Part 25 MINISTERS AND PEOPLE 
Your call is not to instruct men in the doctrines and duties of Christianity merely, but to convert them from sin to holiness. A doctrine can be of little value that does not lead to practical effect; and the duties of Christianity will be preached in vain to all who have not the principle or obedience.
It is the prerogative of God both to call and qualify a man to be a successful preacher of his word. All men are not thus called; among the millions professing Christianity very few are employed in the work of the ministry in the ordinary course of providence; and still fewer by especial call. Every revival of religion is the proof of the dispensation of an extraordinary influence; for in such outpourings of God's Spirit we ever find extraordinary means and instruments used.
You are either among these ordinary or extraordinary messengers; and you have either an ordinary or extraordinary call. But as you belong not, as a Christian minister, to any established form of religion in the land, you are an extraordinary messenger, or no minister at all; and you have either an extraordinary call, or you have no call whatever.
I hold this to be a matter of prime importance; for long experience has shown me that he among us who is not convinced that he has an extraordinary call to the ministry will never seek for extraordinary help, will sink under discouragements and persecutions, and consequently, far from being a light of the world, will be salt without savor; and, in our connection, a slothful, if not a wicked servant, who should be east out of the sacred fold, as an encumberer of the inheritance of the Lord.
It is the prerogative of God to call and ordain his own ministers: it may be the prerogative of the church to appoint them where to labor; though, frequently, this also comes by an especial divine appointment.
To be properly qualified for a minister of Christ, a man must be -- 1. Filled with the Spirit of holiness; 2. Called to his particular work; 3. Instructed in its nature, &c.; and, 4. Commissioned to go forth, and testify the gospel of the grace of God. These are four different gifts which a man must receive from God by Christ Jesus. To these let him add all the human qualifications he can possibly attain; as in his arduous work he will require every gift and every grace.
Jesus Christ never made an apostle of any man who was not first his scholar or disciple.
He who has nothing but a net, and leaves that for the sake of doing good to the souls of men, leaves his all. Those who are really called of God to the sacred ministry are such as have been brought to a deep acquaintance with themselves, feel their own ignorance, and know their own weakness. They know also the awful responsibility that attaches to the work; and nothing but the authority of God can induce such to undertake it. They whom God never called run because of worldly honor and emolument; the others hear the call with fear and trembling, and can go only in the strength of Jehovah.
"How ready is the man to go, Whom God hath never sent! How tim'rous, diffident, and slow God's chosen instrument!"
None should be appointed to ecclesiastical offices who is not able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convince the gainsayers. The powers necessary for this are partly natural, partly gracious, and partly acquired. 1. If a man have not good natural abilities, nothing but a miracle from heaven can make him a proper preacher of the gospel; and to make a man a Christian minister who is unqualified for any function of civil life, is sacrilege before God. 2. If the grace of God do not communicate ministerial qualifications, no natural gifts, however splendid, can be of any avail. To be a successful Christian minister, a man must feel the worth of immortal souls in such a way as God only can show it, in order to spend and be spent in the work. He who has never passed through the travail of the soul in the work of regeneration in his own heart can never make plain the way of salvation to others. 3. He who is employed in the Christian ministry should cultivate his mind in the most diligent manner; he can neither learn nor know too much. If called of God to be a preacher, (and without such a call he had better be a galley slave,) he will be able to bring all his knowledge to the assistance and success of his ministry. If he have human learning, so much the better; and if he be accredited, and appointed by those who have authority in the church, it will be to his advantage; but no human learning, no ecclesiastical appointment, no mode of ordination, whether Popish, Episcopal, Protestant, or Presbyterian, can ever supply the divine unction, without which he never can convert and build up the souls of men. The piety of the flock must be faint and languishing when it is not animated by the heavenly zeal of the pastor; they must be blind if he be not enlightened; and their faith must be wavering when he can neither encourage nor defend it.
O ye rulers of the church! be careful, as ye shall answer it to God, never to lay hands on the head of a man whom ye have not just reason to believe God has called to the work; and whose eye is single, and whose heart is pure. Let none be sent to teach Christianity who have not experienced it to be the power of God to the salvation of their own souls. If ye do, though they have your authority, they never can have the blessing or the approbation of God. "I sent them not: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord."
In consequence of the appointment of improper persons to the Christian ministry, there has been not only a decay of piety but also a corruption of religion. No man is a true Christian minister who has not grace, gifts, and fruit. If he have the grace of God, it will appear in his holy life and godly conversation. If to this he add genuine abilities he will give full proof of his ministry: and if he give full proof of his ministry he will have fruit; the souls of sinners will be converted to God through his preaching, and believers will be built up on their most holy faith. How contemptible must that man appear in the eyes of common sense who boasts of his clerical education, his sacerdotal order, his legitimate authority to preach, administer the Christian sacraments, &c., while no soul is benefited by his ministry! Such a person may have legal authority to take tithes, but as to an appointment from God, he has none; else his word would be with power, and his preaching the means of salvation to his perishing hearers.
What should ministers of the gospel feel on such subjects? Is not their charge more important and more awful than that of Moses? How few consider this! It is respectable, it is honorable, to be in the gospel ministry; but who is sufficient to guide and feed the flock of God? If through the pastor's unfitness or neglect any soul should go astray, or perish through want of proper spiritual nourishment, or through not getting his portion in due season, in what a dreadful state is the pastor! That soul, says God, shall die in his iniquities, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hands! Were these things duly considered by those who are candidates for the gospel ministry, who could be found to undertake it? We should then indeed have the utmost occasion to pray the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers into the harvest; as no one, duly considering those things, would go, unless thrust out by God himself. O ye ministers of the sanctuary! tremble for your own souls, and the souls of those committed to your care, and go not into this work unless God go with you. Without his presence, unction, and approbation ye can do nothing.
Who is capable of these things? Is it such a person as has not intellect sufficient for a common trade or calling? No; a preacher of the gospel should be a man of the soundest sense, the most cultivated mind, the most extensive experience, one who is deeply taught of God, and who has deeply studied man; one who has prayed much, read much, and studied much; one who takes up his work as from God, does it as before God, and refers all to the glory of God; one who abides under the inspiration of the Almighty, and who has hidden the word of God in his heart, that he might not sin against him. No minister formed by man call ever be such as is required here. The school of Christ, and that alone, can ever form such a preacher.
The ministers of the gospel are signets or seals of Jesus Christ; he uses them to stamp his truth, to accredit it, and give it currency. But as a seal can mark nothing of itself unless applied by a proper hand, so the ministers of Christ can do no good, seal no truth, impress no soul, unless the great Owner condescend to use them.
A wicked man can neither have nor communicate authority to dispense heavenly mysteries; and a fool, or a blockhead, can never teach others the way of salvation. The highest abilities are not too great for a preacher of the gospel; nor is it possible that he can have too much human learning. But all is nothing unless he can bring the grace and Spirit of God into all his ministrations; and these will never accompany him unless he live in the spirit of prayer and humility, fearing and loving God, and hating covetousness.
The word of him who has this commission from heaven shall be as a fire and as a hammer; sinners shall be convinced and converted to God by it. But the others, though they steal the word from their neighbor, borrow or pilfer a good sermon; yet they do not profit the people at all, because God did not send them; for the power of God does not in their ministry accompany the word. For my own part, I should ever feel disposed to bow with respect to that rare dispensation of providence and grace which should, in similar circumstances, with as clear and distinct a call, raise up a woman of such talents and piety to labor in the gospel, where the people were perishing for lack of knowledge, and so snatch the brands from eternal burning. Who so prejudiced as not to see that God put no honor on Inman, the curate, but chose Susanna Wesley to do the work of the evangelist? The abundance of gracious fruit which sprang from this seed proved that the master sower was Jesus, the Lord of the harvest. Lord, thou wilt send by whomsoever thou pleasest; and wilt hide pride from man, in order to prove that the excellence of the power is of thee!
When the great Head of the church calls a man to preach the gospel, he in effect says, "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." He never confines his own gift and call absolutely to any place; but leaves them under the direction and management of his own providence. The call of God to preach is a missionary call; and they who have it know that they are not their own, and must do the Master's work in the Master's own way, place, and time. Hence all the ministers of his gospel have a missionary spirit; let providence direct, as it chooses, their way.
Does any man inquire what is the duty of a gospel minister? Send him to the second chapter of the Epistle to Titus for a complete answer. There he will find what he is to believe, what he is to practice, and what he is to preach. Even his congregation is parceled out to him. The old and the young of both sexes, and those who are in their employment, are considered to be the objects of his ministry; and a plan of teaching, in reference to those different descriptions of society, is laid down before him. He finds here the doctrine which he is to preach to them, the duties which he is required to inculcate, the motives by which his exhortations are to be strengthened, and the end which both he and his people should invariably have in view.
The charge of St. Paul to the pastors of the church of Christ at Ephesus and Miletus contains much that is interesting to every Christian minister:-- 1. If he be sent of God at all, he is sent to feed the flock. 2. But, in order to feed them, he must have the bread of life. 3. This bread he must distribute in its due season, that each may have that portion that is suitable to time, place, and state. 4. While he is feeding others, he should take care to have his own soul fed: it is possible for a minister to be the instrument of feeding others, and yet starve himself. 5. If Jesus Christ intrust to his care the souls he has bought by his own blood, what an awful account will he have to give in the day of judgment, if any of them perish through his neglect! Though the sinner, dying in his sins, has his own blood upon his head, yet, if the watchman has not faithfully warned him, his blood will be required at the watchman's hand. Let him who is concerned read Ezekiel xxxiii, 3-5, and think of the account which he is shortly to give unto God.
The very discoveries which are really useful have been made by men who feared God, and conscientiously credited divine revelation; witness Newton, Boyle, Pascal, and many others. But all the skeptics and deists, by their schemes of natural religion and morality, have not been able to save one soul! No sinner has ever been converted from the error of his ways by their preaching or writings.
In all this enumeration, where the apostle gives us all the officers and gifts necessary for the constitution of a church, we find not one word of bishops, presbyters, or deacons; much less of the various officers and offices which the Christian church at present exhibits. Perhaps the bishops are included under the apostles, the presbyters under the prophets, and the deacons under the teachers. As to the other ecclesiastical officers with which the Romish Church teems, they may seek them who are determined to find them, anywhere out of the New Testament.
It is natural for men to run into extremes; and there is no subject on which they have run into wider extremes than that of the necessity of human learning; for, in order to a proper understanding of the sacred Scriptures, on one hand, all learning has been cried down, and the necessity of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as the sole interpreter, strongly and vehemently argued. On the other, all inspiration has been set aside, the possibility of it questioned, and all pretensions to it ridiculed in a way savoring little of Christian charity or reverence for God. That there is a middle way from which these extremes are equally distant, every candid man who believes the Bible must allow. That there is an inspiration of the Spirit which every conscientious Christian may claim, and without which no man can be a Christian, is sufficiently established by innumerable scriptures, and by the uninterrupted and universal testimony of the church of God; this has been frequently proved in the preceding notes. If any one, professing to be a preacher of the gospel of Jesus, denies, speaks, or writes against this, he only gives awful proof to the Christian church how utterly unqualified he is for his sacred function. He is not sent by God, and therefore he shall not profit the people at all. With such, human learning is all in all; it is to be a substitute for the unction of Christ, and the grace and influences of the Holy Spirit.
But while we flee from such sentiments as from the influence of a pestilential vapor, shall we join with those who decry learning and science, absolutely denying them to be of any service in the work of the ministry, and often going so far as to assert that they are dangerous, and subversive of the truly Christian temper and spirit, engendering little beside pride, self-sufficiency, and intolerance?
That there have been pretenders to learning, proud and intolerant, we have too many proofs of the fact to doubt it; and that there have been pretenders to divine inspiration, not less so, we have also many facts to prove. But such are only pretenders; for a truly learned man is ever humble and complacent; and one who is under the influence of the divine Spirit is ever meek, gentle, and easy to be entreated. The proud and the insolent are neither Christians nor scholars. Both religion and learning disclaim them, as being a disgrace to both.
But it is not the ability merely to interpret a few Greek and Latin authors that can constitute a man a scholar, or qualify him to teach the gospel. Thousands have this knowledge who are neither wise unto salvation themselves, nor capable of leading those who are astray into the path of life. LEARNING is a word of extensive import; it signifies knowledge and experience; the knowledge of God and of nature in general, and of man in particular; of man in all his relations and connections; his history in all the periods of his being, and in all the places of his existence; the means used by divine Providence for his support; the manner in which he has been led to employ the power and faculties assigned to him by his Maker; and the various dispensations of grace and mercy by which he has been favored. To acquire this knowledge, an acquaintance with some languages, which have long ceased to be vernacular, is often not only highly expedient, but in some cases indispensably necessary. But how few of those who pretend most to learning, and who have spent both much time and much money in seats of literature in order to obtain it, have got this knowledge! All that many of them have gained is merely the means of acquiring it; with this they become satisfied, and most ignorantly call it learning. These resemble persons who carry large unlighted tapers in their hand, and boast how well qualified they are to give light to them who sit in darkness; while they neither emit light nor heat, and are incapable of kindling the taper they hold. Learning, in one proper sense of the word, is the means of acquiring knowledge; but multitudes who have the means seem utterly unacquainted with their use, and live and die in a learned ignorance. Human learning, properly applied and sanctified by the divine Spirit, is of inconceivable benefit to a Christian minister in teaching and defending the truth of God. No man possessed more of it in his day than St. Paul. And no man better knew its use. In this, as well as in many other excellences, he is a most worthy pattern to all the preachers of the gospel. By learning a man may acquire knowledge; by knowledge, reduced to practice, experience; and from knowledge and experience wisdom is derived. The learning that is got from books, or the study of languages, is of little use to any man, and is of no estimation, unless practically applied to the purposes of life. He whose learning and knowledge have enabled him to do good among men, and who lives to promote the glory of God and the welfare of his fellow creatures, can alone, of all the literati, expect to hear in the great day, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
How necessary learning is at present to interpret the sacred writings, any man may see who reads with attention; but none can be so fully convinced of this as he who undertakes to write a comment on the Bible. Those who despise helps of this kind are to be pitied. Without them, they may, it is true, understand enough for the mere salvation of their souls; and yet even much of this they owe, under God, to the teaching of experienced men. After all, it is not a knowledge of Latin and Greek merely that can enable a man to understand the Scriptures, or interpret them to others; if the Spirit of God take not away the veil of ignorance from the heart, and enlighten and quicken the soul with his all-pervading energy, all the learning under heaven will not make a man wise unto salvation.
Paul was not brought into the Christian ministry by any rite ever used in the Christian church. Neither bishop nor presbyter ever laid hands on him; and he is more anxious to prove this, because his chief honor arose from being sent immediately by God himself: his conversion and the purity of his doctrine showed whence he came. Many since his time, and in the present day, are far more anxious to show that they are legitimately appointed by man than by God; and are fond of displaying their human credentials. These are easily shown; those that come from God are out of their reach. How idle and how vain is a boasted succession from the apostles, while ignorance, intolerance, pride, and vain glory prove that those very persons have no commission from Heaven! Endless cases may occur where man sends, and yet God will not sanction. And that man has no right to preach, nor administer the sacraments of the church of Christ, whom God has not sent, though the whole assembly of apostles had laid their hands on him. God never sent, and never will send, to convert others, a man who is not converted himself. He will never send him to teach meekness, gentleness, and long suffering, who is proud, overbearing, intolerant, and impatient. He, in whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, never had a commission to preach the gospel; he may boast of his human authority, but God will laugh him to scorn. On the other hand, let none run before he is sent; and when he has got the authority of God, let him be careful to take that of the church with him also. By the kind providence of God, it appears that he has not permitted any apostolic succession to be preserved; lest the members of his church should seek that in uninterrupted succession which must be found in the HEAD... alone. The Papists or Roman Catholics, who boast of an uninterrupted succession, which is a mere fable, that never was and never can be proved, have raised up another head, the pope. And I appeal to themselves, in the fear of God, whether they do not in heart and in speech trace up all their authority to him; and only compliment Christ as having appointed Peter to be the first bishop of Rome; (which is an utter falsity, for he was never appointed to such an office there, nor ever held such an office in that city; nor, in their sense, anywhere else;) and they hold also that the popes of Rome are not so much Peter's successors, as God's vicars; and thus both God and Peter are nearly lost sight of in their papal enumerations. With them the authority of the church is all in all; the authority of Christ is seldom mentioned.
It is idle to employ time in proving that there is no such thing as an uninterrupted succession of this kind; it does not exist, it never did exist. It is a silly fable, invented by ecclesiastical tyrants, and supported by clerical coxcombs. But were it even true, it has nothing to do with the text, Heb. v, 4. It speaks merely of the appointment of a high priest, the succession to be preserved in the tribe of Levi, and in the family of Aaron. But even this succession was interrupted and broken, and the office itself was to cease on the coming of Christ, after whom there could be no high priest; nor can Christ have any successor, and therefore he is said to be a "priest for ever," for he ever liveth the intercessor and sacrifice for mankind. The verse, therefore, has nothing to do with the clerical office, with preaching God's holy word, or administering the sacraments; and those who quote it in this way show how little they understand the Scriptures, and how ignorant they are of the nature of their own office.
If Christ be a priest for ever, there can be no succession of priests; and if he have all power in heaven and in earth, and if he be present wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, he can have no vicars; nor can the church need one to act in his place, when he, from the necessity of his nature, fills all places and is everywhere present. This one consideration nullifies all the pretensions of the Romish pontiff, and proves the whole to be a tissue of imposture.
A man may be well taught in the things of God, and be able to teach others, who has not had the advantages of a liberal education. Teachers who preach for hire, having no motive to enter into the ministry but to get a living, as it is called ominously by some; however they may bear the garb and appearance of the innocent useful sheep, the true pastors commissioned by the Lord Jesus, or to whatever name, class, or party they may belong, are, in the sight of the heart-searching God, no other than ravenous wolves, whose design is to feed themselves with the fat, and clothe themselves with the fleece, and thus ruin, instead of save the flock.
He who preaches to get a living, or to make a fortune, is guilty of the most infamous sacrilege.
Even in our enlightened country, we find prophets who prefer hunting the hare or the fox, and pursuing the partridge and pheasant, to visiting the sick, and going after the strayed, lost sheep of the house of Israel. Poor souls! they know neither God nor themselves; and if they did visit the sick, they could not speak to them to exhortation, edification, or comfort. God never called them to his work, therefore they know nothing of it. But O what an account have these pleasure-taking false prophets to render to the Shepherd of souls!
"His blood will I require at thy hand:" -- I will visit thy soul for the loss of his. O how awful is this! Hear it, ye priests, -- ye preachers, -- ye ministers of the gospel; ye, especially, who have entered into the ministry for a living: ye who gather a congregation to yourselves that ye may feed upon their fat, and clothe yourselves with their wool; in whose parishes and in whose congregations souls are dying unconverted from day to day, who have never been solemnly warned by you, and to whom you have never shown the way of salvation, probably because ye know nothing of it yourselves. O, what a perdition awaits you! To have the blood of every soul that has died in your parishes or in your congregations unconverted, laid at your door! To suffer a common damnation for every soul that perishes through your neglect! How many loads of endless woe must such have to bear! Ye take your tithes, your stipends, or your rents, to the last grain, and the last penny; while the souls over whom you made yourselves watchmen have perished, and are perishing through your neglect! O worthless and hapless men! better for you had ye never been born! Vain is your boast of apostolical authority, while ye do not the work of apostles. Vain your boast of your orthodoxy, while ye neither show nor know the way of salvation; -- vain your pretensions to a divine call, when ye do not the work of evangelists. The state of the most wretched of the human race is enviable to that of such ministers, pastors, teachers, and preachers.
We did not seek temporal emolument; nor did we preach the gospel for a cloak to our covetousness: God is witness that we did not; we sought you, not yours. Hear this, ye that preach the gospel! Can ye call God to witness that in preaching it ye have no end in view by your ministry but his glory in the salvation of souls? Or do ye enter into the priesthood for a morsel of bread, or for what is ominously and impiously called "a living, a benefice?" In better days your place and office were called "a cure of souls;" what care have you for the souls of them by whose labors you are in general more than sufficiently supported? Is it your study, your earnest labor, to bring sinners to God, to preach among your heathen parishioners the unsearchable riches of Christ?
But I should speak to the thousands who have no parishes, but who have their chapels, their congregations, pew and seat rents, &c. Is it for the sake of these that ye have entered or continue in the gospel ministry? Is God witness that, in all these things, ye have no cloak of covetousness? Happy is the man who can say so, whether he has the provision which the law of the land allows him, or whether he lives on the free-will offerings of the people.
Christian ministers, who preach the whole truth, and labor in the word and doctrine, are entitled to more than respect; the apostle commands them to be esteemed, abundantly, and superabundantly; and this is to be done in love; and as men delight to serve those whom they love, it necessarily follows that they should provide for them, and see that they want neither the necessaries nor conveniences of life; I do not say comforts, though these also should be furnished; but of these the genuine messengers of Christ are frequently destitute. However, they should have food, raiment, and lodging for themselves and their household. This they ought to have for their work's sake.
Many canons, at different times, have been made to prevent ecclesiastics from intermeddling with secular employments. He who will preach the gospel thoroughly, and wishes to give full proof of his ministry, had need to have no other work. He should be wholly in this thing, that his profiting may appear unto all. There are many who sin against this direction. They love the world, and labor for it, and are regardless of the souls committed to their charge. But what are they, either in number or guilt, compared to the immense herd of men professing to be Christian ministers, who neither read nor study, and, consequently, never improve? These are too conscientious to meddle with secular affairs, and yet have no scruple of conscience to while away time, be among the chief in needless self-indulgence, and, by their burdensome and monotonous ministry, become an encumbrance to the church! Do you inquire, In what sect or party are these to be found? I answer, In all: idle drones,
"Born to consume the produce of the soil,"
disgrace every department in the Christian church. They cannot teach, because they will not learn.
That minister who neglects the poor, but is frequent in his visits to the rich, knows little of his Master's work, and has little of his Master's spirit.
Time-servers and flatterers; persons who pretend to be astonished at the greatness, goodness, sagacity, learning, wisdom, &c., of rich and great men, hoping thereby to acquire money, influence, power, friends, and the like: all the flatterers of the rich are of this kind; and especially those who profess to be ministers of the gospel, and who, for the sake of a more advantageous settlement or living, will soothe the rich even in their sins. With such persons a rich man is every thing; and, if he have but a grain of grace, his piety is extolled to the skies. I have known several ministers of this character, and wish them all to read the sixteenth verse of Jude.
"Neither as being lords over God's heritage." This is the voice of St. Peter in his catholic epistle to the catholic church. According to him, there are to be no lords over God's heritage; the bishops and presbyters, who are appointed by the Head of the church, are to feed the flock, to guide and to defend it, not to fleece and waste it; and they are to look for their reward in another world, and in the approbation of God in their consciences. And in humility, self-abasement, self-renunciation, and heavenly-mindedness, they are to be ensamples, types to the flock, molds of a heavenly form, into which the spirits and lives of the flock may be cast, that they may come out after a perfect pattern. We need not ask, Does the church that arrogates to itself the exclusive title of "Catholic," and do its supreme pastors who affect to be the successors of Peter, and the vicars of Jesus Christ, act in this way? They are in every sense the reverse of this. But we may ask, Do the other churches, which profess to be reformed from the abominations of the above, keep the advice of the apostle in their eye? Have they pastors according to God's own heart, who feed them with knowledge and understanding? Jer. iii, 15. Do they feed themselves, and not the flock? Are they lords over the heritage of Christ, ruling with a high ecclesiastico-secular hand, disputing with their flocks about penny-farthing tithes and stipends, rather than contending for the faith once delivered to the saints? Are they heavenly molds, into which the spirits and conduct of their flocks may be cast? I leave those who are concerned to answer these questions; but I put them, in the name of God, to all the preachers in the land. How many among them properly care for the flock? Even among those reputed evangelical teachers, are there not some who, on their first coming to a parish or congregation, make it their first business to raise the tithes and the stipends, where, in all good conscience, there was before enough to provide them and their families with not only the necessaries, but all the conveniences and comforts of life? conveniences and comforts which neither Jesus Christ nor his servant Peter ever enjoyed. And is not the great concern among ministers to seek for those places, parishes, and congregations, where the provision is the most ample, and the work the smallest? Preacher or minister, whosoever thou art who readest this, apply not the word to thy neighbor, whether he be state-appointed, congregation-appointed, or self-appointed; take all to thyself; mutato nomine de te fabula narratur. See that thy own heart, views, and conduct be right with God.
The church of God has ever been troubled with such pretended pastors; men who feed themselves, not the flock; men who are too proud to beg, and too lazy to work; who have neither grace nor gifts to plant the standard of the cross on the devil's territories, and by the power of Christ make inroads upon his kingdom, and spoil him of his subjects. On the contrary, by sowing the seeds of dissension, by means of doubtful disputations, and the propagation of scandals; by glaring and insinuating speeches, (for they affect elegance and good breeding,) they rend Christian congregations, form a party for themselves, and thus live on the spoils of the church of God.
How can worldly minded, hireling, fox-hunting, and card-playing priests read Ezek. xxxiv, 2, &c., without trembling to the center of their souls? Woe to those parents who bring up their children merely for church honors and emoluments! Suppose a person have all the church's revenues, if he have God's woe, how miserable is his portion! Let none apply this censure to any one class of preachers exclusively.
How many, by their attachment to filthy lucre, have lost the honor of becoming or continuing ambassadors for the Most High!
How unutterable must the punishment of those be who are chaplains to princes or great men, and who either flatter them in their vices, or wink at their sins!
Were men as zealous to catch souls as they are to support their particular creeds and forms of worship, the state of Christianity would be more flourishing than it is at present.
There are multitudes of scribes, Pharisees, and priests; of reverend and right reverend men; but there are few that work. Jesus wishes for laborers, not gentlemen who are either idle drones or slaves to pleasure and sin.
Alas! alas! how many preachers are there who appear prophets in their pulpits; how many writers, and other evangelical workmen, the miracles of whose labor, learning, and doctrine we admire; who are nothing, and worse than nothing, before God, because they per form not his will, but their own! What an awful consideration, that a man of eminent gifts, whose talents are a source of public utility, should only be as a waymark, or fingerpost, in the way to eternal bliss, pointing out the road to others, without walking in it himself!
Where is the grand difference between the teaching of scribes and Pharisees, the self-created or men-made ministers, and those whom God sends? The first may preach what is called very good and sound doctrine; but it comes with no authority from God to the souls of the people. Therefore, the unholy is unholy still; because preaching can only be effectual to the conversion of men, when the unction of the Holy Spirit is in it; and, as these are not sent by the Lord, therefore they shall not profit the people at all.
It is requisite that he who is to be judge of so many cases of conscience should clearly understand them. But is this possible, unless he have passed through those states and circumstances on which these cases are founded? I trow not. He who has not been deeply exercised in the furnace of affliction and trial is never likely to be a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. How can a man inexperienced in spiritual trials build up the church of Christ!
He who boasts of his ancestry, talks of his mighty sacrifices, and insinuates that he has descended from much dignity, respectability, ease, and affluence, in order to become a Methodist preacher, is the character of which Mr. Wesley speaks, Rule 8. Such a one affects the gentleman, wishes to be thought so by others, may be thought so by persons as empty as himself; but, in the
light of every man of good common sense, is a vain, conceited, empty dunce; is unworthy of the ministry, should be cast out of the vineyard, and hooted from society.
Preach the law and its terrors to make way for the gospel of Christ crucified. But take heed, lest, while you announce the terrors of the Lord, in order to awaken sinners and prepare them for Christ, that you do not give way to your own spirit, especially if you meet with opposition.
Beware of discouraging the people; therefore, avoid continually finding fault with them. This does very much hurt. If you find a society fallen or falling, examine as closely as you can to find out all the good that is among them; and, copying Christ's conduct toward the seven Asiatic churches, preface all that you have to say on the head of their backsliding with the good that remains in them; and make that good which they still possess, the reason why they should shake themselves from the dust, take courage, and earnestly strive for more.
Avoid the error of those who are continually finding fault with their congregations because more do not attend. Bring Christ with you, and preach his truth in the love thereof, and you will never be without a congregation, if God have any work for you to do in that place.
A preacher of the gospel should have nothing about him which savors of effeminacy and worldly pomp: he is awfully mistaken who thinks to prevail on the world to hear him and receive the truth, by conforming himself to its fashions and manners. Excepting the mere color of his clothes, we can scarcely now distinguish a preacher of the gospel, whether in the establishment of the country, or out of it, from the merest worldly man. Ruffles, powder, and fribble seem universally to prevail. Thus the church and the world begin to shake hands, the latter still retaining its enmity to God. How can those who profess to preach the doctrine of the cross act in this way? Is not a worldly minded preacher, in the most peculiar sense, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord?
Let it be well observed that the preacher who conforms to the world in his clothing is never in his element but when he is frequenting the houses and tables of the rich and great. The first preachers, historians, and followers of the doctrines of the gospel were men eminent for the austerity of their lives, the simplicity of their manners, and the sanctity of their conduct; they were authorized by God, and filled with the most precious gifts of his Spirit.
He who makes use of God's gift to feed and strengthen his pride and vanity will be sure to be stripped of the goods wherein he trusts, and fall down into the condemnation of the devil.
He is not a seedsman of God who desires to sow by the wayside, and not on the proper ground; that is, he who loves to preach only to genteel congregations, . to people of sense and fashion, and feels it a pain and a cross to labor among the poor and the ignorant. The ambition which leads to spiritual lordship is one great cause of murmurings and animosities in religions societies, and has proved the ruin of the most flourishing churches in the universe.
Every kind of lordship and spiritual domination over the church of Christ, like that exercised by the church of Rome, is destructive and Antichristian.
Preachers of the gospel, and especially those who are instruments in God's hand of many conversions, have need of much heavenly wisdom; that they may know to watch over, guide, and advise those who are brought to a sense of their sin and danger. How many auspicious beginnings have been ruined by men's proceeding too hastily, endeavoring to make their own designs take place, and to have the honor of that success themselves, which is due only to God!
How often is the work of God marred and discredited by the folly of men! for nature will always, and Satan too, mingle themselves as far as they can in the genuine work of the Spirit, in order to discredit and destroy it. Nevertheless, in great revivals of religion, it is almost impossible to prevent wild-fire from getting in among the true fire; but it is the duty of the ministers of God to watch against and prudently check this; but if themselves encourage it, then there will be "confusion and every evil work."
A minister of the gospel of God should, above all men, be continent of his tongue; his enemies, in certain cases, will crowd question upon question, in order so to puzzle and confound him that he may speak unadvisedly with his lips, and thus prejudice the truth he was laboring to promote and defend. The following is a good prayer, which all who are called to defend or proclaim the truths of the gospel may confidently offer to their God: "Let thy wisdom and light, O Lord, disperse their artifice and my darkness! Cast the bright beams of thy light upon those who have to defend themselves against subtle and deceitful men! Raise and animate their hearts, that they may not be wanting to the cause of truth. Guide their tongue, that they may not be deficient in prudence, nor expose thy truth by any indiscretions or unseasonable transports of zeal. Let meekness, gentleness, and long suffering influence and direct their hearts; and may they ever feel the full weight of that truth: ' The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God!'" The following advice of one of the ancients is good: "Stand thou firm as a beaten anvil; for it is the part of a good soldier to be flayed alive, and yet conquer."
A minister of God should act with great caution: every man, properly speaking, is placed between the secret judgment of God and the public censure of men. He should do nothing rashly, that he may not justly incur the censure of men; and he should do nothing but in the loving fear of God, that he may not incur the censure of his Maker. The man who scarcely ever allows himself to be wrong is one of whom it may be safely said, "He is seldom right." It is possible for a man to mistake his own will for the will of God, and his own obstinacy for inflexible adherence to his duty. With such persons it is dangerous to have any commerce. Reader, pray to God to save thee from an inflated and self-sufficient mind.
Zeal for God's truth is essentially necessary for every minister; and prudence is not less so. They should be wisely tempered together, but this is not always the case. Zeal without prudence is like a flambeau in the hands of a blind man; it may enlighten and warm, but it may also destroy the spiritual building. Human prudence should be avoided as well as intemperate zeal; this kind of prudence consists in a man's being careful not to bring himself into trouble, and not to hazard his reputation, credit, interest, or fortune, in the performance of his duty. Evangelical wisdom consists in our suffering and losing all things, rather than be wanting in the discharge of our obligations. Discipline must be exercised in the Christian church; without this it will soon differ but little from the wilderness of this world. But what judgment, prudence, piety, and caution are requisite in the execution of this most important branch of a minister's duty! He may be too easy and tender, and permit the gangrene to remain till the flock be infected with it. Or he may be rigid and severe, and destroy parts that are vital, while only professing to take away what is vitiated. A backslider is one who once knew less or mere of the salvation of God. Hear what God says concerning such: "Turn, ye backsliders, for I am married unto you." See how unwilling he is to give them up! He suffers long, and is kind: do thou likewise; and when thou art obliged to cut off the offender from the church of Christ, follow him still with thy best advice and heartiest prayers.
There are some who seem to take a barbarous pleasure in expelling members from the church. They should be continued in as long as possible: while they are in the church, under its ordinances and discipline, there is some hope that their errors may be corrected; but when once driven out again into the world, that hope must necessarily become extinct. As judgment is God's strange work, so excommunication should be the strange, the last, and the most reluctantly performed work of every Christian minister.
"Without preferring one before another." -- Without prejudice. Promote no man's cause; make not up thy mind on any case, till thou hast weighed both sides and heard both parties, with their respective witnesses, and then act impartially, as the matter may appear to be proved. Do not treat any man, in religions matters, according to the rank he holds in life, or according to any personal attachment thou mayest have for hint. Every man should be dealt with in the church as he will be dealt with at the judgment seat of Christ. A minister of the gospel, who, in the exercise of discipline in the church, is swayed and warped by secular considerations, will be a curse rather than a blessing to the people of God. Accepting the persons of the rich, in ecclesiastical matters, has been a source of corruption in Christianity. With some ministers, the show of piety in a rich man goes farther than the soundest Christian experience in the poor. What account can such persons give of their stewardship?
A useful, zealous preacher, though unskilled in learned languages, is much greater in the sight of God, and in the eye of sound common sense, than he who has the gift of those learned tongues; "except he interpret:" and we seldom find great scholars good preachers. This should humble the scholar, who is too apt to be proud of his attainments, and despise his less learned but most useful brother. This judgment of St. Paul is too little regarded.
Ever let your ear be open to the cry of the afflicted and dying; in the warmest and most affectionate manner give them directions and exhortations, open to them the Fountain of mercy, and lead them straight to God through the sacrifice of his Son. Show them, prove to them, that with him is mercy, and with him a plenteous salvation; and that in very faithfulness he has afflicted them. While you are ready at every call, make use of all your prudence to prevent the reception of contagion. Do not breathe near the infected person. Contagion is generally taken into the stomach by means of the breath; not that the breath goes into the stomach, but the noxious effluvia are by inspiration brought into the mouth, and immediately connect themselves with the whole surface of the tongue and fauces, and, in swallowing the saliva, are taken down into the stomach, and, there mixing with the aliment in the process of digestion, are conveyed, by means of the lacteal vessels, through the whole of the circulation, corrupting and assimilating to themselves the whole mass of blood, and thus carry death to the heart, lungs, and to the utmost of the capillary system. In visiting fever cases, I have been often conscious of having taken the contagion. On my returning home, I have drunk a few mouthfuls of warm water, and then with the small point of a feather, irritated the stomach to cause it to eject its contents. By these means I have frequently, through mercy, been enabled to escape many a danger and many a death. Never swallow your saliva in a sick room, especially where there is contagion; keep a handkerchief for this purpose, and wash your mouth frequently with tepid water. Keep to windward of every corpse you bury. Never go out with an empty stomach, nor let your strength be prostrated by long abstinence from food.
In a thousand instances an apostolic preacher, who goes into the wilderness to seek the lost sheep, will be exposed to hunger and cold, and to other inconveniences; he must therefore resign himself to God, depending on his providence for the necessaries of life. If God have sent him, he is bound to support him, and will do it: anxiety, therefore, in him, is a double crime; as it insinuates a bad opinion of the Master who has employed him. Every missionary should make himself master of this subject.
Augustine, archbishop of Tarragon, was one of the most learned men of the age: he gave literally all he had to the poor; so that when he died, in 1586, there was not found sufficient cash in his coffers to procure him a decent burial. To any of his archiepiscopal brethren, "Go thou and do likewise," might be esteemed a hard saying.
Let a minister of Christ but impair his health by his pastoral labors; presently "he is distracted; he has not the least conduct nor discretion." But let a man forget his soul, let him destroy his health by debaucheries, let him expose his life through ambition, and he may, notwithstanding, pass for a very prudent and sensible man!
Men who have labored to bring the mass of the common people from ignorance, irreligion, and general profligacy of manners, to an acquaintance with themselves and God, and to a proper knowledge of their duty to him and to each other, have been often branded as being disaffected to the state, and as movers of sedition among the people! A minister's trials and comforts are permitted and sent, for the benefit of the church. What a miserable preacher must he be who has all his divinity by study and learning, and nothing by experience! If his soul have not gone through all the travail of regeneration, if his heart have not felt the love of God shed abroad in it by the Holy Ghost, he can neither instruct the ignorant nor comfort the distressed.
A minister of Christ is represented as a day laborer: he comes into the harvest, not to become lord of it, not to live on the labor of others, but to work, and to labor his day. Though the work may be very severe, yet, to use a familiar expression, there is good wages in the harvest home; and the day, though hot, is but a short one.
When Christ shall appear to judge the world in righteousness, ye who have fed his flock, who have taken the superintendence of it, not by constraint, not for "filthy lucre's sake," not as lords over the heritage, but with a "ready mind," employing body, soul, spirit, time, and talents, in endeavoring to pluck sinners as brands from eternal burnings, and build up the church of Christ on its most holy faith; YE. . . shall "receive a crown of glory" that "fadeth not away;" an eternal nearness and intimacy with the ineffably glorious God; so that ye who have turned many to righteousness shall shine, not merely as stars, but as suns, in the kingdom of your Father! O ye heavenly minded, diligent, self-denying pastors after God's own heart, whether ye be in the church established by the state, or in those divisions widely separated from or nearly connected with it, take courage; preach Jesus; press through all difficulties in the faith of your God; fear no evil while meditating nothing but good. Ye are stars in the right hand of Jesus, who walks among your golden candlesticks, and has lighted that lamp of life which ye are appointed to trim; fear not, your labor in the Lord cannot be in vain! Never, never can ye preach one sermon in the spirit of your office which the God of all grace shall permit to be unfruitful; ye carry and sow the seed of the kingdom by the command and on the authority of your God; ye sow it, and the heavens shall drop down dew upon it. Ye may go forth weeping, though bearing this precious seed; but ye shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you. Amen, even so, Lord Jesus!
God does not reward his servants according to the success of their labor, because that depends on himself; but he rewards them according to the quantum of faithful labor which they bestow on his work. In this sense none can say, "I have labored in vain, and spent my strength for naught." On the other hand, if they be faithful, their labor shall not be in vain, and their safety shall be great. He that toucheth them toucheth the apple of God's eye, and none shall be able to pluck them out of his hand. They are the angels and ambassadors of the Lord; their persons are sacred; they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. Should they lose their lives in the work, it will be only a speedier entrance into an eternal glory.
"The rougher the way, the shorter their stay; The troubles that rise Shall gloriously hurry their souls to the skies."
Go on in the name of God; I am your invariable friend; I labor early and late for you; I feel the people as if they were members of my own family. As to small friends, value them not. God is with you, and therefore the devil must be against you. Preach Jesus and his present and full salvation. This will carry you through, because God will infallibly bear testimony to the doctrine that puts due honor on the sacrificial blood of his Son. No other doctrine, however highly it may speak of Him who shed it, does honor to the great design of God, than that which shows that it saves from the power and guilt of sin, and cleanses from all unrighteousness; not in a future world, but in this; and in the present time.
Go on; fear nothing; God is with you, and nothing can withstand the all-conquering blood and mighty Spirit of the Lord Jesus. Proclaim loudly to the poor sinners that Jesus Christ tasted death for every man; and that his blood cleanses from all unrighteousness. This is the doctrine which God will own. What has the wretched stuff of C____n done for the world? Produced a spurious Christianity, and left the people in their sins! Walk with God, and you need fear no reproach. Luther said, Evangelium predicare, est furorem mundi in te derivare. Yes, he who preaches the unadulterated doctrines of the God who bought him will be hated by the Christian world. Jesus and his apostles were persecuted, not by the heathens, but by Jews professing godliness; so spurious Christians are the prime persecutors of the genuine followers of the Lord Jesus. Fear them not; our God is mightier than their devil! Amen. Selah. Whiskey and tobacco will also fall before the Spirit of Christ: reason mildly with those who are addicted to them; in this respect you will gain ground by degrees.
Be urgent, whether the times be prosperous or adverse, whenever there is an opportunity; and when there is none, strive to make one. The Judge is at the door, and to every man eternity is at hand! Wherever thou meetest a sinner, speak to him the word of reconciliation. Do not be contented with stated times and accustomed places merely; all time and place belong to God, and are proper for his work. Wherever it can be done, there it should be done. Satan will omit neither time nor place where he can destroy. Omit thou none where thou mayest be the instrument of salvation to any.
He who wishes to save souls will find few opportunities to rest. As Satan is going "about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour," the messenger of God should imitate his diligence, that he may counteract his work.
Let no minister of God think he has delivered his own soul till he has made an offer of salvation to every city and village within his reach.
I have taken care that your credit should ever be preserved. For I think it fatal to our missionary work in any place, to dishonor the bill of a missionary; or to trifle with his just demands so as to render his credit suspicious. Take care to be ever prudent and economic; and while God spares me in reference to your station, I shall take care that your credit shall be preserved.
A scandal or heresy in the church of God is ruinous at all times, but particularly so when the cause is in its infancy; and therefore the messengers of God cannot be too careful to lay the foundation well in doctrine, to establish the strictest discipline, and to be very cautious whom they admit and accredit as members of the church of Christ. It is certain that the door should be opened wide to admit penitent sinners; but the watchman should ever stand by, to see that no improper person enter in. Christian prudence should ever be connected with Christian zeal. It is a great work to bring sinners to Christ; it is a greater work to preserve them in the faith; and it requires much grace and much wisdom to keep the church of Christ pure, not only by not permitting the unholy to enter, but by casting out those who apostatize or work iniquity. Slackness in discipline generally precedes corruption of doctrine; the former generating the latter.
The ministers of God are compared to stewards, of whom the strictest fidelity is required.
1. Fidelity to God, in publishing his truth with zeal, defending it with courage, and recommending it with prudence. 2. Fidelity to Christ, whose representatives they are, in honestly and fully recommending his grace and salvation on the ground of his passion and death, and preaching his maxims in all their force and purity. 3. Fidelity to the church, in taking heed to keep up a godly discipline, admitting none into it but those who have abandoned their sins; and permitting none to continue in it that do not continue to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour. 4. Fidelity to their own ministry, walking so as to bring no blame on the gospel; avoiding the extremes of indolent tenderness on one hand, and austere severity on the other; considering the flock, not as their flock, but the flock of Jesus Christ; watching, ruling, and feeding it according to the order of their divine Master. A preacher who is not a man of prayer cannot have a proper knowledge of the nature and design of the gospel ministry; cannot be alive to God in his own soul; nor is likely to become instrumental in the salvation of others. In order to do good, a man must receive good: prayer is the way in which divine assistance is received; and in the work of the ministry, no man can do any thing unless it be given him from above. In many cases the success of a preacher's labors depends more on his prayers than on his public preaching.
Live to God, pray much, read much, labor hard, and have immeasurable faith.
Earnest frequent prayer to God, and keeping up a living sense of your acceptance with him, are of the first and last necessity. Breathe continually in the divine atmosphere, and then the contagion of sin will not be able to reach you. Keep yourselves in the love of God, and then that wicked one shall not touch you.
In all my long experience I have been led to see that ninety-nine out of the hundred of offenses that take place in the sacred ministry are occasioned by unguarded conversation with women, and incautiously touching spirituous liquors. Against both these you cannot be too much on your guard. Among people of simple manners, the first is peculiarly dangerous; because, when confidence takes place, all distance is forgotten, familiarity ensues, intimacy becomes grafted on that, and then irregular affections are easily produced. "Converse sparingly with women," says Mr. Wesley, "especially with young women." Those who are naturally of a free and affectionate disposition are, in this case, in most danger. A supercilious carriage ill becomes a minister of Christ, whose avocation binds him to be servant of all. To the young act as brothers; to the old as respectful children: keep a due distance; do not go too far off; do not approach too near. The first will excite prejudice against you; the latter will lead almost imperceptibly to the gulf whence there is no returning.
As to a total abstinence from spirituous liquors where no other beverage can be found, I know not well what to say. If any be taken, it should be very little, or well diluted; a little in cold water, without any sweetening, would be best. Try toast and water: even oat bread, where wheaten cannot be found, will do: toast either well, till perfectly brown throughout, and then pour boiling water on it, cover it up, and let it stand two hours at least before you use it. This is a most wholesome and diluting beverage.
Only to shine is but vanity; and to burn without shining will never edify the church of God. Some shine, and some burn, but few both shine and burn; and many there are who are denominated pastors, who neither shine nor burn. He who wishes to save souls must both burn and shine: the clear light of the sacred records must fill his understanding; and the holy flame of loving zeal must occupy his heart. Zeal without knowledge is continually blundering; and knowledge without zeal makes no converts to Christ.
Never take a text which you do not fully understand; and make it a point of conscience to give the literal meaning of it to the people: this is a matter of great and solemn importance. To give God's words a different meaning to what he intended to convey by them, or to put a construction upon them which we have not the fullest proof he has intended, is awful indeed!
Never appear to contradict the Holy Spirit by what is called treating a subject negatively and positively. Seldom take a very short text. Never take a text which, out of its proper connection, can mean nothing. I would most solemnly guard you against what is termed fine or flowery preaching. I do not mean preaching in elegant, correct, and dignified language; as every thing of this kind is quite in place, when employed in proclaiming and illustrating the records of our salvation; but I mean a spurious birth, which endeavors to honor itself by this title. Some preachers think they greatly improve their own discourses by borrowing the fine sayings of others; and when these are frequently brought forward in the course of a sermon, the preacher is said to be a flowery preacher. Such flowers, used in such a way, bring to my remembrance the custom in some countries of putting full-blown roses, or sprigs of rosemary, lavender, and thyme, in the hands of the dead, when they are put in their coffins.
But the principal fault in this kind of preaching is the using a vast number of words long and high sounding, to which the preacher himself appears to have fixed no specific ideas, and which are often foreign, in the connection in which he places them, to the meaning which they radically convey.
How careful should the ministers of Christ be that they proclaim nothing as truth, and accredit nothing as truth, but what comes from their Master! They should take heed lest, after having preached to others, themselves should be castaways; lest God should say unto them as he said of Coniah, "As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee hence."
It is worthy of remark, that in all the revivals of religion with which we are acquainted God appears to have made very little use of human eloquence, even when possessed by pious men. His own nervous truths, announced by plain common sense, though in homely phrase, have been the general means of the conviction and conversion of sinners. Human eloquence and learning have often been successfully employed in defending the outworks of Christianity; but simplicity and truth have preserved the citadel. We should be cautious how we appeal to heathens, however eminent, in behalf of morality; because much may be collected from them on the other side. In like manner we should take heed how we quote the fathers in proof of the doctrines of the gospel; because he who knows them best, knows that on many of those subjects they blow hot and cold.
In most Christian churches there appears to be but one office, that of preacher; and one gift, that by which he professes to preach. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are all compounded in the class "preachers;" and many, to whom God has given nothing but the gift of exhortation, take texts to explain them; and thus lose their time, and mar their ministry.
"Not handling the word of God deceitfully." -- Not using the doctrines of the gospel to serve any secular or carnal purpose; not explaining away their force so as to palliate or excuse sin; not generalizing its precepts so as to excuse many in particular circumstances from obedience, especially in that which most crossed their inclinations. There were deceitful handlers of this kind in Corinth, and there are many of them still in the garb of Christian ministers; persons who disguise that part of their creed which, though they believe it is of God, would make them unpopular; affecting moderation in order to procure a larger audience and more extensive support; not attacking prevalent and popular vices; calling dissipation of mind relaxation; and worldly and carnal pleasures innocent amusements, &c.: in a word, turning with the tide, and shifting with the wind, of popular opinion, prejudice, fashion, &c.
The truth of God should be so preached to all the members of the church of God, that they may all receive an increase of grace and life; so that each, in whatever state he may be, may get forward in the way of truth and holiness. In the church of Christ there are persons in various states: the careless, the penitent, the lukewarm, the tempted, the diffident, the little child, the young man, and the father. He who has got a talent for the edification of only one of these classes should not stay long in a place, else the whole body cannot grow up in all things under his ministry.
A preacher whose mind is well stored with divine truths, and who has a sound judgment, will suit his discourses to the circumstances and states of his hearers. He who preaches the same sermon to every congregation gives the fullest proof that, however well he may speak, he is not a scribe who is instructed in the kingdom of heaven.
In preaching on parables and similitudes, great care should be taken to discover their object and design, and those grand and leading circumstances by which the author illustrates his subjects.
Every preacher of God's word should take heed that it is God's message that he delivers to the people. Let him not suppose, because it is according to his own creed or confession of faith, that therefore it is God's word. False doctrines and fallacies without end are foisted on the world in this way. Bring the creed first to the word of God, and scrupulously try whether it be right; and when this is done, leave it where you please; take the Bible, and warn them from God's word recorded there.
Avoid paraphrasing a whole book or epistle in a set of discourses; it is tedious, and often produces many sleepers. From one of the royal household of George III., I have received the following anecdote: "The late Bishop F., of Salisbury, having procured a young man of promising abilities to preach before the king, and the young man having, to his lordship's apprehension, acquitted himself well, the bishop, in conversation with the king afterward, wishing to get the king's opinion, took the liberty to say, 'Does not your majesty think that the young man who had the honor to preach before your majesty is likely to make a good clergyman, and has this morning delivered a very good sermon?' To which the king, in his blunt manner, hastily replied, ' It might have been a good sermon, my lord, for aught I know; but I consider no sermon good that has nothing of Christ in it!'"
In 1790 the conference was held in Bristol, the last in which that most eminent man of God, John Wesley, presided; who seemed to have his mind particularly impressed with the necessity of making some permanent rule that might tend to lessen the excessive labor of the preachers, which he saw was shortening the lives of many useful men. In a private meeting with some of the principal and senior preachers, which was held in Mr. Wesley's study, to prepare matters for the confer-ence, he proposed that a rule should be made that no preacher should preach thrice on the same day. Messrs. Mather, Pawson, Thompson, and others said this would be impracticable; as it was absolutely necessary, in most cases, that the preachers should preach thrice every Lord's day, without which the places could not be supplied. Mr. W. replied, "It must be given up; we shall lose our preachers by such excessive labor." They answered, "We have all done so; and you, even at an advanced age, have continued to do so." "What I have done," said he, "is out of the question; my life and strength have been under an especial Providence; besides, I know better than they how to preach without injuring myself; and no man can preach thrice a day without killing himself sooner or later; and the custom shall not be continued." They pressed the point no farther, finding that he was determined; but they deceived him after all, by altering the minute thus, when it went to the press: No preacher shall any more preach three times in the same day (to the same congregation)." By which clause the minute was entirely neutralized. He who preaches the gospel as he ought, must do it with his whole strength of body and soul; and he who undertakes a labor of this kind thrice every Lord's day will infallibly shorten his life by it. He who, instead of preaching, talks to the people, merely speaks about good things, or tells a religious story, will never injure himself by such an employment; such a person does not labor in the word and doctrine; he tells his tale, and as he preaches, so his congregation believes, and sinners are left as he found them.
Go from your knees to the chapel. Get a renewal of your commission every time you go to preach, in a renewed sense of the favor of God. Carry your authority to declare the gospel of Christ not in your hand, but in your heart. When in the pulpit, be always solemn: say nothing to make your congregation laugh. Remember you are speaking for eternity; and trifling is inconsistent with such awful subjects as the great God, the agony and death of Christ, the torments of hell, and the blessedness of heaven.
Never assume an air of importance while in the pulpit; you stand in an awful place, and God hates the proud man. Never be boisterous or dogmatical. Self-confidence will soon lead to a forgetfulness of the presence of God; and then you will speak your own words, and perhaps in your own spirit too. Avoid all quaint and fantastic attitudes; all queer noddings, ridiculous stoopings, and erections of your body, skipping from side to side of the desk, knitting your brows; and every other theatrical or foppish air, which tends to disgrace the pulpit, and to render yourself contemptible. Never shake or flourish your handkerchief; this is abominable: nor stuff it into your bosom; this is unseemly. Do not gaze about on your congregation. Endeavor to gain their attention. Remind them of the presence of God.
Give out the page and measure of the hymn, and the hymn itself, distinctly and with a full voice. While praying, keep your eyes closed: at such a time you have nothing to do with outward objects; the most important matters are at issue between God and you; and he is to be contemplated with the eye of the mind. If you wish the people to join with you in this part of the worship, speak so as to be heard, even at the beginning. Whispering petitions to God may be genteel, for aught I know; but I am certain it is not to the use of edification. In your prayers avoid long prefaces and circumlocutions: you find none of these in the Bible. Some have got a method of complimenting the Most High on the dignity of his nature, and the glory of his heavens: this you should studiously avoid. Read your text distinctly, and begin to speak about the middle of your voice, not only that you may be readily heard, but that you may rise or fall as occasion may require: Never drop your voice at the end of a sentence; this is barbarous and intolerable. Be sure to have the matter of your text well arranged in your own mind before you come into the pulpit, that you may not be confused
while speaking. But beware of too much dividing and subdividing; by these means the word of God has been made to speak something, any thing, or nothing, according to the creed or prejudice of the preacher. In whatever way you handle your text, take care, when you have exhausted the matter of it, not to go over it again. Apply every thing of importance as you go along; and when you have done, learn to make an end. There are some who sing long hymns, and pray long prayers, merely to fill up the time: this is a shocking profanation of these sacred ordinances, and has the most direct tendency to bring them into contempt.
While you are engaged in the pulpit in recommending the salvation of God, endeavor to feel the truth you preach, and diffuse a divine animation through every part. As the preacher appears to preach the people hear and believe. You may set it down as an incontrovertible truth, that none of your hearers will be more affected with your discourse than yourself. A dull, dead preacher makes a dull, dead congregation.
Shun all controversies about politics; and especially that disgrace of the pulpit, political preaching. I have known this do much evil; but though I have often heard it, I never knew an instance of its doing good.
A sentence or two of affectionate prayer in different parts of the discourse has a wonderful tendency to enliven it, and to make the people hear with concern and interest.
Never ape any person, however eminent he may be for piety or ministerial abilities. Every man has a fort, as it is called, of his own; and if he keep within it he is impregnable.
A fine appearance and a fine voice cover many weaknesses and defects, and strongly and forcibly recommend what is spoken, though not remarkable for depth of thought or solidity of reasoning. Many popular orators have little beside their persons and their voice to recommend them.
When you baptize, let it be, if possible, in the face of the congregation; and not in the vestry, nor in private. Take occasion in a few words to explain its nature and importance, both to the congregation and to the parents; and insist on the personal attendance of the latter, that you may give them those directions and charges relative to their training up their children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord which the case requires; and take heed that all whom you baptize be properly registered; and let the register book be kept in the most secure place, because it is of great importance; and in all cases in which a baptismal register can be applied, these registers are complete evidences in law.
In administering the sacrament of the Lord's supper, be deeply reverent and devout in all your deportment. Pour out the wine into the cups leisurely, and take heed that you spill not one drop of it. Shedding the wine on the table cloth, to say the least of it, is highly unbecoming and ungraceful: keep firm hold both of the bread and the cup, till you feel the communicant has hold with yourself.
The only preaching worth any thing, in God's account, and which the fire will not burn up, is that which labors to convict and convince the sinner of his sin, to bring him into contrition for it, to convert him from it; to lead him to the blood of the covenant, that his conscience may be purged from its guilt, -- to the Spirit of judgment and burning, that he may be purified from its infection, -and then to build him up on this most holy faith, by causing him to pray in the Holy Ghost, and keep himself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life: this is the system pursued by the apostles, and it is that alone which God will own to the conversion of sinners. I speak from the experience of nearly fifty years in the public ministry of the word: this is the most likely mode to produce the active soul of divinity, while the body is little else but the preacher's creed.
A man who preaches in such a language as the people cannot comprehend may do for a stage player or a mountebank, but not for a minister of Christ.
How foolish the preacher who uses fine and hard words in his preaching, which, though admired by the shallow, convey no instruction to the multitude. A harsh, unfeeling method of preaching the promises of the gospel, and a smiling manner of producing the terrors of the Lord, are equally reprehensible. Some preachers are always severe and magisterial; others are always mild and insinuating: neither of these can do God's work; and it would take two such to make one preacher.
How injudicious must that preacher be who frequently brings his people abstract questions concerning civil rights and civil wrongs, party politics, reasons of state, financial blunders, royal prerogatives, divine right of kings, questions on which a thousand things may be said pro and con: and, after all, a wise and dispassionate man finds it extremely difficult, after bearing both sides, to make up his mind as to that which he should from duty and interest attach himself. Rhetoric or oratory is studied by many much more than divinity. A copious flow and elegance of language, words of splendid sound, imposing epithets, and striking figures and similes are everywhere sought, in order to form harmonious sentences and finely turned periods; -- a fustian language, misnamed oratory, is thus introduced into the church of Christ; but when the words of this are analyzed, they are found, however musically arranged, to be destitute of force; so that a dozen of such expressions will labor in vain to produce one single impressive idea that can illuminate the understanding, correct the judgment, or persuade the conscience either to hate sin or love righteousness. "How forcible are right words," can never be applied to such sermons; they may please the giddy and superficial, but they neither edify the saint, nor bring conviction into the bosom of the sinner. And what redounds to their reproach and discredit is, they are flowers meanly stolen from the gardens of others.
Ministers continually harping on, "Ye are dead, ye are dead; there is little or no Christianity among you," &c., &c., are a contagion in a church, and spread desolation and death wheresoever they go. It is far better to say, in such cases, "Ye have lost ground, but ye have not lost all your ground; ye might have been much farther advanced, but through mercy ye are still in the way. The Spirit of God is grieved by you, but it is evident he has not forsaken you. Ye have not walked in the light as ye should, but your candlestick is not yet removed, and still the light shines. Ye have not much zeal, but ye have a little. In short, God still strives with you, still loves you, still waits to be gracious to you; take courage, set out afresh, come to God through Christ; believe, love, obey, and you will soon find days more blessed than you have ever yet experienced." Exhortations and encouragements of this kind are sure to produce the most blessed effects; and under such the work of God infallibly revives.
Stay in your own lodging as much as possible, that you may have time for prayer and study.
He who knows the value of time, and will redeem it from useless chitchat and trifling visits, will find enough for all the purposes of his own salvation, the cultivation of his mind, and the work of the ministry.
He to whom time is not precious, and who lives not by rule, never finds time sufficient for any thing, is always embarrassed, always in a hurry, and never capable of bringing one good purpose to proper effect.
Seldom frequent the tables of the rich or great. If you do, it will unavoidably prove a snare to you: the unction of God will perish from your mind; and your preaching be only a dry, barren repetition of old things. The bread of God in your hands will be like the dry, moldy, Gibeonitish crusts, mentioned Josh. ix, 5. Visit the people, and speak to them about their souls as often and as much as you can; but be not at their mercy of every invitation to go out for a morsel of bread. If you take not this advice, you will do no good, get no good, and utterly evaporate your influence and consequence.
I have such high notions of literary merit, and the academical distinctions to which it is entitled, that I would not, in conscience, take, or cause to be taken, in my own behalf, any step to possess the one, or to assume the other: every thing of this kind should come, not only unbought, but unsolicited. I should as soon think of being learned by proxy, as of procuring academical honors by influence; and could one farthing purchase me the highest degree under the sun, I would not give it: not that I lightly esteem such honors; I believe them, when given through merit, next to those which come from God; but I consider them misplaced when conferred in consequence of influence or recommendation, in which the party concerned has any part, near or remote.
Bodies of divinity I do most heartily dislike: they tend to supersede the Bible; and, independently of this, they are exceedingly dangerous; they often give false notions, bring their own kind of proofs to confirm those notions, and by their mode of quoting insulated texts of Scripture, greatly pervert the true meaning of the word of God. This is my opinion of them: the ministers who preach from them fill the heads of their hearers with systematic knowledge.
In dead languages it is well to select the best authors, and establish them as standards of pure and elegant composition; for, in such languages no farther excellence can be expected. But in those languages which continue to be vernacular, the case is widely different; they may still be improved and polished, therefore no writer should be set up as a standard of unsurpassable excellence. Why may not the English, for instance, expect writers who shall as far excel Addison, Steele, Johnson, Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, and Pope, as they have surpassed their predecessors? Certainly the English language and the British genius, notwithstanding their almost unrivaled excellence, are still capable of greater perfection.
A good pastor will not, like a miser, keep what he has to himself, to please his fancy; nor, like a merchant, traffic with it to enrich himself, but, like a bountiful father or householder, distribute it with a liberal, though judicious hand, for the comfort and support of the whole heavenly family.
A late morning student is a lazy one, and will rarely make a true scholar; and he who sits up late at night, not only burns his life's candle at both ends, but puts a red-hot poker to the middle.
People -- Be very cautious of receiving evil reports against those whose business it is to preach to others, and correct their vices. Do not consider an elder as guilty of any alleged crime, unless it be proved by two or three witnesses. This the law of Moses required in respect to all. Among the Romans, a plebeian might be condemned on the deposition of one credible witness; but it required two to convict a senator. The reason of this difference is evident: those whose business it is to correct others will usually have many enemies; great caution, therefore, should be used in admitting accusations against such persons.
God requires that his people should pray for his ministers; and it is not to be wondered at, if they who pray not for their preachers should receive no benefit from their teaching. How can they expect God to send a message by him for whom they who are the most interested have not prayed? If the grace and Spirit of Christ be not worth the most earnest prayers which a man can offer, they, and the heaven to which they lead, are not worth having.
Even the success of the apostles depended, in a certain way, on the prayers of the church. Few Christian congregations feel, as they ought, that it is their bounden duty to pray for the success of the gospel, both among themselves and in the world. The church is weak, dark, poor, and imperfect, because it prays little. There are some people who are unwilling to grant the common necessaries of life to those who watch over them in the Lord. For there are such people even in the Christian church! If the preachers of the gospel were as parsimonious of the bread of life as some congregations and Christian societies are of the bread that perisheth; and if the preacher gave them a spiritual nourishment as base, as mean, and as scanty as the temporal support which they afford him, their souls must, without doubt, have nearly a famine of the bread of life.
St. Paul contends that a preacher of the gospel has a right to his support; and he has proved this from the law, from the gospel, and from the common sense and consent of men. If a man who does not labor takes his maintenance from the church of God, it is not only a domestic theft, but a sacrilege. He that gives up his time to this labor has a right to the support of himself and family. Those who refuse the laborer his hire are condemned by God and good men. How liberal are many to public places of amusement, or to some popular charity, where their names are sure to be published abroad; while the man who watches over their souls is fed with the most parsimonious hand! Will not God abate this pride, and reprove this hard-heartedness?
Contribute to the support of the man who has dedicated himself to the work of the ministry, and who gives up his time and his life to preach the gospel. It appears that some of the believers in Galatia could receive the Christian ministry without contributing to its support. This is both ungrateful and base. We do not expect that a common schoolmaster will give up his time to teach our children their alphabet without being paid for it; and can we suppose that it is just for any person to sit under the preaching of the gospel in order to grow wise unto salvation by it, and not contribute to the support of the spiritual teacher? It is unjust.
Let all churches, all congregations of Christians, from whom their ministers and preachers can claim nothing by law, and for whom the state makes no provision, ask themselves: "Do we deal with these in a manner worthy of God, and worthy of the profession we make? Do we suffer them to lack the bread that perisheth, while they minister to us with no sparing hand the bread of life?" Let a certain class of religious people, who will find themselves out when they read this, consider whether, when their preachers have ministered to them their certain or stated time, and are called to go and serve other churches, they send them forth in a manner worthy of God, making a reasonable provision for the journey which they are obliged to take. In the itinerant ministry of the apostles, it appears that each church bore the expenses of the apostle to the next church, or district, to which he was going to preach the word of life. So it should be still in the mission and itinerant ministry.
I have seen many aged and worn-out ministers reduced to great necessity, and almost literally obliged to beg their bread among those whose opulence and salvation were, under God, the fruits of their ministry! Such persons may think they do God service by disputing "tithes, as legal institutions long since abrogated," while they permit their worn-out ministers to starve: but how shall they appear in that day when Jesus shall say, "I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; naked, and ye clothed me not?"
The religion that costs us nothing, is to us worth nothing. It is the privilege of the churches of Christ to support the ministry of his gospel among them. Those who do not contribute their part to the support of the gospel ministry either care nothing for it, or derive no good from it. Nothing can be more reasonable than to devote a portion of the earthly good which we receive from the free mercy of God, to his own service; especially when by doing it we are essentially serving ourselves. If the ministers of God give up their whole time, talents, and strength, to watch over, labor for, and instruct the people in spiritual things, justice requires that they shall receive their support from the work. How worthless and wicked must that man be who is continually receiving good from the Lord's hands without restoring any part for the support of true religion and for charitable purposes! To such God says, "Their table shall become a snare to them," and that he will curse their blessings. God expects returns of gratitude in this way from every man; he that has much should give plenteously; he that has little should do his diligence to give of that little.
It is an honor to be permitted to do any thing for the support of public worship; and he must have a strange, unfeeling, ungodly heart, who does not esteem it a high privilege to have a stone of his own laying or procuring in the house of God. How easily might all the buildings necessary for the purpose of public worship be raised, if the money that is spent in needless self indulgence by ourselves, our sons, and our daughters, were devoted to this purpose! By sacrifices of this kind the house of the Lord would be soon built, and the "top stone brought on with shouting, Grace, grace unto it!"
Though I had been almost exhausted with my yesterday's work, yet they insisted on my preaching at Lisburne at eleven, as it was their quarterly meeting. In vain I urged and expostulated. They said, "Surely, you came out to preach, and why should you not preach at every opportunity?" "I must rest." "Surely, you can rest after preaching!" I replied, "I must preach tomorrow at Lurgan, and shall have but little time to rest." "O, the more you preach, the more strength you will get." "I came out for the sake of health and rest." "O, rest when you return home." "I cannot rest at home, as I have got more work to do there than I can manage." "Then," said they, "you shall get rest in the grave." I give this specimen of the inconsiderateness and unfeelingness of many religious people, who care little how soon their ministers are worn out; because they find their excessive labors comfortable to their own minds; and should the preacher die through his extraordinary exertions, they have this consolation, "God can soon raise up another."
No teacher should be exalted above, or opposed to, another. As the eye could not say to the hand, "I have no need of thee;" so, luminous Apollos could not say to laborious Paul, "I can build up and preserve the church without thee." As the foot planted on the ground to support the whole fabric; and as the hands which swing at liberty; and as the eye that is continually taking in near and distant objects, are all necessary to the whole, and mutually helpful to and dependent on each other; so also are the different ministers and members of the church of Christ.
The doctrine and teacher most prized and followed by worldly men, and by the gay, giddy, and garish multitude, are not from God; they savor of the flesh, lay on no restraints, prescribe no cross-bearing, and leave every one in full possession of his heart's lusts and easily besetting sins. And by this, false doctrine and false teachers are easily discerned.
Happy they who, on hearing of the salvation of Christ, immediately attach themselves to its Author! Delays are always dangerous; and, in this case, often fatal. Reader! hast thou ever had Christ as a sacrifice for thy sin pointed out unto thee? If so, hast thou followed him? If not, thou art not in the way to the kingdom of God. Lose not another moment! Eternity is at hand! and thou art not prepared to meet thy God. Pray that he may alarm thy conscience, and stir up thy soul to seek till thou hast found. If thou art seriously inquiring where Christ dwelleth, take the following for an answer: He dwells not in the tumult of worldly affairs, nor in profane assemblies, nor in worldly pleasures, nor in the place where drunkards proclaim their shame, nor in carelessness and idleness. But he is found in his temple, where two or three are gathered together in his name, in secret prayer, in self-denial, in fasting, in self-examination. He also dwells in the humble, contrite spirit, in the spirit of faith, of love, of forgiveness, of universal obedience: in a word, he dwells in the heaven of heavens, whither he graciously purposes to bring thee, if thou wilt come and learn of him, and receive the salvation which he has bought for thee with his own blood.
The church or chapel in which the blind and lame are not healed has no Christ in it, and is not worthy of attendance.
Those who come, under the influence of God's Spirit, to places of public worship, will undoubtedly meet with Him who is the comfort and salvation of Israel.
The soul that relishes God's word is ever growing in grace by it.
Those who suppose themselves to excel all others in piety, understanding, &c., while they are harsh, censorious, and overbearing, prove that they have not the charity that "thinketh no evil;" and in the sight of God are only "as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal." There are no people more censorious or uncharitable than those among some religious people who pretend to more light and a deeper communion with God. They are generally carried away with a sort of sublime high-sounding phraseology, which seems to argue a wonderfully deep acquaintance with divine things: stripped of this, many of them are like Samson without his hair.
The mere preaching of the gospel has done much to convince and convert sinners; but the lives of the sincere followers of Christ, as illustrative of the truth of these doctrines, have done much more. Truth represented in action seems to assume a body, and thus renders itself palpable. In heathen countries, which are under the dominion of Christian powers, the gospel, though established there, does little good, because of the profane and irreligious lives of those who profess it. Why has not the whole peninsula of India been long since evangelized? The gospel has been preached there; but the lives of the Europeans professing Christianity there have been, in general, profligate, sordid, and base. From them sounded out no good report of the gospel; and therefore the Mohammedans continue to prefer their Koran, and the Hindus their Vedas and Shasters, to the Bible.
Do not suppose that ye have no need of continual instruction; without it ye cannot preserve the Christian life, nor go on to perfection. God will ever send a message of salvation by each of his ministers to every faithful, attentive hearer. Do not suppose that ye are already wise enough; you are no more wise enough than you are holy enough; they who slight or neglect the means of grace, and especially the preaching of God's holy word, are generally vain, empty, self-conceited people, and exceedingly superficial both in knowledge and piety. "Ever learning, and never able to come to the know ledge of the truth." There are many professors of Christianity still who answer the above description. They hear, repeatedly hear, it may be, good sermons; but, as they seldom meditate on what they hear, they derive little profit from the ordinances of God. They have no more grace now than they had several years ago, though hearing all the while, and perhaps not wickedly departing from the Lord. They do not meditate, they do not think, they do not reduce what they hear to practice; therefore, even under the preaching of an apostle, they could not become wise to salvation.
Should the most nutritive aliment be received into the stomach, if not mixed with the above juices, it would be rather the means of death than of life; or, in the words of the apostle, it would not profit, because not thus mixed. Faith in the word preached, in reference to that God who sent it, is the grand means of its becoming the power of God to the salvation of the soul. It is not likely that he who does not credit a threatening when he comes to hear it, will be deterred by it from repeating the sin against which it is leveled; nor can he derive comfort from a promise who does not believe it as a pledge of God's veracity and goodness. Faith, therefore, must be mixed with all that we hear, in order to make the word of God effectual to our salvation.
The seed of the kingdom can never produce much fruit in any heart till the thorns and thistles of vicious affections and impure desires be plucked up by the roots and burned.
It is very difficult to get a worldly minded and self-righteous man brought to Christ. Examples signify little to him. Urge the example of an eminent saint, he is discouraged at it. Show him a profligate sinner converted to God, him he is ashamed to own and follow; and as to the conduct of the generality of the followers of Christ, it is not striking enough to impress him.
How many of those who are called Christians suffer the kingdom, the graces, and the salvation which they had in their hands to be lost; while West India Negroes, American Indians, Hindu Polytheists, and atheistic Hottentots obtain salvation.
Many, after having done their duty, as they call it, in attending a place of worship, forget the errand that brought them thither, and spend their time, on their return, rather in idle conversation than in reading or conversing about the word of God. It is no wonder that such should be always "learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."
It is not, therefore, the nation, kindred, profession, mode or form of worship, that the just God regards; but the character, the state of heart, and the moral deportment. For what are professions, &c., in the sight of that God who trieth spirits, and by whom actions are weighed! He looks for the grace he has given, the advantages he has afforded, and the improvement of all these. Let it be observed farther, that no man can be accepted with this just God who does not live up to the advantages of the state in which Providence has placed him.
It is possible for a man to credit the four evangelists, and yet live and die an infidel, as far as his own salvation is concerned.
God says to the swearer and the profane, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;" and yet common swearing and profaneness are most scandalously common among multitudes who bear the Christian name, and who presume on the mercy of God to get at last to the kingdom of heaven! He says also, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet;" and sanctions all these commandments with the most awful penalties: and yet with all these things before them, and the professed belief that they came from God, Sabbath-breakers, men-slayers, adulterers, fornicators, thieves, dishonest men, false witnesses, liars, slanderers, backbiters, covetous men, "lovers of the world more than lovers of God," are found by hundreds and thousands! What were the crimes of the poor half-blind Egyptian king, when compared with these? He sinned against a comparatively "unknown God;" these sin against the God of their fathers -- against the God and Father of Him whom they call their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! They sin with the Bible in their hand, and a conviction of its divine authority in their hearts. They sin against light and knowledge; against the checks of their consciences, the reproofs of their friends, the admonitions of the messengers of God; against Moses and Aaron in the law; against the testimony of all the prophets; against the evangelists, the apostles, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Judge of all men, and the Saviour of the world! What were Pharaoh's crimes to the crimes of these? On comparison, his atom of moral turpitude is lost in their world of iniquity. And yet who supposes these to be under any necessitating decree to sin on, and go to perdition? Nor are they; nor was Pharaoh. In all things God has proved both his justice and mercy to be clear in this point.
I shall now take the liberty of giving you a few directions how to hear the word profitably.
Endeavor to get your minds deeply impressed with the value of God's word.
If possible, get a few minutes for private prayer before you go to the house of God, that you may supplicate his throne for a blessing on your own soul, and on the congregation.
When you get to the chapel, consider it as the house of God, the dwelling place of the Most High; that he is there to bless his people; and that you cannot please him better than by being willing to receive the abundant mercies which he is ready to communicate. Mingle all your hearing with prayer.
Hear with faith. Receive the Scriptures as the words of God.
Receive the preacher as the ambassador of God, sent particularly to you with a message of salvation. Listen attentively to every part of the sermon; there is a portion for you somewhere in it: hear all, and you are sure to discern what belongs to yourself.
Do not suppose that you know even all the outlines of the plan of salvation. There is a height, length, breadth, and depth in the things of God, of which you have as yet but a very inadequate conception.
Do not think that this or the other preacher cannot instruct you. He may be, comparatively speaking, a weak preacher; but the meanest servant of God's sending will at all times be directed to bring something to the wisest and holiest Christians which they have not fully known or enjoyed before. Never absent yourself from the house of God when you can possibly attend.
Consider how great the blessing is which you enjoy! What would a damned soul give for the privilege of sitting five minutes in your place, to hear Jesus preached, with the same possibility of being saved?
Do not divide the word with your neighbor; hear for yourself. Share your clothes, money, bread, &c., with him, but do not divide the word preached.
Consider, this may be the last sermon you shall ever be permitted to hear.
That your being blessed does not consist in your remembering heads, divisions, &c., but in feeling the divine influence.
After the sermon is over, get as speedily home as you can, and spend a few moments on your knees in private prayer. Meditate on what you have heard.
Pray for your preachers, that God may fill them with the unction of his Spirit.
And, when you read the Holy Scriptures, consider that it is God's word which you read, and that his faithfulness is pledged to fulfill both its promises and threatenings.
Read the whole Bible, and read it in order; two chapters in the Old Testament, and one in the New, daily, if you can possibly spare time.
Think that the eye of God is upon you while you are reading; and remember that the word is not sent to particular persons, as if by name; and do not think you have no part in it, because you are not named there. It is not thus sent: it is addressed to particular characters; to saints, sinners, the worldly minded, the proud, &c. Therefore, examine your own state, and see to which of these characters you belong, and then apply the word spoken to the character in question to yourself; for it is as surely spoken to you as if your name were found printed in the Bible, and placed there by divine inspiration itself.
When you meet with a threatening, and know, from your own state, that this awful word is spoken against you, stop, and implore God, for the sake of the sufferings and death of his Son, to pardon the sin that exposes you to the punishment threatened. When you meet with a promise made to the penitent, tempted, afflicted, &c., having found out your own case, stop, and implore God to fulfill that promise.
Should you find, on examination, that the threatening has been averted by your having turned to God; that the promise has been fulfilled through your faith in Christ; stop here also, and return God thanks. Thus you will constantly find matter, in reading the book of God, to excite repentance, to exercise faith, to produce confidence and consolation, and to beget gratitude; and gratitude will never fail to beget obedience. It is always useful to read a portion of the Scriptures before prayer, whether performed in the family or in the closet.
Keep the eye of your mind steadily fixed upon Him who is the end of the law, and the sum of the gospel.
Let the Scriptures, therefore, lead you to that Holy Spirit by which they were inspired; let that Spirit lead you to Jesus Christ, who has ransomed you by his death. And let this Christ lead you to the Father, that he may adopt you into the family of heaven; and thus, being taught of him, justified by his blood, and sanctified by his Spirit, you shall be saved with all the power of an endless life.
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