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A Rational Defence of the Gospel: Or, Courage in professing
Rom. i. 16. I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of
God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
THE FIRST PART. SHAME is a very discouraging passion of the mind; it sinks the spirits low, it enfeebles all the active powers, and forbids the vigorous execution of any thing whereof we are ashamed. It was necessary therefore, that St. Paul should be endued with sacred courage, and raised above the power of shame, when he
, was sent to preach the gospel of Christ among the Jews or the heathens, to face an infidel world, and to break through all the reproaches and terrors of it. I am a debtor, saith he, verse 14, to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; that is, to the learned and the unlearned nations; to the wise and to the unwise: I have a commission from Christ to publish his gospel among all the nations of men, and I esteem myself their debtor, till I have delivered my message: And though Rome be the seat of wordly power and policy, the mistress of the nations, and sovereign of the earth, where I shall meet with opposition and contempt in abundance, yet I have courage enough to preach this doctrine at Rome also, for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
My friends, this is an age wherein the gospel of our Redeemer meets with much contempt and opposition. There are many in a baptized nation, and who have been brought up in the christian belief and worship, that begin to be weary
of Christ and his religion; they are endeavouring to find blemishes and defects in this sacred gospel, and in that blessed word of God that reveals this.grace to us. The divine truths, that belong to this gospel, meet with mockery and profane reproach from deists and unbelievers. I may call it therefore a day of rebuke and blasphemy. God grant we may never become a land of heathens again ! Those of us that believe this gospel from the heart, have need of courage to maintain our profession of it, especially in some companies and conversations. We should prepare ourselves to encounter the false reqsonings of unbelievers, as well as harden our fuces against their ridicule. Let us therefore meditate this sa
cred text, that each of us may pronounce bollly the words of this great apostle, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Now, that our meditations may proceed regularly on the present theme of discourse, let us consider,
I. What the gospel of Christ is, that we may not mistake it. --II. What is included in this expression, I am not ashamed of it.--I11. What there is in this gospel that might be supposed any way to expose a man to slame; and I shall take occasion under this head to give particular answers to some of the most important objections that might be made against the gospel, and shew that there is no just reason to be ashamed of it.-IV. I shall consider what is that general answer to all objections; that unitersal guard against sinful shame which is contained in my text, and which will bear ont every christian in his faith and profession of the gospel of Christ, viz. that it is the power of God to the salvation of every one who believes. And, V. I shall draw some proper inferences.
First, What is the gospel of Christ
I answer in general, It is a revelation of the grace of God to fallen man through a Mediator. Or, It is a gracious constitution of God for the recovery of sinful and miserable man, from that deplorable state into which sin had brought him, by the meditation of Christ : Or, in the words of my text, it is the power of God, or his powerful appointment, for the salvation of every one who believes. The word gospel, in the original, tvægyéndoy signifies good news, or glad tidings. And surely, when a sinner who is exposed to the wrath of God, is sensible of his guilt and danger, it must needs be glad tidiogs to him to hear of a way of salvation, and an all-sufficient Saviour. This constitution of God for our salvation has had various editions, if I may so express it, or gradual discoveries of it made to mankind, ever since Adam first sinned, and God visited him with the first promise of grace before he turned him out of paradise. But the last and most complete revelation of this gospel was made by the personal ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, and more especially by his apostles, when his own death, resurrection, and exaltation had said the complete foundation for it. From the books of the New Testament therefore we may derive this larger description of the
gospel of Christ.
It is a wise, a holy, and gracious constitution of God for the recovery of sinful man, by sending his own Son Jesus Christ into the flesh, to obey bis laws which man had broken, to make
proper atonement for sin by his death, and thus to procure the favour of God, and eternal happiness for all that believe and repent, and receive the offered salvation; together with a promise of the Holy Spirit to work this faith and repentance in their hearts,
to renew their sinful natures into holiness, to form them on earth fit for this happiness, and to bring them to the full possession of it in heaven.
It might be proved that this is the sense and substance of the gospel of Christ from many of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and the ceremonies and figures of the Jewish church, as well as from a variety of citations from the writings of the evangelists and apostles : Yet there have risen some persons, I mean the Socinians and their disciples, in the last age and in this also, who call themselves christians; but they also curtail and diminish the gospel of Christ, as to make it signify very little more than the dictates and hopes of the light of nature, viz. “ That if we repent of our sins past, and obey the commands of God as well as we can for the future, Christ as a great prophets has made a full declaration that there is pardon for such sinners, and they shall be accepted unto eternal life:” and all this without any dependance on his death as a proper sacrifice, and with little regard to the operations of his Holy Spirit.
Now I need use no other argument to refute this mistaken notion of the gospel, than what may be derived from the words of my text, viz. that St. Paul expresses it with a sort of emphasis, and as a matter of importance, that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: Whereas if this had been all the substance of the gospel, he had no reason to be ashamed of it either among the Jews or the heathens. The Jews had a knowledge of forgiveness upon repentance, and a belief of it long before Christ came : And the heathen philosophers would have readily received it, as a thing very little different from what their natural reason might lead them to hope for: though it could not fully assure them of it: They would never have sought to expose and ridicule the preaching of St. Paul as mere babbling, and called him a setter forth of strange gods.
But on the other hand, if we suppose him publishing the glorious doctrine which I have described, there was something in this so strange to the ears of the heathens, as well as of the blinded Jews, that might well be supposed to awaken their opposition and rage, and therefore it was a great point gained with him, when he had courage enough to maintain such a gospel, and to say, I am not ashamed of it.
This leads me to the second thing proposed.
Secondly, What is included in these words, I am not ashamed of the gospel? To this I answer under these five heads :
1. I am not ashamed to believe it as a man.-2. I am not ashamed to profess it as a christian.-3. I am not asham-, ed to preach it to others as a minister.-4. I am not ashamed to defend it, and contend for it as a good soldier of Christ.---5. I am not ashamed to suffer and die for it as a inartyr.
1. I am not ashamed to believe this gospel as a man. My rational powers give me no secret reproaches. My understanding and judgment do not reprove and check my faith. I feel no inward blush upon the face of my soul, while I give the fullest assent to all these truths, to this scheme of doctrine, to this heavenly contrivance and system of grace. A rational man, especially who has been bred up in learning, should be ashamed to believe fables and follies, but I believe all this gospel and am not ashamed. My own reason approves it, and justifies me in the persuasion and belief of such a gospel as this is. I believe it with so firm and unshaken a faith, that I venture all my own eternal concerns upon it. I lay all the stress of my hopes of a blessed immortality on it. My soul rests here, and I am not ashamed of my resting-place : I am not ashamed of my Saviour, and the method of his salvation. I am persuaded my hopes shall never disappoint me. Surely, if the gospel had been so very irrational a thing, as some men pretend it to be, St. Paul, being 80 rational and wise a man, would have been ashamed to believe it. But I believe it, says he, and am not ashamed. I do not think it casts any just reflection upon my rational capacities, or my learned education at the feet of Gamaliel, for me to give a full assent to this gospel.
2. I am not ashamed to profess it as a christian. I am ready to tell the world that I believe it, and I take all occasions to let the world know it. I am coming to profess this gospel at Rome, and am not ashamed : I have owned it before my own countrymen the Jews already, where it has been most reproached. I have been telling the Gentiles what the gospel of salvation is, and I long to see you at Rome, that I may tell you what my belief is in the gospel
, and may hear how far you have believed, and may be comforted by the mutual
faith both of you and one; Rom. i. 12. I shall be glad to tell you what doctrines I venture my own soul upon, and shall be willing to hear from you whether you venture you souls upon the same doctrine, or no; and shall rejoice to find we are both interested in one salvation.
3. I am not ashamed to preach it to others as a minister, that is, to invite others to believe it. It is a communicable good, and I am sent to diffuse it, nor am I ashamed of my commission. See 2 Tim. i. 12, 13. Our Lord Jesus Christ has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel, and has appointed me a preacher, and an apostle to the gentiles : I preach the gospel, and am not ashamed, though I have suffered for it. I venture my soul upon it unto the last great day, and I bid thee,
I Timothy, as a preacher unto others, to hold fast the same form of sound words which thou hast learned of me. I long to teach
the whole world this faith and this doctrine, therefore I am a debtor to the Greeks and barbarians; I would make others partakers of the same hope. Would to God, that not only thou, Agrippa, but all those that hear me, were not only almost, but altogether such as I am, except only these bonds, these sufferings which I endure for Christ's sake; Acts xxvi. 22.
4. I am not ashamed to contend" for it as a good soldier of Christ; to defend it when it is attacked, and to vindicate the cause my
Lord and Master. Where it is assaulted I endeavour to secure it, though with many reproaches from the carnal prejudices of mankind. I oppose them all; for they oppose my Saviour and his cross, and I build my everlasting hopes there. I am set for the defence of the gospel of Christ ; Phil. 1. 17. and I will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; Jude yer. 3. And he gave us an instance of it, that when Peter, who was an apostle, seemed to diminish some of the glory and the liberty of the gospel, he withstood him to the face; Gal. i. 11. • There shall no man silence me, or stop my mouth, when I am preaching a crucified Saviour, and when I express my faith in the liberty and latitude of the gospel of Christ. For if I durst withstand an apostle under his criminal concealments, and in his diminution of the honour of this doctrine, surely I dare oppose all the world besides."
5. Lastly, I am not ashamed to suffer and die for it as a martyr. Load me with reproaches, ye Jews, my countrymen, and load me with chains, ye magistrates of Rome; of none of these am I ashamed or afraid, but with all boldness I am always ready that Christ should be magnified in my life, or my death; Phil. i. 14, 20. And as for my friends that are full of sorrow lest Paul should be sacrificed for the faith of Christ, What mourn ye, and break my heart for? I am not only ready to be bound, but to die for the sake of Christ. I count nothing dear to me, no nor my life precious to myself, that I may finish with joy the course of my ministry of this gospel, that I may testify the grace of my God; Acts xx. 24. and txi. 13.
I might add also, that St. Paul intends and means more than he expresses by a very usual figure of speech : I am not ashamed of it, that is, I glory in it, I make my boast of it. If there be any doctrine worth boasting of, it is the gospel of Christ. If I have any profession to glory in, it is that I am a christian. Once I was a pharisee, and I counted it my gain and my honour; Phil. iii. 7, 8. But what things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. I glory in being a minister of the gospel; it is the highest honour God could have put upon me, who am less than the least of