The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Stephen P. Hill
From The Baptist Preacher, 1844
“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants, for Jesus' sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)
The institution of the gospel ministry, although at first sight, it appears a feeble and insignificant instrumentality, is notwithstanding, the means, which God in his infinite wisdom has selected for the salvation of the world. It hath pleased Him by what is deemed the foolishness' and weakness of preaching to save them that believe.' Not that all men who assume the sacred office are called and qualified of God to preach the gospel.
There were many in the time of the Apostles, who professed to be public teachers, and who from various motives of a selfish and unholy character, thrust themselves like fools into the place where angels fear to tread. Some like Simon Magus had no higher view of the awful work than that it was to be purchased with money. Some like Diotrephes, strove for it that they might have the pre-eminence. Some preached Christ from envy and strife and contention, supposing to add affliction to the Apostle's bonds. Such were “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ:—and no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:13-14)
The truth is there was never anything good that was not capable of being counterfeited. There are not only hypocrites in the Church, but hypocrites in the ministry. It was a remark of that venerable man, Abraham Booth that he feared there would be found a larger proportion of wicked ministers than of any other order of professing Christians. Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ includes this number among the many that will say to him in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22-23)
Personal piety in the minister of the Gospel is the first qualification to be sought. The questions to be asked are not, Is he talented? Is he eloquent? Is he possessed of rare and remarkable gifts? Is he capable of attracting crowds? But, Is he pious? Has he grace? Does he love God? Are his motives pure? Has he a simple and single desire to honor Christ, and to do good to his fellow men? Nor, should a minister take his own piety for granted. He should examine himself. He should deal very rigidly with his heart. He should weigh well his motives in the balances of the Sanctuary. He should act independently of flesh and blood and try to please only God, who trieth the secrets of the inmost soul, who judgeth not as man judgeth, but who looketh on the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7)
He must take heed to himself. He must be pre-eminently a man of prayer. It has been said that three things make a minister - prayer, meditation and temptation. And it is related of one early church figure that being asked what was the first thing in religion, he said, “Humility.” When asked what the second was, he answered, “Humility.” And what was the third, he still returned the same answer, “Humility.” Now this is the point on which we would insist, in describing the character of the true minister of Jesus Christ, and the example of the Apostles and primitive ministers is before us, to this end, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.”
Let us consider:
I. WHAT THE APOSTLES DID NOT PREACH, or what is implied in preaching ourselves;
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN PREACHING CHRIST; and
III. THE FACT THAT MINISTERS SHOULD CONSIDER THEMSELVES as the servants of the people for Jesus' sake.
I. WHAT THE APOSTLES DID NOT PREACH, or what is implied in preaching ourselves.
1. We preach ourselves if we preach to gain a living.
In saying this, I would not be understood to say, that ministers should not have a living as well as others. Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." (1 Cor. 9:14) “For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?...If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we reap your carnal things?” (1 Cor. 9:9, 10, 11)
Indeed no plainer proposition can be made out, either from the Scriptures, or from common experience, not only that the pulpit, is worth more than it costs, but that nothing has such righteous claims to a generous and adequate support. When we look at all that religious institutions have done for us, temporally as well as spiritually, we must feel convinced that the pulpit is not in debt to the people, but the people to the pulpit; and when we carefully read the Word of God, we shall learn that nothing is in stricter accordance with his will, and that no principle is clearer laid down than that “the labourer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7)
But if he be a mere hireling, who has desired to be put into the priest's office that he may get a piece of bread. If he chooses the ministry as he would a profession or a trade because thereby he may have the means of subsistence. If he takes the oversight of the flock for filthy lucre's sake, and makes the work of God a sinecure — then truly he may be ranked first in the description of those who preach themselves, whose aims are selfish, whose motives are mercenary. They prophesy for reward, and divine for money, and under a cloak of sanctity they hide a heart of covetousness. “Woe unto them for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” (Jude 1:11)
2. They preach themselves, who preach for popular applause.
Alas! How many it is to be feared preach from this miserable motive, and what a lamentable tendency there is in the people to feed this pernicious flame! To have men's persons in admiration, and to waft perfumes to the idol of popular favor! Now if a man preaches for fame, if he preaches to display his talents, his fine voice, or fine person, or his commanding eloquence, he evidently preaches himself.
It is of course necessary to the successful ministration of the Gospel, that the preacher should be possessed of some gifts; that he should have learning: the more the better. He should be especially mighty in the Scriptures; and he may be an eloquent man. He may even employ in his preaching, the aids of elocution and the graces of style.
But let him make all his acquirements, subservient to the great end of his ministry, the salvation of souls. Let him use the ornaments of literature and learning as the surgeon does the polish of his instruments. Let him beware lest he pervert the use of these things by making them minister to his own vain glory. It is a great matter to be able to say with the Apostle: “For neither at any time used we flattering words as ye know… nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others.” (1 Thess. 2:5, 6)
3. Preaching ourselves implies again, that we preach to build up ourselves, or our sect or party.
This is a motive which cannot be right in the sight of God. We see much of this species of zeal in our times. “Men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts. 20:30) The Apostle saw it in his time and rebuked it. The spirit of sectarianism, the spirit of party zeal, the spirit of supposed superiority, the spirit of selfseeking on the part of the minister, and the spirit of favoritism on the part of the people: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:12, 13) “Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?...Who then is Paul? and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?” (1 Cor. 3:3, 5)
How preposterous, in this view, do those arrogant claims appear, which are set up exclusively for our particular Church as though no moral excellence or salvation could exist out of it: and how vain to suppose that certain forms and ceremonies are essential to the true office of a Christian minister. The pastors of primitive times, were only the brethren of other Christians, and though they were to be esteemed very highly in love for their work's sake, yet they possessed, they assumed no power over the consciences, or the liberties of the people. Their influence arose from their character, and from the pious and humble manner with which they performed the functions of their sacred office.
In the New Testament the pastor is a plain man surrounded by a number of individuals who form themselves into a voluntary society, that they may mutually enjoy the ordinances of Christ, and who have appointed him to be their officiating minister. In this view of the subject, Christianity fully manifests its character as a religion of the heart, as distinguished by its simplicity and spirituality, and as being the choice of those who really love its name. The moment the idea of secular greatness and magnificence was suffered to possess the mind of Christians, the gold changed, and the most fine gold became dim. Then the ministerial office ceased to require personal qualifications, and assumed powers, which the Apostles neither exercised nor professed. Personal piety, and holy zeal for the salvation of men, ceased to be regarded as necessary for the sacred office, and successive corruptions, subverted its spirituality and its sacred design.
II. But let us pass to notice what is implied in preaching Christ Jesus the Lord.
It is, in other words, to preach the truth of the Gospel. In this the Lord Jesus has a prominent part. The Gospel concerns him from first to last. He is the author and he is the finisher of our whole faith. (Heb. 12:2) He is the sun of the whole system, and is emphatically the truth. So that in preaching the truth, we must preach him; and he who does not preach him, does not preach the Gospel. This is the grand theme of the Christian ministry.
The topics on which we are to dwell, the subjects which are to employ our meditations, are his person, his character, his work, and his laws. In view of these, the Apostle with all his pre-eminent abilities and gifts declared that he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. (Phil. 3:8) And so rapt was he in the sublime discoveries of the Gospel; so completely superior was he raised by them above all selfish considerations and personal aims that he determined to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2) This was the subject matter of the Apostle's preaching. Not that he undervalued the moral precepts of Christianity, or that they did not find a place in his ministrations, for these were important parts of the Gospel, but still subordinate and not the essential parts of it. They revolved around it like planets and satellites, but He was the central luminary that gave them all their beauty, and light and life.
To preach then Christ Jesus the Lord, is to preach the whole truth, in distinction from a part, or a single part, on all occasions. A person for instance may preach the morality of the Gospel, and if he preach nothing else he cannot be said to preach the Gospel any more than the physician can be said to be master of the healing art, who would recommend one, and the same prescription to every patient, no matter what the nature of his disease.
It is also to preach the whole truth on proper occasions in distinction from the whole on every occasion. Christ himself never unfolded all his truth, nor what he did unfold, at one time. “I have many things,” said he to his Disciples, “to say to you but ye cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) What should we think of a physician, who being called to visit the sick, should administer the whole quantity of his medicines at one time? But the truth at proper times, and under proper circumstances, is to be unfolded, as it may be adapted to the case of the people.
I need not say that this includes the being and perfections of God; the character and condition of man; the atonement and divinity of Jesus Christ; His glorious character, and perfect righteousness, and availing blood, as the only ground of a sinner's hope; the blessings of the salvation he has procured; its comforts, its privileges, its duties, its requirements, its prospects and rewards, with the awful guilt of rejecting it, and the fearful punishment of the impenitent.
Nor should we omit to teach very clearly and strenuously the nature and necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit as the glorious and efficient agent of the regeneration, and of the progressive sanctification of the soul. We must distinguish between his operations on the heart, and the mere movements of animal passion; between true and false, or spurious religion; warn against the ever varying dangers that are around the flock; lead them into the pastures of safety and feed them with knowledge and understanding. The whole truth, must also in order to be preached faithfully, be applied to the conscience and to the heart.
It is not enough that it be preached merely; it should be fastened and clenched to the heart. Its adaptedness to the wants and condition of men must be shewn; the lights and shades of different characters must be drawn; and the nature and peril of particular sins be exposed. The truth must be separated from error; a discriminating line must be drawn between them at the place where their varying colors mingle. The beauty of holiness, so apt to become dim in the heart of even the best, must be brought out till it is seen and felt, in contrast with the hatefulness of vice. The corruptions that gather around the truth must be removed, like the earth that conceals and buries the gold in its mountain bed, and the precious ore be refined of its dross and alloy, and applied to a valuable purpose.
All this, and much more than this, is implied in preaching Christ faithfully, and all this is to be done in every possible way. The duties of the pastoral office are so diversified that an enumeration of them would be impossible. They lie in every department of labor, and are often of the most arduous and depressing kind. If an inspired Apostle, in view of the important trust committed to him, exclaimed, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16) with what a crushing weight must it fall upon the shoulders and heart of those not similarly privileged.
Besides preaching the Gospel, the truth of God, faithfully, impartially, entirely; besides illustrating, enforcing and applying the Word of life in the pulpit, he must follow it up with anxious and prayerful, and exemplary piety, at all other times. Not only in public, must he declare the whole counsel of God, but in private, he must study the peculiar circumstances, the individual wants of his flock, adapting himself with heavenly skill, to each particular case. There are the self-righteous, the indolent, the careless, the self-sufficient, the spiritually proud, the formal, the worldly, the backslider, the inquirer, the tempted, the afflicted, that require instruction, reproof; and advice, adapted to the minute and diversified forms which their several cases may assume. There is the conference room, the Bible class, the Sunday school, over which he must cast the light of an affectionate superintendence. There are duties all along the retired walks of domestic life.
The Pastor is a sympathizing friend. He rejoices in your prosperity, and he weeps in your adversity. In the hour of bereavement, and sickness, and death, he is near with the balm, the only adequate one, of consolation. He seeks to guide, and that in every way, your feet, and the feet of your children, in the way of peace, and in paths of everlasting life. What an aggregate of labor! Who can rightly estimate it? “He watches for your souls as one that must give account.” (Heb. 13:17) Chrysostom says he never read these words without being shaken as with an earthquake; and Quesnel remarks, that the pastor who trembles not at these words, should tremble at his own blindness and insensibility.
Now when you take in connection with this amount of duty, the time the Pastor must find for the professional and for the devotional reading of the Scriptures; the attention that must be given to the interests of religion beyond the field of his own immediate labors; the time that must be given to the physical and moral wants of his own family; the allowance that must be made for his health and the care that he must take of his own heart and the labor he must use over his own soul; you will feel that his is indeed a work under which he would certainly sink, were not the arms of Omnipotence pledged to uphold him.
III. But we notice lastly the view in which ministers should regard themselves: “ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.”
Ministers are not the servants of the people in such a sense as implies inferiority, or their having authority over him. On the contrary, what authority there is, is on the other side: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13:17)
But they are the servants of the people, inasmuch as their whole time and powers are required to be devoted to the spiritual good of their flock. Is the minister a watchman? He is required to hear the word from Jehovah's mouth and warn the people from Him. He watches for souls as one that must give account. Is he a shepherd? He is sent to seek the lost, to restore the wandering, to feed the flock of God, the sheep and the lambs of Christ. Is he a steward? It is required in him that he should be found faithful. Is he a ruler, a guide, an overseer? He is bound to train, to regulate, and direct the Church of God.
It is his duty to preside in the Church. And this requires the utmost prudence and wisdom. Amidst a variety of different spirits and tempers, how arduous the labor of keeping things in proper order! How much righteousness, and godliness, and faith, and firmness, and meekness, and patience, and forbearance, and love, need we here! The less of self-importance and tenaciousness in carrying a point we manifest, and the more of respect and disinterested regard for our brethren, the better we shall succeed. Is he a laborer? He must work with all diligence in his Master's vineyard, until the night of death shall bring his reward. Is he a builder? He must be very careful of what materials he builds the spiritual temple, since every man's work must be tried of what sort it is. Is he a pilot? How well acquainted should he be with his chart, and how vigilant in his trust!
Now it is necessary that the people should feel that their pastor is in all various ways laboring for their good. They must if possible be constrained to feel a conviction, that in all that he does, he is actuated by no mercenary views, or selfish purposes; laud money, or fame, or the gratification of his personal pride, is no part of his object; that he habitually and sincerely seeks not their wealth, or their applause, but their salvation. Our rejoicing should be this, “that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” (2 Cor. 1:12)
We should be able to say boldly and without fear of contradiction we seek not yours but you, and “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Cor. 12:15) “But we are made manifest unto God and we trust also are manifest in your consciences” (2 Cor. 5:11) Let us then in this connection, consider the mutual ties subsisting between a pastor and his flock. These are expressed throughout the Epistles in many terms of endearment, remarkable for their tenderness and force. It is obvious from these passages:
First. That they are created by the love of Christ. We cannot love him that begat, without loving those that are begotten. We cannot love the original which we have not seen, without loving the image which we have seen. We cannot love Christ without loving his people. They were objects of infinite love by Him, long before a single principle of attachment towards them was implanted in the hearts of others. He loved them with an everlasting love. (Jer. 31:3) He loved them to the death. “I am the good Shepherd,” he says, the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) Like him it will be our anxious endeavour “to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10)
The love of Christ constraineth us to lay down our lives for the brethren. The soul is an object of inestimable value. The sufferings and death, of “the Lamb of God,” have endeared it to the affections of all his true servants, and stamped on it an importance which transcends every other. Those whom he has redeemed by his blood, are so dear to him, that he has identified their interests with his own; and his ministers will also feel that they are identified with theirs.
How beautiful was this affection exemplified in the case of the great Apostle, who had once breathed out “threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 9:1)
What does he say to the Corinthians? “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart, I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.” (2 Cor. 2:4) “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Cor. 12:15)
In what terms does he write to the Galatians? “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal. 4:19)
And what to the Ephesians? “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—that ye being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” (Eph. 3:14, 17, 18, 19)
How does he address the Philippians? “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:8)
And what was his language to the Thessalonians? “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children, so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you not, the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. And ye know, how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God who bath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess. 2:7, 8, 11, 12)
Thus the tenderness of a father, of a nurse, is made to represent the affectionate solicitude which a pastor feels for his people.
Secondly. The ties of such a relationship are strengthened by exercise. This is a natural result. The minister who has been long accustomed to labor for a people's good — to watch and weep and pray for them, under all the changing occurrences of life, becomes more and more attached to the objects of his love, in consequence of their continual action on his heart. The mother finds her affections insensibly fastening themselves stronger and closer around a beloved child, in consequence of her frequent anxieties and watching and efforts for its welfare. Just so, the pastor, that has the best interests of his people at heart, will acquire a sensibility for them, more intense than any with which he feels for himself.
In the different scenes which he is called to witness and to soften, whether it be in domestic prosperity or affliction, his heart is open to sympathy. It is his privilege to impart relief. His very character, as a messenger of divine mercy, makes it his duty to minister in spiritual things. He is to operate on the affections. His office implies everything tender, attractive, and endearing; and he will be successful in his ministry of benevolence, in proportion to his lively sense of the differing circumstances of his flock. He is supposed to be acquainted deeply with the experience of the heart. He studies and feels its wants—kindles with its hopes—struggles with its fears—endeavors to understand and to explain the causes of its disquietude—to know and to tell where it may find repose.
Hence, the endearment of his relation and the strength which it continually acquires. An affecting illustration of this tenderness is exhibited in the parting interview of Paul with the Church at Ephesus. His appeal to them on that occasion cannot be too often considered. “Ye know from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20: 18-20, 31) Such was the Apostle Paul, the living example of ministerial tenderness and fidelity. Such were the grounds on which he appealed to the sympathies of his ministerial charge.
The minister is the servant of the people in view of the benefit and consolation derived from God's providential dealings with him which they derive from his very afflictions. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says the Apostle Paul, “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings…or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (2 Cor. 1:3-6)
Such was the spirit of faith with which the Apostle regarded even the most painful tribulations of his life; such was his confidence in their author, and such his satisfaction with their end, that he bursts out in praise while reviewing, nay even in the midst of those very tribulations. Nor for himself alone is he grateful, but for those to whom he ministers, as having mutual participation with him in the consolations as well as sufferings which he is called to experience. And he intimates that one great design of his own afflictions, is, that he may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith he himself is comforted of God.
That is to say, the benefit of his personal experience in suffering is reflected upon others who are called to suffer, in that he is made more capable of sympathizing with their trials, and of communicating to them the consolation which aboundeth to himself by Christ. Thus whether he was afflicted, it was for their present and ultimate good, not only for the former reason, but because the patient endurance of the same sufferings which he also suffered, had the same happy and saving tendency in them; or whether he was comforted, it was, for similar reasons, for their consolation and salvation.
On these reasons we need not now enlarge. Everyone who perceives the operation of moral causes can readily understand why these afflictions of the ministry were calculated to work such beneficial effects in the body of Christ.' If sanctified by the Spirit of God to minister and people, the blessed influence of these dispensations will be manifest to all. Their mutual prayers will evince their mutual interests, and common sufferings will create common sympathies and ties. And let it be observed, that these ties extend beyond this life, to eternity.
Not only is it, writes the Apostle, for your present consolation, but for your future salvation, that we thus suffer. Sent by the same Author, designed for the same end, borne with the same patience, sanctified by the same Spirit, endeared by the same Redeemer's blood, and sweetened by the joys of a mutual faith, “our afflictions, though not for the present joyous, but grievous, (Heb. 12:11)—are yet but for the moment, and work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2 Cor. 4:17)
In this heavenly discipline, selfishness has no place. The anxiety of a faithful minister for himself is swallowed up in his anxiety for the eternal happiness of his people. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” (1 Thess. 2:19-20) And thus, to use the words of Rutherford to his flock, my witness is above, that your heaven would be two heavens to me, and the salvation of you all, as two salvations to me.
These views of the Gospel ministry will sufficiently account for the extreme anxiety and tenderness of those whose honor and privilege it is to share it; and of the deeply affectionate regard towards such of those who are the subjects of its ministration. In former times, nothing could be stronger, than the endearing bond of attachment, which united a faithful shepherd to his charge. Read the Epistles of the great Apostle—we would say again to all—if you would behold an exhibition of ministerial endearment.
Consider what praises, what prayers, he offers on behalf of the saints, for their mercies and for their tribulations. See how ready he is at all times “to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Rom. 12:15) Reflect on his longings after “you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”(Phil. 1:8) Think of the anxiety of his sleepless nights, implied in Heb. 13:17; his “watching often,” his “labors even to weariness,” his “striving as in a conflict,” that they may be comforted and enlarged.
Taken from them “sometimes in presence, but never in heart,” he longs to see them that he may impart to them some spiritual gift; (Rom. 1:11) and whether seeing them, or hearing of their affairs, he can at no time be satisfied unless assured that they “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil. 1:27) And to such an extent did he carry his sympathies toward them that he declares, if he was offered up, if his life was made a sacrifice upon the service of their faith, he should joy and rejoice with them all.'
“How beautiful and holy,” then, in the language of Bloomfield,
“in all its perfection of obligation, is the spiritual connection which subsists between a faithful minister of Christ and the flock which he is appointed to feed. How many are the methods by which that bond of affection may be more closely drawn! Many an anxious care does the faithful and vigilant Pastor experience for the welfare of those who are endeared to him by the sacred sympathy of spiritual affinity; many a sorrow for failures in which the world thinks he has no interest; and many a joy for blessings which he alone perceives descending upon the heads of those whom he loves in the Lord.”
Finally, I come to ask you to turn with me aside a moment, to witness a scene of more than ordinary solemnity. It is the deathbed of a Christian Pastor. He desires, before his voice is forever silenced, to address to you one word more of affectionate exhortation. His heart, before it is forever still, would throw before you, once more, its tenderest sympathies.
He who thus seeks you, sincerely loves you, and has your truest interests at heart. He watches for your soul, as one that must give an account, and he trembles under the dreadful responsibility of his charge. The subjects, on which he is anxious, in the simplicity and godly sincerity of the truth, to speak, are eternal realities. They deeply concern your happiness, for the present and for all future periods. He is commissioned from God, with a message to you, and as God's faithful ambassador he would deliver it, as the last he will ever have to communicate, in the conviction of its immeasurable importance. And oh! If it be true, that “a deathbed is the detector of the heart,” you may be sure, that the words which he will speak are the words of honesty and soberness. Let us approach the spot. It has nothing repulsive.
God smiles on him, and he smiles on death. He is in near prospect of perfect purity, everlasting freedom, full and uninterrupted joy. The doctrine of the resurrection, and faith in his happy interest in that doctrine, sustain him in his final hour, and make him rejoice in the sacrifices which he made to attain to this triumphant consummation. Reclining on his last pillow, his heart is possessed with “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7)
The termination of his earthly toils and conflicts hastens on, and like the weary laborer, at the close of day, he waits to quit the field and go to “be ever with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:17) Hear his language—“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of glory, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day.” (2 Tim. 4:4-8)
But to you, over whose spiritual interests I have watched, I am anxious to address a final appeal. My motives for assuming the responsibilities of the sacred office, as far as with the closest self-examination, I have been able to know them, were love to Christ, and an ardent regard for your eternal welfare; it was indeed “In weakness and in fear, and much trembling,” (1 Cor. 2:3) that I ventured on such holy ground. Yet made willing by divine grace to forego the gratifications of a world that perisheth; I spurned the allurements of ambition, and the pursuit of pleasure, and chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy them, for a season. (Heb. 11:25)
What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. And as worldly inducements had not influenced me in my choice, so neither could worldly discouragements, afterward, lead me to swerve from it. The scoffs of the wicked, the unkindness of false brethren, depressed spirits, a broken constitution and a premature grave— none of these things moved me. I panted for usefulness, and under a weight of conviction which I could not shake off, I felt that necessity was laid upon me, yea “woe was me if I preached not the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:16)
Trusting in him who had called me by his grace, I went forth, and ye yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that our exhortation was not of deceit nor of uncleanness, nor in guile. But as we were allowed of God, to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we spake not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth the heart…But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children, so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but our own souls also, because ye were dear unto us.” (1 Thess. 2:3-8)
Now therefore, once more suffer the word of exhortation. The welfare of your soul, as it has been the object of anxious solicitude in life, so is it the absorbing desire in death. Believing in its immeasurable worth, and its alarming exposure to perdition, how can it be otherwise, than that the tongue should employ its latest power of utterance, in warning you to “flee from the wrath to come.” (Matt. 3:7) If the value of a thing is to be estimated, by its susceptibility of pleasure or of pain, and by the length of its duration, then the soul must be of all things most valuable. This is the seat of life and of feeling, and it can never die.
The body is but a perishable tenement erected for its temporary abode. Its best and brightest properties are fading and corruptible. If then you look upon this, to admire its strength or beauty, which at the best, are but the advantages of an hour, how much more, should you prize the nobler, the imperishable attributes of the soul! It is the inhabitant, and not the habitation that matters - the essential being, and not the mere outward veil that covers it.
When you remember too, how soon and how suddenly sickness may wither all your earthly comforts and hopes, how can you build with confidence upon them? When you see the emptiness and delusion of the world, how can you pursue, with so much ardor, its miserable pleasures? Why give your affections to objects so uncertain of attainment, so unsatisfying even if gained?—To riches, when they take to themselves wings, and flee away; to fame, when it vanishes like a shadow from the grasp; pleasure, when its gayest scenes, only load the hours of reflection, with self-reproach and agonizing shame? Alas! The fashion of this world passeth away, and he alone is wise, who seeks an inheritance in the world that is to come.
I see you pursuing phantoms, blinded and led captive by the father of lies, at his will. I warn you of your infatuation and danger. I address your season and your conscience. I place before you the counsels of heavenly truth, unfolding the sad, but true description of your character, pointing you to pardoning blood, and a reconciled God, —bringing “life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10) and setting before you alike the promises and threatenings of Him who is almighty, in the one life, and in the other death. And now behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. “Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men, for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)
Such, however imperfect, may be supposed to be the dying appeal of a faithful Pastor. How tremendous is that account, which he will have at least to give of himself, and of those over whom he has labored in the Lord He is “a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish, To the one, he is the savor of life unto life; and to the other of death unto death. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16)
Happy will he be, if when the chief Shepherd shall appear, he may behold the countenances of his flock beaming in glory, and hear their voices raised in the praises of God and the Lamb; and bowing with them before the everlasting throne, he “may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Col. 1:28)