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It is the general opinion of expositors, in which I decidedly concur, that the words of the text relate to the duties of the people, not to their pastors when living and labouring among them, but respecting those who had been removed by martyrdom, or by natural death. Some think that James the son of Alpheus, the apostle, who, after our Lord's ascension, spent the greatest part of his life at or near Jerusalem, had suffered martyrdom just before the writing of this epistle ; and that some reference is made to him. However that may be, it is worthy of notice that Peter, the chief apostle of the circumcision, wrote cpistles to the very churches which St. Paul had founded, assuring them that it was the “ true grace of God “ in which they stood ;"l and that Paul, the great apostle of the gentiles, wrote to the Hebrew Christians, to excite their affectionate and reverential remembrance of their deceased pastors, and to inculcate obedience to such as survived. No doubt many of their respective flocks (as generally is the case,) supposed that some great difference subsisted between these labourers in the several parts of the same vineyard: but the apostles themselves endeavoured to shew them that they were of one heart and soul in the work, and desired exceedingly to strengthen each other's hands; though external circumstances and situations occasioned apparent differences in their conduct, which the people were apt to misunderstand.
The reasons for concluding that our text refers to deceased, and not surviving ministers, may be
thus briefly summed up. 1. The duties of Christians to their living pastors is afterwards inculcated. “
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.” 2. The apostle does not say,
who speak,' but “ who have spoken, to you the word of God.” 3. He speaks of their end, or deceast, as it will hereafter be shewn that the original word must mean. 4. He says, “ Re“ member them ;” which is far more applicable to those who had been removed, than to such as were still labouring among them.
These things premised, I shall proceed to discourse on the text in the following order :
I. The description given of the deceased ministers; “They had the rule over the people, and had “ spoken to them the word of God:”
II. The respects in which such deceased pastors should be remembered :
III. The exhortation, “Whose faith follow :
IV. The reason adduced, “Considering the end “ of their conversation :”
V. And lastly, the closing words ; “Jesus “ Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for “ ever.”
I shall endeavour, my brethren, to arrange the whole in such a manner as may call your attention, in every part, to your lamented pastor; and then conclude with a brief address to the different characters which it may be supposed are now present before me.
I. The description given of the deceased pas
tors : They had the rule over them, and spoke “ to them the word of God.”
The former clause certainly implies, that ministers are invested by their Lord with some kind of authority over his church and the people; especially over those among whom they labour. Yet they “ have not dominion over their faith, but are “ helpers of their joy.” They must not “ lord it “ over God's heritage, but be examples to the “ flock.” Even the apostle would not settle matters of doubtful disputation by a dictatorial exercise of authority: much less would he attempt to rule over unwilling subjects by coercion, by civil pains and penalties. But shepherds lead forth and rule over their flocks, which hear their voice, expect food from their hand, and willingly follow them. Varying the image : Christians constitute the army of Christ, and willingly enlist and fight under his banners; and ministers are, under him, the officers in that army, to direct, animate, and lead them forth to conflict and to victory. In another view, ministers may, with parental authority,“ exhort, and comfort, and charge every one, “ as a father doth his children, to walk worthy of
God, who hath called them to his kingdom and
glory.” They are also teachers of voluntary pupils. They rule by superior knowledge, experience, wisdom, and the influence thence derived; they exercise their authority by instruction, counsel, admonition, and reproof. They are authorized to censure such as “walk disorderly;" and they may, in some cases, proceed to the exclusion of unruly persons. But (except as apostles, and perhaps some others, were immediately empowered to in
flict miraculous judgments on the offenders, “ for “ the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might “ be saved in the day of Christ,”) with exclusion, the authority of ministers terminates ; and no temporal disadvantages, of any kind, should follow excommunication. On the contrary, ministers, as well as others, should endeavour “ to restore “ the fallen in the spirit of meekness ;” “ not “ counting them as enemies,” but pitying them and praying for them, even when bound to withdraw from their society.
No doubt, such an authority as has been described was exercised by the primitive ministers of Christianity, with the hearty concurrence of their several flocks: and no good reason can be assigned, why it should not now be exercised in like manner, by those whom the Lord hath made overseers of his “ church which he hath purchased with his
own blood.” But the exorbitant claims and abominable tyranny and cruelty of Antichrist and his ministers; and the abuse of excommunication, as an introduction to anathemas, and various kinds and degrees of persecution ; have produced almost the annihilation of pastoral authority, scarcely admitting even that of wisdom and love; and a re-' laxation of discipline, which is certainly of very bad
consequence to the interests of vital piety. But let this suffice on such a subject. The pastors here described had also“ spoken ” to the people “ the word of God.” “The seed is the word “ of God;" “ the word of the kingdom.” Moral essays, philosophical speculations, and various other sorts of public instruction, in use among numbers of professedly Christian teachers, are widely dif
" Is not my
ferent from “ the word of God." “ word like fire, and as the hammer which break“eth the rocks in pieces ?” “What is the chaff “ to the wheat? saith the Lord.” “This is the “record,” (the substance of that “ testimony of
God, which maketh wise the simple,") that God “ hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in “his Son: He that hath the Son hath life, and he “ that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” “ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all ac
ceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world “ to save sinners."
The relations and obligations of man to his Creator, Governor, and Judge; the holy and perfect law of God, as the rule of man's duty; the immortality of the soul: the resurrection of the body; a future judgment; everlasting happiness or misery, as the all important and awful consequence: man a fallen sinner, apostate, rebellious, idolatrous, alienated from God, under the curse of a broken law, a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction ; helpless, enslaved, unwilling, as well as unable, to deliver himself: Emmanuel, “ God manifest in “the flesh,” the only and the all-sufficient Saviour of lost sinners; his boundless love, his “unsearch“ able riches,” his righteousness, his atoning sacrifice, his triumphs, and exaltation in our nature, his intercession, and kingdom, and glory: Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King; the Holy Spirit, and his offices and work, as the author of divine life in regeneration, the source of light and love, and holiness, and consolation : salvation by grace, justification by faith, with the nature and effects of repentance, faith, love; and the Christian tem