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There is an analogy between the divine constitution and disposition of things in the natural and in the spiritual world. The wise Creator has not left the natural world without light; but in this our solar system has set one great light, immensely exceeding all the rest, shining perpetually with a transcendent fulness and strength, to enlighten the whole; and he hath appointed other lesser, subordinate, or dependent lights, that shine with the communications and reflections of something of his brightness. So it is in the spiritual world; there God hath appointed Jesus Christ as a Sun of Righteousness: the church of God has not the sun to be her light by day; nor for brightness does the moon give light to her, but the Lord is her everlasting light, and her God her glory. The new Jerusalem has no need of the sun, nor the moon; for the Lamb is the light thereof. And the ministers of Christ are, as it were, the stars that encompass this glorious fountain of light, to receive and reflect his beams, and give light to the souls of men. As Christ therefore is in scripture called the Sun, so are his ministers called stars. So are the twelve apostles, the chief ministers of the Christian church, called, Rev. xii. 1. "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." And so are the ordinary ministers of the gospel called, Rev. i. 16, "And he had in his right hand seven stars." And ver. 20, “ The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks; the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." Here also ministers of the gospel are implicity compared to those lamps that enlightened the temple at Jerusalem, upon the tops of the golden candlesticks: And more expressly in Zech. iv. 2. "I have looked, and behold a candlestick, all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon."
These lamps have all their oil from Christ, and are enkindled by his flame, and shine by his beams; and being thus dependent on him, they are near to him, and held in his right hand, that they may receive light from him, to communicate to others.
The use of a light is threefold; to discover, to refresh, and to direct.
The first use of a light is to discover things, or make them manifest. Without light nothing is to be seen. Eph. v. 13. "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light." Ministers are set to be lights to the souls of men in this respect, as they are to be the means of imparting divine truth to them, and bringing into their view the most glorious and excellent objects, and of leading them to, and assisting them in the contemplation of those things that angels desire to look into: the means of their obtaining that
knowledge is infinitely more important and more excellent and useful, than that of the greatest statesmen or philosophers, even that which is spiritual and divine: They are set to be the means of bringing men out of darkness into God's marvellous light, and of bringing them to the infinite fountain of light, that in his light they may see light: They are set to instruct men, and impart to them that knowledge by which they may know God and Jesus Christ, whom to know is life eternal.
Another use of light is to refresh and delight the beholders. Darkness is dismal: the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun. Light is refreshing to those who have long sat in darkness: They therefore that watch and keep awake through a dark night, long and wait for the light of the morning; and the wise man observes, Prov. xv. 30, "That the light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart." Spiritual light is especially refreshing and joyful. Psalm xcvii. 11. " Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." They that see the light of Christ, the star that hath arisen out of Jacob, are refreshed and do rejoice, as the wise men that saw the star that showed them where Christ was, Matth. ii. 10. "And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
Ministers are set in the church of God to be the instruments of this comfort and refreshment to the souls of men, to be the instruments of leading souls to the God of all consolation, and fountain of their happiness: they are sent as Christ was, and as co-workers with him, to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, and to comfort all that mourn: They are to lead those that "labour and are heavy laden" to their true rest, and to speak a word in season to him that is weary: They are set to be ministers of the consolation and joy of the saints. 2 Cor. i. 24. "We have not dominion over your faith; but are helpers of your joy."
The third use of light is to direct. "Tis by light that we see where to go: "He that walks in darkness knows not whither he goes," and is in danger of stumbling and falling into mischief. 'Tis by light that men see what to do, and are enabled to work; in the night Christ tells us no man can work. Ministers are set to be lights to men's souls in this respect also; as Zacharias observes of John the Baptist, Luke i. 79, "To guide our feet in the way of peace." Ministers have the record of God committed to them that they may hold that forth, which God has given to be to man as a light shining in a dark place, to guide them in the way through this dark world, to regions of eternal light. Ministers are set to be instruments of conveying to men that true wisdom spoken of Job xxviii. "Which cannot
be gotten for gold, nor shall silver be weighed for the price thereof; which cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire.
I proceed now to the
II. Thing proposed, viz. to show what is implied in a minister of the gospel's being a burning light.
There are these two things that seem naturally to be understood by this expression, viz. that his heart be filled with much of the holy ardour of a spirit of true piety; and that he be fervent and zealous in his administrations.
1. That his heart be full of much of the holy ardour of a spirit of true piety. We read of the power of godliness. True grace is no dull, inactive, ineffectual principle; it is a powerful thing; there is an exceeding energy in it; and the reason is, that God is in it; it is a divine principle, a participation of the divine nature, and a communication of divine life, of the life of a risen Saviour, who exerts himself in the hearts of the saints, after the power of an endless life. They that have true grace in them, they live; but not by their own life; but Christ lives in them: his Holy Spirit becomes in them a living principle and spring of divine life: the energy and power of which is in scripture compared to fire. Matth. iii 11. "I indeed baptize you with water; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." True piety is not a thing remaining only in the head, or consisting in any speculative knowledge or opinions, or outward morality, or forms of religion; it reaches the heart, is chiefly seated there, and burns there. There is a holy ardour in every thing that belongs to true grace: true faith is an ardent thing, and so is true repentance; there is a holy power and ardour in true spiritual comfort and joy; yea, even in true Christian humility, submission and meekness. The reason is, that divine love or charity is the sum of all true grace, which is a holy flame enkindled in the soul: It is by this therefore especially, that a minister of the gospel is a burning light; a minisister that is so has his soul enkindled with the heavenly flame; his heart burns with love to Christ, and fervent desires of the advancement of his kingdom and glory; and also with ardeut love to the souls of men, and desires for their salvation.
2. The inward holy ardour of his soul is exercised and manifested in his being zealous and fervent in his administrations: for, he is a burning light which implies that his spiritual heat and holy ardour is not for himself only, but is communicative and for the benefit of others: he is ardent, as he is a light, or in the performance of the duties of that office wherein he is set to be a light in the church of Christ. His fervent zeal, which has its
foundation and spring in that holy and powerful flame of love to God and man, that is in his heart, appears in the fervancy of his prayers to God, for and with his people; and in the earnestness and power with which he preaches the word of God, declares to sinners their misery, and warns them to fly from the wrath to come, and reproves, and testifies against all ungodliness; and the unfeigned earnestness and compassion with which he invites the weary and heavy laden to their Saviour; and the fervent love with which he counsels and comforts the saints; and the holy zeal, courage, and steadfastness, with which he maintains the exercise of discipline in the house of God, notwithstanding all the opposition he meets with in that difficult part of the ministerial work; and in the diligence and earnestness with which he attends every duty of his ministerial function, whether public or private.
But I hasten to the
II. Thing proposed in the handling of this subject, viz. To show what is implied in a minister's being a shining light.
There are three things that seem'to be naturally signified by it. 1. That he be pure, clear, and full in his doctrine. A minister is set to be a light to men's souls, by teaching, or doctrine : and if he be a shining light in this respect, the light of his doctrine must be bright and full; it must be pure without mixtures of darkness, and therefore he must be sound in the faith, not one that is of a reprobate mind; in doctrine he must show uncorruptness; otherwise his light will be darkness: He must not lead his people into errors, but teach them the truth only, guiding their feet into the way of peace, and leading them in the right ways of the Lord.
He must be one that is able to teach; not one that is raw, ignorant, or unlearned, and but little versed in the things that he is to teach others; not a novice or one that is unskilful in the word of righteousness; he must be one that is well studied in divinity, well acquainted with the written word of God, mighty in the scriptures, and able to instruct and convince gainsayers.
And in order to be a shining light he must be one that really knows what religion is; one that is truly acquainted with that Saviour and way of salvation, that he is to teach to others, that he may speak the things that he knows, and testify the things that he has seen, and not be a blind leader of the blind : He must be one that is acquainted with experimental religion, and not ignorant of the inward operations of the Spirit of God, nor of Satan's devices; able to guide souls under their particular difficulties. Thus he must be a scribe well instructed in things that pertain to the kingdom of God; one that brings forth out of his treasures, things new and old.
And in order to his being a shining light, his doctrine must be full, he must not only be able to teach, but apt to teach, ready to instruct the ignorant, and them that are out of the way, and diligent in teaching, in public and private; and careful and faithful to declare the whole counsel of God, and not keep back any thing that may be profitable to his hearers.
Also his being a shining light implies that his instructions are clear and plain, accommodated to the capacity of his hearers, and tending to convey light to their understandings.
2. Another thing requisite in order to a minister's being a shning light, is that he be discreet in all his administrations. The fervent zeal that thus should animate and actuate him in his administrations should be regulated by discretion: He should not only be knowing, and able to communicate knowledge and formed to do it; but also wise, and know how to conduct himself in the house of God, as a wise builder, and a wise steward. And as he is one that God hath sent forth to labour in his field, and committed the care of his vineyard to, so he should conduct himself there as one whom his God doth instruct to discretion: He should not only be as harmless as a dove, but as wise as a serpent; showing himself a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth; and one that knows how to govern the church of God, and to walk in wisdom towards those that are without.
3. Another thing implied in a minister's being a shining light, is that he shines in his conversation: If he shines never so much in his doctrine and administrations in the house of God, yet if there be not an answerable brightness in his conversation, it will have a tendency to render all ineffectual. Christ, in Matth. v. 14, 15, 16, says to his disciples (having undoubtedly a special respect to those of them that were to be sent forth to preach the gospel) Ye are the light of the world :-Men do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." And how does Christ direct them to give light to others? "Let your light," says he, "so shine before men, that others seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven." And he tells the same disciples again, John xv. 8, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." And how should they bring forth fruit? Christ tells them, verse 10, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love," and verse 14, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you."
God sent his Son into the world to be the light of the world these two ways, viz. By revealing his mind and will to the world, and also by setting the world a perfect example. So