Imágenes de páginas

has commanded the clouds not to rain upon it. As if conscious of this, of late they have turned their efforts into a new channel, and, despairing of the conversion of sinners, have confined themselves to the seduction of the faithful; in which, it must be confessed, they have acted in a manner perfectly consistent with their principles; the propagation of heresy requiring, at least, no divine assistance.

4. Let me request you to consider the dignity and importance of the profession which you have assumed. I am aware that the bare mention of these, as attributes of the Christian ministry (especially when exercised among Protestant dissenters), may provoke a smile: we contend, however, that if the dignity of an employment is to be estimated, not by the glitter of external appearances, but by the magnitude and duration of the consequences involved in its success, the ministerial function is an high and honourable one. Though it is not permitted us to magnify ourselves, we may be allowed to magnify our office; and, indeed, the juster the apprehensions we entertain of what belongs to it, the deeper the conviction we shall feel of our defects. Independently of every other consideration, that office cannot be mean which the Son of God condescended to sustain: for the word which we preach first began to be spoken by the Lord; and, while he sojourned upon earth, that Prince of life was chiefly employed in publishing his own religion. That office cannot be mean whose end is the recovery of man to his original purity and happiness-the illumination of the understanding the communication of truth-and the production of principles which will bring forth fruit unto everlasting life. As the material part of the creation was formed for the sake of the immaterial; and of the latter the most momentous characteristic is its moral and accountable nature, or, in other words, its capacity of virtue and vice; that labour cannot want dignity which is exerted in improving man in his highest character, and fitting him for his eternal destination. Here alone is certainty and durability; for, however highly we may esteem the arts and sciences which polish our species and promote the welfare of society; whatever reverence we may feel, and ought to feel, for those laws and institutions whence it derives the security necessary for enabling it to enlarge its resources and develop its energies, we cannot forget that these are but the embellishments of a scene we must shortly quit the decorations of a theatre, from which the eager spectators and applauded actors must soon retire. The end of all things is at hand. Vanity is inscribed on every earthly pursuit, on all sublunary labour; its materials, its instruments, and its objects will alike perish. An incurable taint of mortality has seized upon, and will consume them ere long. The acquisitions derived from religion, the graces of a renovated mind, are alone permanent. This is the mystic enclosure, rescued from the empire of change and death; this is the field which the Lord has blessed: and this word of the kingdom, the seed which alone produces immortal fruit, the very bread of life, with which, under a higher economy, the Lamb in the midst of the throne will feed his flock and replenish his elect through eternal ages. How high and awful a function is that which proposes to establish in the

soul an interior dominion-to illuminate its powers by a celestial light -and introduce it to an intimate, ineffable, and unchanging alliance with the Father of Spirits! What an honour to be employed as the instrument of conducting that mysterious process by which men are born of God; to expel from the heart the venom of the old serpent; to purge the conscience from invisible stains of guilt; to release the passions from the bondage of corruption and invite them to soar aloft into the regions of uncreated light and beauty; to say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves! These are the fruits which arise from the successful discharge of the Christian ministry; these the effects of the gospel wherever it becomes the power of God unto salvation: and the interests which they create, the joy which they diffuse, are felt in other worlds.

In insisting on the dignity attached to the ministerial office, it is far from my intention to supply fuel to vanity, or suggest such ideas of yourself as shall tempt you to "lord it over God's heritage." Let the importance of your station be rather felt and acknowledged in its beneficial results than ostentatiously displayed; and the consciousness of it, instead of being suffered to evaporate in authoritative airs and pompous pretensions, produce a concentration of your powers. If the great apostle was content to be a helper of the joy without claiming dominion over the faith of his converts, how far should we be from advancing such a claim! If he served the Lord with humility and many tears; if he appeared among the churches which he planted, "in fear and in weakness, and with much trembling," we may learn how possible it is to combine with true dignity the most unassuming deportment and the deepest conviction of our weakness and unworthiness with a vigorous discharge of whatever belongs to the apostolic, much more to the pastoral office. The proper use to be made of such considerations as have now been suggested is, to stir up the gift which is in us, to apply ourselves to our work with becoming resolution, and anticipate, in dependence on the divine blessing, important effects. The moment we permit ourselves to think lightly of the Christian ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility and relaxation remains. For no man ever excelled in a profession to which he did not feel an attachment bordering on enthusiasm; though what in other professions is enthusiasm, is in ours the dictate of sobriety and truth.

5. Recollect, for your encouragement, the reward that awaits the faithful minister. Such is the mysterious condescension of divine grace, that although it reserves to itself the exclusive honour of being the fountain of all, yet, by the employment of human agency in the completion of its designs, it contrives to multiply its gifts, and to lay a foundation for eternal rewards. When the church, in the perfection of beauty, shall be presented to Christ as a bride adorned for her husband, the faithful pastor will appear as the friend of the bridegroom, who greatly rejoices because of the bridegroom's voice. His joy will be the joy of his Lord, inferior in degree, but of the same nature, and arising from the same sources: while he will have the peculiar hap

[ocr errors]

piness of reflecting that he has contributed to it; contributed, as an
humble instrument, to that glory and felicity of which he will be con-
scious he is utterly unworthy to partake. To have been himself the
object of mercy, to have been the means of imparting it to others, and
of dispensing the unsearchable riches of Christ, will produce a pleasure
which can never be adequately felt or understood until we see him as
he is. From that oneness of spirit, from that inseparable conjunction
of interest, which will then be experienced in its utmost extent, will
arise a capacity of sharing the triumph of the Redeemer and of par-
ticipating in the delight with which he will survey his finished work,
when a new and fairer creation shall arise out of the ruins of the first.
And is this the end, he will exclaim, of all my labours, my toils, and
watchings, my expostulation with sinners, aud my efforts to console
the faithful! and is this the issue of that ministry under which I was
often ready to sink! and this the glory of which I heard so much, un-
derstood so little, and announced to my hearers with lisping accents
and a stammering tongue! well might it be styled the glory to be
revealed. Auspicious day! on which I embarked in this undertaking,
on which the love of Christ, with a sweet and sacred violence, impelled
me to feed his sheep and to feed his lambs. With what emotion shall
we, who, being intrusted with so holy a ministry, shall find mercy to
be faithful, hear that voice from heaven, Rejoice and be glad, and give
honour to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath
made herself ready! With what rapture shall we recognise, amid an
innumerable multitude, the seals of our ministry, the persons whom
we have been the means of conducting to that glory!


Hence we discern the futility of the objection against the doctrine of future rewards, drawn from an apprehension that to be actuated by such a motive argues a mean and mercenary disposition; since the reward to which we aspire, in this instance at least, grows out of the employment in which we are engaged, and will consist in enjoyments which can only be felt and perceived by a refined and elevated spirit. The success of our undertaking will, in reality, reward itself, by the complete gratification it will afford to the sentiments of devotion and benevolence which, in their highest perfection, form the principal ingredient in future felicity. To have co-operated in any degree towards the accomplishment of that purpose of the Deity to reconcile all things to himself by reducing them to the obedience of his Son, which is the ultimate end of all his works,-to be the means of recovering, though it were but an inconsiderable portion of a lapsed and degenerate race, to eternal happiness, will yield a satisfaction exactly commensurate to the force of our benevolent sentiments, and the degree of our loyal attachment to the supreme Potentate. The consequences involved in saving a soul from death, and hiding a multitude of sins, will be duly appreciated in that world where the worth of souls and the malignity of sin are fully understood; while, to extend the triumphs of the Redeemer, by forming him in the hearts of men, will produce a transport which can only be equalled by the gratitude and love we shall feel towards the Source of all our good.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Before I close this discourse, which has, perhaps, already detained you too long, let me suggest one reflection which so naturally arises from the view we have taken of the ministerial office that I cannot think it right to pass it over in silence. The consideration to which we allude respects the advantages possessed by the Christian minister for the cultivation of personal piety. Blessed is the man, said the royal Psalmist, whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee; blessed are they who dwell in thy house, they will be still praising thee. If he was so strongly impressed with a conviction of the high privilege annexed to the priesthood, by virtue of its being allowed a nearer approach to God in the services of the sanctuary, the situation of a Christian minister is not less distinguished, nor less desirable. It is the only one in which our general calling as Christians, and our particular calling as men, perfectly coincide. In a life occupied in actions that terminate in the present moment, and in cares and pursuits extremely disproportionate to the dignity of our nature, but rendered necessary by the imperfection of our state; it is but little of their time that the greater part of mankind can devote to the direct and immediate pursuit of their eternal interests. A few remnants, snatched from the business of life, are all that most can bestow. In our profession, the full force and vigour of the mind may be exerted on that which will employ it for ever,-on religion, the final centre of repose; the goal which all things tend, which gives to time all its importance, to eternity all its glory; apart from which man is a shadow, his very existence a riddle, and the stupendous scenes which surround him as incoherent and unmeaning as the leaves which the sybil scattered in the wind. Our inaptitude to be affected in any measure proportioned to the intrinsic value of the interest in which we are concerned, and the objects with which we are conversant, is partly to be ascribed to the corruption of nature, partly to the limitation of our faculties. As far as this disproportion is capable of being corrected, the pursuits connected with our office are unquestionably best adapted to that purpose, by closely fixing the attention on objects which can never be contemned but in consequence of being forgotten, nor ever surveyed with attention without filling the whole sphere of vision. Though the scene of our labour is on earth, the things to which it relates subsist in eternity. We can give no account of our office, much less discharge any branch of it with propriety and effect, without adverting to a future state of being; while in a happy exemption from the tumultuous cares of life, our only concern with mankind, as far as it respects our official character, is to promote their everlasting welfare; our only business on earth, the very same that employs those exalted spirits who are sent forth on embassies of mercy, to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation. Our duties and pursuits are distinguished from all others by their immediate relation to the ultimate end of human existence; so that, while secular employments can be rendered innocent only by an extreme care to avoid the pollu tions which they are so liable to contract, the ministerial functions bear an indelible impress of sanctity. The purposes accomplished

by the ministry of the gospel, in the restoration of a fallen creature to the image of his Maker, are not among the things which were made for man: they are the things for which man was made; since, without regard to time or place, they are essential to his perfection and happiness. How much of heaven is naturally connected with an office whose sole purpose is to conduct man thither! and what a superiority to the love of the world may be expected from men who are appointed to publish that dispensation which reveals its danger, detects its vanity, rebukes its disorders, and foretels its destruction!

He must know little of the world, and still less of his own heart, who is not aware how difficult it is, amid the corrupting examples with which it abounds, to maintain the spirit of devotion unimpaired, or to preserve, in their due force and delicacy, those vivid moral impressions, that quick perception of good, and instinctive abhorrence of evil, which form the chief characteristic of a pure and elevated mind. These, like the morning dew, are easily brushed off in the collisions of worldly interest, or exhaled by the meridian sun. Hence the necessity of frequent intervals of retirement, when the mind may recover its scattered powers, and renew its strength by a devout application to the Fountain of all grace.

To the ordinary occupations of life we are rather indebted for the trial of our virtue than for the matter, or the motive; and, however criminal it would be to neglect them, in our present state, they can only be reduced under the dominion of religion by a general intention of pleasing God. But in carrying into effect the designs of the gospel, we are communicating that pure element of good which, like the solar light, pervades every part of the universe, and forms, there is every reason to believe, the most essential ingredient in the felicity of all created beings.

If, in the actual commerce of the world, the noblest principles are often sacrificed to mean expedients, and the rules of moral rectitude made to bend to the indulgence of vain and criminal passions, how happy for us that we are under the necessity of contemplating them in their abstract grandeur, of viewing them as an emanation of the divine beauty; as the immutable law of the creation, imbodied in the character of the Saviour, and illustrated in the elevated sentiments, the holy lives, and triumphant deaths of prophets, saints, and martyrs! We are called, every moment, to ascend to first principles, to stand in the council of God, and to imbibe the dictates of celestial wisdom in their first communication, before they become debased and contaminated by a mixture with grosser elements.

The bane of human happiness is ordinarily not so much an absolute ignorance of what is best, as an inattention to it, accompanied with a habit of not adverting to prospects the most certain, and the most awful. But how can we be supposed to contract this inadvertence, who are incessantly engaged in placing truth in every possible light, tracing it in its utmost extent, and exhibiting it in all its evidence! Can we be supposed to forget that day and that hour, of which no man knoweth, who are stationed as watchmen to give the alarm, to announce

« AnteriorContinuar »