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S E R M 0 N
The success of the first publishers of the
gospel a proof of its truth.
By GEORGE CAMPBELL, D. D.
Preached before the Society in Scotland for pro
pagating Christian Knowledge, at Edinburgh, June 6. 1777
1 Cor. i. 25.
The foolisbness of God is wifer than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Twould scarcely be poffible to conceive a
new religion attended with more disadvantageous circumitances, than was the Christian religion on its first appearance; and of which, consequently, the success in the world, would, humanly speaking, be more improbable. Nothing could be worse adapted to the prejudices that prevailed among Jews and Gentiles than its tenets : nothing could be less accommoda. ted to the universal depravity of manners than its precepts. Both the obfcurity and the fate of its founder seemed alike insuperable obfta
cles to the advancement of his cause. And as to the persons whom, under the title of a. postles, he selected to be the instruments of promulgating his doctrine, they were such as, in the judgement of all reasonable men, would have been sufficient, though every other circumftance had been favourable, to render the schemę abortive. Truly, therefore, may we say, that if this counsel or this work had been of men, it must have come to nought. Any one of the particulars above mentioned would have been enough to stifle it in the birth ; how much more would all of them when combined together? But “ there is no wisdom, " nor understanding, nor counsel, against the • Lord *.” His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways his ways. Justly is this divine institution reprefented in the prophetic language under the emblem of a stone, fomething at first to appearance inconfiderable, cut out without hands, not by human skill or dexterity, " which became a great mountain, “ and filled the whole earth t." For the foolishness of God, as ye have it in the passage read to you as the foundation of this discourse, is wifer than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The apostle, in these words, is far from infinuating that there can be any thing in the supreme all-perfect mind, analogous to what we understand by the terms folly and weak
ness. But, by an usual figure, he confiders the extraordinary conduct of Providence manifested in this new inftitution, under the de. nomination which the adversaries were pleafed to give it; and affirms, that the measures which the ruler of the world had adopted, and which to them were foolishness, would be found to have more wisdom in them than the wiseft plans of human contrivance; and that the means employed by Heaven, how. ever weak they might be reckoned, would be strong enough to baffle all the most vigorous efforts of the sons of earth. Nay more, however shallow the measures, and however impotent the instruinents may be, not in appearance but in reality, when attended only by natural and ordinary means, they will prove perfectly efficacious when attended by such as are supernatural and extraordinary. God, when he is pleased to interpose miraculously, can effect his purpose, not only without the intervention of man, but by such human agency as seems better calculated to defeat the end than to promote it. This, we learn from the context, was, in several inportant respects, the case with the first promulgation of the gospel.
To throw light on this doctrine, and to point out the use we ought to make of it, shall, with the aid of Heaven, be the ultimate scope of this discourse. The argument couch. ed in my text, and illustrated in the concluding part of this chapter, and the beginning 1
of the next, may be thus expressed : “ The human and natural means originally employed for the propagation of the gospel, would, without the divine interpofition, have proved both foolish and weak, and therefore utterly incapable of answering the purpose. The purpose was nevertheless by these means fully answered. Consequently they must have been accompanied with the divine interposition, and our religion is of God, and not of man." I shall first therefore endeavour to evince the truth of the first proposition, and show the utter inability of the natural means employed in promulgating the gospel, to effect the end. I shall next evince the truth of the fecond, pointing out the rapid and uncxampled fuccess of the ineans that were employed ; and shall conclude with observing the influence which the obvious consequence of these deductions ought to have upon us, and the improvement we ought to make of this doctrine.
I BEGIN with the unfitness of the means, that is, the natural and ordinary means admitted by infidels, as well as Chriftians, to have been employed; for it is of fuch means only I am here fpeaking. Let it be observed, that under this I comprehend the genius of the doctrine taught; because, whether fupernatural in its origin or not, it may have in it a natural fitness for engaging attention and regard; or, on the contrary, a natural ten
dency to alienate the minds of men, and render them inattentive and averse. In this view the spirit and character of the institution itself ought to be regarded as natural means, either of promoting, or of retarding, its propagation. Let us then examine briefly the two principal circumstances already suggested, the doctrine, and the publishers. It is to the former that the term foolishness is more efpecially applied, as weakness is to the latter.
The doctrine of the cross, in particular, the great hinge of all, was, in every view, exposed to universal dislike and derision. Considered as an article of faith in this new religion, as exhibiting the expiation of fin, and consequently as the foundation of the finner's hope of divine pardon and acceptance, to men principled as they were, it both shock. ed their understanding, and was humiliating to their pride. Considered as a practical lef. fon, and a warning of the treatment which the difciples might expect, when such hor. rible things had befallen their master, to follow whom in suffering they were specially called, nothing could tend more powerfully to alienate their will, being opposed by all their most rooted passions, love of life, aversion to pain, and horror of infamy. And even considered only as a memorable event in the hiftory of him whom all the profelytes to this institution were bound to acknowledge as their lawgiver and king, it was exceedingly disgustful, being contradictory to all the notions to