GOD has ordained His word to be preached, His mind and will, as a God of justice and of grace, to be made known unto the sons of men. A standing ministry will be in the church until the elect are gathered in and brought to a knowledge of Christ, and to a knowledge of their glorious privilege in Christ; "Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ;" (2 Thess. 2:14) that is, to a knowledge of their justification by Christ; to an experimental and blessed acquaintance with the Saviour, Who is the end of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth; and in whose adored person as Mediator are hid "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," that poor, guilty, wretched sinners might find their happiness in Him, and in Him only.
In the context, Paul had acknowledged the mighty power of God in the ministry of Peter among the circumcision, or Jews, which, no doubt, rejoiced his heart; for no man could express a greater concern for the salvation of his kindred than Paul did, saying, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Rom. 9:3) Howbeit, Paul's strong natural feelings, and strong affections, was corrected by the "Spirit of wisdom and revelation," and he was clearly led to see, "that the elect among the Jews had obtained the promise, and the rest were blinded." (Rom. 11:7) That the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth would take out a people for His name from among the Gentiles; that in order that God might be glorified in them and by them, he (Paul) was appointed a minister of these poor Gentile out-casts; "and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." (Rom. 15:9) God put forth His mighty power in Paul's ministry, as he says in the text, "The same was mighty in me towards the Gentiles." We may observe:-
First, without the power of God the gospel word cannot profit them that hear it.
Second, that the testimony of God by His servants shall be made effectual to the regeneration of blind, dead, ignorant sinners, and to the building up of saints in their most holy faith.
First, without the power of God, the gospel word cannot profit them that hear it; "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" (Isa. 53:1) No man ever preached the gospel more evangelically than Isaiah, and it appears that Isaiah preached many years, even in four kings' reign, yet with but little success, especially during the reign of Ahaz; for the ways of God were forsook, and the doors of the house of God were closed, till Hezekiah came to the throne; and the first thing he set about was, to reform and restore the pure worship of God which had been grievously abused and neglected during the reign of his father Ahaz. Had Uzziah truly believed the report of Isaiah, he would not have assumed the priest's office by going to the altar to offer incense, neither would he had been in a rage when opposed by the Lord's servants, but would have humbled himself. God marked his arrogance and presumption with infamy: he was a leper all his days, lived apart, and was shut out from the house of God. This should serve as a check to all presumptuous mortals. Had the people in Jothan's reign believed truly the report of Isaiah, they would not have corrupted the public worship of God, as it appeared they did: "And the people did yet corruptly;" (2 Chron. 27:2) for where the word is mighty in the heart of a poor sinner, it will inspire him with the feelings of David: "O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes." Had Ahaz believed the report of the prophet, he would not have sacrificed and burnt incense to idols, nor have profaned the vessels of the sanctuary, and trampled under foot the authority of Jehovah. But Isaiah's preaching was lost upon him, and the far greater part who heard him; and "except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah," as he saith. (Isa. 1:9) As it was in Israel's days before that time, so it was in Isaiah's time; "the word preached did not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." Our Lord's personal ministry upon earth was received but by few, and He spoke as never man spake; multitudes took offence at His doctrine, and many left Him after they had professed attachment to Him. According to His striking parable, there was but one out of the four classes of His hearers that brought forth fruit to perfection! Peter and Paul were both more successful in the work of the ministry than their Master; but still, it was His power working in them mightily, or they would have preached in vain had they lived and preached till this day; "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord." God's servants are commissioned to preach the gospel to every creature; that is, they are to give a full and clear statement of the mind and will of God as revealed in His own blessed word, to warn the ungodly, and point out the only possible way for a guilty ruined sinner to be justified before God: to show by the word of truth, what that justifying faith is that brings sweet peace into the sensible sinner's troubled bosom; in the most solemn manner they should point out the danger of taking up any religion, or trusting to any fleshly feeling, duty, or performance of the creature, and men should be faithfully warned to trust not to a head-knowledge of Christ, but look after a heart-acquaintance with Him. This is all the minister of Christ is called upon to do, except living the gospel he preaches, that the ministry be not blamed; for that man's ministry will have little weight with his hearers, if his life and deportment be one continued piece of inconsistency; he may be ingenious, he may split and divide a text methodically, he may learn the art of speaking experimentally, as well as doctrinally, he may please giddy-headed professors, by working upon their natural passions, and they may set all down for the mighty power of God; but let it be remembered "The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power."
Secondly. That the testimony of God by His servants shall be made effectual, etc. We have a striking proof of this by the preaching of the apostles among the Thessalonians; "For, our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance: as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sakes; and ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." (1 Thess. 1:5,6) Here we see a blessed fulfillment of the Lord's word by Isaiah, "My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and prosper in the thing whereunto I send it." Observe, reader, the Thessalonians received the word in much affliction; affliction went first, then came the joy: not as those described (Matt. 13:20,21) who received the word with joy, but having no root, in the day of trial withered away. So it will be with all whose religion stands in the letter of truth, and not in the blessed teaching of the Holy Ghost. It was divine teaching that constrained the Thessalonians to follow the apostles and the Lord in the regeneration; and the same mighty power attends the preaching of God's truth by His faithful servants now. How is it evidenced? First, by the removal of that thick veil of ignorance which is on the minds of men by nature; ignorance of sin, as respects its exceeding sinfulness, is the prevailing disease of all men in their first-born estate. Through the preached word, as conveyed to the heart by the Holy Ghost, the sinner is enlightened, so that he sees where he stands, a condemned sinner before God, and deserving His utmost wrath; he cries for mercy, but often fears he shall be eternally lost! This state is strikingly described by that man of God, William Huntington, in a poem of his, called the Spiritual Birth, and I believe it begins thus:-
"How keen are the pangs of a spiritual birth,
When its dreadful attendants invade;
The soul is a stranger to music and mirth,
A companion for none but the dead."
I do not for a moment suppose the author meant to say, that such a tried soul was a fit companion for poor, dead sinners; no! for he knew by sad experience, that the company of such to a tried soul is like hell upon earth. Here it is a man learns that the commandment is exceeding broad, that his righteousness are filthy rags, and the more the holy Lawgiver goes forth in the brightness of His majesty as a just God, revealing himself in His fiery law, the more the poor culprit trembles; while his heart remains as hard as a mill-stone, and love God he cannot. But the same power that kills makes alive, he that makes the deep and dangerous wound to appear, will most assuredly apply the healing plaster. O how mighty is the gospel-word in the hand of the Spirit.
"How sweet is the gospel of Jesus the Saviour!
How dear was the price that He paid for our life!
He lov'd, notwithstanding our crooked behaviour,
And shedding His blood put an end to the strife.
"To make Himself known and His precious salvation,
He gave us His word, and His spirit to teach;
The gospel's attended with rich consolation,
By him whom the Saviour commission to preach.
"Away with free-will, and the works of the sinner,
To men of such principles never give place;
Give glory to Jesus, for He's the beginner,
The sinner's salvation is wholly by grace.
"Go forth with Thy servants, all-conquering Saviour,
Break through and deliver Thy captives by power:
Let sinners in darkness experience Thy favor,
Break forth from their cell, and They mercy adore.