvation. Being fully convinced by the sacred Scriptures, that our Lord Jesus Christ, in the transactions of the everlasting covenant, and as considered in his great characters, his undertaking, and the execution of his offices, is the sure, and the only foundation of a Christian’s hope (1 Cor. iii. 11), and that there is no other name given under heaven, whereby we can be saved (Acts iv. 12)—that the great, and astonishing design is effected by an imputative exchange; and that Christ was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. v. 21); and being sensible that this could be provided for, and effected by none, but one possessed of his infinite abilities; in this view, I say, they rest their entire confidence in him, and trust alone to his atonement and sacrifice, his imputed righteousness and powerful intercession, for justification and acceptance with God. And this dependence furnishes them with all the true peace and hope they enjoy, with respect to a future state. Again,
5. True believers sincerely, and universally obey the precepts of this report. Though they are fully convinced that the merit of their salvation absolutely and entirely depends, as I have said, on the satisfaction and obedience of Christ; yet, that very faith, by which the report of this Saviour himself, with all his salvation, is apprehended, and applied, is of a renewing and sanctifying nature. And, as without it, it is impossible to please God (Heb. xi. 6); so faith, with the most pompous pretensions and appearances, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James ii. 17). For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but that faith which worketh by love (Gal. V. 6), and bringeth forth the genuine fruits of obedience: nor can any man be saved without these fruits, nor without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. xii. 14). And thus, as the apostle James expresses it, by works is faith made perfect (Jam. Ii. 22). But this leads me,
IV. To inquire how worthy this report is of religious regard and credit.
And what is it one would wish to find in a revelation that should engage the attention of the whole world, and silence every objection I the minds of men prone to unbelief? I say, what kind of a report from heaven would one, in this case, wish for? But such an one, as, from the united characters of those who publish it, should be without exception:--That providential care should be taken, that the publication of it should be of an extent suited to its nature and importance;--that both its external and internal evidence should be complete;--that it should in all respects be agreeable to the glorious attributes of the divine Being;--and that it should convey tidings of the most interesting concernment to the welfare of mankind. And if so, methinks, a little attention should convince us that all these characters appear, very evidently, in the blessed report under our consideration. For,
1. It must be acknowledged that no other book has brought with it any tolerable proof of a divine original, much less such complete evidence as the Bible has to support it. So that, if this revelation be not from heaven, we have none from thence. And how inconsistent musts this be with the character of the great and good God, who has implanted in the hearts of all mankind, more or less, a sense of the need of such a revelation, and strong desires after it? But,
2. If we consider its external evidence,
1.) Its truth and authority have been supported by those, whose witness ought to be esteemed as of the greatest weight. God himself has sometimes condescended to give his immediate testimony to it. The Father has done it several times from heaven; the Son, especially by his ministry when upon earth; and it has been the constant work of the divine Spirit, not only by his miraculous influence on the messengers appointed of old, and his cooperation with them, buy by his presence with his faithful ministers and people, according to the promise of Christ, ever since. Angels have been sometimes employed on this embassy. They frequently instructed the patriarchs; the law was given by their ministration; they attended the birth, the life, and labours of our blessed Lord, they waited upon him at his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven; they assisted and comforted his apostles; and they are still ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them, who shall be heirs of salvation (Heb i. 14). Holy men were employed under the old testament in the character of prophets, and in the first age of the Christian dispensation under that of apostles: the truth of their testimony was supported by the accomplishment of their prophecies, and the working of most unquestionable and astonishing miracles, as well as the seal of the blood of multitudes. And it has been so ordered by providence, that a succession of faithful men have been, in all ages, appointed to continue this report, and to defend its divine original; which they have been enabled to do, with such evidence, as has hitherto triumphed over all the malicious arts of Satan, and the policy and power of its ungrateful and desperate opposers, among men. It must also be acknowledged that the private witnesses to it, in all generations, have been without number; who, from the rational conviction they have received of its verity, from the effects they have felt of its power, in the happy influence it has had on the temper of their minds, and by the simplicity and regularity of their conversations, have confirmed it. And, making reasonable allowance for the too great number of those, who, in this imperfect state of things, will always be found to disgrace so holy a profession, it will be acknowledged, by those who judge impartially, that, considering the great self-denial which attends it, this adds no small weight to the general evidence. We are also not without witnesses to this report among the heathen historians, philosophers, and poets, as its apologists have frequently observed. And I will venture to say, that the testimony which divine revelation has often received from the worst of men, is of no small consideration in this case. For, their witness they have many of them been obliged to give to this report, and that too, as those of us who have been used to attend sick beds have frequently observed, at a time, when they might be supposed to be least capable of deceiving themselves, or other men. And, very often, the nearer they have approached to the awful account they had to render to God, of the contempt they had, in time past, shewn to this report, the more they have feared its dreadful consequences: and though, in health and vigour, they have derided the faith and hope of good men, and absolutely refused a conformity to the revealed will of God in their lives, yet, in their last moments, many of them have been ready to cry out with Balaam, O that I might die the death of the righteous, and that my last end might be like his (Numb. xxiii. 10)! Again,
2.) The antiquity, and extent of the publication of this report have been suited to its nature, and importance. It was revealed by God himself to our first parents, immediately after their fall, and it was continued, in an extraordinary way, to others of the patriarchs, both before and after the flood; it was published by Moses, the great lawgiver, to the people of Israel, and afterwards by the prophets sent to them from time to time, and often to the neighboring nations. And the gospel, being, under the new testament, first most clearly preached by Christ and his immediate followers at Jerusalem, was, by the divine commission, and by the providential scattering of the disciples of our Lord, spread through the various nations under the Roman empire: it is still published; and, notwithstanding all the opposition it meets with, God has promised, and that promise must be made good, that the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of it, as the waters cover the sea (Isai. xi. 9, Hab. ii. 14). But,
3.) The admirable connection of the two dispensations, of the law and gospel, is a farther strong proof of the divine authority of both; especially when we consider the difference of their forms, and that they were published in such remote ages from one another, and by a variety of persons of very different circumstances, trained up under different modes of education, and various secular governments, customs, and manners. And this will more fully appear, if we reflect how necessary the history of the old testament was to the introduction of the new; that the main use of the ceremonial law was evidently, on the one hand, to typify the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the evangelical sanctification of his church, together with other glorious mysteries of the gospel, under the former dispensation; and, on the other, that those very rites were plainly intended to furnish us with the clearest explication of these mysteries, under the latter. Many prophesies also of the old testament manifestly refer to the Messiah, his mission, and salvation by him, and that in such innumerable circumstantial facts, as, after the laboured attempts of many able adversaries, cannot, without the utmost distortion, be understood in any other light. In one word, if to all this it be added, that our Saviour, and his apostles have abundantly established the dispensation of Moses, and the ministry of the prophets, and have even appealed to them, for the confirmation of Christianity, and that we find, upon the most critical examination, their doctrines most exactly harmonize; I say, when all these things are considered, how is it possible not to receive a conviction of the truth of the whole? Moreover,
4.) Revelation stands confirmed by innumerable, and well attested miracles.
Were one seriously and thoroughly to examine the astonishing facts of this sort, especially those which are recorded in the new testament, such as the healing of diseases impossible to be cured in a natural way, restoring limbs withered from the womb, giving ears to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and eyes to them who were born blind, feeding thousands at a time in desert places with a few loaves and fishes, nay raising persons from the dead, and this in the most public and incontestable manner; were one to consider that these facts were published soon over the whole world, and innumerable living witnesses were appealed to, who maintained their credit against all the art and power of the enemies of Christianity, notwithstanding their numbers, their subtilty, their watchfulness and malice; what resolution of unbelief should be capable of silencing the conviction?
But farther, if we consider, with any attention and impartiality, that grand fundamental proof of this sort, I mean our Saviour’s resurrection from the dead, what unanswerable evidence would it afford? Thus, if we were to enquire into the certainty and public manner of his death; if we were to consider the number of witnesses of his resurrection, one at one time, two at another, three at another, and seven at another; that he was seen several times by eleven, nay once by no less than five hundred; that many of them, at different times, conversed with him for forty days; that they eat and drank with him, that they felt his wounds, and saw him ascend up into heaven; that most of these witnesses appear to have been possessed of good natural understanding, were men of watchful observation, and who had very little faith themselves in the accomplishment of this strange fact, until it was accomplished; if these things were duly weighed, who could possibly believe that they should be all imposed upon; and that, to such a degree, as to be willing to give up their lives unto death for the confirmation of their testimony? And then, if they were not imposed upon, and yet the fact be not true, what follows, but that these witnesses were all confederates in the imposture? And who that reflects on their numbers, the simplicity of their education, and manners, and the evident incapacity of their qualifications for a design of this sort, can possibly imagine they invented, or practiced so unheard-of a fraud on the public, and this too at such a place as Jerusalem, and on the minds of so numerous, so wise, and so cautious a set of opponents? Nay, that all this should be attempted, when they could have no worldly profit or honour to hope for, from the attempt; but, on the other hand, the certain prospect of infamy, and ruin in this world, the distraction of a conscience always charging them with the most atrocious guilt, and a fearful expectation of the just and eternal vengeance of the God of truth, in the world to come? And farther, if it were an imposture, how strangely improbably must it be, that there should not be one found among these witnesses, who, under the most excruciating torments, and in the immediate views of death, should be brought to own the fraud, and discover the combination? Thus, if these things were duly considered, surely the proof given of this glorious miracle might well bear the weight of the whole argument, in defence of the divine report for which we are pleading. But,
To this astonishing proof of Christianity I must add the many wonders which immediately followed our Lord’s ascension; the effusion of the Spirit, with its miraculous consequences; the gifts of tongues and miracles, which were shed so publicly, and on so many in the primitive times; together with the numerous conversions, even of three thousand at one opportunity. And, as it was expressly foretold by our Saviour himself, that the gates of hell should never prevail against his church (Mat. xvi. 18); so it wants no proof that, by the simplicity of preaching, the gospel has made its way through all the mighty opposition it has met with from carnal wisdom, riches, and power, under the direction of the lusts of men, in every generation, down to our own time. So that upon the whole, I think I may venture to ask, whether it is possible that such united evidence can be contradicted, with any appearance of reason or modesty? Or rather, after all the contempt which has been cast upon divine faith, if I may be allowed the manner of the expression, even the most stupid credulity may not be justly chargeable on those who treat this blessed revelation as an imposture? But again,
2. There is the internal evidence of this report, and which fully confirms how worthy it is of religious credit. Whatever proofs of the former kind have been brought to support this revelation, if its doctrines had been irrational in themselves, unworthy of the divine Being, calculated to contradict the first principles of human knowledge, and the necessary attributes of God, to gratify the corruptions and lusts of men, or to injure human society; these considerations would have been very just objections to its credibility. But as it is impossible, in its own nature, that God should have set such miraculous seals, as have been mentioned, to a scheme of this sort; so it is a full confirmation of the divine authority of this report, that it is most reasonable in itself; it gives us the most just and exalted ideas of the divine nature, and attributes; and it accounts for our own fallen circumstances, with all our ignorance and defilement, for the innumerable afflictions we pass through, and our subjection to death. Nor doth it leave us here, but it reveals to us a way of recovery and salvation, that provides for the honour of all God’s perfections, and lays the most sure foundation for the believer’s hope; it furnishes the understanding with the most instructive and useful discoveries; its dictates are happily calculated to regulate the judgment, and bring the passions and affections of the mind into a due subjection to its superior powers, and to employ them to the purposes for which they were originally designed. So that, under the influence of the divine Spirit, it has the most natural and proper tendency to purify the heart, and govern the conversation, in such a manner, as to make men truly wise, and just, and good; to instruct them how to fill up their several family relations to the best advantage, to render their friendships prudent, faithful, and lasting, to make them most useful members of the commonwealth, and to inspire them with all the tender sentiments of benevolence and charity. And as it has been able to do infinitely more to promote these blessed and important ends, than all the principles of the most refined philosophy that ever was taught in the world, or than any other pretended revelation has attempted; so it is furnished with the most rational, and powerful motives to support us under the afflictions to which human nature is subject, in its passage through this vale of tears, in the views of its dissolution, and of the important things which are to follow; as well as that, to animate our hopes and joys, it sometimes affords us even prelibations of the blessedness of the eternal world.
Thus divine revelation comes recommended to us with such evidence, both of an external and internal kind, as at once confirms its truth, and discovers its importance,--its importance to the glory of god, and our own usefulness and happiness, both in this world, and in that which is to come. And since the dispensation of it under the gospel is good news, as that word signifies; since it is the gospel of the grace of God (Acts xx. 24), the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Cor. iv. 4, Rom i. 9) the gospel of truth (Col. i. 5) and the power of God unto salvation (Rom. i. 16); since it is the kindest manifestation of the divine favour to men, and brings with it peace and good will (Luke ii. 14), pardon and reconciliation (2 Cor. v. 18), life and immortality (2 Tim. i. 10); in a word, since, it is calculated to make us truly good, and eternally happy, it must needs deserve our highest regard, and require our utmost endeavours to promote all the credit of it among men, that its evidence claims. But.
V. Since, notwithstanding the full testimony this report brings along with it, its great importance to the glory of God, and our special interest, it has met with so little success upon the minds of men, we have proposed to enquire into the reason of this. And,
As it must be acknowledged that the effectual revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the salvation of the souls of men, must be resolved into the sovereignty of God (Rom. ix. 4-23), and the operations of his Spirit, so it is, in a rational and persuasive way, that his people are made a willing people in the day of his power (Psal. cx. 3). And therefore what I principally intend here, is to give you some account of those things, which have chiefly prejudiced the minds of men against the reception of the proposals of this divine report. And,
1. As to the Jewish nation; they had confounded the prophecies of the second glorious appearance of the Messiah with those which relate to his first coming; they had interpreted them in the most carnal manner, and had entertained warm imaginations of this temporal kingdom, which they expected he should set up, and of the principal share they should enjoy in the riches and honours of it. In this they found themselves disappointed. Such was the external meanness of our Lord’s immediate extraction and education, such the contemptible repute of the places where he for some time resided, and the manner in which he, for the most part, traveled from place to place, during his public ministry, such the poor appearance of his followers, and the frequency of his conversation with publicans and sinners, as by no means seemed agreeable to the apprehensions they had formed of the Messiah. And then our Saviour’s doctrine not only contradicted the traditions and will-worship which the Jews had received from many of their fathers, but abrogated the law of ceremonies, was most spiritual in its nature, and was calculated to destroy that self-confidence, pride, and arrogance, and that dependence on their own righteousness for justification before God, which almost every where prevailed among the Scribes and Pharisees (Rom. x. 3). And as to the other famous sect among them, that of the Sadducees, it is well known they were, at this time, must sunk into the principles of deism. So that these things, together with the offence of the cross (1 Cor. i.23), and the call of the Gentiles (Acts xxii. 22) produced such stumbling blocks, as, in a peculiar manner, prevented a proper regard from them to the evidence of this report. But,
2. If we inquire into the reasons of the inattention of men in general to the gospel, we shall find that it must be imputed tot heir natural ignorance of divined things, to the subtle, industrious, and malicious labours of the god of this world, who has blinded their minds (2 Cor. iv. 4), and to that pride of heart which is so opposite to the temper, spirit, and laws of Christianity. The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots (Isai. xiii. 23): and that custom of sinning to which men are by nature, time, and example inured, and which is so inconsistent with the morals of Christianity, I am inclined to think, has a greater influence, in stopping their ears against this report, than any of the mysteries it proposes to their faith. To which it must be added, that it is the common mistake of fallen nature, that if men are saved, it must be done by their own power, which prevents their seeking salvation where it only can be found. And then it must be allowed to be no small objection to a carnal mind, that the rewards of our holy religion are chiefly spiritual, invisible, and future. But,
3. If we enquire into the more peculiar reasons of that remarkable disregard the gospel meets with in our own times, we shall, I believe, find it is very much owing to that luxurious indulgence of the sensual appetites, and that pride in natural and acquired knowledge, which are too often the attendants of a long series of civil and religious liberty; and visibly get ground every day among us. Nor is it to be doubted that the negligent treatment of this important report is, in a great measure, to be imputed to many of those who undertake to deliver it. Our fountains of learning are corrupted. Many unrenewed men, who are strangers to experimental religion themselves, have taken upon them to be the ministers of it to others. And the wonder that the success of public ministrations should remarkably decline among us will much lessen, when it is considered, that it is now become fashionable to treat the religion of nature, even from the pulpit, as of more value and importance than that which is revealed, and indeed to set it in such a light, as to represent divine revelation of little or no use; while others plead for its truth in general, yet, at the same time, give up the most important doctrines of it, and such as the deists themselves acknowledge it contains. Nor can it be thought unnatural that the divine Spirit should withdraw his influences, in a great measure, where such repeated affronts are put on many of the fundamental articles of our holy religion; such as the sovereignty of God, the proper divinity of his Son, and his atonement for sin, the very being of the Holy Ghost, as well as the necessity of his operations on the souls of men to their conversion and salvation, and the obligation of that purity and obedience which are the genuine fruits of vital religion, and without which, this report testifies no man shall see the Lord (Heb. xii. 14). And then, whatever improvements we have made in the politeness of our address, I doubt we have lost much of that serious and striking manner, in which our fathers, in the last century, delivered this message to the consciences of men. Nor, I am afraid, is the ministerial character always supported with such an exemplary behaviour, as that with which they were used to recommend it.
Indeed it is too evident that, among Christians in general, there is a fatal defection as to that constant, regular attendance on divine things, that watchfulness, courage, life, and zeal, that spirit of prayer, and that regard to discipline in churches and families, which used to be found among the professors of the gospel, in former times. To these things we may, in a special manner, impute the want of that success which this divine message has met with of late among us. And this will lead me,
VI. To shew you what just occasion these considerations give to all good men, and especially to those who are concerned in making this report, with the prophet of old, to wonder and expostulate, to lament and complain. And,
1. As to the Jews; their long, their unreasonable, and obstinate opposition to Christianity must be allowed to afford matter of great astonishment, when, to what has been said it be added, that there can be nothing discovered in the doctrines and rules of Christianity that is shocking to the principles of natural religion; though, so much of this is visible in the schemes and rites of pagan institution, and those of Mahomet,--schemes so unworthy of a divine original, schemes that have been introduced and maintained by the power of the sword, and the future rewards of which have been suited tot he carnal and lascivious appetites of their votaries. Popery, indeed, which has been for so many ages propagated under the name of Christianity, has had a natural tendency to darken the understanding, and harden the hearts of this unhappy people. And it is to be feared those who have laboured in this antichristian cause will have a large share of their ruin, as well as that of many other nations, to account for. But still, it is not strange, that a reformation, which has opened the eyes of such multitudes, should have little or no effect on the Jews? And will not this wonder increase when we consider that Christianity, upon the strictest examination, is so far from being inconsistent with the revelation they received by Moses and the prophets, that these dispensations confirm each other in the fullest manner; that the one cannot subsist without the other, and that the latter excels the former, as the substance does the shadow? The continued obstinacy of this people, under all the advantages of conviction they have enjoyed, is indeed matter of just astonishment and lamentation. But still it ought to be considered, that even their judicial blindness, together with the manner in which they are scattered, and yet preserved by divine providence for a future glorious call, being exactly foretold in the new testament, furnishes us with an irrefragable argument of the truth of that dispensation, which they continue to reject. But,
2. This being added to all the rest of that evidence which has been under our consideration, should awaken our wonder at the treatment this report meets with from other men, from those of our own nations, those who have had the advantages of Christian instruction from their infancy, who have enjoyed the privileges of the gospel, and who, many of them, have made a promising profession of it. I say, if we consider the prophetical and miraculous solemnity with which it was at first introduced, the energy and goodness with which it has been recommended, its own prophecies that have been fulfilled form time to time, and its most salutary effects on the souls of men where it has prevailed, for now more than seventeen hundred years; that it should meet with so much neglect and opposition, in a land of such liberty and knowledge as this, is a wonder indeed! And,
This calls upon us, who bring the report, to expostulate with all those to whom we minister, with a concern suited to its importance, and the dreadful consequences of continuing to reject the council of God against themselves (Luke vii. 30). The judge is at the door; may we therefore preach, as those who are just going to give an account of our stewardship, and, if possible, may we persuade the people under our care to hear as for their lives, and so to hear that their souls may live (John v. 25).
These considerations will also give us just occasion to lament the disappointments we meet with in the discharge of our office, the dishonour reflected on him who sent us, the dreadful corruption of human nature, the recovery of power which the great adversary of Christ, and the souls of men, has obtained in these sad times, and the eternal misery that such multitudes of men are rushing into, all round about us.
Alas! What occasion for each of us to fill our mouths with complaints to our fellow-soldiers in this Christian warfare, to call in the assistance of all good men, to unite our strength, to make the best use of such opportunities as these to encourage the hearts and hands of each other, and to bow at the feet of Almighty God with our united cries for success from his arm, which only can effectually afford it.
It only remains now, that I offer a few reflections on what has been said. And,
1. Then, it is well worthy a remark, that the prophetical complain in the text, which is frequently repeated, and inculcated by our Saviour and his apostles, furnishes us itself with a most extraordinary evidence of the truth of divine revelation—extraordinary indeed! that the fewness of its converts should be a proof of its divine original. Had Christianity been an imposture, the founder of it, whatever opposition, and want of success he had met with at setting out, would certainly have endeavoured to have kept up the spirits of his followers, with assuring them of every kind of success in futurity. But, instead of this, our Saviour frequently acquaints his disciples with the contemptuous and cruel treatment he was to meet with, and the accursed death he should die; he informs them, that they also must take up their cross and follow him; that many of them must seal the truth of their report with their blood; and that after all his testimony and theirs, his flock, compared with the rest of the world, should be but a little flock (Luke xii. 32); and, though many were called, few should be chosen (Mat. xx. 16). But then he also further assures them, that, notwithstanding the want of such extensive success, as might be reasonable to expect, and natural to desire, the united strength of earth and hell shall never effectually prevail against his church, so as to destroy it. And we ourselves are witnesses of the truth of both the first, and the last of these prophecies.
2. From what has been said, sinners under the gospel may see how little that plea will avail them in the great day of account, that they have followed the multitude (Exod. xxiii. 2), and neglected the counsel of Christ and his faithful messengers, to strive to enter at the strait gate: for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat (Mat. vii. 13, 14). Let such consider how their punishment will be aggravated by the affliction they give to faithful ministers, but much more by the contempt they cast on Christ himself and his Spirit.
3. From hence true Christians may see what great reason they have to rejoice in the distinguishing grace of God; that they have been blessed with this divine revelation, while such multitudes remain in darkness and the regions of death, without any other assistance than that of fallen nature, to guide them in their most important concerns: and much more, that the arm of the Lord has been effectually revealed to them, so as to open their hearts, and to engage them to receive the truth, both in the power and the love of it.
Let us, with the liveliest thanksgivings, on all occasions, and especially such as these, acknowledge the divine goodness, for the happy reformation of these nations from the curse of popery; one of the fundamental and cruel maxims of which is, to hide away this important report from the people. Let us bless God with our whole hearts, for the happy preservation of our invaluable liberties, both of a religious and civil kind, under his majesty’s most paternal, and auspicious government. May our gratitude appear, by so using these liberties, as not abusing them; and by offering up our constant and ardent prayers to Almighty God, that all the blessings contained in this report, may be poured down on the King, his family, and his administration, and that the divine arm may be continually revealed in their defence. May we use our Christian, and united endeavours, to preserve this revelation among us, in all its doctrines and precepts, and convey it down to our posterity, by labouring, in our several stations, to silence those unnatural and groundless jealousies of a true protestant government, which the enemies of our happiness, and of this report, are always endeavouring to foment among us. Let us constantly attend on the ministration of it, with a seriousness becoming its dignity and importance, becoming the advantages we have received from it, and those we yet hope for. Let us generously encourage the spreading of it in a dark world, in such a manner, as may shew our unfeigned regard to its great author, and our compassion to the souls of men; and let us, above all, endeavour to prove its advantageous and mighty effects on our souls, by examples, pure, and lovely, as it dictates.
To conclude, let those of us, who have the honour to be called into the service of the gospel, and the publication of this divine report, be more than ever affected with the important charge, and the account we have soon to give to him that sent us. You are no strangers, my brethren, to the treatment the most distinguishing articles of the Christian faith have met with in these times, as remarkable for declension, as they have been for liberty; and, as the opposition increases every day, not only to the particular doctrines of this revelation, and the duties it enjoins, but to the sacred authority of the report itself; what faithfulness and industry, what holiness and love, what steadfastness and resolution, doth our sacred function call for! What study and prayer, what harmony among ourselves and what strengthening the hands of each other, doth the present state of religion require! And let it be considered for your encouragement, that in the midst of all our sorrows and complaints, even in these backsliding times, God has, for many years past, remarkably owned these associate meetings, to promote the religious purposes for which they were designed. May he go on to do so, and to their more abundant advantage! And in every appearance of the success of our report, let us, with the apostles Peter and John, on a very great occasion, disclaim attributing any thing to our own power or holiness (Acts iii. 12); but ascribe all the glory to the divine arm, where it is justly due, and let our dependence upon it increase.