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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
John Stock, LL. D.
From A Handbook of Revealed Theology, 1883
What is the end of your mission? To the achievement of what object have you endured years of preparatory toil? To gain a name? You may gain one. But the most successful method will be to forget yourselves. Is it to cultivate in your church and congregation intelligence? Or to promote general intelligence in the community? This would be a useful work, and the minister of the gospel can contribute much towards such a result. But this is not Christ's commission. It has not been on these subjects that your minds have been agitated with the question of duty.
When, after much prayer, you came to the deliberate conclusion that Christ had a work for you to do in his church, and you, with much trembling, made a solemn covenant with him to do his will, was it that you should render a service of this kind? Was it not that you would do all in your power by preaching his gospel, to save men from sin and its serious consequences? I am confident that each heart responds to the latter. Do you inquire how this is to be done? On this subject a volume might be written? But there is one general principle, which, if rightly understood, and never lost sight of by you, will contribute much to your success.
If you would accomplish a good and great work, act on the principle that you are addressing the gospel to sinners who cannot be saved by mere moral corrections. Men are condemned sinners and need pardon. They are the enemies of God by wicked works, and must be totally changed in their moral dispositions. They are not merely to be made better men, but they must become new men in Christ Jesus. The old doctrine, you must be born again, and except you be converted you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, should be your grand point. You must see everything in this light and through this medium.
I would not be understood to intimate that the work of the minister terminates with the conversion of his hearers. This is a vicious doctrine, which, though avowed by none, is practically believed by too many, who act as if there was a strait gate, but no narrow way. My object is only to show, that however important it is to train the church in holy living, all efforts are vain if we start wrong. You cannot raise a church, or any portion of its members, from a sinful life, except as they have been converted by the Spirit of God. Do all that is in your power to educate them to a holy life, to invite them to imitate the Saviour; but rest your hope of success on the fact that they have been made alive in Christ.
You will not only find it necessary to have distinct views on this subject yourselves, and to keep them habitually before your own mind, but you will need to carefully enlighten the people on this point, and so to hold these doctrines before their minds, that they cannot lose sight of them. The greatest evil which has ever befallen Christianity has been the neglect of this doctrine.
The line of demarcation between the converted and the unconverted has often been obliterated. Seriousness has been taken for piety; a profession, for faith in Christ; submission to the ordinances, a fulfillment of the conditions of salvation. In the administration of the ordinances, and in the reception of members to the church, while you should exercise the most tender Christian charity, you should also direct a discerning and searching eye to the religious affections, which are the fruits, and so the proofs, of the presence of the Spirit of God. Be not deceived; you cannot gather figs of thistles. You might as well attempt to educate a dead man, as to train an unconverted church to pious living.
These three points, therefore, I wish, brethren, to fix in your minds. It will require habitual progress in knowledge to sustain yourselves as preachers. Your studies, though not confined to theology proper, should have a concentrated bearing upon the duties of the ministry. And lastly, labor to secure the conversion of sinners to God, by faith in Christ, as the first step in religion, and as laying the only foundation for successfully training a church in practical piety. He who labors to make the people of his charge godly in life, before their hearts have been renewed by the grace of God, will do as little execution as he who explodes powder upon the surface of a rock. The heart must be penetrated by the Spirit and Word of God.