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“ The work of conversion is the great thing we must drive at ; after this we must labour with all our might. Alas! the misery of the unconverted is so great, that it calleth loudest to us for compassion. If a truly converted sinner do fall, it will be but into sin which will be pardoned, and he is not in that hazard of damnation by it as others are. Not but that God hateth their sins as well as others, or that he will bring them to heaven, let them live ever so wickedly; but the spirit that is within them will not suffer them to live wickedly, nor to sin as the ungodly do. But with the unconverted it is far otherwise. They are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity,' and have yet no part nor fellowship in the pardon of their sins, or the hope of glory. We have, therefore, a work of greater necessity to do for them, even 'to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them who are sanctified.' He that seeth one man sick of a mortal disease, and another only pained with the tooth-ache, will be moved more to compassionate the former than the latter; and will surely make more haste to help him, though he were a stranger, and the other a brother or a son. It is so sad a case to see men in a state of damnation, wherein, if they should die, they are lost for ever, that methinks we should not be able to let them alone, either in public or private, whatever other work we have to do. I confess I am frequently forced to neglect that which should tend to the further increase of knowledge in the godly, because of the lamentable necessity of the unconverted. Who is able to talk of controversies, or of nice unnecessary points, or even of truths of a lower degree of necessity, how excellent soever,
while he seeth a company of ignorant, carnal, miserable sinners before his eyes, who must be changed or damned ? Methinks I even see them entering upon their final woe! Methinks I hear them crying out for help for speediest help! Their misery speaks the louder, because they have not hearts to ask for help themselves. Many a time have I known, that I had some hearers of higher fancies, that looked for rarities, and were addicted to despise the ministry, if I told them not something more than ordinary; and yet I could not find in my heart to turn from the necessities of the impenitent, for the humouring of them ; nor even to leave speaking to miserable sinners for their salvation, in order to speak as much as should otherwise be done to weak saints, for their confirmation and increase in grace. Methinks, as Paul's ' spirit was stirred within him, when he saw the Athenians wholly given to idolatry,' so it should cast us into one of his paroxysms, to see so many men in the greatest danger of being everlastingly undone. Methinks, if by faith we did indeed look upon them as within a step of hell, it would more effectually untie our tongues, than Creesus's danger did his son's. He that will let a sinner go down to hell for want of speaking to him, doth set less by souls than did the Redeemer of souls; and less by his neighbour, than common charity will allow him to do by his greatest enemy. O, therefore, brethren, whomsoever you neglect, neglect not the most miserable! Whatever you pass over, forget not poor souls that are under the condemnation and curse of the law, and who may look every hour for the infernal execution, if a speedy change do not prevent it. O call after the impenitent, and ply this great work of converting souls, whatever else you leave undone.”
2. If, then, the conversion of the impenitent be the first object of ministerial solicitude, this must be sought by suitable means. The means for awakening the unconverted are of course various; some are wrought upon by one truth in the hand of the Spirit, and some by another; and, perhaps, most ministers have sometimes been surprised by finding that discourses have been rendered beneficial for the rousing of the careless, which, in their purpose at the time, were neither specially adapted nor intended for this object. But I am speaking, now, of the means which, to our view, appear generally most adapted to awaken attention, produce impression, and lead to conversion. On this subject I do not hesitate for a moment to give it as my opinion, that what might be called the alarming style of preaching is most adapted to convert the impenitent. I do not mean gross and revolting descriptions of eternal torment, or the carrying out into minute detail what might be called the material and corporal representations of the punishment of the wicked. This is offensive and disgusting, and generally defeats its own purpose; especially when done, as is often the case, in a harsh, cold, and unfeeling manner. What I mean by alarming preaching, is an exhibition of the purity and unbending strictness of the law, together with such a method of applying this strict rule to the heart and conduct of the sinner, as is calculated to awaken and startle his conscience; a faithful portraiture of the heinousness of sin, stripped of all the excuses which our deceitful nature is so skilful in framing for its defence ; a careful discrimination between mere formalism and a renewed heart; the indispensable necessity of regeneration, and the absolute certainty that every man will perish who dies without a new heart; a solemn manifestation of the immaculate holiness of God, and of his retributive justice in the punishment of the wicked ; an impressive description of the solemnities of judgment, together with a chastened but awakening account of the torments of those who reject the sacrifice of Christ, and refuse the offer of mercy. These are the subjects, explained and enforced in suitable language, with close application to the heart, pungent appeals to the conscience, and with an affectionate, earnest, solemn manner, that are likely to arouse the careless and convert the sinner.
I do not mean,
of course, that we should make such topics the incessant subjects of our ministerial addresses: a perpetual denunciatory strain would at length render those for whom it was intended carelessly familiar with the terrors of the Lord. The timid would come at length to listen to the most appalling tempest without alarm, if it always thundered. But what I mean is, that while a minister's habitual strain of preaching should be so discriminating as to leave no unconverted sinner at a loss, with what portion, whether believers or unbelievers, to class himself, it should not unfrequently contain those allusions to, and descriptions of, the wrath of God, which, like the distant rumblings of the gathering and approaching storm, should drive men to the refuge provided by infinite mercy in the cross of Christ. No one will flee for shelter who does not see a tempest at hand; and then only will the shelter be valued, when the storm is coming. Hence the necessity of a minister's raising the warning voice, to announce the approach of that storm of divine vengeance which is coming upon the wicked, and which, as it cannot be seen by the eye of sense, should be the more vividly described, and more earnestly represented to the mind. That this style of preaching has been the most useful could be easily proved by an appeal to the history of the church. Who have been the most successful ministers of the word ? certainly those who have been most pungent and alarming. *
But ministers, notwithstanding this, are under a great temptation to preach smooth things, and to shrink from what may emphatically be called the burden of the Lord. A false charity leads them, in some instances, to be unwilling to disturb
• Let any one read the discourses of Baxter, who seemed to speak as between heaven and hell, with the glories of one and the torments of the other open before him, and remember his success. Or let him peruse the discourses of Whitefield, which were followed with a measure of success unparalleled since the days of the apostles: what a pungent and alarming strain do we find running through them! Equally in point are the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, which were the means of an astonishing revival of religion in his town and neighbourhood. The preaching of that great man appears to have been more alarming than any which we are ever accustoined to hear. And, as to modern times, may it not be asked whether the most alarming preachers have not been the most successful ones. In further confirmation of this view of the subject, I might appeal to those popular tracts and treatises which have been so signally blessed for the conversion of sinners, such as “ Allein's Alarm,” “Baxter's Call,” “ Doddridge's Rise and Progress,” &c. If the reading of these has been so useful, surely it may be expected that preaching in a similar strain would be still more so.
the peace or distress the feelings of their hearers; or, perhaps, there are some in their congregation who may feel an objection to what they contemptuously call this harrowing style. But most of all are those in danger of compromising their duty, who are appointed to minister to well educated and wealthy audiences. We all, perhaps, feel it more difficult, even in private conversation, to deal plainly and faithfully with a rich man than a poor one; and we carry too much of this sinful respect of persons with us into the pulpit. We do not like to offend the delicacy of persons of refined sentiments and well-informed minds. Even the most pious ministers, the men not usually wanting in fidelity, are too susceptible of impressions of this nature, and are in some peril of softening the terms of their message, and, out of compliment to rank, wealth, or intelligence, merging the terrors of the Lord in the elegancies of style or the ornaments of eloquence.
They will not, perhaps, dare to withhold the substance of truth, but in their attempts to render it palatable to persons of education, or property, or talent, they will so dilute it with foreign admixtures, as to deprive it of its efficacy. They will relate the parable, and leave the rich man to discover and make the application, instead of boldly saying, like the prophet to the monarch of Israel, “ Thou art the man.” Away, away with this false, this ruinous deference to the rich and the learned : it is treachery to God and their souls. At our peril is it, that we soften down the terrors of the Lord to please any man: we must not shun to declare the whole counsel of the heart to nobles or to monarchs, if we were to preach to them ; we must stand clear of the blood of the rich as well as of the poor. Did Paul regard the feelings of Felix ? No; but made him tremble upon his seat, with the themes of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.
Nor must we suffer ourselves to be drawn away from our duty in these things by any of our own congregation, whose nervous temperament, or mistaken notions, may set them against a faithful and impressive exhibition of the justice of God in the punishment of the wicked. We must not, in compassion to the weak, or in compliment to the erroneous, keep back those truths which are ordained by God for the conversion of men's souls. Nor must we listen to the seductive insinuations, the selfish policy, the spiritual eovetousness of those, who would intimate, that we are robbing the children to benefit the stranger. We have a message from God unto sinners, which all the saints on earth, were they assembled, must not allow us to suppress in silence. Sin is raging all around us; Satan is busy in the work of destruction; men are dying ; souls are every moment departing into eternity; hell is enlarging her mouth, and multitudes continually descending to torments that know no mitigation and no end. Is this a state of things, in which
any who believe its reality can allow themselves to be flatterers ? Alas! such flattery ends in death.
How important and incumbent is it, that all who hear the word of God, should be willing to hear it fully and faithfully delivered.
A word of admonition is here due to one or two classes of professing Christians. Are there not many who are dissatisfied with every thing but words of comfort, and statements of privilege! They object to every thing of a searching, reproving, and practical tendency. Their incessant demand is for doctrine and consolation. Every thing besides this is legality. This disposition is, though in a modified sense of the text, a demanding of smooth things, and, is, in a measure, asking for deceit, and requesting that the Holy One of Israel may cease from before his people. Such persons
value themselves as being believers of greater eminence, children in the family of God of a taller stature, and a greater strength than others : but reasoning from analogy, one should be led to suppose, that the oldest and best children would be most anxious to hear their father's command, and do their duty by fulfilling his will; for in the families of men, it is the younger, and more ignorant and petulant, that quarrel with command, and cry most after luscious sweets. The strongest mark of great grace, is to delight more than others in knowing and doing the will of God, and yet to think least of what we do. Many who boast of their high attainments in religion, would have the ministers of God leave out more than half their message ; and what is this but to do the work of the Lord deceitfully? Upon their principles, all parts of God's word, but the promises, are unnecessary : they are useless to believers, for they are above them by privilege; useless to sinners, for they are below them in respect to obligation.
But there is another class of professors of religion, who are anxious that the preacher should confine himself to consolatory topics, and say little to awaken the conscience, or alarm the mind; I mean those, who are but too well convinced of the inconsistency of their conduct, and the irregularity of their walk, to be comfortable under faithful, penetrating, and discriminating sermons. Many such, alas, there are, who, if not altogether hypocrites, approach as nearly as can be, to that odious character. They cannot bear the searching discourses of the servant of the Lord. His warnings and appeals; his demands of the surrender of every secret sin ; of the excision of right hands, and the plucking out of right eyes; his declarations