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MINISTERIAL CHARACTER AND DUTY.
2 COR. iv. 13.
We also believe, and therefore speak.
O understand what ought to be the character, and what principles fhould animate the conduct of a minister of the Gospel, cannot be without profit, even to a private Chriftian. It will teach him whom to prefer, when he is called, in providence, to make a choice. It will teach him to hold fuch in reputation for their office fake, and to improve the privilege of a regular gofpel miniftry, if he himself is favored with it. And I think it muft incline him to make daily fupplication to the Lord' of the harveft, to fend forth faithful laborers into his harveft.
But though there were no fuch general advantage to be derived from it, my particular charge, and the very afpect of this audience, would eafily juftify me in making this, for once, the immediate fubject of discourse.
Now, if we would know the character of a faithful minifter, we cannot better, or more immediately reach our purpose, than by looking into the character, and observing the conduct, and springs of action, of the apostles of our Lord, who received their commiffions immediately from
himself, and were not only the firft, but the best and most fuccessful minifters, that ever were employed in the church of Chrift.
The Apostle Paul, whofe call was fo fingular, and whose labors were fo diftinguished, has, in his epiftles to the several churches, planted or watered by him, given us a great light into the chief aims he had in the exercise of the miniftry. In this chapter, and the preceding part of this epiftle, he fhews the Corinthians, with what visible faithfulness and fincerity he had acted, and what diligence he had used in promoting their eternal happiness.
To fave time, I forbear going through the connexion of his difcourfe, and only obferve, that in the words of our text, he fhows what kept him faithful and influenced him to fo much diligence in the work, to which he was called, by alluding to an expreffion in the 116th Pfalm. It is written, I have believed, therefore bave I spoken. We also believe, and therefore speak. In this he intimates, that our inward perfuafion of the great truths of the everlafting Gospel, could not but have a powerful influence upon him and others, to prefs the important message, and watch over the fouls of thofe committed to their charge.
In difcourfing further at this time, I intend to confine myfelf to this fingle truth, which may be easily deduced from the text: That one of the moft effentially neceffary, and the most extenfively useful qualifications of a good minifter, is, that he be a good man, that he have a firm belief of that Gofpel he is called to preach, and a lively fenfe of religion upon his own heart. After I fhall have explained and confirmed this obfervation, I will conclude with fome practical reflections.
Though I have mentioned real religion as one of the most effentially neceffary qualifications, I am not ignorant, that taking the words in a ftrict fenfe, gifts are more neceffary to the being of a miniftry, than even grace itself. To make the efficacy of the ordinances to depend upon the inward state of the adminiftrator, is a Popish error, and is exprefsly guarded againft by the Affembly of Divines, in our fhorter Catechifm, in the following words;
The sacraments, and it is equally true of every other ordinance, become effectual to salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them, that by faith receive them.
But fome degree of capacity is evidently neceffary in the most abfolute fenfe. A man who is altogether void of knowledge and utterance, or who is deaf and dumb, may be a faint, but cannot be a minister. This conceffion, however, takes nothing from the force of the obfervation, that real religion is of the greatest importance, and most abfolutely neceffary to the faithful discharge of a minif ter's facred truft. That I may fet this in as clear and ftrong a light as I am able, let me intreat your attention to the following obfervation,
I. Real religion in a minifter will make him knowing, and able for his work. It is neceflary for any one who intends himself for the office of the miniftry, by diligent study, and the ufe of thofe means, with which God in his providence hath furnished him, to improve his underftanding and acquire a flock of knowledge, that he may be a workman that needeth not to be afhamed, rightly dividing the way of truth. In this he can have no fuch incitement as concern for his Mafter's glory. Nay, he that is truly religious, is taught of God, the beft of masters, and will have fome of his moft profitable leffons from his own experience..
Let me the rather intreat your attention to this, that those who are most apt to disparage piety, are also apt to fpeak in terms of high approbation on the fubject of literature and fcience.-Obferve, therefore, that true religion ferves both to give a man that knowledge which is necessary to a minister, and to direct and turn into its proper channel the knowledge which he may otherwife acquire. It is an approved maxim in every fcience, that practical and experimental knowledge far exceeds that which is merely fpeculative; at least, though the last may make the prettiest fhow, the firft is by much to be preferred for ufe. Any wife man, if he was to go a dangerous
voyage, would readily prefer as his pilot, one who had much experience, and had failed often that way himself, to one, who had ftudied navigation in the most perfect manner afhore. So, my brethren, every man who regards his foul would choofe for his spiritual guide, one, who appears to have the wifdom to fave his own, and would expect by him to be beft directed how to avoid the rocks and fhelves in his paffage, through this dangerous and tempeftuous ocean of life.
But if this maxim holds true in other fcience, it holds yet more strongly in Religion, which cannot be truly known unlefs it be felt. There is an infeparable connexion between faith and practice, truth and duty; and therefore he that is a ftranger to the one, is ignorant of the other. I am not infenfible that a bad man may efpoufe, and plead for a great part of the fyftem of divine truth; but as he cannot cordially embrace it, fo I am inclined to think that he never truly understands it. The Apostle Paul declares, that it is only by the Spirit of God which is given to every real Christian, and more efpecially to every faithful Minifter, that a man is enabled to treat rightly of divine things," Now we have received, not the Spirit of "the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might "know the things that are freely given to us of God; which things we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom "teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing fpiritual things with fpiritual. But the natural man re"ceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are "foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, for they "are fpiritually difcerned." As the real Chriftian from that character is beft difpofed to feek after, fo he is by the fame means best fitted to improve and apply his knowledge of spiritual things. This will appear, if we confider what ought to be the great work of a minifter. He hath to do chiefly with the hearts and confciences of his people. His bufinefs is to convince the ungodly; to awaken the secure; to enlighten the ignorant; to direct and ftrengthen the weak in the faith, and in general as a wife phyfician, to adminifter the medicine proper to the various conditions and diforders of his hearers. Now it muft, at firft fight,
appear, that he who is a ftranger to the power of godliness, and knows nothing of the spiritual life himself, must be utterly unfit for difcerning how it thrives, or affifting and promoting it in others. That man muft furely be most powerful in fearching, and moft fkilful in guiding the confciences of others, who has been accustomed to examine and direct his own.
I only farther obferve upon this particular, that true religion will purify, and direct into its proper channel, the knowledge he may otherwife acquire. It is a great mistake to think, found learning is an enemy to religion, and to fuppofe that an ignorant miniftry is the best or fafeft. There is no branch of human knowledge of which a Divine may not be the better, or which a good man will not improve to the glory of God and the good of others; though fome of them are more important than others; and it is necessary to give to any of them, only fuch proportion of our time, as is confiftent with our great and principal aim. Now true religion is the great prefervative against mistake or abuse of any kind on this fubject. A bad man is apt to ftudy, merely to gratify his own fancy; and there is a falfe luxury and delicacy in feeding the mind as well as the body. A bad man is alfo exceedingly prone to intellectual pride and felf-fufficiency; than which, there is not a vice more dangerous in itself, or more contrary to the character of a Minifter of the New Teftament. But he who is fanctified by divine grace, as he has every motive to diligence in acquiring knowledge, fo the fingle purpofe to which he will wish to apply it, is to ferve God in the Gospel of his Son.
II. Real religion in a minifter will make him happy and chearful, ready and willing to do his duty. There is a great difference between the prompt, and speedy obedience of a fervant who loves his mafter and his work, and the reluctant labor of him who only deceives him, that he may eat of his bread. A truly pious man undertakes the office of the miniftry from love to God, with a view to promote his glory, and what he hath counted his interest in the world: viz. the welfare of the fouls of men. An unholy minifter undertakes this employment only as a