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THE TEMPER AND CONDUCT
PRIMITIVE MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL, Illustrated and recommended, in a Sermon preached at Wisbeach, June 8.
1737, at the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. William Johnston.
2 Cor. iv. 5.-For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and
ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.
THE apostle observes, that what had Happened to him with regard to his imprisonment at Rome, though it seemed to bear so melancholy an aspect, yet did on the whole fall out by the special providence of God for the furtherance of the gospel *; and we may justly apply the same reflection to several other very afflictive circumstances of his life, and particularly to the most perverse and unjust opposition which he met with from those factious teachers, especially of the circumcision, who gave so much disturbance to him and the churches. The attack which they made upon his character and interest at Corinth, laid him under a necessity of saying many things which be would have gladly omitted, and of mentioning some circumstances in his history, which had otherwise perhaps remained unknown, at least could never have appeared with equal evidence and spirit. While he is engaged in his own vindication, and entering into the particulars of his character and conduct, he drops many very edifying expressions, which are worthy the most attentive regard both of ministers and private christians; of which the words I have now been reading are none of the least considerable. He was obliged to say some. thing which might look like an encomium on himself, and therefore chuses to speak in the name of all his faithful brethren
* Phil, i. 22.
in the ministry, as well as his own. Now after he had declared that they had Renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, which were the great mysteries of the heathen priesthood, and probably the secret spring which actuated these judaizing teachers, Not like them walking in craftiness, not handling the word of God deceitfully, or adulterating it with any foreign and corrupt mixtures; but acting so constantly in the sight of God, as to secure to themselves a secret testimony in the consciences of all that intimately knew them, and accurately observed them; he adds, For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake*, Oh that every christian minister, who in succeeding ages hath read these words, had been delivered into the mould of them! Oh that we whom God hath honoured with this high and holy calling, may make it our increasing care to form ourselves by them; and Beholding as in a glass the beautiful model, may be changed into the same image from glory to glory.
It will be my business in the process on my discourse from these words,
1. To illustrate the account which the apostle here gives of his own conduct, and that of his brethren in the christian ministry.
II. To consider the principles on which we may reasonably conclude they acted, and by which they were influenced to it.
III. I shall close with some reflections on the whole.
I chuse to throw my discourse into such a form, as it will give me an opportunity of suggesting my advice and exhortations to you, my dear and reverend brother, who are this day giving yourself up to this excellent work, in the most humble and respectful manner ; which I am now the more solicitous to do, lest I should seem to dictate to those from whom I shall always be ready, with great pleasure and deference, to receive instructions.
I. I am to consider the account which the apostle gives of his own conduct, and that of his brethren in the christian ministry : We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake. In which words he plainly declares that they did not make themselves the chief end of their ministry, but faithfully devoted it to the service of Christ as the great Lord, whom they endeavoured to serve by all the most humble and affectionate condescensions to those that were committed to their ministerial care.
* It seems evident to me, that ver, 3 and 4, come in as a parenthesis.
1. The apostles did not make themselves the chief end of their ministry.
We, says St. Paul, preach not ourselves. It is to be feared that some did so even in those early days, for the anti. christian spirit began to work betimes ; so that it gave Paul reason to say, that they served not Christ Jesus, but their own belly, while they preached him out of contention rather than love, supposing to add affliction to his bonds *; insomuch that he complains of it as a general, though, blessed be God, not an universal character, All seeking their own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ'st. But this was far from being the character of the apostle, or any faithful disciple of Christ; who must have learnt, in some measure, that essential branch of the cbristian character, to Deny himself, and taking up even his cross to follow his master to crucifixion itself, should he lead him on in that painful and dangerous way 1.
It may be worth our while more particularly to observe, that these good men did not seek their own applause, their own interest, or their own power and authority, as the chief end of undertaking and prosecuting the ministry; for each of these particulars must be included in this general expression, we preach not ourselves, and it will be our wisdom to regard each.
These primitive ministers did not, in preaching the gospel, aim at their own applause and reputation.
The greatest men amongst the heathens did it, and avowed it; they reckoned the love of fame amongst the noblest of passions, and the pursuit of it appeared a mark of the most generous mind. But christian apostles had higher views. They considered themselves as in the presence of God, and had the truly great ambition of being Accepted of him $, and then hun man applause and admiration disappeared as less than nothing. It is, says good St. Paul, A very small thing to me, the smallest matter one can imagine, to be judged of man's judgment, for he that judgeth me is the Lord ll. On this principle we find, that when he came to Corinth, though it were so learned and polite a city, he did not affect to Come with the excellency or loftiness of speech, and the persuasive words of man's wisdom ; he did not labour for the exactest forms of expression, nor study to compose and deliver his discourses in such a manner as might most easily have gained him the reputation of an exact orator, so that people should point after him as he passed through the streets, and say, That is Paul! a little circumstance with which poor Demosthenes was so highly delighted ; but he contented himself with preaching the plain things of the gospel, in a plain and serious, a rational and unaffected manner, whether men would hear, or whether they would forbear. And indeed, he was rather on his guard against too pompous and florid a style, lest it should seem that a man who was so studious to adorn the doctrines of the gospel, did not thoroughly believe them; and so the Cross of Christ should have become of none effect *, when an apostle seemed so little penetrated with the argument drawn from it, as to be at leisure for trifles.
* Phil. i. 16.
$2 Cor. v. 9. VOL. III.
+ Phil. ii. 21.
Mat. xvi. 24. || Enaxışov, 1 Cor. iv. 3. q 1 Cor. ii. 1, 4.
Such a turn of mind we may easily perceive in his epistles. They appear to be written out of the fulness of his soul, but without any anxiety about the style, or any very exact care even to range the ideas according to the most methodical order; abounding every where with a great many lively and beautiful digressions, that often run into each other in a manner which the strictest rules of polite writing will hardly allow. In a word, we eminently see in St. Paul, perhaps beyond any other writer in the world, A good man bringing out of the good trea. sure of his heart good things t, with a kind of magnificent negligence. · His works are like a wilderness of beautiful and fragrant plants, springing up promiscuously out of a happy soil ; and amidst all their seeming confusion, producing, to a natural taste, a finer effect than if they were drawn out with a solicitous care, set in the most regular figures, and cut into a thousand artificial forms.
Again, the apostles, and their fellow-labourers in the gospel ministry, were not governed by a view to the possessions of the present life.
These holy men abhorred the very thought of making the church of Christ a kind of porch to the temple of Mammon. The circumstances in which they undertook their work, were such as could leave no room to suspect that they sought it only as a gainful trade. On the contrary, at their very first setting out in it, they left all, that they might follow their master. And though it may be objected with regard to some of them, that their all was little, yet they had at least food and raiment, and a habitation which they could call their own; whereas, when they devoted themselves to the ministry of the gospel, one of
writer in its heart good thine like a wildersly out of a
* 1 Cor. i, 17.
+ Mat. xii. 35.
them could say in the name of the rest, Even to this day we are hungry and naked, and have no certain dwelling-place *. And this was St. Paul, who seems to have resigned very great prospects, which his liberal education, his remarkable proficiency and zeal in the Jewish religion, and the degree of favour which he had even in his younger days with the greatest men of his nation, might fairly have given him. But Those things, which were before gain to him, he counted loss for Christt: and when he had once devoted himself to his service, his actions as well as his words plainly shewed, that he was crucified to the world, by the cross of his Redeemer. He could therefore appeal to the Corinthians, that his conduct had proved he sought not Theirs but them I ; and when writing to the Thessalonians, could make an appeal to God himself, that he had never used a Cloak of covetousness |!. Nay, when leaving the Ephesians, amongst whom he had made so long an abode, that his real temper must have been discovered, he could assure them, and they themselves could testify the truth of it, that he had been so far from Coveting any man's silver, or gold, or apparel, that his own hand had ministered to his necessities $; and that, in order to prevent his being burdensome to them, even for the necessaries of life, he had sometimes added the labour of the night to that of the day.
Nor did these holy men arrogate to themselves any secular power, or pretend to any authority over the civil liberties of mankind.
Grotius supposes this to be the direct and principal meaning of the text; we preach not ourselves as Lords, but proclaim Christ Jesus alone under that character. And this undoubtedly is included in the phrase, though I can see no imaginable reason for such a limitation as he would lay upon it. These primitive pastors of the church, according to that excellent advice of St. Peter, so peculiarly forgotten by those who have contended for the honour of being bis only successors, did Not behave as Lords over God's heritage ; and though they insisted upon it, that what they wrote by a divine revelation and direction, should be received as The commandment of Christ ** ; yet Paul himself expressly renounces all claim to a dominion over men's faith : thereby confessing himself not to be the master of the family,
* 1 Cor. iv. 11. + Phil. iii. 7. 2 Cor. xii. 14. || 1 Thess. ii. 5. & Acts xx. 33, 34.
q 1 Pet. v. 3. Dr. Latham's elegant and judicious Discourse on this clause of my text, at the ordination of Messrs. Gregory and Dodge, will abundantly supply the deficiency of these brief remarks of mine upon it; and thither I do with great pleasure refer the reader. **1 Cor. xiv. 37.