A Sermon and Prayer Delivered by JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY at Arch Street Meeting-House on First-day evening, 2nd Month 18th, 1838; Taken in shorthand by Edward Hopper.
Sermons and Prayers Delivered in the City of Philadelphia by Joseph John Gurney. Philadelphia: Kay and Brother, 1838.

This is The Quaker Homiletic Online Anthology, Part Three: The 19th Century.

The Sermon:

The mind of God is unchangeably holy and benevolent.

It never was the doctrine, of Christianity, nor the doctrine of this religious Society, as a part of the Christian church, that the mind of God was changed by the sacrifice of his well-beloved Son. The doctrine of truth is clear; that this sacrifice was the consequence of the unchangeable holiness and love of God; the result of the purposes of his mercy, for the restoration of fallen man; a consequence flowing from the unfathomable fountain of Perfect Wisdom; a means appointed by that Wisdom, into the depth of which, angels and archangels cannot scrutinize; much less can it be examined by the limited intellectual powers of poor, fallen, bewildered man. God has his own way and his own counsel. "For, who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things." Who art thou, who darest to sit in judgment upon the counsels of Infinite Wisdom, to dispute the declarations of that Being who is the very fountain and spring of all truth? "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea." And wilt thou persist in bringing all things of a spiritual nature, and which have respect to the eternal and incomprehensible counsels of the Lord, as revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures, to the plumbline of thine own judgment? wilt thou have all things squared to the limits of thy powers of comprehension, thou, who art one of the bewildered and blinded race, whom the inspired writer so justly compares to the wild ass's colt?

The very first lesson to be learned in religion, is the lesson of our own blindness. Pride is our ruin; the pride of our own righteousness; the pride of our own wisdom; the pride of our own intellect. "The day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low: and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan, and upon all the high mountains, and upon the hills that are lifted up, and upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day."

The attributes of Jehovah subsist, individually, in infinite perfection; they can never thwart or interrupt each other; they are blended in the scheme of redemption, but not confused. There he has displayed to the rational universe, his perfect holiness and his perfect love, in glorious union, without confusion. In Christ, and Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, "mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." O, beloved friends, was it not a conspicuous sign and evidence of the holiness of our God, of the unbending and unalterable claims of his righteous law, that no less a sacrifice was sufficient to purge away the stains of the guilt of our fallen race, than the sacrifice of his well-beloved Son, incarnate in the nature of man? Is there not the motto of holiness, inscribed upon that mysterious dispensation, for the instruction of the admiring universe? - no; beloved friends; man could by no means give to God a ransom for his friend; mere man, no; not the highest of angels or archangels, the loftiest and most dignified of the creatures of God, could purge away the guilt of our lost and fallen race. The eternal Word which was with God in the beginning, and was God; he by whom the worlds were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made; he who dwelt in the bosom of his Father, before the world, was; he who said, "Before Abraham was, I am;" and again; "I and my Father are one;" he before whom the once doubting, but now believing Thomas, in reverent prostration spake, and said unto him, "My Lord, and my God;" he of whom the apostle spake, when he said, "without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh;" he, according to the eternal counsel of a perfectly holy God, could alone bear the burden of thy sins, my brother, my poor, wretched, unbelieving brother, whoever thou art, and the burden of the sins of the whole world; a burden which Omnipotence alone could bear.

And if there be in this assembly, those who are convinced of sin, and know the terrors of the Lord, and are baptized into a sense of the malignity of sin, they dare not take refuge in any thing short of an omnipotent Saviour; there is no peace for their spirits, in any mere creature of God; they dare trust in no arm but the arm of Jehovah. They know the truth of the language, "I am God, and beside me there is no Saviour."

And there are those in this strange deluded world, who frequently call Jesus, our Saviour, and yet utterly deny that divine character, nature and power, by which alone he can be our Saviour. And, friends, I well remember what a noble testimony was borne upon this subject, by our honorable elder, George Fox, when he was a very young man, and when, by a long course of suffering and conflict, he had been baptized into a living sense of the suffering of his Lord; and when the priest of the parish asked him the question, What could be the meaning of our Lord's agony and bloody sweat in the garden of Gethsemane, and of that awful cry in nature's dark hour upon the fatal cross, "My God, my God, why hast .thou forsaken me?"--he answered and said, that Jesus was then bearing upon himself, the burden of the sins of all mankind. And the priest acknowledged that it was indeed a very good answer, And so it was, a very plain, simple, noble testimony to the eternal truth as it is in Jesus, which the cavil of the skeptic, and the artillery of the unbeliever, shall never, never shake.

And beloved friends, if ever there was a proposition at variance with the soundest principles of true philosophy, it is the proposition current in this evil day, that no man is required to believe that which he cannot comprehend. O strange fatuity! What, my brother, canst thou not perceive the difference between those things which are contrary to reason, or in other words, disproved by reason, and those things which are beyond reason; beyond the reach of the puny intellectual powers of man? Yes, we challenge the profoundest reason, the most exact and enlightened scrutiny respecting the evidences of the christian religion, and of the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures. We rest in the firm persuasion and sure knowledge, that the more these evidence's are sifted and examined, the more irrefragable will be the result, even in the view of reason, that our holy religion, the religion declared in the Bible, is indeed from God. Yes, from that God who built yon starry firmament, who planned and formed the boundless universe, who ordered the planets in their courses, and that system of unknown worlds, as they are brought home, in some measure, to our view, by the wonderful discoveries of modern science; from him, the unchangeable and incomprehensible Jehovah, the moral Governor and Ruler of the universe, flows the religion of Jesus. And here we boldly challenge all the investigation of enlightened reason - though poor frail man's reason cannot do its work aright, unless there be a dependence upon a higher principle by which the intellectual powers of man are enlarged and sanctified for a very good and worthy purpose - but, beloved friends, when the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, is demonstrated by a vast accumulation of harmonious evidence, does not reason itself, does not philosophy itself, demand of us as rational creatures, that we should receive that which is revealed in the Scriptures, with child-like faith? Because it is declared to us, on the authority of the King of kings who cannot lie; being accompanied by unquestionable credentials; miracles performed; prophecies fulfilled; and by the internal evidence from the moral efficacy of the whole plan which is there developed.

I believe the Lord's-power will be upon the hard heart of unbelief, and that the day is coming when, in many, it will be broken to pieces. May it be broken to pieces, saith my soul. For if any man falls upon that stone which is laid in Zion for a foundation, even Jesus Christ the crucified one, he shall be broken. And the Lord grant, that many in this assembly may thus be broken, because if they are not, that stone, in an awful day to come, will fall upon them, and grind them to powder.

My friends, I beseech you to accept the word of solemn warning, given under a feeling of unutterable love, and under a sense of religious duty, which I dare not compromise, - let me beseech you, forever to throw aside your flimsy webs of unbelief, your hard heart of infidelity, and to humble yourselves this night, under the sceptre of the risen and glorified Jesus. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

And now, my beloved friends, if this glorious plan of redemption, far beyond the scope of man's intellectual inquiry, is inscribed with the motto of Holiness, surely it bears with equal clearness, for the admiration of the rational universe, the inscription of the Love of God. O, strange misrepresentation of the doctrines of orthodox believers, as if they ascribed the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the innocent Jesus, to the wrath of God, - to the implacability of the Divine Mind! No. The glorious plan of redemption through a crucified Saviour, bears next to the inscription of Holiness, and in unchangeable union therewith - but without confusion - the inscription of Love. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"

And again; there are persons who would represent the Christian as regarding the Lord Jesus as an involuntary victim; a victim by compulsion. O, friends, what strange perversion! we know that he is one in counsel, one in wisdom, one in holiness, one in love with the Father, and that of his own voluntary and matchless benevolence towards our poor, lost, wandering, fallen race, he was "in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself; and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.'' "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having sport, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."

There is another proposition current among the speculators of the present day, which now rises before me. That no man is responsible for his faith. Well, friends, so say the speculators. But what say the Scriptures; "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." And surely, our blessed Lord himself, hath thrown abundant light upon this point, by his reference to the ancient history of Israel. "And as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." And we know that on another occasion, he said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me; (this he said, signifying what death he should die,") even that he should be lifted up on the fatal cross. And we know how it was with the children of Israel, when they were sorely punished for their murmurings against God; the multitude were sickening, and dying upon the sandy wilderness, under the poisonous bite of the fiery serpents; and when Moses interceded for the people, he was commanded to make a serpent of brass, and set it upon a pole, and whosoever looked upon that serpent, should be healed of their wounds. Now here was God's own method of restoring the wounded and dying Israelite. Very strange, very singular, in the view of human reason; beyond the scope of man's invention or intellect; but ordered by perfect and inscrutable Wisdom. And we know that those who looked in faith and obedience upon the serpent of brass, were healed of their wounds.

Now, friends, what should we have thought of the reasonableness of some poor speculating Israelite, who should pretend that no man could command his belief; that no man was responsible for his faith, and should therefore refuse to believe what he could not understand, and would turn away his head from the appointed object; what would be the consequence ? Death, inevitable death, - the death of the body.

And now, the Scriptures say, Christianity says, and the united voice of the ministers of the gospel of every age must repeat the sound; Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world; look in faith to him who was lifted upon the cross without the gates of Jerusalem, for the healing of desperate wounds. O, dear friends, are we not wounded by the old dragon, the enemy of souls, deeply wounded, and doth not the deadly poison of sin rankle in our very souls, the end whereof is death? - the death of the soul, even its eternal separation from God the fountain of light. And behold the all-wise Jehovah has provided his own remedy; and he commands us all to come in faith, even to come with broken and penitent hearts, and to believe in the crucified Jesus, that we may be delivered from our desperate danger; emancipated from the terror of the Lord, and win redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.

O, friends, what shall we say of the wisdom or philosophy of that man, who, under the false idea that no man is responsible for his faith, and that he cannot, and will not believe what he does not comprehend, turns away his intellectual vision from the crucified One, who suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, - refuses the appointed remedy, nay, tramples in spirit upon the blood of the everlasting covenant; - O, what must be the consequence? - he dies, and dies forever. And therefore, ye beloved ones and longed for in the Lord, away with your false propositions, and speculations, and doubts, and come home to the truth as it is in Jesus. For "we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the 'wisdom of God."

And now, friends, though an appeal has been made under a feeling of the pointing of religious duty, even to your reason, to your calm reflection, to your meditation in the cool of the day -remember, O remember, that no man can call Jesus, Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Therefore, pray for the Spirit; wait for the Spirit; quench not the Spirit; grieve not the Spirit. But bow, bow down this night under the matchless influence of the power of God, who is yet baptizing his people with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And then shall your understandings be enlightened, because your dispositions will be rectified, and you shall see things as they really are, and come to rejoice in God, your Saviour; come to a practical understanding of these blessed words; "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die."

The Prayer:

Thou art holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts! and let thine universe be filled with thy glory. Make known, we beseech thee, that thou art yet for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty to the residue of thy people. Break in upon us with the light of thy countenance, and with a living sense of thine own eternal power, that we may be broken and humbled in the dust before thee. O, the depth of the riches both of thy wisdom, and of thy knowledge! how unsearchable are thy judgments, and thy ways past finding out! Who hath known, thy mind, O God, and who hath been thy counsellor? for from thee, and through thee, and unto thee, are all things. We pray thee for thy mercy's sake, and for thy well-beloved Son's sake, to send forth thy light and thy truth; let them light and lead us unto thee, and unto thy tabernacle. Wilt thou melt down the hard and evil heart of unbelief, in all who are in any measure partakers thereof; and among the inhabitants of this city in general, wheresoever it is found, melt it down by the fire of thy love, by fire from heaven, that it may be utterly taken away; and that all may be brought to find their happiness, their life, their salvation, and their heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, who was in glory before the world was, who was made flesh, and dwelt amongst men, who suffered on the cross for the sins of mankind, without the gates of Jerusalem, who rose from the dead, ascended up into heaven, and sitteth at thine own right hand in glory unutterable, there to be our Advocate with thee, the Father, a High Priest forever, after the order of Melchisedeck, King of righteousness, and King of peace. O, be thou pleased, by the drawing cords of thy love, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to bring us all to Jesus; that we may savingly behold the precious Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world; and that we may know him to be a Saviour from sin, that under the blessed influence of the Holy Ghost, we may serve, worship, obey and follow thee, the living God, in the beauty of holiness, in the new creation.

And now, we reverently, and in awful prostration of soul, acknowledge, that unto thee the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things; and unto thy well-beloved Son our Holy Redeemer; and unto the Holy Ghost, the Teacher and Sanctifier of thy children; one true, unchangeable, indivisible, eternal God over all, Jehovah, who wast, and art, and art to come; - belongeth and must be ascribed, all honor, glory, power, dominion, and praise, majesty and high renown, now, henceforth, and to all eternity.