MANY times, my beloved brethren, during the last few years, has it been my lot to address, from this pulpit, crowded congregations on most interesting occasions; but never did I suppose that I should be called on to preach to such a congregation on this trying, deeply interesting, and awfully solemn occasion. (This is the funeral service for Rev. William Nunn) I assure you that I have spent many sleepless hours, during the nights which have passed since I promised to address you this evening, thinking on, and shrinking from, the work which I had undertaken; and I have come hither this evening to cast myself on the arm of my God for strength, and on your brotherly kindness and Christian forbearance, to overlook what may seem ill-timed or misplaced in this discourse. I feel, my dear friends, that if our dear brother had been asked, "What will you have said in your funeral sermon?" he would have replied, "Oh! say nothing about me, testify to them the Gospel of the grace of God;" and I am sure that I shall best promote the glory of the Redeemer, advance your interests, and act most in accordance with the mind and spirit of our departed brother and your lamented pastor, by saying nothing of him, but in connection with that grace which it was his delight to testify.
I beg of you, therefore, beloved, to bear in mind that, wherever I shall speak of his character with approbation, and of his conduct with commendation, I shall be speaking to "the praise of the glory of his grace who hath made us accepted in the beloved." In expounding the words of my text, I have my eye upon the gift of grace to the Church of God in a twofold manner.
First, in the root or fountain; "grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim. 1:9)
Secondly, grace, or the gracious dealings of God the Holy Ghost with His people in this, their time state.
The former has respect to the Church as a collective body, blessed in her Head; the latter respects each member in his, or her, individual capacity.
To many of you, any definition of the word grace is superfluous, but for the sake of the vast body of strangers now collected together, it seems desirable that the scriptural sense of the term should be noticed ere we proceed; the word grace, then, is used in direct opposition to any work of man, whether it be outward in the body, or inwardly in the soul(see Rom. 11:6)--"If it be of grace it is no more of work, otherwise grace is no more grace." It means free, undeserved favor, bestowed upon an individual, or individuals, irrespective of anything in them, or hereafter to be in them, either good or bad; and when it is applied to an act of God upon the souls of individuals, it means the manifestation of that favor which He has eternally bestowed on them in Christ their covenant Head; and the effect of this grace is traced from step to step, and shown to be "not in vain." Thus sings the poet in that sweet hymn--
"Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man,
And all the steps that grace display
Which drew the wondrous plan."
No person living gloried more in free grace, than did the inspired writer of this epistle; no character exhibited in God's most holy word shows forth more strikingly the sovereignty of grace; no preacher more studiously and blessedly expatiated upon the riches of that grace which made him what he was, and herein was he closely followed, in a masterly style and like "a workman that needed not to be ashamed," by him whose call, from grace to glory, has now filled many hearts with sadness, and many eyes with tears.
First, grace "given us in Christ Jesus," includes in it the eternal, personal election of the whole Church in Him to everlasting life, as the end and to redemption and sanctification as the way. I refer you, my dear brethren, to Rom. 11:5--"There is a remnant according to the election of grace;" to 1 Thess. 1:5--"Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God;" to 2 Thess. 2:13--where the apostle tells them that he is "bound to give thanks to God always, because God had from the beginning chosen them unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth;" to 1 Peter 1:2--where that apostle tells the people of God, scattered abroad in divers countries, that they are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ;" to that beautiful link in Romans 8:29,30--which some old divines have compared to the arc of a rainbow inverted, the one end of which is in heaven--viz., in eternity past, whence grace issues forth in predestination; and the other end is also in heaven--viz., in eternity to come, where grace terminates in glorification, while the center of the bow is grace in action upon the earth, catching up the elect, preparing them for, and conducting them to, eternal glory.
More than all, I refer you to Eph. 1:4,5--where the apostle shows the date of election, "before the foundation of the world;" the place of election, "chosen in Him;" the end of election, that we may "be holy and without blame before Him in love;" and the cause of election, according to the riches of His grace."
By the election of grace, I understand the choice of persons, out of every nation, tribe, and tongue, to inhabit and inherit mansions of eternal glory; the giving of these persons to Christ as members of His body, constituting His spouse, and the giving of Christ to them, as thenceforth their covenant Head and Representative, in whom they also were endowed with all spiritual blessings; grace in the spring or fountain, to fit them for, and bring them to, the enjoyment of God in Christ for ever.
This doctrine, by no means fashionable, or pleasant to human nature, was asserted in all its fullness, explained in all its richness, and preached, whether men would hear or they would forbear, by your beloved pastor. How many of you can look back upon the time when these doctrines were as strange and unpalatable to you, as they are now to any worldling, or partially enlightened child of God now present; but who can now testify that that blessed man of God brought forward this glorious doctrine, not merely for the sake of irritating or distressing, but because he fully agreed with the language of the article referred to above, that it is "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort," and he dare not keep back that which is sweet and pleasant to some, for fear of driving away or offending others.
Intimately connected with the grace of election is redemption by grace, which also we have in Christ Jesus. He is emphatically called our "Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts," and His work is called "eternal redemption;" and what, dearly beloved, is this redemption? Not a contingency--not a payment of a price to make salvation optional, or suspend it on the mutable will of fickle man, but redemption from sin in its guilt and punishment.
This our blessed Goel accomplished by bearing our guilt, and enduring our punishment; the great eternal Jehovah "laid upon Him the iniquities of us all;" He stood charged with our guilt, and thus, for the satisfaction of His own justice, and the manifestation of His mercy, "it pleased the Father to bruise Him," or, in the strong language of the original," to crush Him with affliction." Where then is your guilt? "Wherefore should I fear," saith David, "when the iniquity of my heels encompasseth me about?"
Jesus hath removed, and that for ever, the guilt and punishment of His chosen spouse; thus, too, is the dominion of sin, the condemnation and the curse, eternally and effectually removed; the sting of death and the accusations of the devil are, by the life and death of the Son of God, totally destroyed. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth! Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died!" (Rom. 8:33) Let the challenge be proclaimed throughout the regions of earth, mansions of glory, and the bottomless pit of hell, and echo answers, Who?
The grace of election given us is "not in vain," for it is parent of the grace of redemption. Here is a vast field in which my dear departed brother delighted to walk with the Church of God, and in this pasture to feed--in this vineyard to pluck the "first ripe fruits." Oh, these are "grapes of Eschol;" here is the "pure blood of the grape;" here is "grace in Christ Jesus;" here "grace reigns through righteousness." Having sipped with you of the rills below, your beloved friend and your earthly guide is now gone to--
"Bathe his weary soul
In seas of heavenly rest,
Nor does a wave of trouble roll
Across his peaceful breast."
Blessed saint! though for ourselves we mourn, fain would we have "more grace" to rejoice for thee, that thou art for ever free from care, grief, and sin. I proceed, beloved, to notice that the grace of redemption is "not in vain," as some teach; nor are any redeemed by the sufferings and death of the Son of God, who are not also saved, for He who is their Redeemer, is also their Saviour--their Jesus; (Matt. 1:21) but that grace or favor thus given them, in Him, does sooner or later, issue in their being quickened or called by grace.
By quickening we understand an impartation of spiritual life, produced by the entrance of the Holy Ghost, with all His gracious influence and operation, into the heart of an elect, redeemed vessel of mercy; thus making him sensible of his sinful, guilty state, and teaching him to cry out, under a sense of guilt, for mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.
Paul knew what this was, when, by the power of it, he was brought from his horse, and from the loftiest height of his own self-righteous imaginations, and made a blessed instrument of bringing this grace to the souls of others.
This is the dawn of another day, the introduction into another state, the commencement of an experimental acquaintance with God in His Trinity of Persons, and with his own heart in the plague, poison, and bitterness thereof; without this grace, forms and ceremonies are vain and lifeless, and knowledge utterly useless. Thus did your beloved pastor address you: "You are either dead in trespasses and sins, and not capable of knowledge or feeling, or you hath he quickened."
It will not be amiss to observe here, that believers are all quickened when they first begin to feel their real state before God; yet do they like David often feel so much deadness that they are obliged to cry out, "Quicken thou me according to Thy word;" (Ps. 119:25) "quicken me in Thy way;" (Ps. 119:37) "quicken me after Thy lovingkindness;" (Ps. 119:88) and thus believers, even in their deadness, are distinguished from mere worldlings in their brightest moments.
The grace of quickening, as I have spoken of it above, or the first gracious act of the Holy Spirit in the soul, make a person alive to God; without this grace we can know nothing of Jesus. We may have high thoughts of ourselves--be highly thought of among men, but we know nothing as we ought to know, till "Christ we know;" and we can only know Him through His grace.
Nor is this grace given in vain, as if the soul once quickened should be left to itself, to its own devices or endeavors--but, on the contrary, the soul which is experimentally saved "by the washing of regeneration," has also the daily renewing of the Holy Ghost--producing energizing grace; this in the apostle shone conspicuous, as it did also in our beloved brother of whom we are now speaking: this appeared in two remarkable particulars--the preaching of the simple word of God, and the enduring reproach; it was this grace, or gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, which caused Paul to rejoice that "grace was given him to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;" (Eph. 3:8) and again, "therefore we thus labour and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour (that is the preserver) of all men, especially of those who believe." (1 Tim. 4:10)
The Gospel of Jesus so comforting to the called children of God--so effectual in the hands of the Spirit to quicken, call, and convert sinners from the error of their ways, is totally opposed to the prejudices of men, whether natural or educational; it is "foolishness to them," and therefore they oppose it, and no strength of human nature, or moral courage, is sufficient to enable a man to declare the whole counsel of God, and to bear the reproach which necessarily follows.
But, my dear hearers, many of you can testify that your late beloved minister was energized; the Holy Ghost worked in him to preach the whole truth, even in those features and particulars which are most offensive to human nature; he never shrunk from giving utterance to any truth, from a fear to offend or a desire to please: hence he was respected for honesty and consistency, even by those who believed him wrong; hence, too, he brought reproaches upon himself, from the ignorant, the bigoted, and the prejudiced, which he was enabled to endure without a word; the feeling of his heart under taunts, railings, and hard speeches, was, doubtless, that of David, who said of Shimei's bitter language, "Let him curse on, for God hath said, 'Shimei, curse David.'"
Immediately connected with this is the grace of strength, to exhibit that which is pleasing in the sight of God, and ornamental to Christian character, not only in the pulpit, but in every relationship in which he stood connected as husband, father, and friend, and pastor of this portion of God's Church. What love he bore to this people; what anxiety he felt for their welfare; and with what meekness he endured the waywardness and petulancy of many of them!