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Would our Maheves, and Elliot have gone from island, to island; and spent the day time in traversing the desert, and the night in translating the Bible, if they had never heard the preaching of the gospel ?
Would Brainerd have poured out his thousands of supplications in the wilderness, and spent the vigour of his days in bringing wandering pagans back to God, if he had never heard the preaching of the gospel ?
Would Swartz, or Carey; Vanderkemp, or Buchanan, have broken into the empire of darkness, and held up to the perishing nations the light of the glorious gospel, if they had never, themselves, heard the gospel ? Would the gospel itself ever have passed the limits of Judea ; or its glad tidings been published to a single Gentile nation on earth, if it had not been done by those who had heard the gospel ? Search the records of all ages ; and you will find that such works of mercy have never been done, except by those who have heard the preaching of the gospel. Search the scriptures; examine the economy of divine grace; look at the promises of God, and see their fulfilment in his providence; and you will find, that such works of mercy never will be done, except by those who hear the gospel.
Nor is this all. Extinguish the light of a living ministry, and let it not be revived, and all christendom will sink into pagan darkness. Bibles, and the writings of pious men, they may continue to have; but if these do not produce influence enough to raise up among them a living ministry, all will soon be locked up in the slumbers of moral death.
This is not because the Bible does not reveal every principle of holy action, which is, or can be, exhibited, by living preachers; and every principle too, which is needed, in order to arouse the whole world; and pour the tide of
benevolence over all its population. But it is because without living preachers, men have not the grand means which God has appointed for causing the principles of holy action, which are revealed in the Bible, to take possession of the heart; and to govern the life.
The Bible may be sent to every family in the world, yet if they never hear the preaching of the gospel, it will not, by the great mass of people, ever be daily read. Its holy principles will not be received; and its holy commands will not be obeyed. If its principles are examined enough to be understood, they will lodge in the understanding, and not take possession of the heart. They will be viewed as matters of speculation, rather than felt, as principles of holy practice.
How is it with those parts of our own country, which once had the light of a living ministry; but in which that light has been extinguished, only for half a century? Is there not a great increase of moral darkness ? Is not the sabbath almost universally profaned; the worship, and ordinances of God neglected ? Do not idleness, dissipation, and iniquity prevail ? And even with the sober part of the community; is not the great enquiry, “What shall we eat; what shall we drink; and wherewithal shall we be clothed ?' Who will shew us earthly good? And do not the great interests of vital godliness, visibly, and rapidly decline ?
In one part of our country there were 16 towns, which were all supplied with settled ministers. Churches were gathered in every town, and many of them were in a flourishing condition. In the mysterious providence of God, they have, within half a century, all been left destitute.
They retained the Bible, and the writings of pious men, in every town. But the great interests of vital religion, visibly, and rapidly declined. Ten years ago there were not
upon an average 9 members of the church, in a town; although the towns contained, upon an average, nearly a thousand people. In 4 towns, the churches had become extinct. In one of those towns, when they had a settled minister, there was a church of 40 members ; and in another, there was a church of more than 60 members. But those members were not suffered to continue, by reason of death. And none arose to fill their places.
At length, the grave closed upon the very last member; and the light, even of a christian profession, was extinguished. One church, not extinct, had had no communion for 5 years. Two other churches, had had none for 20 years. Is it not plain, that they had not the grand means which God has appointed, for awakening men from the slumbers of moral death; and leading them out of darkness, into the light and liberty of his children ? Even the passing traveller, in view of the footsteps of depravity, which he every where, witnessed, could not but feel, that the glory had departed : so would it be, without the preaching of the gospel, in every town, in our country; and throughout the world.
Need I add a word, to leave upon every heart the permanent conviction, that you are doing a great work ?
To immortal beings, in a state of apostasy from God, you are furnishing the grand means, which he has appointed, for their deliverance from eternal perdition; their restoration to his image ; and their exaltation to seats of glory at his right hand. ..
II. Of these means a vast portion of men are now des. titute. And without such efforts as you are making, they must remain destitute.
All the qualified preachers, in our country, do not amount to more than 3000. These probably do not fur
nish, with stated preaching, more than 3,000,000 of people ; leaving about 7,000,000. destitute. To supply these, would need 7000 preachers. And the number of preachers, who in the providence of God, have, in times past, been qualified for their work, has, by no means equalled, in proportion, the number who have been removed by death, and the increase of population. So that the number of destitute in our own country, without vastly greater efforts, than have ever yet been made, must continue to increase. Even should the increase of ministers, equal in proportion, the increase of population ; and the increase of population be the same as in years past, in 25 years, there will be, in our own country, 14,000,000 destitute of the stated enjoyment, of the grand means of salvation.
Nor is this all. In the unevangelized parts of the world, it has been supposed, there are more than 500,000,000 of souls. And among them all, there are not 500 preachers of the gospel. Yet the preaching of the gospel is appointed, by the God of heaven, to be the means of their salvation, as well as of ours. And he has commanded those who have the gospel, to cause it to be preached to them. Yet all the nations of christendom have not furnished them, with one preacher, to a million of souls..
Were there only 10 preachers in the United States, they could supply the whole country with preaching, vastly better than all the missionaries, who are now in the field, can possibly supply the heathen. Even if there were 500 missionaries, and they could each supply with stated preaching, 2000 souls; that would supply only 1,000,000; and leave more than 499,000,000 destitute. And should all christendom furnish them with but one preacher, to every 20,000 souls, it would take 24,500 preachers.
And is it needful, in this land of Bibles, Sabbaths, and Religious books, that there should be one preacher of the gospel, to every town of 1000 people ; in order that they may have the stated enjoyment of the grand means of salvation ? And is it not needful that those who have no Bibles, no Sabbaths, and no Religious books should have one preacher of the gospel to 20,000? And in order to do this, the number of preachers, who have gone to the unevangelized nations, must be increased 50 fold. The United States, in order to do their proportion, must furnish, at least, 2000. These, with the 7000 which are needed in order to supply the present population of our own country, must be raised up by the efforts of benevolence. And can this be done? Yes, with the blessing of God, it can be done. If only all the young men in the United States, should do as much annually as has been done the last year by young men in Boston, they might all be furnished in 20 years. . Are you not then doing a great work? You are assisting in furnishing 7,000,000 of your own countrymen, and 40,000,000 of heathen, each possessing an immortal soul, in danger of eternal death, with the grand means, which God has appointed, for their salvation : And assisting too, in a way, which, if only followed by all the young men of our country, would accomplish the object in 20 years. Are you not doing a great work? And does not the voice of God say to every man engaged in it, Move onward ? And does not his own heart echo, Onward ? If difficulties meet him, and enemies tempt him to draw back, does he not say, I am doing a great work? And every voice in heaven echo, A GREAT WORK? It is a great work. And not a man that has the spirit of heaven, will ever leave it. For,
III. By the labours of ministers, God accomplishes great ends.