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who are set apart for the work of the ministry, "by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery *." As none might presume to touch the ark but the priests, so none but such to whom this privilege was given, have a right to intermeddle with the work of the sanctuary.
I do not deny that there are some men, whose natural gifts are so great, and whose intellectual attainments are so rich, as that they may justly compete with the acquirements, and even surpass the qualifications of many in the ministry. But, then, there is a wide difference between a man being gifted and his being sent. If this distinction were not to obtain, why should the apostle say, "How shall they preach, except they be sent ?" Were gifts sufficient to constitute a minister, the proper language of St. Paul should have been, "How can they preach, except they be gifted?" The poorest citizen of this great metropolis may possess greater talents and gifts, than the individual who fills the elevated post of chief magistrate; but to that high office he must not aspire, unless he be the object of the selection and appointment of his fellow-citizens. The duties of the chair can alone be fulfilled by him, who has been chosen by the suffrages of the people, or the proper authorities of the land. And the same argument applies to other professions of life, and departments of state. The professional man, to whom has been entrusted the conduct of his client's cause, may possess greater legal knowledge, and more splendid endowments, than the individual who is clothed with the venerable office of a judge in any of our courts of law; yet he can neither sit in the seat, nor pronounce the decision of that highly esteemed character, unless he has received a commission to occupy the one, and adjudicate the other. And if it be thus in civil matters, much rather should the same course be adopted, and the same regularity and order be observed in things sacred, which are not of temporary, but of eternal importance. Those, therefore, who take upon them the work of the ministry without having a regular call and appointment from constituted authority, show more pride than zeal, more arrogance than humility. Of such may not God say, "I sent them not, nor commended them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all." They certainly act out of their sphere, and, too often, by "their false dreams, cause the people of the Lord to err." I have ever thought, that there has not been one more productive source of error and confusion to the church of Christ, than this abdication on the part of men of their peculiar sphere and profession of life, and their intemperate and injudicious interference with callings and offices, for which neither previous study, nor natural taste, nor accustomed habits, had duly disciplined and qualified them. Hence has unity of spirit been broken, and the bonds of peace been violated in society, and those who have professed and called themselves Christians have not been led into the way of truth, nor holden the faith in simplicity of mind, or in righteousness of life.
Having said so much concerning the character of the Preacher of this admirable sermon, it is now proper to advert, in the second place, to THE OCCASION on which it was preached. Of this we are informed in these words: "And seeing the multitude, he went up into a mountain." This may be considered as the pulpit, from which Christ chose to preach the doctrines of salvation, and address the numerous hearers, who thronged his person, and attended his 1 Tim. iv, 14.
ministry. The place from which he spoke was, in every respect, convenient for hearing, and commanded an extensive view of the dense mass beneath and before him. And here we cannot fail to remark the striking similarity between the promulgation of the law and the Gospel. Both were published from a mountain; the one from mount Sinai, and the other from mount Tabor*.
On this occasion, we find that the people were desirous to hear the “gracious words" that proceeded out of the heavenly Preacher's "mouth," and that he was no less willing to instruct them in the true knowledge of God, and in the saving truths and duties of religion. He always went about doing good, and suffered no opportunity to pass without relieving the pressing wants of the body, and the more desperate maladies of the soul. In the strictest sense he appeared to both in the character of a physician; each were objects of his compassion, but especially the soul, overspread with the leprosy of sin, and pining away under the ravages of some spiritual inveterate disease. Thus he exercised himself, not only for the benefit and comfort of his hearers, but likewise for an example to all who, in future ages, should be ordained to be preachers of his word, and publishers of the glad tidings of his salvation.
From the conduct of our divine Master we may learn, that it is the duty of every preacher of the Gospel to imitate the pattern which he hath set before them, and to embrace every opportunity of doing good to the souls of men. It is the work to which they are called, and the business in which they are employed. Christ has appointed them his ambassadors to negotiate for the peace and happiness of the human soul; and when a day of audience is appointed them, they should boldly execute the commission with which they are entrusted, and impartially declare the will of the Sovereign, whose person they represent. No exertion should be wanting, on their parts, to aggrandise the interests, and promote the honour and glory of his kingdom. The work on which the Prince of Peace sends his ministering servants, is, of all others, the most noble and the most interesting; none can exceed it in dignity, none surpass it in importance: viz., it concerns the salvation of precious souls. Nothing on earth is of equal value with the soul of man: its origin is divine; the operations of its powers and faculties are wonderful; and its duration is eternal. It is a perennial, or everlasting flower, which only buds on earth; but which expands its blossom, and comes to its full beauty and perfection in the garden and paradise of God above. Yea, in such estimation is it holden by him by whom it was created, that he declares it more valuable than the whole world; and asks, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
But, if the souls of men are of such incalculable value, and if, at the same time, they are in the greatest danger of being lost and ruined for ever, then with what indefatigable zeal and earnestness should these persons apply their every energy of mind and body to save them from destruction, whom God hath set apart for that purpose, and provided with the means of securing their salvation? If the Son of God poured out his precious blood to save them from perishing, why should his ministers be sparing of their exertions? Why not put in requisition every faculty, with which they are gifted, and undergo even every deprivation, and personal inconvenience, to which men can be subjected, * Such is the opinion of many learned commentators, both in ancient and modern times.
to be fellow-workers with their heavenly Master in the great and mighty purpose of saving from perdition the souls of their brethren? To study, to pray to preach, is their peculiar department of duty, is that which constitutes the sacred object of their ambition, and the sole end of their being. In this they are to be instant in season, and out of season. When they see the multitude, like Peter, they should let down the Gospel-net, in order that, as he did, they may catch thousands of precious souls. If successful, how glorious their reward! if not, they have done their duty; and they have the language of the prophet wherewith they may cheer their spirits, and amply recompense their toils; however inadequate may be their earthly remuneration, they have "delivered their own souls."
In this holy and blessed work, care and activity are the more necessary, as there are so many emissaries of Satan on the watch to entangle, to ensnare, and finally to ruin our invaluable souls. In the exact ratio of their desperate malice and repeated assaults, should be the zeal and vigilance of the spiritual watchmen to foil their efforts and defeat their machinations. What wileswhat stratagems, does the cunning serpent employ to wreak his vengeance on man, whom he regards as his supplanter in the favours and rewards of heaven! And, when artifice and deceit fail to accomplish his murderous purposes, then what floods of water-what floods of persecution, of heresy, and error, does the dragon throw out of his mouth to destroy the woman and her seed!
To counteract these efforts of the devil, and to arrest the march and prevalence of these errors, should be the unceasing endeavour of every watchman of the house of Israel. He should apply a spiritual antidote to every poison which has infected, to every sin which has beset, and to every disease which rages among the people. That to which all his might and energy should be mainly applied, is to "convert sinners from the errors of their ways, and save their souls from death." The ministers of the Gospel are not only pastors, chosen to feed the flock of Christ, they are also soldiers enlisted to fight his battles and defend his cause. While, with the one hand, they hold out the bread and water of life to those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness; with the other, they are to wield the sword of the Spirit, and manfully to engage in personal combat with all, who attempt to deface the beauty, destroy the simplicity, and corrupt the purity, of our holy religion.
Besides the errors and heresies which have sprung up in the Christian church, which are as so many weeds and tares impairing the growth, and impeding the march, of sound scriptural truth and doctrine, there are other obstructions and hinderances with which the ministers of God have to grapple in their pious endeavours to sow the precious seed of the Gospel in the hearts of the people. Among the various classes of hearers, to whom the spiritual husbandman addresses himself, as a sower going forth to sow, some there are, who are dull and slow of understanding; others possess such defective memories, that the impression is soon obliterated, of whatever saving truth they heard, and of whatever instructive view they entertained. "The sincere milk of the word" produces no wholesome and invigorating effect upon others; they loathe it; and consequently, it contributes not to their growth, nor increases their strength in the most important of all hopes, the spiritual one. Upon such a soil, no seed can vegetate, and no fruit be brought to perfection, The endeavour of Christ's ministers should here be specially applied to remove these obstructions, and
rectify these deficiencies, as far as possible; and every effort should be used to brighten the powers of the understanding of the dull, to strengthen the memories of the defective, and to render the preaching of the word acceptable, and the sowing of the seed profitable, by the meekness of wisdom with which we recommend, and the simplicity and earnestness of manner with which we enforce it on the hearts and acceptation of our hearers. How much of " the good seed of the word" is lost, by falling on the way-side, and on stony-ground hearers, from whom the devil," that fowl of the air," picks it up, and thereby prevents it from being fruitful. Of how many sacred truths has this plunderer robbed the hearers of the Gospel! And how many edifying sermons has he stolen from their hearts, which, in the season of adversity, and at the hour of death, might have proved refreshing cordials to their departing spirits!
But if the memories of some hearers are so defective, that they are in danger of having the word they have heard quickly eradicated from their minds and of losing it altogether, it behoves the ministers of Christ to ascend the preacher's mount the more frequently, in order that some of the leading truths of the Gospel may, at last, gain a strong ascendancy, and produce a lasting impression upon them. Repeated ascents should be made to the spiritual mount, and persevering efforts to prepare and manure the soil, that it may be rendered fit to receive and retain the precious seed which is sown. Should the hearts of those, upon whom this care is bestowed, be as hard even as adamant, yet the sower must not remit his toils, nor fail to scatter the seed of the word upon them; seeing that, even of these stones, God is able to raise up children unto himself. As the hard and parched glebe requires a succession of showers before it is softened and fertilized, so the hearts of sinners, scorched and hardened by the burning beat of sinful passions, require "precept upon precept, and line upon line :" yea, our doctrine "must drop on them as the rain; our speech must distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass," before they are softened, and rendered capable of bearing fruit unto holiness.
Besides these defects, above mentioned, in the understanding, in the memory, and in the hearts of hearers, by which the success of the Gospel is greatly impeaed, there is another grevious obstruction, to which it is necessary to alinae. This obstruction arises from the ear, which prevents them from hearing the word preached so as to make any visible impression. "In hearing, they hear not." This impediment is occasioned by having the passage to the organs of hearing choked up with the mud or thick clay of the earth. They do indeed frequent the temple of the Lord; and "they come unto thee," saith God to his prophet," as the people cometh; and they sit before thee as my people; and they hear thy words, but will not do them: for with their mouth, they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo! thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words but do them not*." They hear the sound, but regard not what is said. The consequence is, that the most impressive and judicious sermon produces no other effect, than " a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." How many, at the very time in which their attention should be rivetted to the most momentous subjects upon which they are addressed, remain passive and unaffected hearers, and scarcely know one word Ezekiel, xxxiii, 31, 32.
of what the preacher has been pressing on their hearts, and enforcing on their thoughts. Whence does this arise? Alas! the reason is too obvious. The house of prayer is desecrated as a house of merchandise, and the things of time occupy the thoughts of those, whose minds should be set on the things of eternity. Ah! say whether this be not the truth, and whether, "how ye may buy, and how ye may sell, and how ye may get gain," do not too frequently intrude and close the heart against all present impressions, and all profitable views of God and eternity! You should take the scourge, brethren, and like the Redeemer, whip this offending traffic from the house of your God, and from the temple of your hearts! In such a case, when your hearts are thus diverted from the only legitimate purpose for which you should resort to the house of prayer, when the soil of your minds is thus in a state in which no precious fruits can spring up and ripen to maturity, what must the ministers of the word do? They must ascend the mount; and, as they are styled "Boanerges," or sons of thunder, they must "cry aloud, and spare not:" they must "lift up their voice like a trumpet, and show the people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins," in order that the deaf ear may thereby be unstopped, that it may hear what "the spirit saith unto the churches," and that the word of life may find entrance to the conviction of the mind, and the salvation of the soul.
To all these duties, those who live by the altar, and minister in the sanctuary are called; and they ought to perform them faithfully, not only for their master's glory, but for their own comfort and advantage. What cause of triumph, and what source of joy is it to him, who serveth in the temple, who, when called upon to give account of his stewardship, can thus address his heavenly Master, "Lord! I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do!" "Behold, I, and the children whom thou hast given me!" If the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner that repenteth, what must be the joy of a faithful minister of Christ when he is admitted to the mansions of glory, and there recognizes those happy souls whom God, by his instrumentality, hath brought into his heavenly kingdom? Every sinner, whom he has been the means of turning from the evil of his ways, shall add a jewel to his crown. Yes, my brethren, "they that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars, for ever and ever*." But even, 66 though Israel be not gathered, yet shall they be glorious in the eyes of the Lord." Let these animating and encouraging declarations have their full and sober influence on the mind, and constrain those who labour in word and doctrine to imitate the blessed example in the text, that, through grace, they may bring many of Christ's wandering sheep home to his fold.
Our blessed Lord and Master availed himself of every occasion to preach, to instruct the ignorant, and to enlighten them that were out of the way. Sometimes he taught in the tempie; sometimes in a ship; at other times, as in the text, on a mount. In every place he could find a chair from which he could teach those who attended him. How often did he endure hunger and thirst, in order that he might feed others with the bread and water of life. His solicitude was more for others than for himself; and his own personal conveniences were sacrificed, when a perishing soul was to be saved, and a wretched + Isa. xlix. 5.
* Dan. xii. 3.