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CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS.- What has been said concerning the insufficiency of persons employed in the important work of the ministry, may serve to furnish the people who hear the gospel with much important instruction.
1. That no more is to be expected from ministers than what their weak condition will fairly' authorize. When the people raise their expectation too high, it is in many instances the frequent occasion of disappointment. When the Israelites depended too confidently on the ark, saying, “ It shall save us,” it was just and right that it should then fail to be of any service. Nor is it to be expected that preaching should be beneficial to any who overlook and neglect the Divine Author of this excellent institution. Who is Paul, or who is Apollos, but ministers whom Christ has sent, and who, after all their diligence in planting and watering, can give no efficacy or success to their own endeavours. The apostle speaks thus, “ Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?. I have planted, Apollos watered : but God gave the increase.” None, under the preaching of the best ministers, will believe, but as the Lord shall be pleased to give the Holy Spirit for that purpose. All that ministers can do, whatever their gifts are, is to plant and water ; Paul, with all his learning and fervour, and Apollos, with all his melting eloquence and powers of persuasion, could do no more. Ministers, when at the full exercise of all their powers, are but instrumental means, not efficient causes of believing: not authors of faith, only ministers by whom men believe. God does not require the increase at their hands; he never enjoined it as the condition of their acceptance and reward, that they should of themselves convert sinners to him, or
persuade them to believe in Christ, any further than as instruments. Hearers should well consider this, and cease from expecting, even from men of the most splendid talents, beneficial effects of their ministry from themselves, and look to God alone for success, which depends altogether on him, and is entirely owing to his blessing. Diligence and faithfulness belong to ministers, but vital energy and saving efficacy to God. It is only when the arm of the Lord is revealed, that the ministry becomes effectual to the salvation of sinners. It is in the day when God sends his word armed with his own power, that they are awakened, humbled, and made a willing people.But, then, as the expectation of the hearers should not be raised too high, so neither should it be suffered to fall too low, since ministers have a dispensation of the gospel committed to them, and it is by means of their preaching that God will save sinners. People are to regard the gospel, “ not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which worketh effectually in them that believe;” and “they are to esteem the ministers of it very highly for their work's sake.”
2. That the hearers should not weaken the hands of ministers, but do all in their power to encourage them in the work of the Lord. They should be very watchful that they be not a hindrance to them, by any uneasy disputes, warm debates, or evil dissensions ; by any envying or strife, variance or emulation among themselves. a
“ It not unfrequently happens, that a man loses the spirituality of his mind in the labyrinths of metaphysical disputation, and returns with the wreath of victory upon his brow as a theological disputant, but dreadfully wounded in his peace and mangled in his character as a disciple of Christ. The heat of polemical discussion and the glow of ardent piety agree not well together ; and he is the best Christian and the happiest
Every one should guard against disorderly walking, for in whatever degree such conduct is found among the professors of religion, they cast a reproach on the gospel, and must therefore be the occasion of grief and sorrow to upright and zealous ministers: who know that if immoral works be not graciously over-ruled by the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, their prayers and labours will be thereby greatly obstructed.
Instead of this, they should be careful so to behave, that ministers may be happy in their work, yea, rejoice in its extensive success. It is the duty of the people to pray daily and earnestly for the ministers of Christ in general, and for those especially under whose ministry God has providentially cast their lot. They should pray that they may be blessed with divine assistance in all the parts of their work, and that they may meet their congregations from time to time in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Every one should for himself be constant also in the secret but necessary duty of meditation, dwelling seriously on the word of faith which is preached, praying to the Lord to give it efficacy, and waiting for the Holy Spirit. Those who are heads of families should be careful to converse at home on the truths they have heard delivered in the congregation. They who profess to be the disciples of Christ should endeavour to encourage faithful ministers, by maintaining a temper of mind truly heavenly and full of goodness, manifested by a humble, holy, circumspect conversation ; thus showing, that the ministers, whose labours are owned to the conversion of sinners, and the edification of believers, have certainly received their commission from God. Hence, says St. Paul to the Christians at Corinth, “ Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistles, written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart."
man, who is most contented with the simple declarations of holy writ, and least agitated by the desire of knowing what God has not condescended to reveal, or the human mind is inadequate to comprehend.”Dr. Rafies's Lectures, p. 64, 65.
3. That they should bless God for employing such feeble instruments as men in the work of the ministry. He could, no doubt, have spoken to mankind by pure spirits, have employed holy angels, who excel in wisdom and strength, on this vastly important errand. But this plan would not have been so much to our advantage, or to his own glory. Their excellence would, in all probability, have excited fear; and we are sure they could not have given any more success to their message
than what the weakest ministers can. Or, might not their eminent brightness have so dazzled our eyes of sense, that the glory of God might not have been so distinctly observed, or humbly and gratefully admired, in the success of the gospel, as now it is, when it is preached by dying men. All, then, should be fully reconciled to the dispensation of God in employing those of like passions with ourselves to preach Christ; yea, be very thankful for it, for it is certain that ministers can speak to their own species in a way that the angels of heaven never could; that is, in such a feeling, experimental, and sympathizing manner as their exalted and perfect condition could not admit of at all. They might, indeed, have certified us of the
pardoning grace of God in Christ, as a faithful declaration; but could not have borne a testimony concerning it from their own experience, as now Christian ministers, who have the truth in them, can.
4. That they should thank God for rendering the message he sends by such weak instruments effectual. The saving effects produced under the ministry of the gospel, do, in a very illustrious manner, spread abroad the glory of the mighty power of God. Have the spiritual “ weapons” of ministers been successful “ to the pulling down of strong holds ?”—It is because they were
mighty through God.” Have people been “ made obedient ?”—It was not by what ministers did, but what God “ wrought by them,” that made them so. Have persons been “ filled with joy and peace in believing?" Still it must be acknowledged that they “ abound in hope only through the power of the Holy Ghost.” And this power is exercised in the way of righteousness, for respect being had to the mediation of Christ, it is now a righteous thing with God to pardon the sins of all believers. He is “just”. in “ justifying the believer in Jesus." “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." There cannot be, in all his dealings with us, a more expressive or distinguishing instance either of his goodness and mercy, or of his wisdom and holiness, righteousness and sovereignty, than there is in “ delivering us from the power of darkness, and translating us into the kingdom of his dear Son;" or, than in his beginning and carrying on the “work of faith with power." The Scriptures assure us, that his “ begetting any again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” is an evidence of the “abundance of his mercy,"