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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Baptist Preacher, July 1846
"…and the desire of all nations shall come." (Haggai 2:7)
The text foretold an amazing phenomenon. It declared that the High and Lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, would be seen among sinful men; that He who from everlasting had dwelt in light unapproachable, would assume some form and make his entrance upon this globe; that the invisible and ever glorious, whom no man had seen, nor could see—the Eternal, forever concealed behind stars and suns, would veil his effulgence, and push aside those stars and suns, and come into the world. Such is the prophecy; and if this wonderful event, dimly anticipated, could agitate and transport the inmost spirit of patriarch and prophet, what should be our emotions now?
When He has come; when we have seen "the brightness of the Father's glory," (Heb. 1:3) "come forth from the Father and come into the world" (John 16:28); when He who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, has "made himself of no reputation and taken upon him the form of a servant, and been made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, has humbled himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:7, 8); when we can say, "without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (I Tim 3:16); and with adoring confidence, each of us can exclaim, "this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (I Tim. 1:15)
My brethren, God, that eternal Spirit, has rent the veil and shewn himself in our midst. The Word which “in the beginning was with God, and was God, was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Christ Jesus has come into the world, and "he that hath seen me," he says, "hath seen the Father." (John 14:9) And now what movements should stir our minds? In Christ, "God was manifest in the flesh." (I Tim. 3:16) He is "the image of the invisible God," (Col. 1:15) "the brightness of the Father's glory, and express image of his person." (Heb. 1:3) In his temper the character of the Deity was impersonated; in his life the attributes of the Deity were embodied; in his cross the very heart of the Deity is disclosed to our love. What a Being! Search creation through—no such object can be found for the admiring and adoring contemplations of the universe.
Having gazed upon this wonderful Being, think next of the enterprise on which he came, and the cost at which that enterprise was achieved. The enterprise! Think of that; it was the salvation of man. The devils saw him and exclaimed "what have we to do with thee?" (Luke 4:34) As if they had said thou hast not come to save us. No, they had nothing to do with him; but we have everything to do with him since he came for us men and our salvation.
The enterprise—and, then, the cost—those sufferings which destroyed his life, though they could not destroy his love,—think of these, and how are you affected? "Christ," says Peter, "hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust." (I Pet. 3:18)
Ah! Miserable sinner. From eternity had the only begotten reposed in the bosom of the Father, and now see him leaving that bosom and taking the form of a servant for you. From eternity had the fairest among ten thousand and altogether lovely been rich in the glories and hosannas of the skies, and now see him becoming poor for you;—so poor, that living he had not where to lay his head, and dying he would, but for charity, have been buried like a common malefactor, by the highway side.
Follow the adorable Jesus from scene to scene of ever deepening insult and sorrow. Trade his footsteps, marked by his own blood. Behold his sacred face swollen with tears and stripes. And, last of all, ascend mount Calvary and view there the amazing spectacle; earth and hell gloating on the gashed form of the Lord of glory; men and devils glutting their malice in the agony of the Prince of life; and all the scattered rays of vengeance which would have consumed our guilty race, converging and beating in focal intensity upon him of whom the Eternal twice proclaimed, in a voice from heaven, "this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:17) After this, what are our emotions? Can we ever be cold or faithless? No, my brethren, it is impossible, unless we forget this Saviour, and lose sight of that cross on which he poured out his soul for us.
My impenitent healer, how loudly does the text speak to you; and I cannot sit down without asking, what think you of Christ? How are you treating him who came and who seeks to save you? You have heard that he is the desire of all nations; tell me is he your desire or aversion—will you receive and obey him, or are you resolved stilt to say, "Not this man, but Barabbas?" (John 18:40) Recollect, without him you can have no peace now,—your deepest, strongest wants must be unsatisfied,—the whole creation cannot make you happy. Recollect, you will soon have nothing to do but to die; then "the desire of the wicked shall perish." (Psalm 112:10) And what will become of you?
Soon the Saviour will come again, and very differently. "Behold he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him." (Rev. 1:7) And then, when you call upon mountains to cover you, and abysses to shelter you, how will your present conduct appear? And what a wail will be yours when, shattering the air, and shattering your soul, that sentence shall be pronounced, "depart accursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. 25:41)
It is, however, to us Christians that the application of the text especially belongs at this time, and in our bosoms how many thoughts ought it to awaken. True, (oh blessed be God for this,) Jesus Christ is all our desire and all our salvation. We know him as such, and our souls do magnify the Lord. But, with the possession of this blessing, what responsibilities devolve upon us!
My very dear brethren, is Christ the Desire of all nations? Then why are there so many nations still ignorant of Christ? The angel declared that the tidings should be to all people. Why then have so many not heard those tidings? The Saviour's command is, "go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15) Why then have not the heralds of the gospel traversed the earth? The answer to these questions I blush to give; it is (shame on our covetousness, and the reproach of our country and of our churches) that Christians have not done and will not do their duty.
Ah! My brethren, my brethren, just now as I surveyed the cross, I pronounced it almost impossible for us to be faithless to Christ; but alas, when I turn from the cross to the conduct of Christians, I have most painfully to confess my mistake. Where is the Spirit of Christ amongst us? Upon whom has his mantle fallen, all wet with tears for the perishing? "When he saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." (Matt. 9:36) How few are affected with such a sight now.
"Five hundred millions of souls" exclaimed a missionary, "are represented as being unenlightened. I cannot, if I would, give up the idea of being a missionary, while I reflect upon this vast number of my fellow-sinners who are perishing for lack of knowledge. Five hundred millions! Intrudes itself upon my mind wherever I go, and however I am employed. When I go to bed it is the last thing that occurs to my memory; if I awake in the night, it is to meditate on it alone, and in the morning it is generally the first thing that occupies my thoughts."
Nor is it only the heathen at a distance; among ourselves how many thousands of the sons of Ethiopia are stretching out their hands, and how have they been neglected. My brethren let us awake to our responsibility ere the wrath of God wake us to sleep no more, and the cry which goeth up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth attract his righteous indignation.
Is Christ the Desire of all nations? Then, my brethren, let us preach Christ; and let our missionaries preach Christ. We do not want philosophers, nor metaphysicians, nor even theologians, but preachers of Christ and him crucified. Nor let us fear that God will not open a great and effectual door for us, if we are willing to be co-workers with him. What am I saying? my brethren, how wide a door is already open ; and if, instead of indolently crying, "there are yet four months and then cometh harvest," we would only "lift up our eyes and look on the fields," upon every side we would see them "white and ready to harvest." (John 4:35)
Lastly, is Christ the Desire of all nations? Then how sure is our success. True, we must expect difficulties, and it is not improbable that before the gospel conquers the earth there will be many conflicts and convulsions. But when we consider what God hath promised and done, how intent and busy is the whole Trinity in the grand scheme of salvation, what difficulty can move us?
Who can doubt that all events shall conspire to secure Emmanuel's triumph, and even the passions of the world become ministers in its conversion to God? Many of us deprecated and deplored the disruption which lately divided our churches, but the man has blind eyes who sees not already the hand of God in this; and he, amongst us, has a cold heart who has not felt a glow at the noble conduct of our brethren at the North, and is not fired with holy emulation. And thus shall it ever be, the truth shall yet bind kings in chains, and nobles in fetters of iron; the wheels of the Redeemer's chariot move not back, but shall roll on until "the Desire" shall become the delight of all nations, and shall reign over them in righteousness.
All the resources of the universe are in the hands of the ascended Jesus; to him the Father hath said, "thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever;" (Psalm 45:6) and the hour hastens on, when the whole earth shall become a temple, and that temple be filled with the glory of the Lord, and echo with the praises of
"An assembly such as earth
Saw never, such as heaven stoops down to see."
Welcome the glorious consummation! Oh months, and seasons, and years, speed your tardy flight, and usher in the blissful period, that day when from every hill and valley shall ascend clouds of incense, to return in sparkling showers of mercy; when from every human heart shall swell the angelic hymn, glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will to men.
When the pealing chorus of a renovated world shall answer back the thundering acclamations of the skies, and every creature which is in heaven and on the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them shall say, Allelujah! the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; Worthy is the Lamb that was slain; Blessing and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen!