« PreviousContinue »
imparted unto you, not the gospel only, but our own souls also, because ye were dear to us. For what is our bope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing, are not even ye, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming ? for ye are our glory and joy."
And what can attract our love, what can merit our esteem, what can excite our admiration, if such a temper doth not? A temper which, to all the magnanimity of the hero, unites all the piety and benevolence of the saint.
But it will not avail us barely to esteem or admire this temper: it is necessary, my Brethren, that we ourselves be possessed of it. I shall therefore proceed, as I proposed, in the
Second place, To illustrate the importance of this excellent temper; the the peculiar importance of it to the
; ministers of Christ. And,
1st. It is of importance to guard us against that selfdeceit to which, of all men in the world, we are most exposed. The office we hold removes us at a greater disdistance than other men from any of those temptations to gross and scandalous sins, which wound the conscience, and divulge the secret corruptions of the heart; so that were decency of conduct may pass with us for real sanctity; and what is purely the effect of restraint from without, may be mistaken by us for the product of a new nature within. Besides, the stated duties that belong to our office frequently contribute to cherish this presumption. God may enable us to deliver his message with becoming warmth and propriety, for the sake of those committed to our care ; and his word, though uttered by unhallowed lips, may enter with power and efficacy into the hearts of our hearers. It is an awful truth, that if we measure ourselves either by our manner of performing, or even by the effects that follow, our public ministrations, we shall often be liable to err very fatally. Paul thought it possible that one might preach to the saving of others, and after all be a cast-away; and I can easily conceive, that the preaching to others may, through want of attention on our part, be in some measure the cause of it. The assistance afforded us in our Master's work, may lead us to form a better opinion of our spiritual condition than is either reasonable or safe; and therefore we have greater need to look frequently and parrowly into our hearts, lest the gifts we receive for the use of the church should pass with us for those peculiar graces of the Spirit, which prove our adoption into the family of God, and manifest our title to the heavenly inheritance.
But did our souls burn with that fervept zeal for the glory of God, and that vehement thirst for salvation of men, which fired the generous breast of this apostle, we should be in no danger of judging too favourably of our. selves. Sạch high aims would cause our most vigorous efforts to appear so little in our own eyes, that, instead of yielding fuel to our pride, they would rather afford us matter of self-abasement, as bearing no proportion, either to the duty we owe, or the exalted felicity to which we aspire. Conscious of our weakness, how earnestly should we then address God for the influences of his Spirit, to aid us in our work, and to impart virtue and efficacy to the means we employ! And, at the same time, with what holy severity should we examine the most secret recesses of our hearts, lest any root of bitterness should find indulgence there, that might either unfit us for service, or mar our usefulness, by provoking God to withbold that grace upon which both our ability and success depend !
2dly. The importance of this temper will further appear from the influence it would have upon our public ministrations. It would make us better preachers as well as better men.
We should never be at a loss for proper subjects of discourse. This, you must be sensible, is not always the case. Most of us, I suppose, will have the candour to acknowledge, that we have frequently spent more time in seeking a text, than might reasonably have sufficed to compose a sermon; and we shall probably find, upon a fair recollection, that this waste of time has happened most commonly when we set out in preparing for our public work, with no other view than to make a sermop. Fancy is a roving capricious guide; but, when necessity prescribes, it always speaks with precision. We may know with certainty what our people need, when we can only imperfectly guess at what will please them ; so that, did the necessities of our hearers get the disposal of our studies, we should seldom hesi. tate long in the choice of our subjects; and, give me leave to add, we should more frequently preach the same necessary truths, and press them from time to time with redoubled earnestness, till they appeared to have obtained their full effect upon the hearts of those committed to our care.
Nor is this all. --The temper I am recommending would assist us in forming and pronouncing our sermons, no less than in choosing the most profitable subjects. As it would reject all useless, unedifying speculations, so it would effectually banish those gaudy ornaments which too often put the preacher in the place of his text; or, as one hath well expressed it, serve only to evaporate weighty truths, and to make them appear as light as the style. Had we no other aim than
to guide our hearers in the way to heaven, perspicuity and persuasion would then become the sole objects of our attention; and these, I apprehend, are more within every man's reach than is commonly imagined. I never knew any person much at a loss, feelingly and intelligibly, to impart to others what he greatly feared, or loyed, or hated. Rules of art bave their use; but though art hath collected rules, it was Nature that fur. nished them. Both order and elocution are the offspring of a warm and understanding heart. Let us only feel to purpose, and then we shall speak with propriety and energy. Did we, like Paul, travail as in birth till Christ were formed in the souls of men, would not our tongue be as the pen of a ready writer? Did we consider that we speak in the name of God; that we speak to the creatures of God; to them, I say, and not merely before
; them ; that we publish those truths by which only they can be saved, and proclaim that law by which they shall be judged; did we consider that they and we are fast hastening to judgment, and that neither of us can know how soon the summons of removal may be put into our hands; what shall I say? would not Elibu's situation become ours, when he thus expressed himself, “I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me: behold my belly is as wine that hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles; I will speak that I may be refreshed.” Job xxxii. 18, 19, 20. Nay, my brethren, with such great objects in our eye, we should not only speak, but we should speak as Elihu resolved to do in the following part of the quotation, we should speak with an honest and impartial freedom ; for thus he goes on: “Let me not, I pray you, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man; VOL. I.
for I know not to give flattering titles ; in so doing, my Maker would soon take me away."
3dly. This temper would likewise have a happy influence opon all the parts of our external conduct. We should not think it enough to abstain from evil; we should carefully avoid every thing that had the appearance of evil, that our conduct might have nothing in it of a doubtful nature, nothing ambiguous, or that needed to be explained. He lives, alas ! at a poor rate, and far below the dignity of his gacred office, who is frequently put to it to vindicate his conduct, and to prove that he hath not exceeded his Christian liberty. A minister of Christ ought to go before his people in every thing that is true, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. His light ought to shine in the eyes of men ; nay, to shine with such strength, that they may see his good works, and be constrained to glorify his Father in heaven.
A holy life is the most persuasive sermon, expressed too in a language which men of all nations equally understand. It even explains what other sermons mean, instead of needing to be explained by them. Men will see more beauty in a truly virtuous action, than in the most rhetorical description we can give of it; and then they lose no time, for they see it at once : whereas, be. sides the necessary expense of time, much skill and address must likewise be employed, to unfold it in such a manner as to make it thoroughly understood and relished.
In this way, my Brethren, we may preach without ceasing: and if we know any thing of the temper expressed in my text, we shall certainly be ambitious to hold forth the word of life continually ; and so to exbibit the religion of Jesus, that, in our practice, all who be