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MEANS OF AID IN THE PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL.
Preached before the LONDON MISSIONARY SOCIETY, at Surrey Chapel, May 9, 1832.
BY JAMES THOMSON, D.D.
PHILIP. i. 27. Striving together for the faith of the gospel.
IN contemplating the signs of the times, amidst the many defections which we are called to lament, it is refreshing to observe the numerous and varied means which are in operation for disseminating the Word of Truth, and the continued assiduity and ardour with which they are prosecuted. For a long series of ages, the great body of professing Christians seem to have been satisfied with the progress which it had made. They might daily present the petition, "thy kingdom come;" but it was not the prayer of faith, for it was unaccompanied by works. If the cry of the multitudes, who were perishing for lack of knowledge, reached their ears, it made no impression upon their hearts; at any rate, it had no influence upon their conduct, they stretched not out to them the helping hand. They appear to have regarded the command of the ascending Saviour to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," as a dead letter, a law of his kingdom which, though not formally repealed, had yet, by length of time and change of circumstances, become obsolete. The Lord, however, was pleased at last to visit his people, to rouse them from their lethargy, and to awaken in them a concern for the things of Christ and of their fellow men.
When the missionary spirit first appeared, about forty years ago, and spread with amazing rapidity, through the length and breadth of our land; it was considered by many as a mere temporary excitement which would soon die away and be forgotten; but contrary to the predictions and wishes of the enemies of the gospel, and the fears of not a few of its sincere friends, it still subsists; nay, not only
subsists, but has acquired a prodigious accession of strength. From Britain it has been communicated unto many other parts of the world. In the United States of America, in particular, Christians of all denominations, deeply imbued with it, are now rivalling their brethren of the parent country in their missionary exertions. My heart's desire and prayer to God is, that this spirit may be perpetuated and extended, till the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
The society, in favour of which we are assembled this morning, was one of the first of the public religious institutions which were formed, at the period to which I have just now alluded, and has ever stood among them in the very foremost rank. The success with which God has blest its labours among the heathen, demands our warmest gratitude and praise. By its efforts, and those of several kindred societies leagued with it in the same holy warfare, inroads have been made into the territories of Satan in all quarters of the globe;. numerous posts have been established in lands where, since the fall, he had reigned imperious and with undivided sway, and thousands of captives whom he had enslaved have been set at liberty. But, though the war has been begun auspiciously, it is far, very far, from being finished. The contest, we may rest assured, from what we know of the malice, craft, and power of the enemy, will be protracted and arduous. That those who have engaged in this mighty enterprise, may not faint in their minds and grow weary, it is highly proper from time to time to exhort and animate them to persevering exertion. This appears to me to be one of the principal designs of such meetings as the present; and, in accordance with it, I have selected these words of Paul, as the subject of my present discourse, "Striving together for the faith of the gospel."
In them there are two things which claim our notice,
I. The faith of the gospel.
II. The import of the language of the apostle respecting it.
Had I consulted my own feelings, I should have declined this service: I am deeply conscious of my unfitness for it; I go forward to it in reliance on the aid of that Saviour with whom is the residue of the Spirit. I would plead his promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee, and my strength is made perfect in weakness." I would solicit, also, my dear brethren, your christian sympathy. Pray for me that, raised above the fear of man and animated by the fear of the Lord, my appearance in behalf of this most valuable institution
may not be in vain, but that the design of this solemn anniversary may be, in some measure, answered, and that God may be glorified.
I. The first thing in the text which claims our notice is the subject of which it treats,-the faith of the gospel.
I shall not occupy any of your time in stating the different views which expositors have taken of these words of Paul. There does not appear to me to be any difficulty in them. By the faith of the gospel, I humbly apprehend, that we are to understand, what in other places of the New Testament is called, "the faith which was once delivered to the saints, "the truth as it is in Jesus," or simply the gospel of Christ and of God."
To ascertain what the faith of the gospel is, we must have recourse to the Holy Scriptures, which were given by the inspiration of God, and are the only infallible standard of the belief and practice of Christians. In them, and in them alone, it is exhibited in all its extent, without omission or mutilation; and in all its purity, without any mixture or additions of men. In all our inquiries respecting the gospel, we must keep our eye steadily fixed upon the Scriptures. If ever we lose sight of them, our views of it will be defective and erroneous.
I would observe, farther, that in searching the Scriptures to ascertain the faith of the gospel, we should take their declarations in their plain and obvious sense. We should remember that the Bible was designed for mankind at large. The common people are just as much interested in it as the learned; but they have neither the means nor the leisure for profound researches. Doctrines, then, which require to be supported by a great array of criticism, and in confirmation of which texts must be put to the torture, and words and phrases wrested from their common and natural acceptation, we may safely conclude, are not essential parts of the Christian scheme, if parts of it all. On the supposition that they were, the faith of an immense majority of Christians would have to rest on the wisdom of man and not the testimony of God-its only sure and proper basis. Bearing these remarks in mind, and applying ourselves diligently to the study of the Scriptures, in the exercise of an humble, teachable disposition, accompanied with prayer to the Father of lights, we shall be at no great loss to ascertain the faith of the gospel. Its leading and essential doctrines will, I hope, be found comprehended in the following very brief statement :
The faith of the gospel, while it recognizes the unity of God, reveals to us the three-fold personal distinction in the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It contemplates man as in a fallen
condition, under sin,-under its guilt, its power, and its curse. A full, experimental conviction of this mournful truth, is indispensably requisite to the reception of the gospel. Are there any in this assembly who have never felt themselves to be sinful creatures, who have never seen the exceeding sinfulness of sin? to them the gospel will be foolishness; and not sensible of the need which they have of it for themselves, they will take but little interest in its diffusion. Have you, my brethren, been convinced of sin by the Spirit,— of its evil nature, and of its demerit? Do you feel that you are deeply infected with it? You will prize the gospel above all riches, it will be indeed to you glad-tidings of great joy; for it unfolds the scheme which the God of mercy has devised for the deliverance of the children of men from sin, and their restoration to holiness and happiness.
The great Agent in this scheme, the gospel informs us, is the only begotten Son of God, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. For the accomplishment of it, in the fulness of time, he was manifested in our nature, dwelt among us full of grace and truth; and, at last, gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour. The blessings which Jesus has obtained by his death, and which he is now exalted to dispense, according to the gospel, are many, and invaluable,— the pardon of sin, reconciliation to God, the influences of the Holy Ghost to illuminate and purify the soul, and everlasting glory. The gospel calls upon us by the most impressive considerations to believe on our Lord Jesus Christ, to receive him as our Teacher, as our Great High Priest, and as our Sovereign; and assures us, that on our believing, all these blessings shall be ours.-These appear to me, according to the unsophisticated tenour of the oracles of God, to be the great outlines of the faith of the gospel. It is no cunningly devised fable, but the result of Divine wisdom. Justly may it be denominated the gospel of the grace of God; grace reigns in its origin, in its progress, and in its consummation. But let it be observed, also, that in the gospel, grace reigns in righteousness; here mercy and truth meet together. Are Christians elected according to the foreknowledge of God the Father? it is through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. It is a complete scheme of salvation; in it provision is made for every evil under which we labour. As it is needed by all, so it is adapted to men of every clime, and whatever may be the circumstances in which they are placed. And wherever it is received, it will be productive of true holiness, of peace, and joy, on earth; and will terminate in the blessedness of heaven. In the brief and