« EelmineJätka »
ful work in the house of God! Now, to this skill, several things are required. (1.) A sound judgment concerning the state of those to whom the word is dispensed. The minister must know the state of his people :whether they are babes, or young men, or fathers,whether, in the judgment of Charity, they are converted to God or not,-what are their hindrances and temptations, what is their growth or decay. (2.) An acquaintance with the methods of divine grace on the hearts of men. Nothing is more necessary than this, though nothing is more despised. He who is ignorant of the ordinary operations of grace, fights uncertainly in preaching the word,-like a man beating the air! God can indeed direct a word of truth, spoken as it were at random, to a proper effect of grace on an individual,—as when the man who drew a bow at a venture, smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness; but, usually, a man is not likely to hit a joint, who knows not how to take his aim. (3.) An acquaintance with the nature of temptation, with the special hindrances of faith and obedience, to which the hearers of the word are exposed, is likewise necessary. (4.) A right understanding of the nature of spiritual diseases, with their proper re medies; without which the hearts of the wicked are frequently made glad, and those of the righteous filled with sorrow. Men who know not these things cannot distribute the word aright; and it is lamentable to consider what shameful work is made by some men in preaching the word, for want of this knowledge; yea, how the whole gift is lost as to its power and benefit!
3. The gift of utterance belongs to the dispensation of the gospel. This the apostle reckons among the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. i. 5. 2 Cor. viii. 5); and he desires the prayers of the church, that this gift may abide and abound in him. Eph. vi. 19.-This utterance consists not in a natural volubility of speech (which is sometimes a snare to those who possess it, and a trouble to their hearers) nor in a rhetorical ability to set off a discourse with a flourish of words, much less in a bold corruption of the ordinance of preaching, by quaint expressions and the sallies of wit but it consists in liberty of speech (approx) dicendi libertas,-freedom and liberty in the declaration of the truth; such as the apostle speaks of in
2 Cor. vi. 11, 'O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open to you; our heart is enlarged! A free, enlarged spirit, with an ability of speech, suited to the matter in hand, belongs to this gift. (2.) Boldness and confidence. When the Spirit of God, in the midst of difficulties and opposition, strengthens the minds of ministers, so that they discharge their work freely, as considering whose message it is that they deliver, it belongs to this gift of utterance. (3.) So also does gravity of expression become the sacred majesty of Christ, and the delivery of his truth. He that speaks, is to speak as the oracles of God' 1 Pet. iv. 11);-not only as preaching the truth of God and nothing else, but as doing it with a becoming gravity and soundness of speech. (4.) To this also belongs that authority which accompanies the delivery of the word, when preached in demonstration of these spiritual abilities; for all these things are necessary, that the hear ers may receive the gospel, not as the word of man, but, as it is indeed, the word of God!
The second head of ministerial duties respects the Worship of God. I mean that part of it of which God himself is the immediate object; and this worship includes various actions, according to the variety of the institutions of Christ, and the occasions of the church. Of these, prayer is the chief; by which we understand confessions, supplications, and thansgivings, whether absolutely, or in the administration of other ordinances; as the Sacraments. In this comprehensive duty the glory of God is greatly concerned. The performance of this depends either on the natural abilities of men, or on the aids of the Holy Spirit. Now, to suppose that it should depend on the abilities of men, without any assistance of the Spirit, is to exclude him from those very things for which he is principally promised by Christ. Those who have not received this gift, are utterly unfit to undertake the work of the ministry. In secular affairs, it would be esteemed an intolerable solecism to call a man to the discharge of a duty, the execution of which depended entirely on a peculiar faculty of which he was totally des titute; and it will one day appear to be so in things sacred and religious; yea, and much more.
Thirdly. The rule of the church belongs to the ministers of it. God has established a rule in the church;
it is committed to the ministers of it, who are its guides, rulers, and overseers. Rom. xii. 8. 1 Cor. xii. 28. 1 Tim. v. 17. 1 Thes. v. 12. Heb. xiii. 17.-This rule is spiritual, and has nothing in common with the administration of the powers of this world. It belongs to the kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world:' and the design of this rule is purely the edification of the church, -the increase of the faith and obedience of all its members, mortification of sin, fruitfulness in good works, the consolation of believers, and the recovery of backsliders. Hence it appears what is the nature of those qualifications, and of that skill which is necessary in those by whom this rule is administered; and these we affirm to be a peculiar gift of the Holy Ghost. If it were only skill in the civil or canon law (an acquaintance with the rules of certain courts, proceeding litigiously by citations, mulcts, coercions, or imprisonments) I should readily acknowledge that no gift of the Holy Spirit was requisite; but the nature of it being what we have declared, it is impossible that it should be performed aright without divine assistance. It is the Holy Ghost who makes the elders of the church its overseers or bishops (Acts xx. 28); and what he calls any man unto, that he qualifies him for, by suitable gifts.
There are also gifts which respect duties only, and which are given to all the members of the church, in a great variety of degrees, according to their places and conditions. The Spirit of grace quickens animates, and unites the whole body of the church in and to Jesus Christ; and furnishes all its members with spiritual abilities for its edification. Every individual needs these on his own account; and they are needed by most men for the discharge of relative duties; as in families, for the worship of God and the instruction of children and servants. Also every member of a church needs some spiritual gift to fill up his place therein. 1 Pet. iv. 10. Believers are to admonish one another, to exhort one another, and to build up one another in their most holy faith and it is the loss of those spiritual gifts which has occasioned such a neglect of these duties, that they are scarcely heard of among the generality of Christians. Yet, blessed be God, we have an experience of the continuance of this dispensation of the Spirit, in the eminent abilities of a multitude
of private Christians. By some, I confess, they have been abused, some have presumed upon them beyond their proper time, some have been puffed up, and some have used them in a disorderly manner (all which miscarriages befel the primitive churches also); yet I had rather have the order, spirit, and practice of those churches which were planted by the apostles, with all their inconveniences, than the carnal peace of others in their open degeneracy from all those things.
It remains only that we enquire, How many persons attain a participation of these gifts, whether ministerial or more private? And here we may observe, That they are not communicated by a sudden afflatus, or extraordinary infusion, like the gifts of miracles and tongues bestowed on the apostles and first converts. That dispensation of the Spirit has long since ceased; and where it is now pretended to by any, it may be justly suspected as an enthusiastic delusion. Again: these gifts are not absolutely attainable by our own diligence in the use of means, without respect to the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit; for they are apμara,-arbitrary largesses, which he bestows severally as he pleaseth; and hence we see the different events which are among persons exercised in the same studies and endeavours; some are endued with eminent gifts, some scarcely attain any thing that is useful, and some despise them altogether. There is, therefore, an immediate operation of the Spirit of God in the collection of these spiritual gifts, which is unaccountable by the measures of natural parts and industry; and yet, I observe, that ordinarily they are both attained and increased by the due use of suitable means, as grace itself also is; among which is, in the first place, required, a preparation of soul by humility, meekness, and teachableness. The Holy Spirit delights not to impart his spe cial gifts to proud, self-conceited men, vainly puffed up in their fleshly minds. The same may be said of other vicious and depraved habits of mind, by which they are sometimes excluded, after they have been, in some measure, received. Prayer is also a principal means for their attainment. The apostle directs to this, when he exhorts to covet the best gift; for this desire is to be expressed only by prayer. Diligence in the things about which these gifts are conversant, is also. necessary. I
mean, particularly, study and meditation on the word of God, with the use of means for attaining the knowledge of his mind therein; for it is in this course that, usually, the Holy Spirit comes in, and affords his aid for furnishing the mind with these spiritual endowments. The improvement of these gifts depends on their faithful use. It is trade alone that increases talents; and it is exercise, in a way of duty, which increases gifts. Without this, they will first wither, and then perish! By neglect hereof are they lost every day in some partially, in others totally; and in some to a contempt, hatred, and blasphemy of what themselves had received. Lastly. The natural endowments of men, with elocution, memory, and judgment, improved by reading, learning, and diligent study, enlarge and adorn these gifts where they are received.
ON THE CAUSES, WAYS, AND MEANS OF UNDERSTANDING THE MIND OF GOD IN THE SCRIPTURES,
OUR present enquiry is, How may we attain a right perception of the mind of God in the Scripture, in opposition to ignorance, errors, mistakes, and all false apprehensions, so as to perform, in a right manner, all the duties therein required of us?
In answer to this enquiry, I shall consider, 1st, The principal efficient cause; and, 2dly, All the means, internal and external, appointed of God for the purpose proposed.
As to the first of these, it is the Holy Spirit of God alone; for there is a special work of the Spirit on the minds of men, communicating spiritual wisdom, light, and understanding unto them, necessary to their discerning aright the mind of God in his word. Hereby we do not understand any new or immediate prophetical inspirations; nor do we depend on the authoritative interpretation of any church whatever; nor do we believe that, in the mere exercise of our natural reason, however ex