« ÎnapoiContinuă »
of faith. It is supposed that there is something we depend on, which we can prove to be the faith of scripture, or demonstrably founded upon it: This we are bound to adhere to; otherwise we must be charged with scepticism, and concluded not to know where to set our feet in matters of religion. Now, so far as our faith herein is founded on scripture, every sense we give of it must be agreeable thereunto; otherwise we do as it were suppose that the word of God in one place destroys what, in another, it establishes, which would be a great reflection on that which is the standard and rule of our faith. I do not hereby intend, that our sentiments are to be a rule of faith to others, any farther than as they are evidently contained in, or deduced from scripture: Yet that which we believe, as thinking it to be the sense of scripture, is so far a rule to us, that, whatever sense we give of any other scripture, must be agreeable to it; or else, we must be content to acknowledge, that we are mistaken in some of those things which we called articles of faith, as founded thereon.
2dly, No sense given of scripture, must be contrary to the divine perfections: Thus, when human passions are ascribed to God, such as grief, fear, desire, wrath, fury, indignation, &c these are not to be explained, as when the same passions are ascribed to men, in which sense they argue weakness and imperfection. And when any phrase of scripture seems to represent him defective in power; as in Jer. xiv. 9. Why shouldst thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot save?' we are to understand it as a charge that would be unjustly brought against God, if he did not appear in the behalf of his people, by those who are disposed to reproach and find fault with the dispensations of his providence: But, since we have taken occasion, in explaining many scriptures and doctrines founded upon them, to apply this rule; I shall content myself, at present, with the bare mentioning of it.
3dly, We are to explain scripture in such a way, as that it may have a tendency to promote practical godliness in all its branches; which is the main end and design thereof. Many instances might be given, in which this rule is to be applied as when we are said, in Rom. vii. 14. not to be under the law, but under grace, we are not to understand this as though we were discharged from an obligation to yield obedience to whatever God commands; but either, as denoting our being delivered from the condemning sentence of the law; or, from the ceremonial law, to which the gospel-dispensation, which is a display of the grace of God, is always opposed. And when it is said in Eccl. vii. 16. Be not righteous overmuch, nei'ther make thyself overwise: Why shouldst thou destroy thy'self? We are not to understand thereby, that there is anya T
danger of being too holy, or strict in the performance of religious duties; but as forbidding an hypocritical appearing to be more righteous than we are, or entertaining a proud and vainglorious conceit of our own righteousness, because we perform some duties of religion.
Again, there are other scriptures which are sometimes perverted, as though they intimated, that prayer, or other religious duties, were not incumbent on wicked men; as when it is said, in Prov. xxi. 27. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: And, chap. xxviii. 9. that his prayer is so, or that he has nothing to do with those duties; because it is said to such, in Psal. l. 16. What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or, that thou shouldst take my covenant in thy mouth. But these scriptures do not imply, that they are not obliged to perform religious duties; but, that it is contrary to the holiness of God, and a great provocation to him when they regard not the frame of spirit with which they perform them, who draw nigh to him with their lips, when their heart is far from him, or lay claim to the blessings of the covenant of grace, while continuing in open hostility against him. To apply this rule fully, would be to go through the whole scripture, aud to shew how all the great doctrines of religion which are founded upon it, are conformed thereunto; But this we have endeavoured to do in all those instances in which we have had occasion to give the sense thereof; and therefore shall content ourselves with this brief specimen, and leave it to every one to improve upon it in his daily meditations, in enquiring into the sense of scripture, in order to his being farther established in that religion which is founded thereon..
QUEST. CLVIII. By whom is the word of God to be preached? ANSW. The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.
QUEST. CLIX. How is the word of God to be preached by those that are called thereto ?
ANSW. They that are called to labour in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently; in season, and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit, and power, faithfully, making known the whole council of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capaci
ties of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God, and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.
QUEST. CLX. What is required of those that hear the word preached?
ANSW. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer, examine what they hear, by the scripture, receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their heart, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
what method we are to take, in
private station, or capacity, to understand the word of God; we have great reason to be thankful, that he has ordained that it should be publicly preached, or explained, as a farther means conducive to this end. And accordingly we are led, in these answers, to shew, who they are that God has called to this work; and how such ought to perform it; and with what frame of spirit we ought to attend on it.
I. The persons by whom the word of God is to be preached; and these are only such, whom he has qualified with gifts sufficient for it; and they ought also to be duly approved of, when called hereunto, by those among whom the providence of God directs them to exercise their ministry.
1. Concerning the qualifications which are necessary, in those that are employed in preaching the gospel. Here it is to be observed in general, that they must be sufficiently gifted for it; which is so evident, that it would be unreasonable for any one to deny it, since no one is to attempt any thing that he is not able to perform; especially if it be a work of the highest importance, and the unskilful managing thereof may have a tendency to do prejudice to, rather than advance the interest of Christ. It would be a reflection on the wisdom of a master, to employ his servant in a work that he has no capacity for, or entrust him with an affair that is like to miscarry in his hands. In like manner, we are not to suppose that God calls any to preach the gospel, but those whom he has, in some measure, furnished for it; though, it is true, the best may say, as the apostle does, We are not sufficient of ourselves, to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God: Yet he adds, that they who are employed by hin in this work, are made able ministers of the New-Testament, 2 Cor. iii. 5, 6. It is, indeed, a difficult matter to determine who are sufficiently gifted for it; the work being so great, and our natural and
acquired endowments very small, if compared with it. But that we may briefly consider this matter, it may be observed, (1.) That some qualifications are moral, without which, they who preach the gospel, would be a reproach to it. These respect, more especially, the conversation of those who are engaged in this work, which ought to be blameless and exemplary; not only inoffensive, but such as they, whom they are called to instruct, may safely copy after. Thus the apostle makes a solemn appeal, when he says, Te are witnesses, and God also, how halily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe, 1 Thess. ii, 10. And he advises the Corinthians to be followers of him, 1 Cor. iv. 16. and commends the church elsewhere, for conforming themselves to his example, so far as it was agreeable to that of our Saviour, 1 Thess. i. 6. in which respect alone the best of men are to be followed, 1 Cor. xi. 1. Now this supposes that they have that which we call the moral qualifications, necessary to the work of the ministry, without which, a person will do more hurt, by his example, than he can do good by his doctrine; inasmuch as he will lay a stumbling-block in the way of Christians, who would be ready to say, as the apostle does to some of those who were teachers among the Jews; Thou which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Rom. ii. 21. or, dost thou live in the practice of those crimes, which thou condemnest in others, and exhortest them to avoid? This qualification therefore, must be supposed to be necessary; and, indeed, an experimental knowledge of divine truths, will greatly furnish them to communicate the same to others, and spirit them, with zeal, in using their utmost endeavours, that they may be made partakers of the same experiences which they themselves, have been favoured with, Nevertheless, we are not to suppose that this alone will warrant a person's engaging in the work of the ministry; for then every one who has experienced the grace of God, might attempt it, how unable soever he be to manage it to the glory of God, and the edification of the church. Therefore,
(2.) There are other qualifications more directly subservient hereunto. These the apostle speaks of, when he describes a gospel-minister as one who is apt to teach, 1 Tim, iii. 2. and able rightly to divide the word of truth, 2 Tim. ii. 15, and, by sound doctrine, to exhort and convince gainsayers, Tit. i. 9. They who take upon them to explain scripture, and apply it to the consciences of men, ought, certainly, with great diligence and hard study, to use their utmost endeavours to understand it. And to this we may add, that they ought to be able to reason, or infer just consequences from it; whereby they may appear to be well versed in those great doctrines, on which our faith and religion is founded. This, indeed, must
be confessed to be a work of difficulty; and, they who think themselves best furnished in this respect, will have reason to conclude, as the apostle says, that they know but in part, and prophesy in part, 1 Cor. xiii. 9.
To this we may add, that there are various parts of learning, that may be reckoned, in some respects, ornamental, which would tend to secure him that preaches the gospel from contempt; and others, that are more immediately subservient to our understanding scripture, namely, a being well acquainted with those languages, in which the Old and New Testament were written, and able to make critical remarks on the style and mode of expression-used in each of them, and a being conversant in the writings of those, whether in our own or other languages, who have clearly and judiciously explained the doctrines of the gospel, or led us into the knowledge of those things that have a tendency to illustrate them. And, inasmuch as preaching contains in it an address to the judgments and consciences of men, I cannot but reckon it a qualification necessary in order hereunto, that all those parts of learning that have a tendency to enlarge the reasoning faculties, or help us to see the connexion or dependence of one thing upon another, should be attended to, that we may hereby be fitted to convey our ideas with judgment and method. These qualifi cations are to be acquired. We pass by those that are natural, to wit, a sufficient degree of parts, and such an elocution as is necessary for those who are to speak to the edification of au audience, without which all other endeavours to furnish themselves for this work, will be to very little purpose.
2. They, by whom the word of God is to be preached, are to be duly approved and called to that office. A person may think himself qualified for it without sufficient ground; therefore this matter ought to be submitted to the judgment of others, by whose approbation he is to engage in this work. The first thing that is to be enquired into, is; whether he is called to it by God, not only by his providence, which opens a door for his preaching the gospel, but by the success which he is pleased to grant to his endeavours, in order to his being duly qualified for it? Notwithstanding, since persons may be mistaken, and think they have a divine call hereunto, when they have not; it is necessary that they should be approved by those who are sufficient judges of this matter, that they may not be exposed to temptation, so as to engage in a work which they are not deemed sufficient for. Not that it is in the power of ministers, or churches, especially according to the present situation of things, to hinder an unqualified person who has too high thoughts of his own abilities, from preaching to a number of people that is disposed to hear him; yet no one is bound