2 Corinthians 5:20

To the Young People – For the New Year’s Evening 1777
2 Cor 5 20
It has been my usual custom on these evenings my friends to bespeak your attention by a few words, before I take my text. And as I always come to you with the same feelings in my heart I have probably expressed myself from year to year much to the same purpose. The Lord has hitherto given me upon these occasions some peculiar earnestness of desire to be made useful to your souls, some real sense of the vast importance of the message I bring to you – something of a warm concern for the continuance of his light and truth and work amongst us, the hope of which chiefly depends upon the reception which the Gospel meets with amongst the younger part of the congregation. And therefore, especially of late, it has been a painful concern. For though many are willing to hear, I fear there are but few who are in good earnest asking their way to Zion with their faces thitherward. [1] Many who are now in my eye as young people were children when I came to town, [2] and it is too evident that notwithstanding all advantages they have been favoured with, their growth in sin has kept pace with their growth in years, and some are perhaps more determined in evil, and less restrained either by shame or fear, than many who never had an opportunity of hearing the Gospel in their lives. Alas can these dry bones live? Can they who already despise the Word, receive it tonight with meekness as the engrafted word which is able to save their souls. Yet still there is hope. Power belongeth to God, and after having long toiled apparently to little purpose, at his command I am about to cast the net again. You that know how to pray, help me with your prayers; O that the Lord may prosper the attempt.
One new thought is upon my mind tonight, which I never had occasion to mention to you before. This is the thirteenth time of my standing up to preach to the young people. I am now growing old in your service, and considering the uncertainty of life and the changes to which it is subject, it is by no means unseasonable for me to listen to a suggestion, which seems to whisper, What if this should be the last time? I do not know that it will be so. The Lord knows in whose hands all our times are! I have lived to bury most of my old people who were my glory. I have lived to see many young people who were once my joy and my hope, turn aside either to the world, or to things which will not profit. I have lived to see our weekday assemblies here and at the Great House almost forsaken. In myself I feel no remarkable alteration, I am as I always was, a weak and unworthy servant. Yet I know I preach the same Gospel and bear the same love to the people as ever. But in my apprehension the Lord is pleased in a great measure to restraining his convincing, converting and quickening power; and sometimes I am ready to think that my work, at least in Olney, is drawing towards a close. O for a revival! Tomorrow Lord is thine, but O for thy mercy sake help us tonight. But were I sure it would be the last time, and that I should go from the pulpit to my bed, and see your faces no more, I can and I will take you record that I am clear from your blood, for I have not shunned, according to my ability and experience, to declare unto you, the whole counsel of God. [3]
2 Corinthians 5:20
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the author of this reconciliation, published it himself when he was upon earth, and when about to return to his glory, he commissioned his apostles to proclaim it far and near. For which purpose on the day of Pentecost after his ascension, he anointed them with the Holy Ghost and with power. They went forth therefore in his name, the Lord himself bearing witness to their message and confirming the word of his grace. Great and wonderful were the effects. Wherever they went sinners were turned from darkness to light, and from the service of sin and dumb idols to serve the living God. The apostles were mortals like ourselves, and when they had filled up the appointed measure of services and sufferings for him, were removed to their Master's joy. The work however was not limited to their lives; his promise to be with his church and servants extends to the end of the world. Though they therefore had an honour and authority peculiar to themselves as Apostles, yet all Gospel Ministers, who are called, sent and furnished by the Head of the church (and none but such deserve the name) may without arrogance assume the Apostle’s words, and address their hearers as Ambassadors for Christ. As such however unworthy in myself, I appear before you now. I come in his name, I bring his word with me – I have a message to you from God, may he who has sent me dispose your hearts to hear with attention and reverence.
I shall:
1. Observe a few things from the word Ambassadors.
2. Endeavour to open the message of reconciliation.
3. Consider, and (O that I may feel something of) the earnestness which filled the apostle’s mind – as though God – and in Christ's stead.
1. [Ambassadors]
  1.1 Ambassadors have their credentials, their authority for what they do. Do you ask, How can we sinful worms, take this style upon ourselves? I answer, None but sinful worms are properly fit for the service. In some respects indeed, the sublime mysteries of the Gospel might seem more suitable to the tongues of angels than men. But the Lord chooses his A[Ambassadors] – from amongst the enemies with whom he is pleased to treat; he seizes them by his power, constrains them by his love, pardons and saves them, and then sends them back to tell their fellow rebels, There is forgiveness. Such was Paul – a fit person to declare JC[Jesus Christ] came into the world to save sinners, and this fitness have I – I likewise was a persecutor etc; but I obtained mercy.
  1.2 Ambassadors are under instructions to which they are to conform – they are not sent to make fine speeches, or to serve their own interests, but to be faithful and bold in declaring their master's will and supporting his cause. It is the Lord's will that we should speak to you with affection, but with freedom. We would willingly please you to your edification, but we dare not flatter you.
  1.3 Kings esteem the treatment their ambassadors meet with, as their own concern. If the message is rejected, the affront is not so much to the A_[Ambassador] as to the authority by which he acts. Thus our Lord says – He that despiseth you, despiseth me. [4] The Lord help you to believe and consider, that, we speak in Christ's stead.
2. What is our message.
  It is very important and yet one would think should not be very unwelcome. If we were sent to denounce all the curses of the law against you, to tell you that he who made you would have no mercy upon you and that your everlasting destruction was sure, we should not wonder if you were unwilling to hear, or angry at what you heard. But we are sent to preach mercy – to tell you that though you have deserved the curse it shall not come upon you, unless you reject the message of reconciliation. We are commanded to pray and beseech you to be reconciled to God. Is this unreasonable? Can this be undesirable?
I must just note:
  1. Many of the Corinthians were already reconciled but Paul wrote to them as a professing church – he addressed the better part as saints and believers, but he knew there would be chaff as well as wheat upon the floor. Hearers as well as doers. This is a general message, to all to whom the Epistle should come, to whom the Gospel should be preached to the end of time.
  2. Paul does not contradict his own doctrine of Free Grace by thus speaking.  The power is the Lord's, but the message is the instrument by which he works. And the motives and arguments he employs are suitable to the natures he has given us, to our hopes, fears and desires and such as are usually effectual in all other cases – that they are not so in this, is not so properly owing to a want of power, as to the enmity and obstinacy of the sinner's will. Therefore think not to put it off while I am speaking, and say, How can I be reconciled, expect[except] the Lord is pleased to work upon me? Your business is not to cavil or to reason but to believe. As an Ambassador therefore, I am to set life and death before you, and I shall take your conscience to witness against the judgement day, that they have been set before you this night.
  Now reconciliation implies a variance. I must tell you in the first place your need of it. You are, if not already reconciled, enemies to God:
  2.1 On account of guilt
Conscience tells you you have offended him, therefore there is a secret fear which makes it impossible for you no[not to] love him, or not to be averse from him in your hearts. Reason tells you he is stronger than you and Scripture tells you of a judgement seat. In this state you do not love to think of him. There is atheism in your heart, so that if like Satan you believe and tremble yet you would be glad were it possible to know either that there is no God, or that he takes no notice of you. How dreadful is this.
  2.2 On account of the love of sin
You dislike his precepts and prefer your own ways. His laws are too strict, too severe in your judgement. You dislike his government. You are pleased with nothing that he does, but are filled with a spirit of murmuring and discontent, because his dispensations cross your wishes. Hitherto you have disliked his grace, and slighted his redeeming love, but O this night I pray you in Christ's stead, Be ye reconciled.
  As you are against God – so considering you as a sinner – the blessed God is against you. His justice, wisdom, truth, the holiness of his law, and the honour of his government, all have their claims upon you, claims that must be satisfied, or it would be in vain to speak of reconciliation. Were there not a way found for bestowing mercy without infringing the honour of the divine perfections, our whole race must perish, for God cannot be unjust or deny himself. He is not a man that he should lie. [5] And he has said, he has sworn, the wages of sin is death. [6]
Oh then repent and believe. On the Lord's part reconciliation is effected. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. He was manifest in the flesh. The Creator assumed a body of our very flesh and blood – to give strength and dignity to the human nature, which was charged with the sins of all who should believe. By the obedience which Jesus yielded, the law was not only satisfied but magnified and made honourable; by the torments and agonies which he endured, the blood which he shed and the death which he died, atonement is made for sin. Now his justice is cleared, his truth vindicated, his displeasure against sin manifested in the strongest light, by the very method he has taken to show himself reconciled to sinners. Now all manner of sin and blasphemy can be, shall be, forgiven to men, if they humbly and thankfully receive the record he has given of his Son, and flee for refuge to the hope set before them. And provision is made of grace to accompany the message to open the eyes and hearts of sinners, that they may not hear in vain.
3. Let us notice the weighty manner in which the apostle enforces his message:
  3.1 As though God did beseech you by us.
What a wonderful thought. We who had sinned and were exposed to ruin were thoughtless and careless. God who was justly offended, and might have glorified his justice in our destruction, is the first to provide the means of reconciliation, means which only his infinite wisdom could have contrived, only his infinite love could have afforded, and then to beseech us to accept it, following us with his Word, his Ministers, his Spirit, his Providence, as if determined to take no denial. Lord what is man that thou shouldst be thus mindful of him! [7] What is man that he should thus obstinately stand out against thy goodness and his own happiness!
  3.2 We pray you in Christ's stead
God besought us in Christ, God besought us by Christ. Christ is God and God is Christ. While he was on earth this was his great business to pray and beseech sinners to be reconciled. For this he went from place to place preaching his own Gospel. With what earnestness did he beseech, with what tenderness did he expostulate. How graciously did he receive the vilest. How did he weep over his obstinate enemies, and pray with his dying breath for those who murdered him. Lord Jesus let me feel myself in thy stead tonight, give me a portion of thy love and of the bowels of thy compassions to souls. [8] Reveal thyself amongst us, and let them hear not my voice but thine, speaking thy groans and agonies to their hearts, that they may fear, believe and love.
  And now I am not careful for myself. It is a small thing with me to be judged of man's judgement. Methinks I could be content to be slighted, despised and reviled so that you might be saved. But remember I am an Ambassador. God beseeches you by me, I pray you in Christ's stead – the arguments I use are drawn from the love and the blood of his heart. Consider – what answer shall I return to him that sent me? Will you be entreated and prevailed on, or must I say, Lord, they hear, but they will not believe my report! [9] If so, what answer will you give for yourselves when he shall appear? For Behold he cometh in the clouds. [10]
[In Conclusion]
Do any of you say, What shall we do? Though you cannot change your own hearts, there are things which accept you wilfully harden yourselves are within your power –
[1.] Pray for a blessing upon what you hear. Entreat the Lord to put forth his power.
2. Consider your ways. Conscience and memory will help you if you are in earnest. Think what mercies you have received, and what returns of sin you have made.
3. Break off your outward sins. You could from many of them for the fear of men, if you will not for God’s sake and for Christ's sake, condemnation lies at your door.
4. Forsake evil company, forsake the foolish and live. If you sin with them you must perish with them.
5. Read the Bible, and frequent the preaching of the Gospel. Prize the means while you have them. If a stranger preaches, if there is a funeral or a fast, or any occasional service, curiosity brings many who think it not worth their while to come at other times, but you should be as frequent, as constant, as your lawful business will permit. Especially on the Lord's Day, then you are without excuse if you slight the ordinances.
6. Try to believe – you cannot by your own power – nor could the man with a withered arm stretch it forth of himself. But at the Lord's command he tried, and was healed in the attempt. Faith comes by hearing.
If you are reconciled – then you are saved. Your sins pardoned – you become the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty – obtain an interest in all the promises. The Lord will be your God, your Sun, your shield, your guide and guard through life, and heaven your everlasting portion.
But if not, you will sink under the curse and wrath of God, with the double-multiplied aggravated punishment, which is due to those [who] despise Christ, and trample upon his blood. You will be in a worse case than the sinners of Sodom. The Ministers you have heard, the Christians among whom you live, the parents and friends of some of you, who have warned you and wept over you, will all be swift witnesses against you at the great day. They will then feel no more compassion for you, but when your sentence is confirmed, and hell is opening its mouth to receive you, they will rejoice over you and say, So let all thine enemies perish O Lord. [11] O think how soon you may be snatched away.
Some of you I trust have accepted this word of reconciliation, and are seeking Jesus. The Lord help you to hold on and to hold out. Watch and pray. He is able to keep you, but you are not able to keep yourselves. Mind the main thing, the life of God in your souls, and do not turn aside, or take up with anything short of the mind that was in Christ, and a spirit and conversation becoming the Gospel.
I speak chiefly with a view to the young people – but there are aged, greyheaded sinners amongst us. Ah, you at least must be near your great change. Are you not yet reconciled? Tremble at the thought. Yet there is hope. Seek it now quickly, earnestly – the gate of mercy is yet open, but it may be soon shut.
And now may the Lord command a blessing. I commend you to him and to the word of his grace etc.

[1] Jeremiah 50:5 They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. Newton had preached on this text to the young people ‘On the New Year’s Evening 1774’.
[2] Newton began his ministry at Olney on 27 May 1764.
[3] Ezekiel 33:8,9 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
[4] Luke 10:16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.
[5] Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
[6] Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[7] Psalm 144:3 Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
[8] For 1 John 3:17, the KJV has: But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? A more modern English version such as the ESV has: But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
[9] Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias[Isaiah] saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
[10] Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
[11] Judges 5:31 So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.
From Newton's pocket sermon notebook, 714(14) N35, Cowper & Newton Museum, Olney, Bucks
© Marylynn Rouse 2020