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or ought, in prudence, or faithfulness to God or man, to own any to be a minister, whose gifts do not render him fit to be approved; nor, on the other hand, can any judgment be passed on this matter, without sufficient acquaintance or conversation with him, that thereby it may be known whether he be a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, and able rightly to divide the word of truth.
Here, I think, there is some difference between the approbation that ought to be passed on those who first engage in the work of preaching, and the call to the pastoral office; the latter supposes the former; and therefore a person ought first to be approved of, as fit to preach the gospel, in the opinion of those who are allowed to be competent judges hereof, which is necessary to his entrance on that work with reputation and acceptance; without which, he is to stand and fall to his own master, and acquiesce in the approbation of those who are willing to sit under his ministry; while others are not bound (as being destitute of sufficient evidence) to conclude him furnished for, or called to it.
As to the call to the pastoral office; though no one has a right to impose pastors on churches; yet it is the indispensible duty of every church not barely to enquire; whether the person, whom they have a desire to call to that office, be such an one as is approved by the greater number of them; but, whether the step they are taking herein, is such as has a tendency to secure their reputation as a church of Christ, without exposing them to the just blame and censure of others, who are in the same faith and order with themselves? that they may do nothing that is in the least offensive, or that has a tendency to weaken the interest of Christ in his churches. It is true, no one can put a stop to their proceeding, if they are resolved to set over them one that is not only scandalous in his conversation, but inclined to preach what is subversive of the fundamental articles of our faith; yet they cannot hereby act as a church that has obtained mercy from God to be faithful, or engage in this important work with judgment. It is therefore expedient, that churches should set over them ministers approved by others as sound in the faith, as well as reckoned, by themselves, able to preach to their edification; and, in order hereunto, it is expedient that some ministers, and members of other churches, should be present at their investiture in that office, to which they have called them, not barely as being witnesses of their faith and order, in common with the whole assembly, but as testifying hereby their approbation of their proceedings, and giving ground to the world to conclude, that that person, whom they have called, is owned by others, as well as themselves.
And, in order thereunto, it is necessary that ministers, who are to join in begging the blessing of God on their proceedings, and giving a word of exhortation to them, should be satisfied concerning the fitness of him whom the church has called to that office; which is supposed by their being present, and bearing their respective parts therein. This, I think, is intended by that expression of the apostle, in which he advises Timothy, to lay hands suddenly on no man; nor to be partaker of other men's sins; but to keep himself pure, 1 Tim. v. 22. that is, without guilt, as being active in approving those that he ought not to approve of. I do not, by this, take the power out of the hands of the church, of setting a pastor over themselves; but only hereby argue the expediency of their consulting the honour of the gospel herein, and acting so, as that they may have the approbation of other churches in that solemnity.
II. We are now to consider how the word of God is to be preached by those who are qualified, approved, and called thereunto; and that, both as to doctrines to be insisted on, and the manner in which they are to be delivered.
1. What they are to preach, ought to be sound doctrine, and that not barely what is deemed to be so by him that preaches it; since there is scarce any one but thinks himself sound in the faith, how remote soever his sentiments may be from the true intent and meaning of the word of God. But hereby we understand those doctrines which are so called by the apostle, Tit. i. 9. such as are agreeable to that form of sound words which is transmitted to us by divine inspiration, 2 Tim. i. 13. the doctrine which is according to godliness, 1 Tim. vi. 3. as having a tendency to recommend and promote it. This is styled elsewhere, The faith once delivered to the saints; which is not only to be preached, but earnestly contended for, Jude, ver. 3. These are such doctrines as have a tendency to advance the glory of God, and do good to the souls of men, that are relished and savoured by sincere Christians, who know the truth, as it is in Jesus; and are nourished up, as the apostle says, in the words of faith and of good doctrine, 1 Tim. iv. 6. This, as it has a peculiar reference to the gospel, and the way of salvation contained therein, is called preaching Christ, Col. i. 18 or a determining to know nothing; that is, to appear to know, or to discover nothing, save Jesus Christ and him crucified, 1 Cor. ii. 2. or deliver nothing but what tends to set forth the person and offices of Christ, either directly, or in its remote tendency thereunto. Our Saviour advises the church, to take heed what they hear, Mark iv. 24. as signifying, that we are to receive no doctrines but what are agreeable to the gospel. And this is a sufficient intimation that such only are to be preached, the contrary to which method of preaching, the apos
tle calls perverting the gospel of Christ; and adds, that though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than that which we have preached, let him be accursed, Gal. i. 7, 8. These are the only doctrines that God will own, because they tend to set forth his perfections, as they were at first communicated by him for that end.
2. We are now to consider the manner in which these doctrines are to be preached. This is laid down in several heads,
(1.) Diligently and constantly, in season and out of season, considering this work as the main business of life, that which a minister is to give himself wholly to, 1 Tim. iv. 15. and all his studies are to be subservient to this end. He is to rejoice in all opportunities, in which he may lead those whom he is called to minister to, in the way to heaven, and be willing to lay out his strength, and those abilities which God has given him, to his glory. Thus the apostle says, I would very gladly spend, and be spent for you, 2 Cor. xii. 14. This argues, that the word is not barely to be preached occasionally, as though it were to be hid from the world, or only imparted, when the leisure or inclination of those who are called thereto, will admit of it. The character which the apostle gives of gospelministers, is, that they watch for the souls of those to whom they minister; that is, they wait for the best and fittest seasons to inculcate divine truths to them. This is particularly expressed by preaching the word, and being instant in season, and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all longsuffering and doctrine, 2 Tim. iv. 2. which implies, that it ought to be preached, not only on that day, which God has sanctified for public worship, of which preaching is a part; but on all occasions, when they are apprehensive that the people are desirous to receive and hear it.
(2.) It is to be preached plainly. Thus the apostle says, We use great plainness of speech, 2 Cor. iii. 12. This method of preaching is inconsistent with the using unintelligible expressions; which neither they nor their hearers well understand. The style ought to be familiar, and adapted to the meanest capacities; which may be done without exposing it to contempt. And it is particularly observed, that it ought not to be, in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; as the apostle says concerning his method of preaching, 1 Cor. ii. 14. The great design hereof, is, not to please the ear with well turned periods, or rhetorical expressions, or an affectation of shewing skill in human learning, in those instances in which it is not directly adapted to edification, or rendered subservient to the explain ing of scripture. A demonstrative way of preaching, is not, indeed, opposed to this plainness that is here intended but it is
the demonstration of the Spirit; which, though it differs from that which the apostles were favoured with (who were led into the doctrines they preached, by immediate inspiration ;) yet we are to endeavour to prove, by strength of argument, that what we deliver is agreeable to the mind and will of God therein; and yet to do this with that plainness of address, as those who desire to awaken the consciences of men, and give them the fullest conviction, proving from the scripture, that what we say is true. This account the apostle gives of his ministry, 2 Cor. iv. 2. as what was most adapted to answer the valuable ends thereof.
(3.) The word of God is to be preached faithfully; which supposes that they who are called to this work, have the souls of those whom they preach to, committed to their care; so that, if they perish for want of due instruction, they are, for this neglect, found guilty before God. Thus God says to the prophet, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman to the house of Israel, Ezek. iii. 17, &c. and therefore he was to give them warning, which, if he did, he delivered his own soul; but if not, God intimates to him that their blood should be required at his hand. This supposes that they are accountable to God for the doctrines they deliver; for which reason the apostle speaks of them, as stewards of the mysteries of God, of whom it was required that they should be found faithful, 1 Cor. iv. 1, 2. and, as a particular instance thereof, he makes a solemn appeal to the elders of the church of Ephesus, that he had kept back nothing that was profitable unto them, nor shunned to declare all the counsel of God, Acts xx. 27. This faithfulness in the exercise of the ministry, is opposed to their having respect of persons from some obligation which they are laid under to them, or the prospect of some advantage that they expect from them, which makes them sparing in reproving those who are blame-worthy, for fear of giving offence, or losing their friendship. It is also opposed to preaching those doctrines which are suited to the humours and corruptions of men, and neglecting to insist on the most necessary and important truths; because they apprehend that they will be entertained with disgust. This is to act as though their main design were to please men rather than God. And it is very remote from the conduct of the prophet Isaiah; who, when he was informed that the people desired that the prophets would prophesy smooth things to them, and cause the holy one of Israel to cease from before them, Isa. xxx. 10, 11. he takes occasion to represent God as the holy one of Israel, in the following words, and to denounce the judgments which he would bring upon them, how unwilling soever they were to receive this doctrine from him.
And, to this we may add, that they are to be reckoned no other than unfaithful in their method of preaching, who, under a pretence of pressing the observance of moral duties, set aside the great doctrines of faith in Christ, and justification by his righteousness, which is the only foundation of our acceptance in his sight. Concerning which we may say, without being supposed to have light thoughts of moral virtue; that the one ought, in no wise to exclude the other. Neither can they be reckoned faithful, who shun to declare those important truths, on which the glory of God, and the comfort of his people depend; and therefore, if morality be rightly preached, it ought to be inculcated from evangelical motives, and connected with other truths that have a tendency more directly to set forth the Mediator's glory; which ought not to be laid aside as controverted doctrines, which all cannot acquiesce in, as supposing that the tempers, or rather the ignorance and corruption of men, will not bear them.
(4.) The word of God is to be preached wisely. This wisdom consists,
[1.] In the choice of those subjects, that have the greatest tendency to promote the interest of Christ, and the good of mankind in general. There are many doctrines which must be allowed to be true, that are not of equal importance with others; nor so much adapted to promote the work of salvation, and the glory of God therein. There are some doctrines which the apostle calls the present truth, 2 Pet. i. 12. in which he instructs those to whom he writes. Accordingly, those truths are to be frequently inculcated, which are most opposite to the dictates of corrupt nature and carnal reason; because of their holiness, spirituality, beauty, and glory. Again, those doctrines are to be explained and supported by the most solid and judicious methods of reasoning, which are very much perverted and undermined by the subtle enemies of our salvation. And whatever truth is necessary to be known, as subservient to godliness, which multitudes are ignorant of, this is to be frequently insisted on, that they may not be destroyed for lack of knowledge; and those duties, which we are most prone to neglect, in which the life and power of religion discovers itself, these are to be inculcated as a means to promote practical godliness.
[2.] The wisdom of those that preach the gospel farther appears, in suiting their discourses to the capacities of their hearcrs; of whom, it must be supposed,
1st, That some are ignorant and weak in the faith who cannot easily take in those truths that are, with much more ease, apprehended and received by others; for their sake the word of God is to be preached with the greatest plainness and familiarity of style. Thus the apostle speaks of some who needed