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THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY :

A Sermon*,

BY THE REV. F. B. ASHLEY,

Vicar of Wooburn, Bucks.

2 CHRON. xxix. 11.

"Be not now negligent; for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye

should minister unto him, and burn incense."

HEZEKIAH lamented the desolations that existed, and directed this pathetic address and exhortation to the priests and Levites. He would have them stirred up to increased exertions in cleansing and adorning God's temple. There was filthiness to be taken away, incense to be burned, and burnt offerings to be made unto the God of Israel. Now we are called together to-day from our respective spheres of labour, where we have a spiritual temple to serve, by holding forth the word of life, by pointing to the "one oblation once offered," and by the incense of prayer burning in our hearts: so the subject of the Christian ministry generally may furnish us with profitable matter for contemplation.

Each of us, I doubt not, must be painfully sensible that much remains to be done: much corruption cleaves to ourselves; and we are ever liable to lose a sense-a deep and due sense of our great responsibility, while multitudes of precious souls in our parishes need to be converted to God, and cleansed from the filthiness of the flesh and spirit, that they may be as "polished stones" in Christ's temple. Therefore every stirring call in the word of God to ministerial diligence and duty may well fall on our hearts as from the lips of our divine Master: "Be not now negligent; for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense."

The pulpit is an awful place on usual occasions, and I feel it not to be less so now; but, though under a deep sense of my own unworthiness, I would in all humility and simplicity seek to speak every word to the honour of our Lord. May he be present, and bless the consideration of the subject to us, so that we may partake more of his Spirit, and give ourselves more fully to that blessed and glorious work, in which we are labourers together with God.

"The Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him." All God's children are called" to serve him ;" and this is

Preached in Wycombe church, on Wednesday, May 31, 1848, at the visitation of the venerable the archdeacon of

Bucks.

no light matter; but there is an especial sense
in which the minister of God is "chosen to
serve him." He is outwardly "chosen and
called to this work by men who have public
authority given unto them" in the church:
he is inwardly brought to it; for he declares
that he "thinks in his heart that he is truly
called;" that he "trusts that he is inwardly
moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon him
this office and ministration." Thus is he
peculiarly "not his own :" he is set apart by
the church to the service of the temple, that
he may give himself wholly to this office,"
"and draw all his cares and studies this
way." He is not only called to be a saint,
but to be a messenger and "servant of Jesus
Christ;" "separated unto the gospel of
God," by him who "counted him faithful,
putting him into the ministry." Such is the
real minister. He must be one under the in-
fluence of God the Holy Spirit. External
work may be done by the natural man; but
spiritual work must be effected by living
principles. If spiritually dead, he does not
feel the weight of responsibility: if spiritually
blind, he does not see the danger in which
unconverted souls are: he must have felt his
own need, and experienced the grace of
Christ, and thence long to tell others of him.
He must have tasted of the love of Jesus,
to have a yearning love for his fellow-sinners'
souls. He must have an experimental ac-
quaintance with the faithfulness, power, and
transcendent grace, and all-sufficiency of
Christ, ere he can speak with feeling, with
power, or with truth, of his Redeemer's un-
searchable riches to others. Without this he
is but a blind guide, a sign-post without arms.
O, my brethren, are we not in a position of
which we need well ponder the solemnity
and responsibility? Are we not apt to think
too lightly of our post, "chosen to stand be-
fore God and serve him?" And, when we think
of the awful consequences to ourselves and
others, if we are ignorant, faithless, or indo-
lent, and miscarry, can we too seriously, too
deeply, too anxiously bethink ourselves of the
peculiarity of our office, and our solemnly
affecting situation? It is, I think, a good
plan, and one I have no doubt adopted by
many, to read over, to study prayerfully, the
ordination-service at least once in every year,
in order to sustain and deepen our appre-
hension of our station, duties, and responsi-
bility.

Our position, or calling, leads us next to consider its object. The object of our office is the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. Fallen men are utterly depraved and lost, slaves to the world and the prince of this world, unable to do or even think what is

Father, was accomplished in the life and sufferings of the Eternal Son, and is applied with power and energy by God the Holy Ghost. It is divine in counsel, divine in the justice which it exacts, divine in the mercy which it proclaims, and divine in its saving and sanctifying effects. It is "the gospel of the grace of God," the free, rich, sovereign grace and unmerited love, which you and I are commissioned to declare faithfully, boldly, and affectionately to our fellow-sinners. We are to declare it faithfully; for we are stewards of the mysteries of God, and will be called to an account. We are to preach it with all boldness; for many "will not endure sound doctrine," and "the fear of man bringeth a snare." We are to deliver it affectionately; for we are but frail, weak, earthen vessels ourselves, and may well have feeling, sym

out of which we profess to believe we have, by the grace of God, been recovered, and, while we are faithful to their eternal interests, we must "speak the truth in love;" while we seek that the word may be as an arrow to the soul, are energetic and earnest, and close and wrestle with the doubts and difficulties of the mind and conscience, we must not be wanting in persuasive arguments, fervent beseechings, and affecting addresses to the heart.

right from good and acceptable motives; and the object of the ministry is to restore such to the favour and image of God, to direct them to the ark of Christ's church, to bring them into the fold of the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls, that in him they may be children of God and heirs of heaven. It is not only to "bring them into the fold, but to feed them in the fold, and to lead them onward to the heavenly fold." It is "to teach, premonish, to feed, and provide for the Lord's family," and "to seek for his sheep that are dispersed abroad, that they may be saved through Christ for ever." So great, so blessed, so glorious an end, that the choice it as the object of our life is the highest and holiest end for which we could live, and may I not add, the wisest? for "he who winneth souls is wise." But what is the means whereby this won-pathy, and tenderness for souls in that snare, derful result is to be effected? The effectuation of it rests solely with the Supreme; for, as "he who made the world can alone make a minister," so it is God only who can convert a sinner. But, in his infinite condescension, he employs man-unworthy vile earth -on this stupendous errand of mercy. Yes, brethren, upon us devolves the delightful labour of carrying a message of mercy to our fellow-sinners; not to speak our own words, not to devise any human methods, but to deliver our commission as faithful ambassadors, to take God's charter of salvation, and "preach the word." Leaving human systems, we are to speak all that the scripture speaks, and as the scripture speaks, in the same unqualified way, not as though we were wiser than its Author. There we find the way whereby God can be just, and yet justify him that believeth in Jesus. While man would in part or in whole have the justifying of himself, God has propounded a plan, which, while it exalts the Saviour alone, humbles, sanctifies, and saves the sinner. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John ii. 16). This is the gospel. It proclaims love from heaven, that it may produce love on earth, grateful love from man; and here is the principle of all acceptable obedience. The love of God has provided an all-sufficient atonement for sin in the sufferings and death of Jesus, and an all-perfect righteousness for the justification of the believer in the life of his dear Son. The justice of God exacted on the cross of the Holy One the penalty due to us; so that a channel is opened for his mercy to mankind, and "the kingdom of heaven opened to all believers." Here is a scheme which originated in the love of the Almighty

What an example we have of the ministerial character in 1 Thess. ii. "We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention:""As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God which trieth the hearts:" "Nor of men sought we glory;" "but we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:" "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail." Here we see the apostle's faithfulness, and his manner, uniting the boldness of the lion with the most tender feeling-the tenderness of woman. And we must seek to follow him, as he followed Christ, in self-sacrifice, long-suffering, patience, gentleness, compassion, and holy firmness, with meekness of wisdom. Again: what an example we have of his doctrine when he says, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him; not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:" "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified;" "for we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and our

selves your servants for Jesus' sake!" And he tells us what the effect of this course was among the Thessalonians: "The word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." Here we see the power of the Christian minister: it is to hold up Christ as the alpha and omega, the all and in all; and, as Christ lives in the heart, so Christ will be the life of our ministry.

Christ the believer is "a new creature," a new creation (kaiŋ kriois); and from Christ does he draw his life, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. The faith which has brought him to the Saviour purifies and sanctifies him: it leads him to sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn of him; to the sceptre of Jesus, to be ruled by him; and to the footsteps of Jesus, to follow him. Christ is "the Lord his Righteousness;" but how came he so? Because his whole life, from the manger to Calvary, was a fulfilment of every jot and tittle of the law. Therefore, his steps, his holy, faithful, self-denying example, must lead all his disciples to track the precepts of the law. Love to his Lord is the Christian,s constraining principle: the spirit of bondage is cast away, and he serves in the Spirit of adoption. His obedience and service is not a servile task-work to a hard master, but a willing, grateful, unreserved obedience, and hearty la bour of love to a tender Father. He "delights in the law after the inner man ;" and thus is the decalogue transferred from tables of stone to the fleshy table of the heart*. But, though love is the principle, our hearts are deceitful; and this principle is subject to incessant variations; therefore the believer needs the law as a standard. By applying it as a rule of life he is ever kept low in his own eyes: he is not only brought to the cross, but kept there: the Saviour becomes increasingly precious to him: he is ever brought nearer and nearer to Jesus, to a closer walk with God, and a growing conformity to his image. Thus, though he is accounted righteous by the merits of Christ imputed, he walks in holiness by the grace of God in him; and, while the righteousness which justifies and saves him is perfect and imputed, the holiness which renders him meet for heaven is inward, and, though imperfect, real, and progressive.

But "wherefore then serveth the law"? The law has its scriptural and necessary uses. And, as our ministry will be dead if we put it in the place of the gospel, so will a professed gospel be uninfluential in the life if the law be neglected. The gospel, while it fulfils the types and shadows of the ceremonial law, brings out the moral law in all its original purity and spiritual extent. Its exceeding breadth, reaching to the thoughts and intents of the heart, convinces of sin. Its demand of perfect, entire, unceasing obedience shows the impossibility of by it being justified before God. Its condemning power, when manifested to the soul, drives the sinner to the Saviour. Over each one out of Christ, every unrepentant, unconverted sinner, it hangs its bitter curse: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. iii. 10). Thus, with the accompanying grace of God, is it "the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ." The believer there finds an infinite expiation for his sin, and a divine righteousness to clothe him with acceptance before God. He offends not the infinite holiness of God by pleading the filthy rags of his own righteousness: he points to the atonement on Calvary, and pleads a fulfilled law, an immaculate, a divine obedience; and thus is the law established, magnified, and made honourable, and God's justice magnified equally with his mercy: the penalties of Preaching the word, then, is the grand the law are met, and its requirements main-means, in the hands of God, of restortained to the uttermost; so that, while the ing fallen man to holiness and happiness: believing sinner is restored to God's favour and "the word is the sword of the Spirit;" the family, all the divine attributes are manifested law humbles, the gospel comforts, and "the in fullest harmony and richest effulgence. truth sanctifies." The scripture expounded and applied, unfolded and enforced - not only the mind instructed, but the heart influenced; not only doctrine laid down, but led to its legitimate result in the characteris the great means of breaking down the natural man, and building up the new man. In short, the gospel is the only remedy for perishing man: the blood of Jesus, applied by the Holy Ghost can alone give peace, and reconcile the heart to God.

But this is not all: justification ever originates sanctification. If it were a mere logical matter, it might be otherwise; but it has to do with the heart rather than the mind. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." It is the work of the Holy Spirit within reconciles the heart to God and to holiness, sheds abroad the love of God, and gives the Spirit of adoption. Where the Holy Ghost dwells sanctification must proceed: hence saving faith always produces a holy life. In

* See "Church and Churches." By the rev. Dr. Mc Neil. Messrs. Hatchard.

But we are called not only to teach the "doctrine according to godliness," but to administer the sacraments ordained by Christ. These are precious means of grace, not to be lightly esteemed. In neither does the mere outward sign become necessarily the channel of grace, but in both, by faith and prayer, the richest blessing may be confidently expected. In the one we dedicate the lambs of the flock to the chief Shepherd for his blessing, and admit them into the fold to figat under his banner. In the other we have the most significant emblems of Christ crucified set before our eyes for a continual remembrance of redeeming love, and feast at his table in repentance, faith, charity, and praise. It is the place where the minister loves to meet his people; but it were a profanation of the sacrament if we urged any to the table without the work of grace in their Here is manifested the disciples' continuance in the faith, and we see the number of faithful members of Christ; and, alas! who can look to his speculum gregis, and without weeping compare his list of communicants with the number of never-dying souls in his parish, of whom he must give an ac

count.

Our admirable liturgy, too, should not be passed over; for there our people are led to pour out their hearts in devotion. None can enter cordially into its language without feeling how deeply it is imbued with the spirit of scripture; how low it lays the sinner; how high it exalts the Saviour, pleading his blessed name as our only and all-sufficient hope, and how earnestly it implores the grace of God's Spirit for newness of life. As has been said by one, and he not of our own church, "the evangelical purity of its sentiments, the chastened fervour of its devotion, and the majestic simplicity of its language combine to place it in the very front rank of uninspired compositions." So that as our articles ought to be the standard of our doctrine, and our homilies the standard of our teaching, we may well take our liturgy as the standard of our devotion.

Again: the various offices in our church, baptism, marriage, churching, and burial, all form so many links between the minister and his flock. If lightly performed, they weaken the ties of religion, and, with the poor and ignorant degenerate into little better than a mere superstition; and, if the party subsequently becomes a subject of grace, that church is disesteemed in which they were suffered to enter on solemn duties as a mere form. But, when the office is previously explained, and the service intelli

* Robert Hall.

gently entered into, and also impressively administered, such become admirable helps to connect the people with the sanctuary, spiritualize their minds, and lead them to look to God in every thing. Preparation for the rite of confirmation, as also for partaking of the holy sacrament of the Lord's supper, form especial and precious reasons for seeking to sow the word in the hearts of our charge, and endeavouring to melt and win them to the Saviour.

The messenger of Jesus Christ, whose efficiency is of such everlasting consequence to the souls of men, has need, and is called to use all means for touching the hearts of his people, for awaking the dead in sin, consoling the penitent, directing the inquirer, raising the fallen, and "for the perfecting the saints" (Eph. iv. 12), that they may wax stronger in faith, and ripen in fruitfulness. And, though this spiritual result is the object of our ministry, external means which conduce to this end are not to be neglected. As a building needs scaffolding, so a church needs ordinances and discipline. And methinks the discipline of the established church might be more applied with advantage. As we are not to over-magnify the ecclesiastical polity of the church, and place it in the stead of Christ for salvation, or substitute the external form for the inward principle, or the fulfilment of the ordinance for the devotion of the heart; so we should not run into the opposite extreme of undervaluing the sacraments, and the authority of an apostolical episcopacy, and of leaving all rules and order to be utterly disregarded. A sound mind sees beauty in order and regularity; and loose churchmanship will never make matured and established Christians. Parochial discipline, too, if kindly, gently, and judiciously brought into action, will be a happy means, tending to make each individual feel his position in the church, the high and holy profession he makes, his duties and responsibilities, his blessed privileges, if faithful, and his awful danger, if with " a name to live he is dead."

But, besides the regular official duties of the minister, much depends upon his personal intercourse with his flock. He is to be instant in season and out of season; to testify not only publicly, but "from house to house," "repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ;" not to confine his visits to those in ease and comfort, but go bible in hand amid scenes of wretchedness and degradation, where only Christian love can carry him; forget self, "and go after that which is lost." He must go in and out among his people, know them and

their little ones, interest himself in their several anxieties, and be ready of access for them to seek counsel. By such means he will become well acquainted with their state, be assisted in adapting discourses to their need; and the more ignorant will understand, and be in a better position to profit by his public ministrations. His schools, too, both Sunday and day, will be objects of his special care. If these little enclosures are well tilled, and duly cared for under his own eye, he will find them among the most important in the amount of fruit in proportion to the labour bestowed.

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Amongst a variety of secondary means, perhaps we might mention lay assistance, such as a visiting society. The minister selects such as "are worthy" and "of good report," and assigns them employment under his direction. Such assistance is sanctioned by the highest authority in our church; and, we might also say, is in accordance with apostolical example; for St. Paul speaks of his "helpers in Christ Jesus," and those women who laboured with him in the Lord." In large and populous spheres they are absolutely necessary for carrying out efficiently the working of the parish. It is not to take the minister's duty out of his hands, but to effect that which he cannot reach. Such will not lessen his duties, though they may be a comfort to him, making his labours more effectual. They may promote the observance of the sabbath, increase his congregation, bring neglected children to his schools, improve the attendance on his weekly lectures, catechetical exercises, and bible classes. Besides, such agency will put him. in possession of information regarding his people, which he could with difficulty, if at all, attain of himself: his counsel and influence will be brought to bear more generally, and in places he could not otherwise reach; and the parochial charities and clubs will prove more beneficial. A large parish without these active instrumentalities at work may appear to need little further than the Sunday duties: all may be flat, formal, dead. There appears no demand for increased agencies, because all is lifeless. But in a small sphere, where the word is carried from house to house, and an interest taken in the special state of each, a world of labour at once demands a variety of means to be brought into action. Such means also afford an opportunity for the zeal and love of active Christians; and this, be it remembered, if not expended in the church under the minister, is too often turned into another channel, where it will ever impede him, disorganize his plans, and disconnect him from the souls

of which he is curate. I use the word in the sense adopted by our church, representing all those who have a cure of souls.

But, besides, and beyond all these in importance, is the life of the minister. not such a matter of course as to require no particular allusion. I feel in myself its need and difficulty. The peculiar temptation to which the circumstances of the Christian minister expose him needs wariness. He must watch not only against the temptations which are common to all men, but against a seared state of mind brought on by constant dealing officially with spiritual things. Our great and subtle foe makes his great efforts against the pastor; and, if the shepherd is gained, the sheep are scattered. One he seeks to blind as to his own state and his unspeakable responsibility: he keeps him asleep, easy, self-satisfied. Another he endeavours to ruin by pride, and another by sloth. If he succeeds in either of his multifarious snares, we betray our trust, and souls are periled. While men have eyes as well as ears, our practice will preach as strongly as our sermon; and, if we do not "watch in all things," we shall contradict in private what we preach in public. It is written: "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord;" and "let her priests be clothed with righteousness." The minister of God cannot shake off the garb of holiness. He must remember what is required of the pastor in the parlour as well as in the pulpit, in his house as well as in his congregation, if he would "give no occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully," "that the ministry be not blamed."

Those who stand before God to serve him have indeed need to "watch, and pray." Of all persons in the world surely ministers need to be men of prayer; constant, wrestling, fervent prayer. They have need to walk with God in holy meditation, heavenly study, and "all prayer." If he would be faithful the minister must get his texts from God, and his discourses with much supplication. If he would be "an example of believers," his visits and private intercourse must be sanctified by prayer. "We will," say the apostles, "give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word:" this is to be our life, the life of our ministry, and the life of our flock. Without this, though we might get learning, fame, and respect, we cannot save ourselves, and those that hear us." It is the means of prayer must bring light and life into our souls, give an unction to our ministry, and salvation to the perishing souls entrusted to us. knows the value of what I am trying to enforce on my own soul, as on yours; for there

that

Satan

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