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the kingdom of darkness, that has not caused gnashing of teeth! Even the labours of infidelity itself, and all the stratagems employed to obstruct the march of truth, have contributed to its furtherance. The wrath of man praises God; and the remainder of wrath is restrained. Surely, the Most High hath girded his sword upon his thigh-and rides forth prosperously in the cause of truth and meekness--commanding all who have enlisted in his service, to go on with him from conquering to conquer, till the nations shall be subdued before him, and till a great voice shall be heard out of heaven, saying, “ The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
Preached before the Synod of Virginia, at Staunton, Oct. 22, 1828.
BY GEORGE A. BAXTER, D.D.
President of Washington College, Virginia.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MINISTRY AND CHURCH. 1 TIMOTHY iii. 15.– That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thy
self in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The Church of God is undoubtedly the most important institution in the world. It connects itself, in a multiplicity of ways, with all the important interests of man. Were a community sunk in the lowest state of misery ; distracted and degraded by every species of vice; the introduction of the pure gospel among them, would immediately renovate their condition ; they would rise into a state of order and happiness. On the other hand, should the most moral and happy people apostatize from the faith of the gospel, and fall into gross error, that error would lead to vice, and their best institutions would decline. The truth of these observations is attested by the whole history of human affairs ; and yet religion produces these results, not as its principal object, but in an indirect and collateral manner. The great object of religion is to train man for heaven ; to prepare him for a state of happiness in worlds beyond the grave. But in preparing him for more perfect happiness above, it necessarily prepares him for happiness in the present state. It is hence a matter of the highest importance to mankind, that the affairs of religion should be wisely conducted. Indeed, among the many wonderful things connected with the gospel, I have often thought it not the least of its wonders, that we should have had this treasure in clay-vessels at all; that a system so evidently from heaven, and so connected with all the important destinies of the world, should have been intrusted, in any degree, to the management of imperfect man. But it has pleased Almighty God to honour his church and
people with a co-efficiency in these matters. His people are appointed to be fellow-workers with him, in bringing about the important purposes of the gospel : and this makes it a matter of unspeakable importance, that every one who sustains an office, or even a private station, in the church, should know how “ to behave himself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
The text, and the occasion on which we are assembled, will lead us,
I. To consider how we ought to behave, as it respects the preaching of the gospel.
II. To make some general observations respecting the management of the church.
First ; As it respects the preaching of the gospel. While the church is considered as the pillar and ground of the truth, preaching must, beyond all question, be regarded as its most important duty. When I give this preference, it will not be understood that I mean to speak lightly of Bible socie. ties, or Sunday schools, or any of those recent institutions, intended for spreading the knowledge of divine truth. These are among the glorious works of the church ; but the preaching of the gospel by the living voice, is essential to the life and existence of them all, and of the church itself; it has, in all ages, been the principal instrument in the hand of God, by which the church has been sustained and advanced. Without the other institutions mentioned, the church has long existed ; and, to some extent, it has prospered. Bụt go into a region where there is no preaching, and there you will find the church languishing, or dead; you will find no Bible society, or Sabbath school; but one general scene of spiritual desolation.
There is such fulness of precept and direction in the word of God, as to preaching, that it would seem at first view no difficult matter to ascertain our duty in this respect. But when we consider the importance of the business, in itself, and the consequences growing out of it—when we consider that a minister must rightly divide the word of truth, giving to every one his portion in due season ; and that to every hearer he will be a savour of life, or of death-we may well exclaim with the apostle, " Who is sufficient for these things ?”
There are many ways in which a preacher may fail in the execution of his trust. From inattention, he may be unacquainted with the wants of his people, and of course unable to supply them. The love of ease may prevent the efforts needful to enrich himself and his people with knowledge. But there is another principle, which I think lies at the root of ministerial unfaithfulness ; which slides very insensibly into the human heart; and which has produced unspeakable mischief in the church: I mean a disposition to accommodate the truths of the gospel to the prevailing sentiments of the world; or to form a compromise, between the doctrines of the cross and the feelings of the natural heart. Every pious minister, when attempting to preach the gospel, knows that he is about to deliver a message, most ungrateful to the ears of unregenerate men. Indeed there has never been any set of princi, ples, or any system of truth on earth, which the world hates so much, as it Frates the pure gospel of Christ. This at first view may appear strange ; it is
in itself; a matter of curious speculation; but it is undoubtedly true. The law of God reveals the condemnation of the sinner ; the gospel reveals his redemption ; and yet mankind hate the gospel more than they hate the law. In proof of this, it is only necessary to attend to the manner in which our Saviour, and many of his most faithful servants, have been treated. Moses established the law among the Israelites; our Saviour established the gospel among the same people ; and yet the Saviour was persecuted with much deeper enmity than Moses. Indeed, there has never been such display of enmity on earth, as was manifested against the Saviour and many of his most faithful disciples. And the only cause of this enmity was, their determination to propagate the gospel. But this enmity of the human heart is the same in every age. And when a Christian minister is fully sensible of this fact: when he knows that the message he is about to deliver, has so much opposition from the world to encounter, he is strongly prompted to change the aspect of that message ; and to substitute a little of his own wisdom, for the wisdom of God. And this he may do, in a manner very insensible to bimself. It is not necessary, that he should say any thing untrue. He may keep himself within the bounds of orthodoxy ; and yet, by insisting on those parts of the system, which are least unpopular, he may keep back those truths, which humble the pride of the human heart ; which show the exceeding sinfulness of sin ; and which make the sinner feel his entire dependence on the sovereign mercy of God. The same principle of accommodating the doc, trines of the cross to the sentiments of the world, has often given rise to the most dangerous specul ions and refinements in divinity, and thus led the church into most destructive errors. This has undoubtedly been the cause of that tendency, which the church has manifested, in every age, to turn aside from the simplicity of the gospel.
There have been, as it appears to me, but two periods in the history of the church, in which the pure gospel was extensively preached with becoming pungency and faithfulness. One of those periods immediately followed the resurrection of our Saviour. But it was not long before various mixtures of heathen philosophy were sought for, with a view to make the gospel more acceptable to the world. The other period of pure preaching, was that of the glorious Reformation : and this period too was soon overclouded, and apparently from the same cause. The churches of Germany and France were soon filled with refinements and speculations, by which the purity of divine truth was defaced.
But while a disposition to accommodate the gospel to the taste of the world has perverted the matter of the Christian ministry, it has had a still more injurious effect on the spirit of preaching. When the ministry and the church entertain favourable expectations from the world, this insensibly leads to a spirit of formality, and false security. But, on the other hånd, when a minister feels that the enmity of the world is against him ; and that, unless God is with him to bless his work, both the message and the preacher will be rejected with contempt; then he has the strongest motives to a life of faith and prayera Under this impression, in his closet, and in the preparation of his sermons, he. will be frequent and earnest in his applications to the throne of grace. And in the sacred desk, all his dependence will be on the blessing of God. I believe that this impression, that help for the dead in- sin can only come from God, is the very life and soul of ministerial faithfulness ; and I would rather have one sermon prepared in the fulness of effectual fervent prayer, than hundreds of sermons prepared with much study and little prayer. And I further believe, that this impression, that help must be had, and that help can only come from God, whether pertaining to temporal or spiritual things, has been the main-spring of effectual prayer, in every age of the world. It was this impression which gave to Jacob that persevering faith, which would take no denial ; " I will not let thee go except thou bless me." This impression has pervaded every church in our own day, immediately previous to a revival of religion. Professors have seen and felt, that the spirit of the world was gaining ground, that piety was sinking in themselves and others, and that, unless God should appear, all would be lost; and this has brought them to a throne of grace, with that humility and holy importunity, which God always approves. It too often happens, indeed, that when a revival progresses with power and majesty, the church soon falls back into self-dependence and security”; and then a lamentable reaction takes place.
It is also worthy of particular notice, that all those men, who have been distinguished instruments of good in the church, have been remarkable for pr yer. Just as much distinguished for a life of prayer, as for a life of usefulness. This fact has been mentioned of Luther, of Calvin, of Whitefield ; and we know it was the case of Paul himself, and of all the apostles. These men were placed in circumstances which made them feel their dependence on God at every step. They saw the church full of weakness, while its enemies were powerful and active. But are we not placed in circumstances which require the same reliance on Almighty grace? Is not the church always weak in itself? Were our eyes opened to perceive all the workings of the human heart throughout the world, we should see the church of God, as, it were, on the verge of a volcans; and nothing but that power which governs the winds and e sea, restrains the secret fires of that volcano from bursting forth, and overwhelming every thing sacred.
I have dwelt the longer on this point, as I would, if I could, persuade the ministry, and the church, to withdraw all hopes and confidence from the world, and to rely on God to bless their efforts. I believe this is the first step towards the triumph of the gospel. There is, I believe, a mode of preaching and sustaining the gospel, which will make it completely irresistible. Let the gospel be affectionately preached, in its simplicity, without any compromise; and let it · be supported by the faith, and love, and prayers of the church, and nothing will be able to stand before it. Its triumphant march is sure as the promise of God.
I have already alluded to two periods, in which the gospel was extensively preached in its purity ; and in both those cases, the church rose from a state of great apparent weakness, to a state of triumph, and victory; and the victory continued, as long as the faithful preaching continued.
Had we been present in that upper chamber, to which the disciples resorted
after the crucifixion ; had we seen how exceedingly small was the number of the church, without one name of power or influence among them; we should not surely have expected, that the preaching and influence of this little company would so soon have spread the doctrines of their crucified Master throughout the Roman empire. Who would have expected to see the temples of paganism tottering, its philosophers and orators contounded and silenced-and, in the course of a few generations, the invincible legions of Rome marching under the banners of the cross ?
Some may perhaps think that modern preaching cannot be expected to be thus successful, because primitive preaching was accompanied by miracles. But it appears to me that undue stress is laid on this circumstantial difference. Miracles were addressed to the understanding ; they were intended to attest the divine mission of Jesus——to prove that Christianity was from God; and not to convert sinners. It is true, a miracle was performed when Paul was converted, but he was not converted by the miracle. The men who journeyed with Paul, saw that great light from heaven; they were struck to the ground; and heard, though indistinctly, the voice which spake to him. They were no doubt confounded, and, for the time, cured of the spirit of persecution ; but the history gives no intimation, that they were ever converted. And Paul himself was not converted by the miracle, but by the influence of divine grace on his heart.
It is then plain, that iniracles were not intended to convert the heart, but to convince the understanding, and to give to all succeeding ages sufficient evidence of the truth of Christianity. This evidence we have now, with nearly as much clearness as they had it in primitive times, and supported by other sources of evidence, which they had not. The truth is, the public mind, throughout the most enlightened parts of the world, is much more fully convinced at this time, that the Christian religion is from God, than it was in the days of the apostles ; and we have sufficient means and evidence in our hands, to carry this conviction through all the benighted nations. And there appears no reason to doubt, that if the gospel were preached now, with as much purity and zeal, and supported on the part of the church by the same devotion as in primitive times, the success would be similar. Tlie promise, “Lo I am with you alway, even to the end of the world,” is as full of encouragement to us, as it was to the primitive Christians. The sovereignty of God accomplishes the purposes of the gospel ; but it does this in co-operation with human agency; and I do not see how we can understand the promises made to prayer, and to the use of means, in any way which will not throw the blame of the church's failures, and her want of triumphant success, entirely upon her own unfaithfulness.
II. I now proceed to make some general observations respecting the management of the church. And I would first observe, that although the doctrines of the cross ought to be preached with simplicity and plainness, yet it does not follow, that they ought to be preached by ignorant or 'rash men. Whatever may be true, in particular cases, it is by no means expedient, in the general, that illiterate men should preach the gospel. The blind should not