Eminent Holiness Essential to an Efficient Ministry
Octavius Winslow, 1843
In humbly laying the following work at the feet of his fathers and brethren in the Christian ministry, the author feels that a word of explanation is justly demanded, for what may appear on his part an act of self-importance and presumption. The substance of its pages was originally embodied in a discourse, and delivered at the opening session of a distinguished theological institution in the metropolis. A desire for its publication issuing from quarters he was bound to respect, and couched in terms he found it impossible to resist induced him to transcribe it from his notes, filling up the outline, as far as memory could recall the train of thought and illustration then pursued.
But, in doing this, so beguiled along was he by the continued accumulation of material which a more extended view of his subject supplied he found that he had, imperceptibly, passed the proper limits of a pamphlet sermon, and, consequently, must either relinquish his design of publishing altogether, or adopt the only alternative of presenting his reflections in the form of a small volume. Considerations, not necessary here to quote, pleaded strongly and successfully for the latter. The author, while thus elaborating his discourse, has felt it his duty, in compliance with the wishes of his ministering brethren who kindly solicited it from the press to preserve, as closely as possible, the form in which they listened to it from the pulpit.
The vast importance of the subject it discusses is its only merit; and the demand which must ever exist for its presentation, in almost any shape is the one plea with which it bespeaks the serious and devout attention of the reader. It is truly a matter of humiliation to the writer, that a theme so confessedly great, spiritual, and solemn should have been invested with thought and unfolded in expression, so far below its elevated character. His only solace is that, should the "Chief Shepherd" condescend, in a single instance, to accompany its perusal with His blessing the "excellency of the power" will be purely and signally His, and not the creature's!
With what may be termed the ministerial controversy of the day the author has not felt called upon in these pages to interfere. His aim has been rather to soar with his reader amid a higher sphere and breathe a holier and serener atmosphere than is generally found in the unsettled region of polemic theology.
That Christian minister who most resembles the apostles in the holiness, simplicity, and devotedness of their lives, in the Christ-exalting character of their preaching, and in the success with which they turned many to righteousness may claim an alliance with them of the closest character and possesses the "seal of apostleship," wrought and authenticated by God Himself.
It is our lot to live in an important epoch of the Christian Church. Great revolutions of mind seem on the eve of breaking forth. A fearful conflict between truth and error has even already begun. The ark of God is in the storm; "the faith once delivered to the saints" is boldly and fearfully assailed; truth has fallen in the streets. Upon whom, under God rests the hope of the Church? To whom does truth, now prostrate and bleeding, turn her eye for sympathy and support? Who but the Christian ministers and pastors of the land? They are set for the defense and confirmation of the gospel, and to their hands is committed the guiding of the tempest-tossed ark.
If ever a thoroughly-trained ministry and a high order of ministerial character were needed surely it is now. God, in His providence, is summoning His servants to a great work. Ordinary acquirements and low spirituality will not meet the exigencies of the case. Scribes well instructed, full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, banded together in love, merging their party distinctions in one common and holy confederation against the enemies of God and of truth these are the only men who will be found prepared to meet the fearful onset when it comes. To aid in some lowly degree the formation of such a ministry, is the object for which this work was prepared, and is now committed to the affectionate regard of the Christian pastor, and to the extended blessing of a Triune God.
Octavius Winslow, February, 1843.
"They made me the keeper of the vineyards but my own vineyard I have not kept!" Song of Solomon 1:6
My fathers and brethren, how holy the hour and how solemn the occasion that has convened us! Sustain me by your prayers, that God may not humble me before you, crushed beneath the pressure of a service, for the vast and solemn claims of which my conscious inadequacy is well-near overpowering. I am with you in "weakness and in fear and much trembling". Pray that my speech and my preaching may not be with enticing words of man's wisdom, "but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
We have come together, my brethren, from amidst a world full of sin, anarchy, and suffering; and from a church fevered by excitement, and torn by collision and controversy. We have turned aside from a fierce conflict. Some of us are schooling and training for the onset; others are girding on the armor and unsheathing the sword; while yet others have been out in the hot battle, contending earnestly, valiantly, and successfully for the Christian faith. And now, wearied by the difficulties of their way they seek repose for a brief while beneath the shadows of their loved Alma Mater. Having consecrated this hour and devoted this service to our spirit's mutual refreshing and the promotion of our personal fitness for our great work what topic of reflection, do you think, my brethren, would seem best fitted to secure this the object of our assembling?
Happily through the effective labors of others, I am relieved from the task, and I trust from the expectation of constructing an elaborate argument, sustaining the importance and urging the necessity of mental culture in connection with the Christian ministry. Your presence on this occasion, and that of this Christian assembly, is sufficient evidence that on a question of such vital interest to the Christian Church, your minds are one and decided. That the sympathies of the churches are more closely entwining themselves around this important subject that the demand for a more thoroughly educated ministry is coming up from every quarter, more firm in tone and compass is a sign which cannot be misunderstood. The increase of theological institutions, the elevated standard of scholarship, and the lengthened term of study are clear indications that that portion of the public mind hitherto disposed to disparage learning as an auxiliary to the Christian ministry, is becoming more favorable to a full and mature course of mental discipline, preparatory to an assumption of its sacred and solemn functions.
But divided in opinion though some may be, concerning the need of a more learned ministry the vast importance of a more holy and devoted ministry will not admit of a moment's question. Here all are agreed. Yet even on this point, where coincidence of opinion may be so perfect, there still may exist a serious defect in the spirit in which the sentiment is held. The necessity of eminent holiness in the ministerial character may be admitted, and yet, even by the minister himself, be too readily subscribed to. As a proposition self-evident, it may be regarded as requiring no argument, elucidation, or appeal. Its truth may be fully admitted and yet its importance not duly felt. It may receive the instantaneous and warm assent of the judgment while the heart yields but a tardy and cold response. In theory, there shall be a consentaneousness of mind; but the actual cultivation of holiness, the aiming after such an elevated standard of personal holiness in connection with the work of the ministry, as the word of God fixes, and as His providence summons us to may be the distinguishing trait of but few of the ministers of our God.
In directing your minds to the consideration of the topic of eminent personal holiness as constituting the basis of an efficient ministry, do not think, beloved fathers and brethren, that I assume to myself higher degrees of personal sanctity or official devotedness than that to which you yourselves have attained. Alas, the painful consciousness of my own need of deeper holiness, of a riper spirituality, has suggested my theme; and the humiliating conviction of a wide deficit from the standard of ministerial excellence about to be placed before you, will attend me every step of its discussion. Not as your teacher, then, but as one sitting with you at the feet of our Divine Master; not in my own name, but in His permit me, with all lowliness of mind and sincere affection, to concentrate your attention upon a topic which, in connection with our holy office, must be considered of vital moment and of enduring interest.
The words selected as the basis of our subject may be regarded as wearing a solemn and searching aspect toward the ministerial office. They stand before us in the form of an acknowledgment deeply affecting and humiliating of a declension of personal religion, while yet its subject was zealously engaged in the most spiritual and benevolent calling. "They made me the keeper of the vineyards but my own vineyard I have not kept!" That in the application of this solemn truth to our present and individual circumstances, I am about to strike a chord in my own heart that will meet with a mournful response in the hearts of many. That the melancholy state which I am to describe is not fictitious, but real; it is not occasional, but frequent; and it is not that of few, but of many is the irresistible, though painful conviction of my judgment. Oh may the Holy and eternal Spirit now shed upon this gathering of consecrated minds, and upon him who is to address it the light of wisdom, the grace of humility, and the rich fragrance of His own holy anointing!
Having first portrayed the eminently spiritual character which the ministerial office sustains we shall then be prepared to regard some of the peculiar temptations to a lessening personal spirituality which the ministerial office involves. This in turn will conduct us to a consideration of the measure of personal holiness which the ministerial office demands.
The office of the Christian ministry sustains a character so peculiarly its own, that we can find no parallel to it in any other sphere of holy enterprise. It is so essentially divine in its origin, so purely spiritual in its character, so solemn and tremendous in its responsibility, so vast and far-reaching in its results that it stands out apart from all other departments of Christian labor, towering in its own lofty greatness, and invested with its own solitary grandeur. But were we to select from its numerous characteristics, a single one more prominent and impressive than another we would unhesitatingly place in the foreground its pre-eminent spirituality.
In support of this we would allege, first, the divine nature of a call to the ministerial office. He who is truly and properly called to the work of the Christian ministry, is called, as Aaron was, by God. He cannot be self-moved nor self-commissioned. The will of man cannot breathe in his soul an inspiration for the work; nor can the power of man clothe him with gifts and authority for its discharge. A still small voice from the eternal throne, unheard by any but himself, has fallen on his ear: "Son, go work in My vineyard!" And from some lowly employment, it may be, he has been summoned to the high and sacred office of a prophet in Israel.
God has called him, Christ has commissioned him, and the Holy Spirit has anointed him to the work. With the great apostle of the Gentiles, he can say, "I was made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His mighty power."
My brethren, the history of our denomination records upon its pages, the instructive fact, and doubtless the records of other and honored sections of the Christian church confirm it that numbers have entered the Christian ministry with no other call to, or preparation for, the sacred work than that immediately derived from the Great Head of the Church. And yet, thus summoned and thus qualified who would dare assume the responsibility of disputing their authority, of questioning their credentials, and of thrusting them from the vineyard? True, they have gone out from the academic halls of no human school; the literature of Greece and of Rome has shed not its light upon their minds; no university has conferred its honors upon their heads; no rules of rhetoric have shaped and polished, no flowers of genius have clothed and adorned their sentences and yet, deeply taught of the Spirit and fragrant with His anointing the men of one book, and the preachers of one theme they have been mighty through God to the pulling down of the strongholds of impenitence and unbelief in the human heart. As Milton truly and beautifully said of the martyrs so we say of them, "They shook the powers of darkness with the irresistible might of weakness."
Am I pleading for an ignorant ministry? Far from it. But I am pleading for a holy ministry; and no ministry can be either holy or efficient which is not divinely called and spiritually taught. The solemn charge alleged against the self-commissioned prophets of old, we tremble to think, will find its appropriate application to many in our day: "I did not send the prophets yet they ran; I did not speak to them yet they prophesied."
It may be expected that in connection with this part of our subject, an allusion should be made to what may be considered the nature of a divine call to the Christian ministry. We can but in brief terms point out what appear to be some of its essential and more decisive features. We allude to those marks alone which decide the momentous question in the mind of the individual himself not to those marks which authenticate his call to the ecclesiastical body from whose bosom, with whose sanction, and followed by whose prayers he goes forth into the vineyard. That the Christian ministry has its foundation in the life of God in the soul is a truth which will not admit of a moment's question.
An individual, then, revolving in his mind the evidence of his call to the holy priesthood, will first closely and honestly examine whether he has truly "passed from death unto life." He will ponder the question of his new birth with all the seriousness and prayer which its vast importance demands. Pursuing this process of self-examination, he will take nothing for granted. He will search God's holy word for a clear apprehension of the nature of the great change, and he will scrutinize his own heart and life for the evidence of its possession. In the course of his
investigation, these passages will arrest and fix his eye: "If anyone is in Christ then he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision but a new creation." "Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." "That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." "It is the Spirit who gives life." "The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
In view of these solemn declarations, the questions will arise: "Am I the subject of this great change? Have I been renewed in the spirit of my mind? Have I been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and have I Christ dwelling by faith in my heart? Is He made unto me wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption? Is Jesus, in His person and work, the all and all of my acceptance with God?"
The fact of his being a partaker of the divine life being clearly evidenced by the Spirit of God to his own satisfaction and comfort he will then proceed to put to his spiritually enlightened conscience the following solemn and searching interrogatories: "Has the Great Head of the Church endued me with intellectual gifts and spiritual graces, peculiar and appropriate to the work of the Christian ministry? Have I a sincere and earnest desire to be engaged in the work? Is it the one all-absorbing, all-engaging impulse of my mind, pressing me into the holy strait of the apostle, when he exclaimed, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel?' Have I narrowly scrutinized my motives and aim in desiring the work and are they such as involve a deep concern for the glory of God? Am I willing to forego all the allurements of human ambition and prospects of earthly glory and temporal advantage and become a humble, self-denying, self-sacrificing, holy, and laborious minister of Jesus? Does the love of Christ constrain me? Do I pant to preach Him in the glory of His person, in the perfection of His work, in the depth of His love, in the fullness of His grace to dying sinners? Do I long for the conversion of souls, and is it my heart's desire and prayer to God that His spiritual Israel may be saved?"
Considerations of a providential character, having an important though collateral bearing on this question, and materially aiding in its decision will be well and prayerfully weighed. The movements of the pillar of fire and of cloud, as indicating the divine mind will be closely watched. The revelation of the Father's will, the unfolding of the Father's heart, and the guiding of the Father's hand in this momentous step of His child will be points of observation possessing great interest and importance to one who, with the Spirit of adoption in his heart, subduing that heart with meek submission to the will of God, bends before the mercy-seat with the prayer, "Here I am! Send me."
With a heart so surrendered,
with a soul so enkindled,
with an aim so holy,
with an eye so single, and
with a will so filial and resigned
no candidate for the holy office of the Christian ministry need despair of the divine blessing and guidance. Let him foster the holy desire that glows in his bosom with more sleepless vigilance and tender solicitude, than the vestal virgins were accustomed to feed the lamps that perpetually illumined their temple; or than the Jews were accustomed to guard the holy fire upon the altar, that, by God's command, was never permitted to go out. Let it be nourished in faith, and sustained with prayer, and encouraged by hope and faith and prayer and hope will, in God's own time, work out the wonders of His providence, grace, and love.
The nature of the ministerial work, stamps its spiritual character. A work of greater magnitude, and on whose issues more tremendous consequences were suspended never was entrusted to mere human hands. It is the office of the Christian minister to treat on the great matters of eternity between God and the soul of man. Before this view of its transcendent greatness and corresponding solemnity all the pomp and circumstance of human glory, melts into thin air. The most gorgeous embassy, the most absorbing question of human legislation, the profoundest secrets of state cabinets, the stability of thrones, the very existence of empires dwindle into utter insignificance, when placed beside the great commission of an ambassador of Christ.
And what is his commission and to whom is it sent? He comes with a message from the court of Heaven of the most all-absorbing interest to a world in arms against its sovereign Majesty. He throws himself in the midst of a race of rebels against the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; and with weeping eye and outstretched hands and persuasive voice he beseeches them to throw down their weapons before the cross, and submit to the laws and government of God.
What an affecting, heart-melting scene does the picture of man's sinful nature and practical degeneracy, present to the eye of a faithful and feeling minister of Christ. If his bosom heaves with emotion or his cheek is blanched with paleness or bedewed with tears, or his spirit is depressed with veiled but mournful sadness it is not that he has turned his back upon the world, relinquishing its honors, its pleasures, and its emoluments that his walk is lonely, his life sequestered, his path self-denying and often rough that he endures reproach and contumely and hardship for Christ along with afflictions, and sufferings, and privations for the Church. Oh, no this is rather his glory and his joy!
But it is that on every hand the mournful scene presents itself of a race alienated from the life of God cherishing against Him in their bosoms, the most deadly hatred: some falsifying His character and arraigning His providence, others deriding His power and blaspheming His name while all are trampling upon His goodness and converting His mercy to the vilest purposes. It is that the incarnate God, the Redeemer and the Friend of sinners is despised and rejected by men; and His great salvation, so dearly purchased and so freely bestowed is neglected and scorned as a thing of nothing. And when the light of eternity in its full blaze is let in upon this dark picture of human guilt and woe when this rebellious, sinful, and accursed race is viewed as accountable at the bar of judgment toward whose dread decision it is rapidly hastening for every act of its present probation, when immortality an immortality that shall run parallel with the very eternity of God is viewed as the consummation of their misery, the climax of their horror then it is no marvel that night and day with tears, in season and out of season he should warn every man and teach every man, becoming all things to all men, if by any means he might save some.
My brethren, in view of such a picture, the astonishment is not that we feel so much but that we feel no more! That the weight of souls is not more overpowering, their worth more duly estimated, their eternal destiny more vividly realized, and their immediate salvation more ceaselessly sought that we can behold them fast hastening their footsteps down to the torments of the lost see them borne along to the quenchless flame and the undying worm and think that when next we meet them, it may be to feel their glance of bitter sorrow, perhaps of keen reproach, bent upon us from the left hand of the Judge and then to see them vanish, and vanish forever! And yet, that we can smile upon them in their madness, admire their trifling ambitions, extol their empty achievements, flatter them in their awful delusions, prophesy to them smooth things and thus help to fold around their souls, the pall of eternal death!
Oh, this is astonishment beyond degree! You thoughtless heirs of immortality, marvel not that we feel even to the extent we do. Were our eyes fountains of tears, and those tears were tears of blood; were every thought embodied and every feeling absorbed and every breath expended and every moment employed in one agonizing, ceaseless effort to pluck you from the yawning abyss of endless woe where once lost you are lost forever it would be an expression of sympathy inadequate to an occasion so momentous, or to a catastrophe so appalling!
But what, brethren, are the terms of our commission? Never was an ambassador charged with such tidings! In a sense, it is true, far subordinate to that of our Lord; and yet, allied in mind and in work with Him, every minister of Christ may say, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn."
Precious words! Glorious, yet solemn, announcements! Here is an epitome of all gospel preaching this is the model on which every sermon we deliver should be formed these are the truths every discourse we preach should embody.
We are called by God and anointed of the Spirit, to preach the "good tidings" of God's everlasting love, and pardoning mercy, and merciful grace in Christ Jesus, to the "meek" the soul sensible of sin, humbled in the dust of self-abasement on its account, and made willing in the day of divine power to part with its legal obedience and accept the righteousness of Christ as its sole justification before God.
He has sent us to "bind up the brokenhearted" the heart convinced by the Word and wounded by the Spirit emptied, humbled, and made contrite; mourning over its hidden evil, and laid low in deep contrition and godly sorrow; with a skillful, tender hand are we to bind up that which is bruised, by unfolding the glorious doctrine of the atoning blood of Jesus as the great and only sovereign balm for its deep sorrow; the power of Christ, equal to His willingness, to save to the uttermost the humble sinner that comes to Him casting out none who, in the spirit and with the petition of the publican, throw themselves at His feet and supplicate His mercy.
"Liberty to the captive" we are to proclaim, and the prison of the bound we are to unloose! The soul held captive by sin and Satan, shut up in the prison of the law's curse and condemnation and bound by the chain of a legal righteousness to such we are to proclaim the "acceptable year of the Lord," the year of reconciliation and of release; of deliverance from the vassalage of Satan, from the tyranny of sin, and from the curse and condemnation of the law. Liberty sweet word purchased with the blood and bestowed by the grace of Christ Jesus to all His ransomed people, whom He alone makes free the liberty that is found beneath the cross, and that springs from free pardon, complete justification, and full adoption into the family of God, evidenced to the soul by the testimony of the indwelling Spirit.
"The day of vengeance of our God" is to mingle its solemn note with the gladsome sound of a free-grace salvation; the wicked are to be warned; the impenitent are to be aroused; the unbelieving are to be expostulated with; and, "knowing the fear of the Lord" we are to "persuade men" to flee to Jesus and to escape the wrath which is to come.
How important, brethren, that as "stewards of the mysteries of God" we are thoroughly acquainted with those divine records which it is our province to open and expound, that the terms of our commission are frequently and accurately studied that, through the Spirit's teaching, we have clear and scriptural views of the plan of salvation, and that we preach no questionable gospel to souls whose blood will be required at our hands!
The multiform character of the ministerial work is a prominent feature we must not omit to specify in this sketch of its spiritual character. The Christian ministry does not resolve itself into one work only, but into many. The great design of its institution, as we have shown, is the preaching of the gospel to a dying world. From this, as his chief and most honorable work no other and inferior work should dissuade or beguile him. No consideration and no employment, however sacred and urgent, should be allowed to lessen his sense of its importance and dignity, or incapacitate him for its proper and efficient discharge. For this, he was chosen and called and ordained; for this, he has been anointed of the Spirit. To cheer and sustain him in this, he has the promised presence of his divine Master; and for the manner in which he has filled this his chief office he will stand accountable in the judgment. This was the spiritual and lofty view the apostle entertained of his work when he said, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel."
But there are divisions of labor in the Christian ministry, each department having an important relation, and perhaps serving as a valuable auxiliary, to the chief design of its divine appointment. Upon whom, under God, mainly rests the cause of missions to the heathen? Who is to stand at the bar of the Christian Church and plead the needs of a dying world? Who is to remind that Church of her obligation, and arouse her to the duty of sending the gospel to all the nations of the earth, fanning the flame of missionary zeal and devotedness on her altars night and day? Who is to construct the machinery, and collect the funds, and watch with a sleepless eye every movement of the enterprise lest languor should enfeeble it at home and failure should attend it abroad? Who but the Christian minister?
On whom, too, rests the solemn responsibility of keeping the Church constantly supplied with an able and a holy ministry? Who are expected to seek out, encourage and foster such talents, gifts, and piety as may exist in the Church, and which, with proper attention and care, may be consecrated to the service of the Lord and molded into the character of the zealous evangelist, or the settled pastor, or the laborious missionary? Thus, on whom does the theological institution, the missionary society, or the gathered church rely for the men they need, but on the settled minister? To whom also but to him does the Bible, the tract, the Sunday-school, and those kindred associations which are the glory of our land look for their warmest and most successful advocacy, and for the cheering impetus which sustains them with unabated vigor in their career of usefulness?
In addition to these collateral and diversified claims, there devolve upon the settled minister, the peculiar and appropriate duties of the pastoral office, even that which comes upon him daily the care of his church, involving toils of the most laborious and concerns often of the most painful character. The vineyard entrusted to his care, must be skillfully cultured and vigilantly kept. He must see well to his flock. The hours of wearisome thought and research consumed in the study, the exhausting labors of the pulpit, and even the prayers which ascend in mingled and fragrant incense from the closet and the sanctuary will fail of much of their intended end and effect, if the footfall of the diligent pastor is not soon heard pressing hard after the sacred, but often fitful and evanescent impression of the Sabbath.
In his pastoral walks, a diversity of character will throng him, each drawing largely upon his resources of thought and feeling, and making deep inroads upon his time.
The weak must be strengthened,
the wavering confirmed,
the ignorant instructed,
the wandering reclaimed,
the dilatory urged forward,
the dejected encouraged,
the inquiring directed,
the sick visited, and
the afflicted sympathized with and consoled.
The ordinances of God's house, and the varied means of grace, must be constantly, vigorously, and spiritually maintained. These include the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper; the convenings of the church for ecclesiastical business, of the people for prayer and praise, of the young for Biblical instruction, and of inquirers for spiritual direction. How great is the work, and how spiritual is the character of the ministerial office. "Who is sufficient for these things?" "But our sufficiency is from God."
There are two offices connected with the fulfillment of our pastoral duties, so important in themselves, and so strongly illustrative of the eminent spirituality of the ministerial character, that I may be permitted to give them, in this connection of my subject, a distinct and an emphatic notice.
The first to which I allude is the visitation of the sick and the afflicted. To discharge this vastly important and responsible office properly, spiritually, and effectively a high order of pastoral fitness is essential. Nothing presents a more certain and powerful test of ministerial excellence; nothing more quickly and accurately develops and establishes the character of the man, than this. It is not as he stands in the pulpit, surrounded by the transient luster of his own eloquence, officially uttering the language, breathing the spirit, and invested with the attributes, of lowliness, self-abasement, meekness, gentleness, kindness, and charity that a correct portrait can be sketched of the pastor. From this point, the observation must necessarily be partial, distorted, and imperfect.
The estimate will be either too high or too low, the coloring too faint or too extravagant.
But place the object in its proper light; let the pastor be seen in his appropriate sphere; let him descend from the scene of excited feeling, pass from the midst of an admiring people, and wend his solitary way to the house of mourning, and ascend the darkened chamber of sickness and solitude then will he be seen as he really is. Then his true spirituality of mind, the native feeling, delicacy, and tenderness of his heart and address will shine forth in their own beautiful and unveiled reality.
What a scene now presents itself to his view. The door that opens to admit him to the chamber of sorrow and suffering, and which closes upon the world's gaiety and heartlessness has ushered him, as it were, into another and a different world; and he feels like one standing on the margin of eternity, in communion with a spirit soon to mingle with its dread realities. Listening to the tale of woe, or bending over that pale emaciated sufferer oh how trifling, contemptible, and hollow does all earthly care, greatness, and glory appear! And with what nearness, solemnity, and vastness do the scenes of an eternal world rise and expand before the mind!
The attendants retire and give place to the Christian minister. And now commences, perhaps, the most difficult and delicate, solemn and responsible, discharge of pastoral duty. If the sick one is a disciple whom Jesus loves the delightful office will be to set before the dear sufferer's mind, perhaps agitated by doubt or beclouded by disease what Jesus especially is to His tried and suffering, sick and dying members what He is in the dignity of His person, in the efficacy of His atoning blood, in the perfection of His justifying righteousness, in the fullness of His sanctifying grace, in the tenderness of His heart, the sympathy of His nature, the exceeding greatness and preciousness of His promises, and what His present intercession is within the veil what God is as a Father, tender, loving, compassionate, and faithful; what the covenant of grace is in all its rich, ample, and free supply; what the Holy Spirit is as the Comforter, testifying of Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior, and bearing His witness to the soul's pardon, acceptance, and adoption.
Or, if the individual is not a believer in Jesus, the favorable occasion will be seized upon to open up and press with all fidelity, affection, and earnestness, even with tears the solemn and irreversible claims of God's holy law; the violation of that law in innumerable instances; the fearful penalty incurred; the deep fountain of evil from whence every infringement of its most righteous precepts proceeds; and the necessity of immediate repentance before God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The nature of the case, however, will suggest and shape the spiritual instruction given. Much heavenly wisdom, divine instruction and skill; a deep insight into our own hearts; a thorough acquaintance with the varied phases of Christian experience, gathered as much from their development in our own hidden walk as from our fellowship with our flock; a mind always bedewed with the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit; a conscience purified with a constant application of the atoning blood; a habitually close walk with God, and an abiding sense of the preciousness of Christ, the nearness of death, and the tremendous realities of an eternal world are points absolutely indispensable in him, a great portion of whose time is spent in houses of mourning, in chambers of sickness, and by the side of dying beds.
I ask, then, my brethren, is not the spiritual character of our office of the most exalted kind and can we properly and efficiently discharge its sacred and varied duties, if we are not preeminently holy and spiritually-minded men?
The second duty to which I allude as illustrating the high spirituality of our work, is the administration of the Lord's Supper. Can we imagine a service the performance of which would seem more incongruous to a mind enfeebled by a waning spirituality, than this? To be brought so near our crucified Master, to react, as it were, the affecting scenes of His death, to stand beneath His cross and tell of His deep, vast, incomprehensible love what seraph's ardor, what angel's tongue, is equal? And yet our hands are to break this bread and pour out this wine and our lips are to unfold this amazing dying love of Christ!
What a deeply spiritual service is it! What primitive simplicity should distinguish its form, and apostolic holiness, solemnity, devoutness, and unction should mark its administration! What glowing thoughts of Jesus should we be perpetually cherishing! What exalted views of His personal glory, His sacrificial work, and His vast love! And what habitual communion with Him should our minds be constantly cultivating, that thus we may be as priests ever clothed, anointed, and prepared for the sacrifice.
We are now prepared to regard the tendencies to a lessening personal spirituality which the ministerial work involves. That so divine an office and so spiritual a work, should involve tendencies to a deteriorating piety in the ministerial character, that there should exist a necessity to fortify the mind against temptations of a peculiar cast growing out of the most holy and God-like of all engagements is a proposition almost as incredible as it is startling; and in some minds will awaken the feeling of doubt blended with an emotion of surprise.
They have been accustomed to regard the Christian ministry as a vineyard within whose sacred enclosure nothing could grow but the fairest flowers of grace, and the most costly fruits of righteousness. Accustomed to view our work as most favorable to the cultivation of personal holiness they have been at times moved to look with an eye of holy envy upon us, all whose moral and intellectual powers were so professedly merged, absorbed, and sanctified in the study and contemplation of holy things.
How, my brethren, could we be otherwise than pre-eminently holy, God-like, Christ-like our spirituality of mind far in the ascendant of all other Christians, and infinitely less of human imperfection and defilement adhering to us than to them is a point utterly inexplicable. And well may they marvel that we should treat of the "deep things of God" and not sink into their very depth; that we should seem to kindle as with a seraph's ardor and yet mourn in secret over the insensibility of our own hearts; that we should appear enveloped in a flame of self-consuming love and zeal for God and yet confess in secret the marble coldness of our souls; that we should seem to soar as with an angel's wing and yet lament before God that our "soul clings to the dust"; that with an array of "exceeding great and precious promises" we should be able to dry the mourner's tear and heal the wounded spirit and lighten the burdened heart while in lonely sorrow we wept and bled and bowed to the earth, crushed beneath the power of trial, of sin, and unbelief well may they marvel, my brethren, that we can speak of God's amazing love and taste so little of its sweetness; that we can descant on the glories of Christ and be so little enamored with His loveliness; that we can dilate upon the beauties of holiness and approximate so little in conformity to the divine image; that we can administer the most solemn ordinances and be engaged in the most spiritual services with the spirit of inward transforming holiness at so low an ebb, with the springs of sanctity and vigor so dry, with the anointings of the Holy One so far evaporated is a fact almost too fearful to entertain, and yet too real to doubt.
The Christian minister may, in a peculiar and emphatic sense, be said to live not for himself, but for others. The Christianity he preaches, the Master he serves, the office he fills, and the motives which govern him all tend to inspire him with the spirit, and to strengthen within him the principle of supreme self-sacrifice and self-devotion to a work of the most expansive and unselfish benevolence. But how fearfully does he thus peril his own soul! With all thought and solicitude, sympathy and prayer, time and research expended and exhausted in making sure the salvation of others his own salvation may well near be lost sight of. As it regards his individual, spiritual, and eternal interests he may be lost in perfect oblivion of himself. The thought may seldom recur to his mind, or with such faintness as to leave no deep, abiding, and solemn conviction, that as difficult as it is to save those that hear him infinitely more difficult is it to save himself.
Who stands upon an elevation so conspicuous, or occupies a position so perilous, or sustains responsibilities so tremendous, or is exposed to temptations so many, so varied, and so powerful? At whose halting, such serious consequences would ensue; or over whose fall, Hell's loud laugh would more exultingly and triumphantly ascend who, but the minister of Christ? And if there is singled out from among the "sacramental host of God's elect" one more exposed to the fiery darts of the adversary than another it is the standard-bearer, beneath whose convoy that host is conducted to glory. If he falls then what consternation, what dismay, strike into the very heart of the camp!
Absorbed in the cultivation of the vineyard entrusted to our care, we may forget that, deep lodged within our own bosoms, is the germ of all the moral evils, the subjugation of which to the sanctifying supremacy of the truth we labor so assiduously to effect in the souls of others. Here, my brethren, we stand on a level with our flock. Men of like passions with them, partakers of the same degenerate nature; and as they, but partially renewed and but imperfectly sanctified we stand even more signally exposed to a fearful overthrow in the daily conflict between the law of our mind and the law of sin which is in our members.
Ponder well, this solemn thought! What mighty strength may the sin that dwells in us be gathering to itself; to what rapid maturity may it be advancing while we are engaged in mowing down and rooting up the noxious weeds and degenerate plants which grow with such fatal luxuriance in the soil and which mar to so great an extent the moral beauty of other vineyards! While watching with a sleepless eye and nurturing with a skillful and tender hand, the precious wheat we have sown in other enclosures the tares, thick and fertile, may be gaining a rapid ascendency in our own vineyard!
So ignorant may we be of the real state of our own souls, we may even be beguiled into the belief that the fruits of holiness we have been instrumental in producing in the hearts and lives of our hearers are, by some mysterious process, transferred to our own. Thus we may even be found living upon the piety of others. And because we are engaged in a holy work and cherish a tender solicitude for the welfare of souls and are sensible of a glow of holy joy diffused through our bosoms as we behold the success of our labors we may press to our hearts the fond but vain delusion, that we ourselves are growing in grace, in knowledge, and in holiness.
While thus for a season rejoicing in the light and pluming ourselves with the graces of others what a silent and certain and alarming process of spiritual declension may be going forward within the deep recesses of our own souls! What power may the hidden evils of the heart perhaps some peculiar infirmity of our nature be accumulating! What vigor, ascendency, and control may some undiscovered, unsubdued, and unchecked sin be gaining, the existence of which we had never suspected, and the growth of which we had never felt until it had placed in fearful jeopardy, our holiest and most precious interests. Deep veiled beneath the solemn robes of our office . . .
what unsanctified tempers,
what truant imaginations,
what self-seeking, and
what thirst of human applause
may we unsuspectingly be nourishing!
Warmed into life and vigor by the heat of a zeal for God, not according to a knowledge of our heart's deep treachery and desperate wickedness we may nourish and carry in our bosoms the canker worm which drinks up all our spirituality and that feeds at the root of all our usefulness while we wonder and marvel that none believe our report and that to none is the arm of the Lord revealed.
Ah, brethren, where is the holiest of our sacred brotherhood, who has not deplored in secret before God, the existence of some infirmity of the flesh or of the spirit, the effort to bring which in subjection to the law of Christ has cost many a severe and painful struggle, and has consumed many a lonely hour in strong crying and tears.
Oh, let us not be deceived! Because we are ministers we are not the less men; and because we are by habit and profession necessarily and constantly occupied in the contemplation of divine and heavenly things and dwell much in the region of a coming and an eternal world we are not the less exposed to the deadening influence of the things that are carnal, or the less secure against the soft blandishments of a world now passing away.
We must attach no mysterious sanctity to our office. It neither conveys grace into our own souls, nor does it qualify us to convey grace into the souls of others. "We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us." Our own holiness springs from the grace given to us by Jesus Christ; and the advance of our people in sanctification, will be proportioned to their spiritual and experimental knowledge of Christ, as made of God unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
We are equally in danger of forgetting that not only are we partakers of a like degenerate nature with all the saints of God but that also we are partakers in holy alliance with them of the same renewed nature. The indwelling of the life of God forms the basis of our ministerial character. We can only credit the validity of our call, as we are assured that we have "passed out of death into life." This divine life contains the germ of all that is holy and elevated in our work even as the seedling enfolds the flower, or as the acorn envelopes the oak. This germ of divine life involves its principles of action, supplies its impelling motives, strengthens for the sacrifices which it demands, fortifies against the temptations by which it is assailed, feeds the hidden flame of our love and zeal and devotion, and imparts a character and a tone to the discharge of all the holy functions of our office.
Of what importance, then, is it, my brethren, that the life of God in our souls be healthy, vigorous, and growing! It is the heart of our work the center of its power. We are true ministers of Christ only as we are divinely called; we are ministers of strength only as we live by the faith of the Son of God; and we are holy ministers only as this life is healthy, active, and influential.
We have thus far presented to view, imperfectly we are aware a state of lessening spirituality, as developed in the low tone of our personal piety. Let us briefly glance at its effects as traceable in the practical discharge of our work. Although the evidences of a deteriorating piety here may not be so marked in their form or conspicuous to the eye they are not the less decided in their character or painful in their consequences.
Externally, there may be nothing tending to awaken suspicion that the life of God in our soul is passing through a process of decline. The appropriate functions of our office shall be going forward with the utmost regularity and zeal; the study shall witness to the wearisome hours of hard reading and severe thought; the pulpit shall be regularly and ably filled; the ordinances shall be duly and seriously administered; the pastoral duties systematically and affectionately discharged and yet a faithful, honest, and close examination of our souls would probably detect an alarming distance from God in the habitual frame of our mind: but little real, close communion with Him in secret prayer; coldness, deadness, gathering and congealing around the spirit, a waning love for and delight in our work; a decreasing sense of individual and ministerial responsibility; and a lessening apprehension of the nearness and solemnity of eternity.
To so great a degree may the anointing oil have evaporated from our minds; so formal, cold, and mechanical may be the spirit with which the duties of our office are discharged we shall be found to go forward in a work which might "fill an angel's hand, and which filled a Savior's heart" with but the slow and dying vibrations of the pendulum, when the power which first set it in motion has ceased to exist.
And oh, my brethren, with no power to move but that which is artificial with no love to our work but that which is professional, with no interest in its discharge but that which is selfish, and with no desire of success but that which spreads far our own petty fame to what low, contemptible drudgery is our high office reduced! No galley slave is more pitiable than we! And yet such must be the certain, and such the melancholy influence upon the practical performance of our ministerial and pastoral duties of a declension of the life of God in the soul.
Every department of our work will be affected by this moral paralysis. Along the whole line of duty, the convulsive shock will be felt. Each time we sit down to prepare our discourse, on every occasion that we ascend the pulpit, at every hallowed season that we administer the holy ordinances, every visit we pay to the sick and the afflicted a feeling of disgust, a sense of oppressiveness, and an air of heartlessness will take the place of that generous, holy, and supreme devotion to our work which ever distinguishes him whose whole soul is absorbed in it, on whom the anointing oil, ever fresh and fragrant, richly rests, and who, with the holy Payson, feels "that nothing else, comparatively, is worth knowing or making known but Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
Listless indifference will invest the discharge of every spiritual duty; languor will mark the formation of every benevolent plan, and failure will follow as the result of every well-meant effort. The heart fostering the disease of spiritual declension it is but to be expected that its pulses will transmit through all arteries of the body, a sickly and feeble impulse. Oh how, then, can we be able, holy, and successful ministers of the New Testament while the life of God droops in our souls? In vain we assume the air of devotedness, zeal, and sanctity it may serve to maintain for a while, our position with our people; they may be deceived, but the searching eye of God pierces the deep veil of hypocrisy!
We wave the censer before the Lord as we are accustomed, but the "fire" that glows in it is "strange." We preach but it is with formality; we declaim but it is professional; we diligently prepare for our pulpit but our labored and polished production is designed but to exhibit our rhetorical attainments, taste, and originality, and to display our genius, ingenuity, and skill. If we kindle into ardor it is forced; if a tear falls from our eye our own impassioned oratory has excited it; if a beam of joy plays athwart our countenance an admiring throng, hanging in breathless wonder on our lips, has lighted it; or if in the minds of the listening auditory emotion has been awakened and impression has been produced, with the breath which called it into being it has melted away, as beautiful, but as "transient and unsubstantial as a dream." And so we have our reward!
Oh, my brethren, who can adequately estimate the difficulty, I had almost said impossibility, in the midst of so vast, absorbing, and continuous an expenditure of thought and toil and sympathy for others of making our own "calling and election sure"! With what tones of solemn import will the admonition fall upon the ear, in the still and lone hour of midnight study, or amid the excitement and exhaustion of daily labor, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!" How shall we startle, as from a deep reverie, to the consciousness of the solemn truth, "You have a vineyard of your own to cultivate a soul of your own to be lost or saved." And what, if at last it be found that we had broken the bread to others and had starved our own souls; that we had conducted the people to the borders of the good land, yes, up to the very gates of Heaven but had entered not in ourselves; that we had pressed the grapes of Eschol into their cup while the spiritual wine had never moistened our own lips; that we had preached to others and yet ourselves were cast away! Better, oh infinitely better, to have been a humble doorkeeper in the house of our God, serving Him with all humility of mind, sincerity of heart, and godly fear, living upon Christ and reflecting His image than to have been the most popular idol of the day, to have worn a miter, and to have ministered in a cathedral but destitute of an experimental, saving knowledge of Jesus, a stranger to His meek, lowly, cross-bearing spirit, and at last to stand in the judgment with our white robes of office deeply crimsoned with the blood of souls!
We are now conducted to a consideration of the order of personal holiness which the ministerial office demands. That the piety of the ministerial character differs, in its essential elements, from that which glows in the bosom and is reflected in the life of the private Christian, moving in a more retired and lowly sphere is a supposition that will not for a moment be seriously entertained. On the same level, concerning the renewing of the Spirit, the justification of the soul, and the evidences of practical godliness stands the profoundest theologian, with the weakest babe in Christ Jesus. There is a unity in the truth, as well as a unity in the Church that truth is designed to sanctify and save. And all who compose the true members of Christ's Church, are "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone." But that the piety of a minister of the Lord Jesus should be of a different order, that it should be cast into a stronger mold, and bear a character and impress more marked, decided, and elevated who will doubt?
It is not enough that a minister is a converted man he must be more. In the degree of his divine illumination, in the extent of his acquaintance with divine truth, in the depths of his Christian experience, in a practical embodiment of the spirit of the gospel, in the simplicity of an unreserved surrender of himself to God, and in a life which, though lived in the flesh, is yet crucified to its unsanctified tendencies and spent in converse with God and truth he must be far in the ascendant of the ordinary Christian. If not, how can he be an efficient teacher and a safe guide of the flock? How can he elevate the character of his people's piety to a high standard if his own piety is but low, and perhaps in declension? With what honesty can he press the necessity of eminent personal sanctity and a growing heavenly-mindedness while his own droops, languishes, and wanes? With what sincerity of heart, and power of appeal, and cogency of argument, and hope of success can he urge upon the church entrusted to his teaching, a greater degree of spiritual fruitfulness while his own soul presents but the aspect of a blighted tree, whose hidden root is decayed and whose sapless branches are hung with nothing but the seared and withered leaf, which the autumnal blast quickly scatters? Thus, that he should be a decidedly renewed man is essential to his ministerial character; but that he should be a pre-eminently holy man is essential to his ministerial success.
The discussion of this part of our subject will supply an answer to the question, "What is the order of the Christian ministry demanded in the present day?" To an analysis of this order, let me with all simplicity, solemnity, and lowliness, address myself.
A humble and well-grounded evidence of his personal interest in Christ must be considered as essential to the character of a holy and able minister of the New Testament. Until, my brethren, this momentous point is settled we are but as men that beat the air. In the course of our ministrations, we are necessarily called upon to expatiate much and minutely upon the nature and the evidences of experimental Christianity. We may, without assuming too much, suppose that the great mass of our hearers are firm believers in the divine authenticity of the Bible. We may seldom find it necessary to expend much time and labor in strengthening and defending the outposts of Christianity. But Christianity as an internal religion Christianity as felt, tasted, and handled is a point on which no concession can be made but on the clearest and most satisfactory testimony. Here a different order of mind and a different mode of teaching, are demanded.
To treat of a work of grace in the soul of man, requires a personal and thorough acquaintance with that work in all its essential elements and varied phases. With what accuracy, clearness, and power can we unfold the nature, explain the evidences, and press the necessity of experimental religion when the great change in ourselves is so dubiously developed and its lineaments are so faintly drawn upon the tablet of our own souls? With what a tremulous hand shall we lift the veil of the human heart and conduct our hearers within its deep, dark, and mysterious recesses! With what a faltering lip and stammering tongue shall we explain the nature of a renewed mind and descant upon the joys that flow from a sense of pardon, acceptance, adoption, sanctification, and the hope of glory while the great question of our own saving interest in these stupendous matters has never been honestly canvassed or fairly settled?
It is true, their importance may be admitted and felt they may form the themes, frequent and prominent, of our administrations. An informed judgment, a fervid imagination, an eloquent diction, an impassioned delivery, and even a desire to maintain the reputation of an evangelical preacher may assist us to portray them with vivid and beautiful coloring before the mind. But with no inward unction of their truth, sweetness, and power their representation from the pulpit will be but as the exhibition of a piece of finely-chiseled statuary which does not breath, or the gorgeous picture which does not speak all is as cold and lifeless as death!
What do you think, my brethren, gave to the first preachers of Christianity and to the "noble army of martyrs" the amazing power and far-reaching success with which they wielded the sword of the Spirit? You have the reply, brief but emphatic, in the language of that same Spirit whose word, and beneath whose anointing, they preached: "We believe and therefore we speak." It was not a cold assent of the mind which they gave to the truth nor did they proclaim it with a cold, perfunctory spirit. Far from this. As men of spiritually-enlightened understanding they received it. As sinners deeply conscious of its need they welcomed it. As saints, chosen in affliction and schooled in trial they lived upon it. As apostles called of God they everywhere and zealously preached it; and as martyrs, sustained by its promises and exulting in its hopes many of them nobly died for it.
They proclaimed no unknown, unfelt, inexperienced gospel. They could preface their epistles to the churches with an affirmation, that what they preached, they experienced; and that what they wrote, they felt. "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, that which we looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the Word of life we proclaim also to you."
If they spoke of the joys of pardoned sin it was because they experienced those joys glowing in their own souls, through the atoning blood sprinkled upon the conscience. If they told of peace with God through justification by Christ it was because they saw, with an undimmed eye, their own acceptance in the Beloved. If they expatiated on the greatness of God's love in the adoption of sons to Himself it was because the "Spirit of His Son" was in their hearts, and the cry of "Abba, Father!" was ever on their lips. If they preached Jesus and Jesus was their one sublime and constant theme it was because they "saw His glory," and therefore "spoke of Him." It pleased God to reveal his Son in them that they might preach Him among the heathen; and thus inwardly taught they were best qualified to bring men to the knowledge of the truth.
Thus, to be able and successful preachers of the word we must have Christ in our hearts. God must reveal His Son in us. How poor and scanty must our knowledge of Christ be; how limited must our conceptions of His personal dignity and glory be; how little of Him and of His work can we make known to others if we cannot say with Paul, to whom this grace was given: "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me!"
I am not now pleading for a full and unclouded assurance of a saving interest in Jesus, as an essential and indispensable element in the character of an efficient, spiritual, and successful minister. There are, perhaps, but few in the Christian ministry who arrive at this exalted and blessed attainment. But I am pleading, and pleading earnestly for a heartfelt, vital experience and perception of the power, glory, and sanctity of the "truth as it is in Jesus." I do not know how we can be prepared to meet the numerous and varied cases of inquiry, of doubt, of philosophy, of prejudice, of error, of backsliding, of temptation, of darkness, of trial, of sorrow, and of joy which crowd around the path and press upon the attention of a settled pastor apart from an internal experience of the truth, dwelling in the heart as an ever-living, ever-ascending spring.
God will have His true ministers experimentally acquainted with the truth they preach. They shall not lift up a Christ whose glory they have not seen, whose grace they have not experienced, whose voice they have not heard, whose love they have not felt, whose fullness, tenderness, sympathy, and compassion they have not tasted. They shall not preach a dead Christ but a living Christ; a Christ living, not merely on the throne of His glory but living, in all His reigning, sanctifying, and consoling power, on the throne of their hearts!
They shall not preach a Savior, the extent of their acquaintance with whom is just the limits of a well-read mind, an informed judgment, a knowledge derived from the hearing of the ear, or culled from the musty tome of a human system of theology. But they shall preach a Savior, seen by the eye of faith to be transcendently glorious in His person and felt to be infinitely suited in His atoning work to meet the case of the vilest sinner, and to supply the needs of the most necessitous saint.
And what is the school, in which, for the most part, the chief training for our work of feeding the "sheep" and the "lambs" of Christ's flock is attained? Is it not the school of sanctified trial? Here we are led into the deeper and richer experience of what before we knew, perhaps, but in theory, or, if known experimentally yet known but superficially. Here the Bible opens to us with all the freshness and glory of a new book. Its doctrines unfold with new light, its precepts with new power, its promises with new sweetness. The gospel appears to be another system, Christianity appears to be another revelation, and divine truth appears to be a new discovery to the soul. And this, not because it is in reality so, but because God has brought our mind, by the discipline of His covenant, into a harmony with His revealed word.
We learn, now, that the Bible is the book of the tried. That the fountains of inspiration can only be truly opened, that the full meaning of the sacred oracles can only be rightly understood, their beauty perceived, their worth appreciated, their authority reverenced, their spirit imbibed, their sweetness tasted, and their molding and transforming power felt as the Lord baptizes us, not only with the Holy Spirit, but also with fire. Oh the costly blessing accruing to a minister of Christ from a process of deep but sanctified trial! The flame may have risen high, the furnace may have intensely glowed, and the precious ore has melted but rich and vast and lasting and expanding have been the purifying and hallowed results!
Laid low beneath a Father's hand afflicted, chastened, humbled, set aside, it may be, for a while from active labor time and season are afforded for a faithful and solemn review of his ministry. And what startling and humiliating discoveries has that review made! What imperfections and defilements are seen to have traced his ministrations! How meager and diluted have been his unfoldings of truth! What undue preponderance has been given to some parts and what slight has been thrown upon others thus marking a lack of symmetry and proportion in his ministry! What holding back of important doctrines, and what feeble enforcement of needed precepts thus evincing a deficiency of holy boldness in declaring the whole counsel of God!
And with what overpowering truth and conviction does, perhaps, the appalling fact flash upon his mind, "Christ crucified has not been the central truth of my ministry, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the all in all of my preaching!" He discovers that he has preached himself and not his Master; that he has exalted himself and not his Lord; that he has sought his own glory and not Christ's. He has increased but Jesus has decreased.
Concerning the spirit of his ministry, equally affecting are the disclosures. Scrutinizing the principles and motives that have guided and prompted how deep does he find the stain of human guilt upon them all! What lack of singleness of eye, simplicity of aim, and holiness of motive! What self-sufficiency, self-pleasing, self-seeking, self-applauding have left the marks of their defilement on all he has done professedly for his Lord! How little has he trampled upon his own interest for Christ; how faintly has he stemmed the tide of human applause; how has he shrunk from the cross and sought the smoother path of worldly ease!
But who can fully describe the affecting discoveries which the sanctified corrections of the covenant make to the soul of a tried and afflicted minister of Christ! And yet, though painful and humiliating they are needed and beneficial. It is in this way, and by this process that He who sits as a refiner and purifier of silver "will purify the sons of Levi that they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord."
Emerging from beneath the mighty hand of God, humbled, emptied, instructed, sanctified another minister than he was formerly, seems to occupy the pulpit another pastor seems to walk among the people! How differently does he preach! He speaks as he never spoke before. How experimental, how spiritual, how solemn, how fervent, and with what unction his word is with power. His lips, formerly so cold now glow and burn with the celestial fire of the altar. His spirit, once so formal and lifeless now kindles and expands with the glory and vastness of his theme. Christ, before so criminally kept in the shadows is now set forth in His own glory, fullness, and preciousness! Truths hitherto finding either no place in his ministration or preached with such faintness and obscurity as greatly to veil their beauty and neutralize their effects are now exhibited in their proper proportions, their vast importance, and with their sanctifying tendency and their hallowed results.
No longer will the keen but just satire of the poet apply to his once barren ministrations: "The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed." But from the richly replenished storehouse of a mind led into a deeper research into, and of a heart more spiritually and vitally acquainted with divine truth the souls of the flock entrusted to his care, are nourished, established, comforted, and fitted for glory. Thus is the church sanctified and blessed, through the sufferings and afflictions of her pastors. For if we are afflicted it is for her consolation and salvation; or if we are comforted in all our tribulation it is that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.
Does the eye of a tried and afflicted minister of Jesus fall upon this page? Beloved, consider your present affliction as the choicest period of your ministerial life. The Master whom you serve, has not laid this trial upon you for nothing. He has some great and gracious end in view the unfolding of some wise and tender design, which has long existed in His heart of love. The point toward which His present dealings tend, there can be no doubt is your soul's advance in real sanctification, thus securing a greater degree of ministerial efficiency.
A growing necessity may for some time have called for the existing discipline. It may be that an unusual degree of success has attended your ministrations. The wave of popular favor has been bearing you up, and the attachment of your flock has become almost idolatrous. Your varied labors have won to you the adulation of the good and the great, and your praise has been chanted throughout all the churches.
Or perhaps your case is the opposite of this. Your labors have been fruitless, and your strength has been spent for nothing. Few or no conversions, have been the result of all your toil; and to the saints of God, but little unction has clothed your ministrations. The affections of your flock have become alienated; their love and their prayers for you have waned; and those who once, if it had been possible, would have plucked out their own eyes and have given them to you now stand coldly at a distance.
Now, in either of these cases the Lord may see a deep necessity for the existing afflictive dispensation. I do not inquire into the nature of the trial with which He has visited you. His dealings are not always alike the same. They vary in their character as they do in their results.
Bodily infirmity, it may be, has set you aside from your work and you are now the silent preacher of the truth.
Perhaps the Lord is trying you by straitened circumstances, narrowed resources, exhausted dependencies, probably by actual need. Your delicate mind is bowed with care; your tender spirit is crushed with sorrow; and the eye that has so often wept and the heart that has so often bled for others' woe now, in sad and lonely grief, weeps and bleeds for its own. And still, you are unutterably dear to the heart of Jesus. In the tenderest love, as His son is your Father now disciplining you. Regard, then, the present as a most important period of your ministerial life. It may prove to be the ploughing and the sowing season of your ministry, preparatory to a rich and glorious harvest.
God has put His hand a second time to His work in your soul. He is separating His wheat from your chaff His gold from your dross. He is showing you what, perhaps, you knew but imperfectly how vain a thing is human strength, and what an airy bubble is human applause! And now, in all the emptiness you find in the creature, and in the still deeper emptiness you discover in yourself He is about to unfold the fullness of His own grace, the tenderness of His own love, and the strength of His own faithfulness.
Your present affliction shall be followed by a holy exaltation; for, "When they are humbled you say, 'It is because of pride' but He saves the lowly." Sanctified by the Spirit of God, your present trial, be it what it may shall bring your soul into the hallowed possession of the most costly mercies. God has set you aside, with a view of drawing your attention to, and fixing it upon the state of your own vineyard. And if it leads to a deep searching of heart, to a discovery and healing of the secret decay, to a faithful review of your ministry, the truths you have preached, the truths you have not preached, the motives that have influenced, the aims you have sought; if it gives you a more deeply experimental acquaintance with the word, draws your heart nearer to God, endears Immanuel, lays your spirit low, increases a thirst for a more simple, holy, and unreserved surrender then you shall praise Him for it now and through eternity!
We must form a distinct conception of, and be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of our office if we would attain to an eminent degree of ministerial holiness and efficiency.
The office of the Christian ministry, as we have endeavored to show is preeminently spiritual in its character. It is not a mere moral, literary, or scientific office. A minister of Christ may possess these qualifications; and, if sanctified and held subordinate to higher attainments they may increase his usefulness, by enlarging the sphere of his influence; but he must possess infinitely more. He is to consider himself as filling an office and as discharging a work transcendently superior to the mere scholar, the intellectual or moral philosopher, the political disputant, the zealous partisan, or the accomplished man of leisure, of letters, and of taste. He is the sworn servant of the King of kings, the accredited ambassador of Christ, the anointed priest of the sanctuary, the steward of the mysteries of God, the scribe of the kingdom, the subordinate shepherd and overseer of the flock.
But what, my brethren, is a lofty conception of the dignity of our office without a corresponding exemplification of its spirit? It is not enough that, robed in our priestly vestments, we minister daily at the altar of our God. We must, in all the circles where we move and in all the engagements in which we are occupied exhibit and illustrate the hallowed spirit and commanding influence of our office. Not only must our pulpit ministrations, in the matter and manner of their performance carry conviction to the minds of our hearers that the solemn truths we preach; but, when descending from the pulpit and mingling among our people, the deepest caution is needed, lest our spirit, our conversation, or our demeanor should weaken the conviction and lessen the impression which the pulpit has produced.
Such should be the sobriety, solemnity, meekness, heavenly-mindedness, lowliness, and sincerity marking and pervading our entire conduct and conversation. So fragrant upon us should be the anointing oil and such a "savor of Christ" should we be in every place that, wherever we move, we should be centers of holy light, thought, feeling, and action everywhere witnessing for God, exalting Jesus, and saving souls.
But where there has existed a lack of identity between the minister in the pulpit and the minister out of it; in other words, where the habitual deportment and spirit of a minister has not been in perfect harmony with the holy and lofty character he has sustained in the sacred desk there has fallen a blight upon his ministry, most painful and disastrous in its effects. The sweetness that once blended with it, is gone; the unction that accompanied it, is evaporated; the power that clothed it, is weakened; the dignity that invested it, is impaired; the authority that sustained it, is lowered and he no longer continues to be the honored and successful servant of Christ. Men come to consider him, as the mere official of Christianity; and the glorious gospel he propounds, as a tale that is twice told. His veracity they impeach; his sincerity they doubt; his motives they malign; his office they decry; his message they scorn; his Master they blaspheme!
And to what single and especial cause, are these awful consequences to be traced? Undoubtedly to the grieving of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the minister! The Spirit in him, thus wounded and slighted the effect must be felt by all accustomed to wait upon his ministrations. Every class of his hearers will be sensible of it, and will exhibit the evidence each according to the character it sustains.
And ah, brethren, how soon may that blessed Spirit be grieved and withdraw! The indulgence of any frame of mind or line of conduct contrary to the spirit of our holy office, will grieve Him. A spirit of unfitting levity; light and trifling conversation; a habit of speaking coldly, if not irreverently, of spiritual and eternal things; foolish talking; vain jesting these, with many kindred infirmities which adhere so closely to our imperfectly sanctified nature, will speedily absorb the spirituality of any ministry, leaving it as a "spring locked up a fountain sealed."
My brethren, is it, or is it not, thus with us? Are we deeply imbued with the hallowed spirit of our office? Do we, in our lives, present an impersonation of the truths we preach and are we making full proof of our ministry? What is our posture? Are we coming up from the wilderness, preaching, as we ascend, the glad tidings of the kingdom and leaning on Jesus, our Beloved, for wisdom, for guidance, and for strength? Do we exalt Him, as being the only object worthy of exaltation? And while preaching Him to others do we ourselves sit beneath His shadow and find His fruit sweet to our taste? Are we living like men whose home is on the sunny side of eternity whose one work is to bring men to Christ and who expect soon to stand before the Judge, to give an account of their stewardship? And do we carry the remembrance and the consciousness into every circle, and with it do we hallow every word and work: "I am a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ set for the fall and the rising of many!"
A growing humbleness of mindis an attribute in the formation of an elevated standard of ministerial holiness and efficiency, too essential and important to be overlooked. Where is the spiritual minister of Christ who has not detected the latent existence, and who has not had to struggle against the secret workings of the sin of pride? It is so insidious and powerful a sin and is so peculiarly intellectual in its character, and exhilarating in the sensations it produces that few are more liable to be enamored of its fair exterior and ensnared by its specious and seductive form than the minister of the gospel! And yet, pride is an evil more calculated to feed as a cankerworm at the root of his ministry! A sin more loathed of God, against which His denunciations are more severely recorded or on which His wrath has more signally and fearfully fallen is not found to exist! Pride originated the first form of evil that ever existed; it constitutes, at this moment, the great center of rebellion against God on earth; and to it, as their primal source, may be traced all the errors, heresies, and schisms that have ever agitated and torn and divided the Christian Church!
Thus, the identical sin which we find to form so impregnable a stronghold of Satan in the hearts of the unregenerate, and which has so sadly wounded the peace, retarded the prosperity, and deformed the beauty of Christ's Church is the sin most rife in our own bosoms!
Its classifications are many. Among them may be specified the pride of office, the pride of denomination, the pride of knowledge, the pride of talent, the pride of scholarship, the pride of opinion, the pride of influence, the pride of orthodoxy, the pride of controversy, the pride of eloquence, the pride of pulpit, the pride of platform, the pride of success, and the pride of applause.
Pride is a protean evil assuming a thousand varied and opposite forms. It will insinuate itself into the most spiritual and solemn of our services. There is no soil so holy in which its root will not strike. There is no employment so sacred on which it will not engraft itself. It will even make the cross of Christ, a pedestal on which to erect its deformed visage! Yes, while exalting Jesus we may be found but exalting ourselves! And while exclaiming, "Behold the Lamb of God!" we may be but veiling His true glory behind our insignificant persons; virtually exclaiming, "Behold my talents, my eloquence, and my zeal!"
Is there not in us, my brethren, a manifest deficiency of the lowly, self-annihilating spirit of the divine Master whom we serve and whom it should be our aim and glory to resemble? In maintaining our position in the Church, in protecting our prerogatives, in asserting our principles, and in vindicating and fencing controverted doctrines may there not be a lofty deportment, an air of self-sufficiency and importance, utterly at variance with the "mind that was in Christ Jesus"? Is there not an unholy ostentation, and a desire for self-promotion in much that we do for Christ? Is there not an eagerness for preferment to influential and wealthy churches, a fondness for conspicuousness of place, a shrinking from fields of labor where no laurels are to be won, from posts of responsibility because they are not good enough for us and from spheres of usefulness because the aspect they present is discouraging, and the labor they demand will be arduous, difficult, and self-denying? Is there not . . .
a thirsting for human applause,
a studied aim after popularity,
a trimming policy designed to please the world,
a trumpeting of our own fame, and
a vaunting parade of our own success?
Instead of inquiring, "Who shall be most lowly most like Christ the least in the kingdom?" is it not, "Who shall be the greatest? Who shall stand upon the highest pinnacle of the temple?" And is there not, among those who possess the advantages of intellectual training, who have gone into the ministry from the halls of literature and science, enriched with their treasures and flushed with their honors a liability to look down, with an eye of supercilious disdain, upon their compeers in the ministry the holy and humble, but self-taught men of the Church? Are we not, in many or in all these points, truly guilty before our God?
Has not the cherishing of this sin of pride in our bosom deeply grieved the Spirit? Is not the real secret of our barren souls, our inefficacious ministry, our languishing churches, our paralyzed efforts simply the sad but certain consequences of our accursed pride?
But an efficient ministry is a holy ministry, and a holy ministry is a humble ministry. It is "clothed with humility." As a rich and ample robe, this rare grace of the Spirit envelops the entire man, veiling his intellectual powers, his varied acquirements, his self-denying and successful labors from the too intense and admiring gaze of the human eye; and presenting to view only those features which stamp the emptiness and nothingness of the creature, while God is glorified and praised.
And yet how much is there in us, if soberly and frequently pondered calculated . . .
to abase our pride,
to repress our aspirings of vanity,
to rebuke our self-adulation,
and to lay us low in a low place?
That God should have deposited the heavenly treasure of His gospel in such poor earthen vessels as we; that He should have summoned us, perhaps, from some humble and retired walk of life to the great public work of preaching Christ; that He should have given to such feeble and unholy instruments any measure of success; that, after all our schooling for the work and our actual experience in it our real spiritual acquaintance with divine things is so limited, our knowledge of divine truth so imperfect, and our experience of its sanctifying power in our own souls so faint that many who sit at our feet and receive the word from our lips are more deeply taught of the Spirit, more perfectly matured in grace, and walk more humbly with God and near to Christ than we, their appointed teachers; that the secret motives which move upon our hearts and prompt us to action are often found to be utterly beneath our character, our calling, and our professed aim; that if any power has ever accompanied the word we have preached, and souls through our instrumentality have been converted and the saints of God edified the "surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" surely these considerations are calculated to make us little in our own eyes, to silence our empty boastings, and stain the pride of our vain glory!
But, oh! An experimental sight of a crucified Christ will more effectually mortify this principle and check this spirit of pride in our hearts than the combined influence of all the motives that we have urged. Standing beneath the cross of the incarnate God, in view of that stupendous spectacle the humiliation of Deity; beholding the Creator of all worlds, descending from the heights of infinite glory, to the lowest depths of human abasement, exclaiming, as He sinks, "I am a worm and not a man!" the Eternal Spirit unveiling this scene to the eye of faith, and imparting a close spiritual apprehension of it to the mind how is the high look brought down, and the lofty thought laid low! How does the soul sink before the cross covered with shame and confusion of face at the clear discovery, the awful character, and the deep conviction of its sin the sin of self-exaltation while setting forth the person, work, glory, and humiliation of the Son of God! "Hateful and hated sin!"
Does he exclaim, "O that I ever should have cherished one low thought of You and one high thought of myself! O that I ever should have plucked the crown from Your head and placed it on my own! O that I ever in setting forth Your infinite glory, Your deep abasement and sufferings should have turned it into an occasion of pride and self-exaltation! Oh wretched man that I am! Lord, can You, do You, forgive me? Never, never, can I forgive myself!"
Such is the effect which an eye resting upon the cross of the incarnate God produces! Oh, brethren, for the keen sense of our personal vileness, which drew the humiliating confession from the heart of the prophet, as the heavenly vision faded from his view, "Woe is me! For I am undone for I am a man of unclean lips." Oh for the self-abasing, Christ-exalting spirit of the evangelist, when he exclaimed to the multitudes who thronged his ministrations, "After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie!" "He must increase but I must decrease." Oh for the self-crucifixion of the apostle, when he addressed his epistle to the Corinthian church and declared, "I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle!" "To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ!" But, beyond all human examples of self-renunciation oh for the spirit of Him who said, "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart."
In this school, and at the feet of this Teacher, must we be taught if ever the Lord puts any honor upon us in the successful ministrations of His truth. Here, and in this posture, we shall learn our utter spiritual impotence and insignificance. Here we may search our hearts, sift our principles, scan our motives, discipline our minds and get our affections absorbed in holy, ardent and constraining love to God and to Christ.
It would seem scarcely necessary to quote an enlarged degree of the spirit of prayer as constituting a most important feature of a holy and useful ministry. And yet, self-evident as this truth would seem to be, receiving the ready and warm assent of every evangelical mind the practical adoption of the sentiment may fall far short of its momentous character. If the extended vineyard of the Christian Church requires at this moment a fresh descent and in more copious effusion of the "Spirit of grace and pleas for mercy" then surely a faithful inspection of our own souls those much neglected vineyards will convince us of our more pressing need of the spirit of humble, fervent, ceaseless, believing prayer.
In the previous pages of this work we have endeavored to show that the ministerial character is enveloped in the divine life of the soul. If this position is correct then it follows as a solemn inference, that the character of a minister of Christ is only truly modeled and properly maintained in the spirit of prayer prayer being the element which feeds and nourishes and sustains the hidden life of God in the soul of man.
A moment's reference to the history of the first preachers of the cross will, perhaps, convey a more vivid and impressive illustration of this important point, than any we can frame. They were, in a pre-eminent sense men constant, fervent, and mighty in prayer. It seemed to form yes, it was an essential element of their spiritual being. Prayer was the daily atmosphere in which they lived. Their life, though spent in ceaseless and exhausting toil for the salvation of men was yet a life of habitual communion with God. Traversing continents and ploughing oceans, intent on preaching Jesus and the resurrection their home was ever by the mercy-seat. They walked they lived with God. Their ministry was baptized in the spirit of prayer; the weapons of their warfare were perpetually furbished by prayer. In prayer they steeped the precious seed of the gospel and in prayer they scattered it upon the world.
The sentence of death they had in themselves, that they should not trust in themselves; no high intellectual endowments, no profound scholarship, no commanding influence came to supply the material of their power or to share the glory of their success. They were deeply schooled in the knowledge of their utter impotence and unworthiness and thus they were constrained to throw themselves, by a perpetual act of prayer, upon the omnipotence of God. In one brief but comprehensive sentence, their holy resolve is expressed, "We will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." To this solemn resolution, they strictly adhered.
The order is strikingly beautiful. First, they yielded themselves to the influence of prayer then they girded themselves to the ministry of the word. How instructive the lesson this teaches! The strength they desired for their work; the humble and teachable mind they brought to the investigation of truth; the light that was shed upon their studies of God's revelation; the wisdom that enabled them rightly to divide the word of truth to every man; the unction that gave tenderness, fervency, fidelity, and power to their ministrations all came through the channel of their mighty closet wrestlings with God. They first gave themselves to prayer.
Nor did they disdain and refuse, but prized and sought, the intercessory prayers of the saints. How earnestly does Paul plead for a personal interest in the supplications of the Ephesian Christians: "Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication and pray also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel."
The spiritual and believing prayers of a Christian church are the most precious and costly blessing it can present its pastor. Nothing can equal it and nothing substitute for it. The spiritual knowledge, vigor, and comfort which through this channel are conveyed by the Spirit to his mind no thought can conceive, nor words express. The blessing is immense it is incalculable! The seals of the book so often closed are loosed to his dark and perplexed understanding; the waning strength so ready to droop is renewed; and the lonely sorrows which drink up his spirits are softened and soothed by the constant, fervent, and affectionate prayers of his flock.
Happy is that pastor to whom is committed the oversight of a spiritual and praying people; who, when the arms of his faith and intercession are weary and ready to hang down has his Aaron and his Hur to steady and support them; who, amid all his personal and official trials can find solace, sympathy, and comfort in the bosom of a spiritual, affectionate, and praying church.
Nor was the Son of God, less the man and the minister of prayer. How illustrious is His example! Himself the glorious object of prayer yet becoming the humble subject of prayer. Around much of the early part of our Lord's life, the Holy Spirit has drawn the veil of silence. Where and how He was especially employed from the period He was found disputing with and confounding and astonishing the doctors in the temple is not revealed. That His early years were spent in a preparation for His public work, we cannot doubt. And that a material part of that preparation was secret communion with God, we have every reason to believe. But from the age of thirty, the period at which we may date the commencement of His public ministry, His habits of devotion were invested with a most palpable and distinguished character.
Prayer constituted His very existence He lived in close converse with His Father. Prayer preceded, it accompanied, and it followed every important act of His life. Whole nights was He accustomed to spend in wrestlings with God. The twilight hour would behold Him retiring from the world, and even from the company of His disciples to spend His midnight solitude in prayer. And when morning dawned, it still found Him with His Church upon His heart, prostrate at the mercy-seat.
Let a single example suffice. It is in connection with His election and designation of His twelve apostles, and is thus recorded by the evangelist Luke. "In these days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles." How rich the instruction this affecting fact conveys! What a picture for us to gaze upon, my brethren! What a model on which to form our ministerial character!
But not to Christ and His apostles exclusively though to them preeminently does this high devotional character belong. All eminently holy men, have ever been eminently praying men. And all who have ever been distinguished for deep spirituality of character in their preaching and marked success in winning souls to Christ have been men who wrought much at the throne of grace.
From the "cloud of witnesses" to this truth which encompass us on every side, we may select the names of Rutherford, Leighton, Flavel, Baxter, Brainerd, Martyn, Payson, Whitefield, Berridge, and Doddridge men whose personal sanctity, whose ministerial devotedness, whose extraordinary labors, and whose almost miraculous success in the development and diffusion of divine truth and the extension of Christ's kingdom must be traced to their habits of constant, secret, and close communion with God. They first gave themselves to prayer and then to the ministry of the word.
They did not neglect their own vineyards. The close connection between a heart right with God, a soul dwelling at the throne of grace drawing its life, light, vigor, and anointing immediately from Heaven and a ministry of strength, power, and success they well and experimentally understood. They recognized the solemn fact that they were to give all diligence to save themselves, as well as those who heard them. And of this they were well assured, that vital religion could only flourish in their souls as they abstracted time from study, from visitation, yes from recreation and repose itself to devote to the exercises of secret confession and prayer, the hours thus economized and stolen.
To our individual selves, let us make a solemn and close application of this important subject. What, brethren, are our habits of prayer? What testimony do our closet and our study bear to our secret transactions with God? What evidence does our pulpit furnish to our near walk with Christ? Are our subjects selected and our sermons prepared, studied, and preached in the spirit of prayer? Is there no secret, undue dependence upon the intellectual part of our preparation for the pulpit? Is there no resting in the official discharge of our duty instead of watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication? If the Lord has graciously given to us any measure of success in our work had our minds been more imbued with the spirit of prayer would not that success have been far greater? And may we not refer the limited measure of the Holy Spirit's influence which has attended our labors mainly to our partial and contracted habits of communion with God?
As ministers of Christ, then, and as in the presence of Him before whose bar we shall soon stand as the praying, or the prayerless; the faithful, or the faithless; the holy, or the unholy; the saved, or the condemned; the happy, or the miserable ambassador of Jesus let us search our hearts, examine our souls, and review our ministry concerning the single but deeply solemn and vastly important point of prayer.
An enlarged degree of the anointing of the Holy Spiritmust be considered as indispensable to a high order of Christian ministry. In this lies concealed the grand secret of ministerial excellence, power, and success. How poor, how paltry, and how powerless is all human science, scholastic lore, profound intellect, and brilliant eloquence apart from this. In the one case it is the power of God that works; in the other it is the power of man. The one begets a humble, self-distrusting, and self-abasing mind. The other puffs up and engenders a spirit of pride, self-confidence, and vainglory. In the one case, the faith of the Church will stand "in the power of God"; in the other case, it will stand "in the wisdom of men."
Preaching without the anointing of the Spirit we may be but little aware of our approximation to the sin, and of our fearful exposure to the punishment of Nadab and Abihu. The "fire" we offer before God may be "false." We may surround ourselves with sparks of our own kindling, and burn incense unto our own dragnet. The splendid performance, the brilliant effort that has awakened the subdued murmur of human applause, and has given wings and distance to our fame has brought no glory to a Triune God. In the zeal, fervency, and passion which have wrapped the sacrifice in a flame He has seen, it may be, no inward unction of the Spirit, no fragrance of the anointing oil, no sweet incense ascending from the broken heart nor the humble, lowly view of self, the elevated and adoring thought of Jesus.
Well is it for us, my brethren, if, when we are kindling upon the altar a false fire the vengeance of God does not descend and smite us to the earth!
To be holy and efficient ministers we must be "filled with the Spirit." Thus only can we officiate with acceptance to God and with profit to our people. Without this perpetual anointing, this daily annointing of the Spirit to our work . . .
our souls will become lean;
our spirituality will wither;
our graces will decay;
our study of God's Word will be wearisome;
our views of divine truth will be meager;
our discourses will be barren and unctionless;
our prayers will be cold and lifeless; and
the church committed to our care, will be but as the fleece on which no dew descended.
Oh, let us not be a curse, rather than a blessing, to our people. Let not a blight fall upon their souls for our sake. We shall be blessings to them, only in proportion as we are blessed with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. And we shall be a hindrance to their soul's progress in holiness, stumbling-blocks in the way of their advance towards Heaven as our heads lack the Spirit's anointing, and our souls are not constantly thirsting for God.
Let us ever remember how close is the relation of a pastor and his people; that as he is so, in a great degree, will they be; that he will impart to their souls, the complexion of his piety; that he will impress upon their minds, the spiritual character of his own; that he will share with them, the blessing he himself has received from God. We must be men "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." It was this that gave to the prophets of old their inspiration, to the apostles their zeal, and to the martyrs their steadfastness.
God is summoning us to a work, in these our days, demanding all the requisites of each. We need the deep, the far-reaching views of truth which marked the prophets. We need the self-consuming zeal and devotedness which distinguished the apostles. We need the martyr spirit which led many of them to the stake. A mere intellectual and learned clergy is not the ministry that will meet the exigencies of the day more, vastly more, is required. We need a ministry which is . . .
taught of God,
full of faith,
anointed of the Holy Spirit,
baptized in the spirit of prayer, and
clothed down to the foot with the garment of humility!
Directness of aim in the conversion of sinners, as an essential and important end of preaching demands particular notice in this sketch of an efficient ministry. Our great work is to bring men to Christ. We are truly wise, only as we are wise to win souls. Our attainments are really valuable, only as they are directed to and as they secure this end. It is Jehovah's purpose; it was the great end of the Redeemer's death; and it is now the grand work of the Holy Spirit to call His hidden people to salvation. To this, as their end, all the events of providence and grace are tending.
But is it not so that we lose sight of this important end of our ministrations that it occupies but a subordinate place in our estimate of the results, that we look not for it as the present and immediate crown of our labors? We prepare our sermon with labored diligence its orthodoxy is sound; its reasoning is logical; its argument is convincing; its sentences are graceful; its imagery is brilliant. We enter the pulpit, across whose awesome threshold an angel bearing our commission would turn pale to pass. We deliver our message and lo, it falls upon the consciences of our hearers as beautiful, but as cold and powerless as the snowflake upon a marble statue! No emotion of contrition or alarm is awakened; no conviction of sin is produced; no immediate and saving impression is made. And why? Because we never designed it!
The subject of our discourse was not selected; its plan was not arranged; its matter was not studied, prayed over, and delivered with one definite, pointed, holy, and sublime aim the immediate salvation of souls! We never intended that it should come down like a thunderbolt from the throne of God arousing the slumbering mass from their deep sleep of death. We never intended that it should grapple with their consciences, expose to view their "refuge of lies," detect their secret sins and rebuke their open sins, and bring them as guilty and self-condemned criminals to the foot of the cross!
Nothing would more have astonished us, than that these should have been the results. No sound would have broken on our ears more startling and unexpected, than one loud, piercing cry, bursting from a thousand riven hearts, "Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?" Oh how criminally do we lose sight of this, as an immediate, legitimate, and glorious end of preaching! Let us, then, cease to wonder that, "You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument" yet they believe not our report and flee not from the wrath to come.
It would, perhaps, seem proper in this place to notice the importance of a more prominent and simple exhibition of the Lord Jesus Christ, as constituting the grand theme of the Christian ministry and as forming an essential element of its power were it not more our object in these pages to speak of the spirit, rather than of the subject matter, of our ministrations. And yet we may be permitted to express an opinion, we trust not hastily formed or harshly expressed that no ministry can be eminent for its unction or distinguished for its power and success whose one and single aim is not the exalting of Christ.
Christ is the person whom the Father delights to honor. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to testify of Jesus and thus to glorify Him. He, then, who preaches Christ fully is honored with the approbation of the Father, and secures a large degree of the unction of the Holy Spirit. We would not limit His ministrations to a single topic or narrow his subjects to a single theme. Let the minister traverse the wide circumference of divine truth but let Christ be its center; let him explore the vast system of revelation but let Christ be its sun; let him descend into the rich mine of the gospel but let Christ be its treasure. In all his researches and meditations let his object be to know more of Christ; and in all his preaching and labors, let his aim be to make known more of Christ.
It only remains that we briefly refer to a few of the more prominent and weighty considerations by which the principles set forth in this work, are commended to the attention of the advancing and the settled ministry.
We remark, first, that a high order of personal holiness and devotedness in the Christian ministry will wield a powerful influence upon the spirituality of the Christian Church, greatly strengthening and elevating its tone. The relation may, perhaps, be found closer than would at first sight appear. That a solitary instance may occasionally appear of a church in the advance of its pastor in its efforts for the salvation of men and in its sympathies with popular, benevolent institutions we can readily suppose. A lack of time to examine their principles, investigate their claims, and trace their results, or the existence of a mind susceptible of strong prejudice and slow in yielding to conviction may influence a minister in withholding his suffrage from some important forms of benevolent action, around which the affections and prayers of his flock conscientiously and closely entwine.
Instances, too, may have existed in which the spirit of true piety in a Christian body, or in individual members of the body has been more fervent and elevated than that which emanated from the pulpit. But it is not often that, in the vigor and purity of Christian holiness a church is in the ascendant of the pastor it venerates and loves. His standard of holiness is rarely exceeded by theirs. They may strive to reach it and may, indeed, closely approximate to it; but the thought of being more holy, of reaching to higher attainments in spirituality of mind, in personal consecration to Christ, than the pastor is most uncommon. It follows, then, that it is in the power of the Christian ministry to fix the standard of the Church's spirituality and to bring up the Church to that standard.
But especially within the bosom of the church he serves, does the power of his moral influence receive its most beautiful and impressive illustration. It is here the pastoral office appears invested with such peculiar and solemn responsibilities. God has entrusted to him the work of molding and fitting a people for Heaven. He is, in a degree, responsible for the character they sustain as a holy, spiritual, and devoted flock. The formation of that character, is committed to him. They will be, under God, just what he makes them yes, just what he himself is. On him their eye will rest, as on a finished portrait; they will study him as a perfect model; they will imitate him as a peerless example; and thus each one will bear a stronger or a fainter resemblance to his moral and spiritual image.
Especially if begotten by him in the gospel will they receive the instillations of his spirit, imbibe his views, and sit at his feet as their teacher and their pattern. Woe to that pastor whose preaching, whose spirit, and whose example a cold, formal, and worldly flock may quote in support of their low standard of personal holiness! Blessed is that pastor, the transcript of whose preaching and the complexion of whose elevated spirituality and single devotedness to the Lord are seen and reflected in the spirit, conversation, and life, of each member of his church!
Our success in the ministry will be proportioned to our personal sanctity and devotedness. It has been truly remarked that the minister who has not learned that as his spirituality waned, his real usefulness (not his popularity, for this may long survive the wreck of his usefulness) has declined has not even begun to learn wherein his strength lies. Who will prove the most successful preacher of the truth? Not the man of giant intellect alone, of brilliant talent, of profound erudition, of popular gifts; these, unassociated with other and higher attainments, will prove but as the armor of Saul to the son of Jesse in the day of battle cumbrous and useless. But if these intellectual qualifications are combined (though God, in summoning men to his work, often dispenses with them) with the profound teaching of the Spirit, with a spirituality whose attributes are lowliness, prayerfulness, humbleness of mind, vigorous faith, simplicity of purpose, singleness of aim, constraining love, inward unction, persevering industry, and entire devotedness in such a man we shall find the most successful preacher of the gospel. He shall "turn many to righteousness" here, and in a brighter and holier world, shall "shine like the stars forever and ever."
But as powerful as is the motive of success, the glory which eminent ministerial piety brings to God is a motive more powerful still. We are in the Church and in the world as the messengers of Christ, the witnesses of God. With no office is His glory so intimately connected as with that which we fill; and by no work is it so widely diffused as by that which we discharge. The Christian ministry, as it is the holiest, the most divine and influential institution so it is that with which the highest honor of the divine character and the most exalted dignity of the divine government are most closely allied.
It is fit, then, yes it is imperious, that he who stands forth bearing its commission, clothed with its authority, sustaining its responsibilities, and fulfilling its functions should maintain a character for heavenly-mindedness, growing sanctity, and devotedness of the purest and most exalted excellence. Oh, to have the thought deeply engraved upon the memory, and ever present to the mind in letters of living light: "I hold in my hands the glory of God in a world that is at enmity against Him and no angel or archangel has such solemn interests entrusted to his keeping, or trembles beneath such fearful responsibility, as I!"
What a persuasive motive to ministerial holiness! The glory of God! Did ever a holier, higher, or sublimer end absorb the energies or fix the purposes of a created mind? Let it be ours, my brethren, our one, sole, undeviating aim. Let us sacrifice everything that would divert us from it: fame, applause, reputation, popularity, worldly comfort, the dearest interests of self if these come in competition with the honor of divine truth and the glory of God, let them go. The wise of this world may esteem us fools; the great may look down upon us with scorn; the formalist may brand us enthusiasts; yet strong in the strength of our God let this be our firm resolve and this our undeviating practice: "Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."
Then, when the labors of the vineyard are ended and we ascend to receive our crown we shall be enabled to say with the Master whom we have served, though in a sense infinitely beneath Him, "I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do."
A ministry formed upon the model which we have humbly endeavored in this work to exhibit, would go far to prove the fallacy of an opinion which many godly minds entertained namely, that a high order of mental culture is contrary to the existence and growth of eminent and exalted piety. We cherish a close and tender sympathy with the feelings of that portion of the Christian Church, who watch with a kind and vigilant eye the piety of her pastors; and who, with a befitting jealousy, closely investigates the character of every auxiliary brought to strengthen its hands and increase its power. Unsanctified learning in the ministry, has ever proved a bane to the Church and a curse to the world. And that will be a dark day to both when the door of the Christian ministry expands to admit the scholar before of the saint; when a higher value shall be placed upon the acquisitions of human learning than upon the possession of deep piety; and when brilliant talents and splendid eloquence shall possess stronger power of attraction than brilliant spirituality and splendid holiness.
And yet, cherishing these views as we do, we see not why true learning and pure Christianity may not go hand in hand; why profound learning and deep piety may not dwell and walk and labor together in the work of the ministry each nourishing and assisting the other piety sanctifying and elevating learning, and learning contributing to the strength of piety and opening a wider scope for its exercise and usefulness.
To proscribe the pursuits of literature as necessarily unfavorable to the cultivation of eminent holiness in connection with the Christian ministry is to set ourselves in opposition to the many and illustrious examples of their beautiful union and reciprocal influence which swell and illumine the pages of the Church's history. The annals of the Reformation are rich in the illustrations they present of this happy combination. Let the honored names of Wycliffe and Luther and Melancthon and Zwingli and Calvin, testify whether the severe pursuits of study were impediments to the higher walks of piety; whether profound learning, followed in its varied and abstruse branches quenched the soul's thirst for holiness or hindered the cultivation of those habits of meditation and prayer so essential to its attainment. Never has the Christian Church seen men of deeper learning and never has she cherished men of deeper piety, than those whose honored names grace this page.
From a list of more recent date of learned and holy men, we select but one as disproving the opinion that a learned ministry, and a holy and useful ministry cannot be combined. That name, resplendent with intellectual and moral glory, stands pre-eminent in the annals of the American Church we allude to the name of Jonathan Edwards. Of the character, depth, and fervor of his piety but one opinion can be entertained. Never was it probably equaled, and never surpassed by any uninspired man. His was as the eagle's flight, soaring ever toward the sun compared with which ours seems but as the progress of the glow-worm, emitting light but still cleaving to the earth.
A vivid and impressive idea may be formed of his pantings after holiness and of his near approach to its most consummate model, from a single passage extracted from his diary and written amid intellectual toils of the most intense and profound character. It was his solemn desire, his holy resolve, and his constant aim, "on supposition that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one who should live in my time."
The grace that could thus resolve could compass its resolution and did compass it, as far as the limits of an earthly state of sanctification would admit. His intellectual greatness was only surpassed by his spiritual greatness. His mind was of a massive order; the intellectual faculty in him was of the strongest development, and the subjects on which it was employed were the most erudite. And yet how beautifully and accurately was the reciprocal influence of his mental and spiritual powers balanced. So far were his powers of close thinking from being emasculated by the seraphic ardor of his devotion his mind never appeared more gigantic or threw off thoughts more brilliant and profound, than when, as we gather from his journal, it was in a frame the best fitted for communion with God. So little did his severe habits of intellectual pursuit impair the vigor of his piety, take off the fine edge of his spiritual affections, or lessen the sense of his own nothingness that, to use his own affecting words, his heart all the while "panted only after this to lie low before God, as in the dust that he might be nothing, and that God might be all, that he himself might become as a little child."
It has been the single aim of these pages to insist upon an eminent degree of enlightened spirituality of mind as an essential attribute in the efficient discharge of the ministerial functions. But let us not be understood as pleading for eminent holiness, as the only requisite of a powerful and useful ministry. As the basis of a well-formed ministerial character, we cannot insist too strongly upon its indispensable necessity. But to constitute a ministry of strength, of power, and of corresponding success deep piety must be combined with other qualifications, also important and essential to the completeness of the perfect minister.
The man who combines intellectual gifts, properly and thoroughly trained a mind ample in its intellectual resources and capable of combating with error and of elucidating truth with a soul deeply baptized in the Spirit of holiness and a heart enveloped in one heaven-ascending flame of love to Christ and men will be the best expounder of the truth, and the most successful in winning souls to Christ.
Although there are, doubtless, many mournful examples in the history of the Christian pulpit of unrenewed mind and unsanctified learning intruding itself within its hallowed precincts yet this supplies no valid argument against the cultivation and improvement of those intellectual faculties bestowed by God, and their holy and entire consecration to His service and glory in the work of the ministry.
The high and solemn responsibility of the ministerial office, supplies the most affecting and persuasive motive for an elevated piety. It has been remarked that the work of the ministry would seem more fitted for the strength and purity of angels than for weak and sinful men. And yet, here are responsibilities which might crush even an angel's powers and consign him to a fearful doom but for the sustaining hand of God. What reason, then, have we to exclaim, as we compare our personal inadequacy with the duties and responsibilities of our office, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
We are soon to stand before God in judgment. The record of our ministry will be unrolled, and every circumstance and every movement, and every sermon and every prayer, and every motive and every principle will be set in the light of His countenance and pass the searching scrutiny of His all-piercing eye. Are we living in near prospect of that tremendous day, and of that solemn event? Are we preaching and laboring as those who are soon to give an account of their stewardship? Are we faithful to the souls of those who hear us are we faithful to our own souls? Are we free from blood-guiltiness? Are we daily mortifying self in all its forms self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-applause, self-ease, and self-delight? Are we enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ? Are we coming up from the wilderness, and so shaping our course as to avoid the world's adulation and friendship on the one hand, and unmoved by its censure and its hatred on the other? Are we meek, humble, patient, and Christ-like? Is the life of God in our souls, in a healthy state? Have we the witness of the Spirit? Is Jesus increasingly glorious in our eyes and precious to our hearts? Do we lift Him higher and higher? Does His name give fragrance, and His salvation substance, and His glory beauty to every sermon that we preach? Or, do we only recognize Him at the close, introducing Him but to form a graceful finish, a gospel summary to our discourse? These are questions demanding solemn and close review, in the near prospect of our ministerial account.
The falls of so many ministers are awful and affecting warnings to those who think they stand. The bleak shores of eternity are strewed with the fragments of many a beautiful wreck men who once stood high in the Church too high for their own safety, but who made shipwreck of their profession and their faith and now serve as beacons of warning to those who follow.
What do I see yonder? A spectacle over which demons have exulted, the Church has mourned, and, if it be possible, angels have wept.
I knew him well. He was my compeer in age, my associate in study, the companion of my walks, the confidant of my bosom. His fine mind was redolent of thought; his bright eye gleamed with genius; his tall and manly form was fascinating in its address. Few men ever entered the Christian ministry with higher prospects or awoke richer, fonder, hopes in the hearts of tutors, of friends, and of the Church. He bid fair, as his sun arose to its zenith to be a bright and a shining light. Distinguished posts of labor were offered to him. Crowds, eager to receive his instructions clustered around his pulpit, drawn together by the tender, subduing eloquence of his lips.
But he fell and fell deeply, awfully! The Church entrusted to him the keeping of the vineyards but his own vineyard, he kept not. Laboring for the salvation of others he labored not for his own. He grew prayerless, unwatchful, self-confident, worldly, and presumptuous and by slow but certain and fatal degrees he descended from his lofty eminence. His sun went down while it was yet day, and around him is now gathered, in thick and solemn folds the dark pall of guilt, of infamy, and of shame. "Weep for him and cry! See how the strong scepter is broken, how the beautiful staff is shattered!"
An eminent American minister, now passed to his final account, has left behind him, in an address which he once delivered to his ministering brethren, a thrilling allusion to ministerial responsibility and its relation to the judgment-day so true and impressive, that I shall make no apology in introducing it in connection with this section of our work:
"Dear brethren, our office is no ordinary one. We are ambassadors from the King of kings and Lord of lords to a revolted world. Never had men committed to them an embassy of such deep and everlasting importance. No work ever undertaken by mortals was so important, so solemn, or connected with such momentous consequences. Among all the thousands to whom we preach all will take an impression from us that will never wear out. Humanly speaking, the fate of millions, through succeeding generations, depends on our faithfulness. Heaven and Hell will forever ring with recited memorials of our ministry. And, oh, our own responsibility! There is for us no middle destiny. Our stake is for a higher throne of glory or for a deeper Hell. We have daily to go where Nadab and Abihu went, and to transact with Him who darted His lightning upon them. It is a solemn thing to stand so near the holy Lord God. Let us beware how, by unhallowed fervors we bring false fire before the Lord. Let us not fail to devote to our work our best powers, our unceasing application, consecrated by unremitting prayer. Let us not have careless preparations for the pulpit and a sleepy performance in it. Forget your father, forget your mother but do not forget this infinite work of God. Soon we shall appear with our respective charges before the judgment-seat of Christ. What a scene will then open between the pastor and his flock when all his official conduct toward them shall be scrutinized, and all their treatment of him and his gospel shall be laid open. It shall then be known that an omnipresent eye followed him into his study every time he sat down to write a sermon and traced every line upon his paper and every motion of his heart; and followed him into the pulpit and watched every kindling desire, every drowsy feeling, every wandering thought, every reach after fame. Ah, my dear brethren, when you hear on the right hand the songs of bursting praise that you ever had existence, and, on the left, behold a company of wretched spirits sending forth their loud lament that you had not warned them with a stronger voice will you not regret that all your sermons were not more impassioned, and all your prayers more agonizing?
"But what is that I see? A horrid shape more deeply scarred with thunder than the rest, around which a thousand dreadful beings, with furious eyes and threatening gestures, are venting their raging curses! It is an unfaithful pastor, who went down to Hell, with most of his congregation and those around him are the wretched beings whom he decoyed to eternal death. My soul turns away and cries, 'Give me poverty, give me the curses of a wicked world, give me the martyr's stake but, oh my God, save me from unfaithfulness to you and to the souls of men!'"
In view of the principles laid down, the truths discussed, and the motives pressed in the preceding pages permit me to inquire, in closing, "Why should we not aspire to the model of a perfect minister of Jesus Christ? Why may we not aim for a higher order of ministerial holiness and excellence?"
The means of its attainment are within our reach yes, they are in our hands.
The gospel which we preach is ours with all its holy doctrines, its guiding precepts, its persuasive motives, its precious promises, its rich encouragements, its strong consolations, its animating hopes.
The Savior whom we preach is ours with all His infinite fullness of sanctifying grace, supporting strength, tender love, and unchangeable faithfulness.
The throne of grace is ours with all its costly privileges, its secret attractions, its soothing, hallowing influence.
Then let us, forgetting the things that are behind, press forward and upward to a more elevated standard of personal holiness and ministerial efficiency. Let us, while with all devotedness we address ourselves to our great work not forget the careful, vigilant keeping of our own vineyard. And let us often recur to, and lay solemnly to heart, the exhortation addressed by the aged apostle on the eve of his departure to the young Timothy: "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers!"