The design of God in all his works of creation, providence, and grace—is to advance and secure the glory of his own name; and, therefore, though he makes use of secondary causes as the instruments of his operations, yet their efficacy depends upon his superintending influence. It is his hand that sustains the great chain of causes and effects, and his agency pervades and animates the worlds of nature and of grace.
The agency of his Holy Spirit is as necessary to fructify the Word, and make it the seed of conversion, as the influences of heaven are to fructify the earth and promote vegetation! A zealous Paul may plant the Word, and an eloquent Apollos may water it; one may attempt to convert sinners to Christianity, and the other to build them up in faith—but they are both nothing, as to the success of their labors—unless God gives the increase! That is, unless he affords the influence of his grace to render their attempts successful in begetting and nourishing living religion in the hearts of men.
We are apt to think, if we had but such a minister among us—how much good would be done! It is true, that faithful and accomplished ministers are singular blessings to the places where they labor, because it is by their instrumentality that the Lord is accustomed to work: but still let us remember, that even a Paul or an Apollos are nothing, unless the Lord gives the increase.
One text of Scripture, one verse, will do more execution, when enforced by divine energy, than all the labors of the ablest ministers upon earth without it! For this divine energy therefore let us look; for this let us cry, "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD!"
When we depend upon the instruments, we provoke the Spirit of God to leave us! If we are fond of taking ministers in his stead, we shall make the trial, until both they and we wither away for lack of divine influences. This provokes the blessed Spirit to blast the gifts of his ministers, to allow them to fall into sin, or to remove them out of the way—when they are set up as his rivals—that their idolaters may see they are but men. This provokes him to leave the hearers fruitless under the best cultivations, until experience sadly convinces them that they can do nothing without him! Therefore let not ministers trust in their own abilities—nor people in their labors; but all must trust only in the Lord.
That we should ascribe all the success of the gospel to God alone, and not sacrilegiously divide the honor of it between him and the instruments of it, or between him and ourselves, the ministers of Christ are ready to answer you, in the language of Peter. "If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed!" Acts 4:9, 10. Why do you look so earnestly upon us—as if by our own power or holiness we have done this? chapter 3:12. It was a very shocking compliment to them—to be accounted the authors of your faith.
Good ministers love to be humble, to be in their proper sphere, and would have God to have all the glory, as the great efficient cause; and when we ascribe the work of God to the instrument, we provoke him to withdraw his influence, that we may be convinced of the mistake.
Let us also take care that we do not assume the honor of the work to ourselves. Alas! we had no hand in it—but opposed it with all our might; and, therefore, "Not to us, O LORD, not to us—but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness!" Psalm 115:1. The Lord has done great things for us in this place, for which we are glad. One can name one person, and another another person, as his spiritual father, or the helper of his faith; but still remember, these only planted or watered; but it was God who gave the increase; and therefore to him alone ascribe the praise for his own work!
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The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence
Samuel Davies, November 19, 1757