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When he describes as nothing, both themselves and all who were engaged along with them, in the interesting work of planting and nourishing the churches of our Lord Jesus Christ, his design is, not to degrade the workmen, but to direct his own attention, and that of his brethren, to the God who giveth the increase, rather than to the instruments by which that increase had been promoted. He had no desire to withhold the praise which was due from man; but his supreme desire was to give glory to God.
Nor must we consider the apostle's language as an apology for idleness, or want of energy in the service of Christ. He was incapable of making such an apology for himself, nor did he require to do so; and he was equally incapable of apologizing for the sins of his brethren. While he considered himself literally as nothing, he laboured as if he could do all. While he firmly believed that God alone could give the increase, he was as firmly persuaded, that he should not “ labour in vain, or spend his strength for nought and in vain," and therefore, to adopt his own impressive and Christian declaration, he “ laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not he, but the grace of God which was with him.” Nor was the apostle one who disregarded the employment of suitable agency, and proper means for the accomplishment of Christian objects. It was not with him a matter of indifference, who should be employed in the service of Christ. He knew well that there is a fitness in the instrument for
his work, and that though God may sometimes employ instruments that appear to us to be unsuitable, we can never neglect the use of suitable means without suffering from it ourselves, or inflicting injury on others. In his own eyes, and as it regarded the exercise of any power which belonged to him, he was nothing ; yet was he a “ wise master builder," qualified by God for his work; and his brother Apollos was eminently fitted from above, both by eloquence and wisdom, for the office which he sustained.
The design of the text is obviously to fix the mind on God, the infinite source of all good, rather than on the creature who is but the recipient of that good, or the feeble instrument of conveying it to others. Its object is not to paralyze human exertion, but to put it in its proper place, and to give it a right direction. It is intended not to weaken, but to encourage; not to depress, but to excite; not to relax, but to brace our efforts in the Christian cause. Nothing is so powerfully calculated to produce these effects, as right views of the work of the Spirit. I shall therefore, in dependence on the blessing of God, endeavour to illustrate the nature and necessity of that influence, which is required in order to success in every Christian undertaking.
In speaking of the necessity of Divine influence, in order to success in the Christian labours in which we are engaged, I say, every undertaking: for as to this matter, there is no difference, whether we fill public or private posts; whe
ther we are seeking to train a family, to influence a neighbourhood, to teach a Sunday School, or to occupy a pulpit. It is all one work, though on the principle of the division of labour, it is sometimes performed by different individuals. It requires the exercise of the same principles, the pursuit of the same ends, and must derive its success from one and the same source. Of all, from the highest to the lowest, it may be said,—“ Neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth; but God who giveth the increase."
That correct sentiments on this subject are very important, will generally be allowed ; as they enter materially into right views of other doctrines of the word of God, and must have a powerful influence both on our comfort and our practice. On the one hand, we are in danger of detracting from the honour which is due to God, and on the other of apologizing for our criminal indifference and indolence. By looking only at spiritual influence, we run the hazard of overlooking personal obligation; while by attending too exclusively to the employment of means, we are in danger of the extremes of self-sufficiency and despondency. The wisdom which combines the exercise of entire dependence on God, with the active and persevering discharge of duty, ought to be the desire of every Christian.
It frequently happens that the several parts of Christianity are treated in so detached and insulated a manner, that the connexions and
interweavings of divine truth are lost sight of. It may be necessary to discuss them separately; but their relation to each other ought constantly to be kept in view. Unless we do this, the admirable harmony, and nice proportions of the grand system of redemption must be impaired; and the effect which, as a whole, it is fitted to produce, must be injured. Thus the atonement of Christ, and the work of the Spirit have been treated, as if they had little to do with each other; the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the Spirit, have been placed in opposition; and human instrumentality has been sometimes despised, or in a great degree set aside, because without God we can do nothing. It shall be my object to shew, that there is not only no opposition between these things; but that they must be combined together, in order that the one grand effect which they are destined to produce, may be accomplished.
I observe, therefore, in the first place, that the necessity of the Spirit's influence does not imply deficiency or imperfection in the atonement of Christ; and that its design, in the economy of the Gospel, is not to supply any lack of value or sufficiency in that great remedy.
That the atonement made by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the prominent doctrine and topic of Christianity is generally admitted ; and is held universally by those who are considered believers, in the scriptural sense of that expression.
It was the great subject of apostolic preaching, and of apostolic glorying; to it, under God, the apostles ascribed all their success in their extended and prodigious labours; and with it they connect all their injunctions to obedience, and al their promises of comfort under guilt and suffering. According to them, the cross of Christ is the centre of all the lines of Christian doctrine, around which all the precepts and institutions of Christianity are arranged, and from which all that is glorious and delightful in it proceeds. : It is represented in the Scriptures as a measure provided by God, in the plenitude of his wisdom and goodness, for the display of his moral glory, and the deliverance of a guilty and rebellious world. In the character and worth of the beloved Son of the Father, by whom this atonement has been made, we have an adequate provision for the perfection of his undertaking; while in the language of the inspired writers, we have the strongest testimony to its boundless sufficiency. They tell us of the Father's good pleasure in the sacrifice of his Son; of the blood of Jesus cleansing from all sin; of the propitiation being for the whole world; of its benefits extending to the chief of sinners, and to the purification of the most defiled conscience; and that it is the basis of that universal pardon which they proclaimed to every creature. Any insinuation affecting its intrinsic and infinite worth, they would have repelled with the utmost abhorrence, as reflecting on the boundless generosity of God, and incompatible