Page images
PDF
EPUB

If a young man steals into the ministry without this knowledge, far from being able to preach the gospel, he will not even comprehend that first evangelical principle, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And instead of devoutly offering up to God the prayers of an assembled congregation, he will constantly begin the sacred office by an act of hypocrisy, in saying, "Almighty Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have offended against thy holy laws. There is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners.” After making these confessions in public, when he is interrogated in private respecting that misery and condemnation, under a sense of which he so lately appeared to groan, he will not scruple immediately to contradict, what he has so plainly expressed: thus discovering to every impartial observer, that when he prays in public, he prays, either as a child, who understands not what he repeats; or as a deceiver, who appears to believe, what he really gives no credit to, and that merely for the sake of enjoying the pension of a minister, and his rank in society.

What is here said of ministers, is equally applicable to Christians in general. If any one dares to approach the sacramental table, there to make a profession of being redeemed from eternal death by the death of Christ, before he is deeply humbled under a sense of the condemnation due to his sin: can such a one be said to perform an act of piety? Is he not rather engaged in performing an act of vaio ceremony and presumptuous dissimulation in the presence of God? The feigned humiliation of such a communicant, would resemble that of a rebel subject, who, without any consciousness that his actions had merited death, should cast himself, from motives of intecest, at the feet of his prince, and affect to rejoice under a sense of that undeserved clemency, which permitted him to live. All our professions of faith in Christ are tinctured, more or less, with hypocrisy ; unless preceded by thật painful conviction of past errors, whence alone can cordially flow those humiliating confessions, with which we are accustomed to begin our sacred services.

The true Christian, and consequently, the true minister, is constrained to cry out, with St. Paul when he discovered the purity of Jehovah's law and the greatness of bis own guilt: "The law is spiritual," and demands ad obedience correspondent to its nature ; " but I am carnal, sold under sin : for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that I do. I know, that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. O wretched man, that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death.”

In this manner the true penitent, weary and heavy laden, makes his approaches to the Saviour ; and while he continues to implore his grace and favour, an incomprehensible change takes place in his soul. His groans are suddenly turned into songs of deliverance, and he is enabled to adopt the triumphant language of the great apostle: "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord; for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. There is there, fore now no condemnation to them, which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

Every true follower of Christ, therefore, and especially, every true minister of the gospel, has really experienced the evil of sin, the inability of man to free himself from such evil, and the efficacy of that remedy, which endued the first Christians with so extraordinary a degree of purity, power, and joy. And in testimony of the virtue of this sovereign remedy, erery such follower has a right to declare with his happy predecessors, “We give thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath deliv, ered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."

When a preacher is possessed of Christian piety; or in other words, when he has made his peace with God, by that deep repentance which enables us to die onto sin, and by that living faith which unites us to Christ, he naturally invites the world to embrace a Saviour, who has wrought for him so wonderful a deliverance : and this invitation he enforces with all that power and warmth, which must ever accompany-deep sensibility. After having believed with the heart to the obtaining of rightcousness, he is prepared to confess with his lips, and to testify of his salvation: crying out as sincerely as Simeon, but in a sense far more complete, “ Lord, now lettest thoy thy servant depart in peace; for according to thy word, mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” “Here,” says Mr. Ostervald, “may be applied, what was spoken by our blessed Lord, a good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things.'

.6Erasmus speaks the same thing,-Nihil potentius ad extandos bonos affectus, quam piorum affectuum fontem habere in pèctore. Si visme flere, dolendum est, &c, i. e. following the idea of the author, You will never win others over to a religious life, unless you yourself are first possessed of piety. This inspires thoughts, dispositions, and words, which nothing else can produce. It is this that animates the voice, the gesture, and every action of the Christian preacher When he is thus grounded in piety, it is difficult to conceive with what facility and with what success he labours, still enjoying an unspeakable sweetness in himself. Then it is, that he is truly sensible of his vocation; then he speaks in the cause of God, and then only he is in a proper situation to affect others."

appeared so necessary to the fathers, who composed the synod of Berne, that every minister should be pose sessed of solid piety, that they believed it impossible for a man to be a good catechist without it. After recommending it to pastors to explain among the youth, the Lord's prayer and the apostles creed, they add: This will be abundantly more effectual, if first of all, we are careful that Jesus Christ may arise in our own hearts. The fire, with which we should then be animated, would soon stir up and warm the docile minds of children. Otherwise, that which reason alone draws from books, and is taught by other men, is no more than a human work, and will be ineffectual, till the great master, the Iloly Spirit itself, becomes of the party, creating, renewing, and regenerating to a celestial and eternal life.”

REFLECTIONS Upon the second trait of the character of St. Paul. 1. The experimental knowledge of our misery as sinners, and of our salvation, as sinners redeemed, is the portion of every believer under the gospel. If we are destitute of this two-fold knowledge, we are yet in a state of dangerous ignorance, and are denominated Christians

1

in vain: for Christian humility has its source in the knowledge of our corruption, as Christian charity flows from a knowledge of the great salvation which Christ has procured for us : and if these two graces are not resident in our hearts, our religion is but the shadow of Christianity.

2. As there are some persons, whose physiognomy is strongly marked, and who have something peculiarly striking in the whole turn of their countenance; so there are some, the traits of whose moral character are equally striking, and whose conversion is distinguished by uncommon circumstances. Such was the apostle Paul. But a train of wonderful occurrences is by no means necessary to conversion. For example: It is not necessary that all believers should be actually cast to the earth; or that groaning beneath the weight of their sins, and under the conviction of a two-fold blindness, they should continue in prayer for three days and nights, without either eating or drinking. But it is absolutely necessary, that they should be sensible of an extreme sorrow for having offended a gracious God; that they should condemn themselves and their vices by an unfeigned repentance; and that confessing the depravity of their whole heart, they should abandon themselves to that sincere distress which refuses all consolation, except that which is from above. Neither is it necessary, that they should hear a voice from heaven, that they should see a light brighter than the sun, or behold, in a vision, the minister chosen to bring them consolation in the name of the Lord Jesus. But it is abson lutely necessary that they should hear the word of God, that they should be illuminated by the gospel, and receive directions from any messenger sent for their relief; until, placing their whole confidence in God through a gracious Redeemer, they feel a new and heavenly nature produced within them. This sincere repentance, and this living faith, or, which is the same thing, this Christian piety, is strictly required of every believer under the New Testament.

3. Christian piety constitutes the great difference, that is observed between true ministers and unworthy pastors. The latter preach, chiefly, either in order to obtain benefices, or to preserve them; or, perhaps, to relieve one another in the discharge of those duties, which they es

teem heavy and painful. But the desire of communicating to sinners that spiritual knowledge, which is more precious than rubies, is the grand motive for preaching with the true ministers of God. They publish Christ, like St. Paul, from sentiment and inclination; exposing themselves even to persecution on account of preaching the gospel, like those faithful evangelists who, when commanded to teach no more in the name of Jesus, answered with equal respect and resolution, “Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye ; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

4. It is worthy of observation, that St. Paul supplicates not only for all public teachers, but for every private believer in the church the highest degree of grace and Christian experience. "I cease not,” saith he to the Ephesians, "to make mention of you in my prayers; that the, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know, what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance, in the saints: and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us ward, who believe." And the same end, which this apostle proposed to himself in his private sup. plications, St Johin also proposed to himself in writing his public epistles,—"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” As though he had said, we write, if haply we may excite you to seek after higher degrees of faith, charity, and obedience, “that being rooted and grounded in love, ye may be able to comprehend with all saints, the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; that ye may be filled with all the ful. ness of God." The attentive reader will easily perceive that what was once the subject of St. Paul's most ardent prayer, is at this day considered, by nominal Christians in general, as a proper subject for the most pointed raillery.

5. Those ministers, who are not yet furnished with Christian experience, and who are not seeking after it, as che pearl of great price, held out to us in the gospel, are

« PreviousContinue »