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Duties of a Minister 2

28 Jun
DISCOURSE 2

“Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an

evangelist, make full proof thy ministry,” <550405>2 Timothy 4:5.

PART 1

In my discourse on the former part of the apostle’s charge to Timothy, I

considered the zeal which the ministers of the gospel should constantly

manifest for the salvation of souls; particularly in all the public duties of

their office, and by the improvement of every opportunity afforded them to

bear a testimony for God to the people of the world. We now proceed to

speak upon the remaining particulars of this solemn charge.

I. “Watch thou in all things.” The duty of watchfulness cannot be too

strongly impressed on every private Christian; for, without the constant

exercise of it, the life of God cannot possibly be preserved in the soul. But

to enlarge on the duty as it respects the private character would carry me

beyond the limits of a discourse; and therefore I shall chiefly consider it as it

belongs to the office of a minister of the gospel.

The spirit of our ministry is a spirit of separation from the world; of prayer

and secret intercession for the souls of men, and, especially for the church

of Christ; of labor; of firmness and fidelity; of knowledge; and of piety. Our

watchfulness, therefore, as ministers, should be particularly directed against

those things which oppose the above essential properties of the spirit of our

calling.

1. AGAINST THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD,

BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY

IS A SPIRIT OF SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD.

1 . That unction from above which reserves us, sanctifies us, sets us apart

for the ministry, (and if we have not received it we are no ministers,)

withdraws us also from all the other public functions of society; not that we

cease from being citizens of our country, or from the obedience and

submission due to the king, and all that are in authority — to the powers

that are; for “the powers which be are ordained of God,” <451301>Romans 13:1;

but the ministry of the word is become our great employment; the public

temples of God, “where his honor dwelleth,” are our places of public

resort; the visitation of the sick and the poor, and all the other works of

piety and charity, our subordinate tasks; and prayer and praise our

recreation and pleasure.

2 . All things then should be holy in a minister of the gospel, and separated

from common use. His tongue should only discourse of God: useless

conversations at least, however harmless in themselves, defile his tongue;

as, under the law, a holy vessel would have been defiled by common

meats. His eyes have entered into covenant not to behold vanity; or if they

do, they lose, without genuine repentance, the right of entering into the

interior of the tabernacle, to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus

Christ. In short, the whole person of a minister of Christ should be a living

example of true religion, which ought always to be surrounded with

decency, gravity, and respect.

3 . This, then, is the first point — to watch against the desire of worldly

things: for the cares, the solicitudes, the employments of the world, when

you enter into them, will rob you of your unction, however your natural or

improved talents may remain; and will not only profane, but in time entirely

destroy all the genuine virtue of your vocation, and bring you thoroughly

under the yoke of the world. The vessels and ornaments which were used

in the temple under the law were never appropriated to common use; it

would have been a crime which would have defiled their consecration: now

a minister of the gospel, consecrated to God by his own blessed Spirit, in a

manner infinitely more holy than that of the sacred vessels and ornaments

under the law, defiles and profanes abundantly more his consecration, if he

makes his person, his talents, his spirit, his heart, to serve to dead works

and the common employments of the world. O thou holy doctrine of the

cross, how little art thou known by those ministers who enter into the

affairs, agitations, and commotions of this miserable world! The apostle has

warned them in vain, that

“no man who warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this

life; that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier,”

<550204>2 Timothy 2:4.

Alas! these become principal actors on the stage of the world. The

dispensers of the truths and blessings of Heaven become the ministers of

carnal views and projects: those whom God has charged with the eternal

interests of the people, neglect them, and make it their glory to spend their

strength in carrying on worldly affairs.

2. WE MUST WATCH AGAINST THE LIGHT AND

TRIFLING SPIRIT OF THE WORLD, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT

OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF PRAYER AND

INTERCESSION.

Although it is the privilege of a faithful minister to have a river of peace

continually flowing in his soul, yet, paradoxical as it may appear, his life, at

the same time, is a life of prayer, lamentation, and complaint. The Prophet

Isaiah, on a prophetic view of the great millennium, “when all flesh should

come to worship before the Lord,” cried out,

“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her;

rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her,”

<236610>Isaiah 66:10, 23.

When we see so large a part of the inhabitants of the globe lying in the

wicked one, covered with heathen or Mohammedan darkness; — or, what

is still worse, when we see infidelity reigning in the midst of the blaze of

gospel day, it is impossible, if we breathe the true spirit of the gospel

ministry, but we shall be daily, yea, habitually praying between the porch

and the altar, with groanings which cannot be uttered. <290217>Joel 2:17;

<450826>Romans 8:26. Jesus Christ, the prince and model of ministers, wept over

Jerusalem, when he saw her hardened in her blindness. Yes, my brethren,

as long as Satan reigns upon earth, the true ministers of God will more or

less mourn and lament. As long as the children of Israel, on the plain,

employ themselves in dances and revels, forget the God of their fathers,

and madly prostitute their homage to the golden calf, the true Moseses on

the mountains will tear their garments — will break their hearts before the

Lord. “The world will rejoice,” says Christ to his apostles: its children will

run on dancing and sending forth cries of joy, till they precipitate

themselves into the abyss. Let their laughter and their sports be their

portion: let that holy sorrow which is consistent with constant joy in the

Holy Ghost be ours. The world, in the midst of which we live, will be

continually to us a spectacle of grief and concern; and even when they

persecute us not, though crosses and gibbets do not attend us, their entire

depravation will itself alone be an unexhausted source of lamentation before

God.

3. WE MUST WATCH AGAINST INDOLENCE, BECAUSE

THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF TOIL.

1. We fill a laborious office. The church of Christ upon earth is a vineyard,

a field, a harvest, a building which should be daily rising and growing to

perfection, and a holy warfare — all terms which announce cares and

fatigues; all symbols of labor and application.

2. This the time of a minister of the gospel is due to the church: all the days

and moments which he employs in the commerce of the world, in

dissipation, or in the vanities of worldly society, except where occasional

duties call him, are days and moments which were due to the salvation of

his fellow-creatures, and of which those souls which suffer through his

neglect will demand a strict account at the tribunal of Jesus Christ. By the

divine unction he has received, and by his devotion of himself to the

ministry — the church of Christ has acquired, a peculiar property in his

person, his leisure, his occupations, and his talents. These are all now

consecrated things, which form part of the property of the church of God.

He is only the depositary of them, and has no right to dispose of them at his

pleasure: he is responsible for them to God and his church. It is not for

himself that he has been numbered among the ministers of Christ, but for

the church, that he may bear his part in her toils and ministry. He degrades

the title she has given him when he abandons the labors she has appointed

for him: he ceases to be a minister, from the moment he ceases to be a

laborer: he spends in worldly commerce and frivolous occupations that time

on which rolls the salvation of the souls among whom he should have toiled

— that time on which depends the eternal destiny of his brethren — that

time to which God has attached the salvation of sinners, the strengthening

of the weak, and the perfecting of the strong. “May the Spirit of the Holy

One increase our zeal!”

4. WE MUST WATCH AGAINST THE BETRAYING OF OUR

TRUST — AGAINST UNFAITHFULNESS, BECAUSE THE

SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF FIRMNESS

AND FIDELITY.

1. We are appointed to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, in season and out of

season, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” The public vices should

always find us inflexible, inexorable. The countenance of a minister of

Christ should never blush at the reproaches which never fail to accompany

the liberty and faithful execution of his office. He bears written on his

forehead, with much more true majesty than the high priest of the law,

HOLINESS TO THE LORD, <022836>Exodus 28:36. The divine unction which the

Spirit of God has bestowed upon him for the ministry of the gospel is a

grace of strength and courage it inspires the soul marked by this divine zeal

with an heroic disposition, which raises it above its own natural weakness;

which puts into it noble, great, and generous sentiments, worthy of the

dignity of its ministry; and gives it an elevation of mind which raises it

above the fears, the hopes, — the reputation, — the reproaches, and every

thing else, which rule over and regulate the conduct of the generality of

men: yea, which bestows upon us that ministerial vigor and apostolic fire

which so gloriously manifested themselves in the founders and first heroes

of our divine religion.

2. Now this spirit of firmness and fidelity is precisely the character the

most opposed to the spirit of the world. For the spirit of the world is

continually shown in a commerce of attentions, complaisance, art, and

management: it seems to have hardly an opinion of its own: it can overlook,

if not applaud, an improper sentiment covered with art and delicacy: it can

bend, yea, accustom its ears to the witty, but cruel touches of smooth

malevolence; and can suffer, without reproof, rebuke, or exhortation, the

preference which is daily given to the gifts of nature over those of grace. In

short, the minister (so called) who will live in the bustle of the world, must

think, or at least speak, as the world does: he must not discover the firm

and serious spirit of a minister of God: if he did, he would soon become its

butt and its laugh; and all his worldly plans would be entirely defeated. No:

we, who should be the salt of the earth, would in such case be obliged to

lend ourselves, to accommodate ourselves, and to putrefy with the children

of this earth. We who are called to be the censors of the world, would soon

become in some sense its panegyrist: we, who should be the lights of the

world, would by our open suffrage, or by our base, dastardly silence,

perpetuate its blindness: in short, we, who should be instrumentally the

resource and salvation of the world, would miserably perish with it.

3. Nothing, my brethren, so softens the firmness and fidelity of the

ministerial spirit as the busy commerce of the world. We enter by little, and

imperceptibly, into its prejudices, its excuses, and all its vain reasonings.

The more we meddle with it, the less we find it culpable. We can at last

even plead for its softness, its idleness, its luxury, and its ambition. We

begin, like the world, to give soft names to all these passions and

indulgences; and that which confirms us in this new system of conduct is,

that we have the universal plaudit of worldly men; for they will give to our

baseness and cowardice the specious names of moderation, elevation of

spirit, and a talent for making virtue amiable; while they give to the contrary

conduct the odious names of littleness, rusticity, excess, and hardness of

heart, only fit to withdraw men from goodness, and render piety hateful or

contemptible. Thus we treat obligingly a world which gives to our baseness

and unfaithfulness all the honors due to prudence; and we believe it not to

be so guilty as is commonly imagined among believers, from the time we

love its esteem. For, alas! my brethren, there are too few of the Sauls and

Barnabases who would not relax from the truth, though they thereby caused

themselves to be stoned even by those people who, a few moments before,

would have offered incense to them as gods just descended from heaven!

4. The spirit of ministerial firmness and fidelity is therefore absolutely

incompatible with the busy commerce of the world: you will no more find

any thing there to reprove, in proportion as you familiarize yourselves with

those things which are reprehensible in it: you will lose the views of those

great rules of conduct which have governed the faithful ministers of God in

all the ages of the church: you will no longer cultivate those seeds of divine

science which, through grace, have helped to make you useful in the Lord’s

vineyard: the Scriptures, and the writings of the best divines, will became

strange and tiresome: you will soon have lost your taste for them; and you

will prefer to those serious studies, so conformable to your ministerial

duties, books which, to you, should be comparatively vain and frivolous;

but which render you more serviceable and agreeable to the world to which

you have delivered up yourself. These observations lead me to a fifth

reflection on this head; namely, that,

5. WE SHOULD WATCH AGAINST A NEGLECT

AND DISTASTE OF STUDY, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT

OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF DIVINE SCIENCE.

1. The lips of a minister of the gospel are the public depositories of the

doctrines of divine truth: we are required, like the prophet, to devour the

book which contains the law and the gospel, notwithstanding all the

bitterness which may accompany our studies and watchings: we must

nourish our souls with the bread of the word of God, as it were by the

sweat of our brow; and adorn our souls internally with the divine law, as

the Jewish priests adorned themselves eternally with their sacred garments.

The divine writings are the basis and substance of our gospel ministry,

which we may compare to the two great lights which God has set in the

firmament: like them, we should rule over the day and the night; over the

day, in guiding the faith and piety of believers; and over the night, in

clearing our minds from all darkness of error, and filling them with spiritual

light. We are the chief interpreters of the divine law and gospel, the guides

of the people, the seers and prophets appointed by Christ to clear their

doubts, and from the divine word to discover to them the whole will of

God.

2. But can these titles be supported in the hurry of worldly commerce?

Alas! nothing is so fatal as that to a taste for study and retirement. I am not

now speaking of profound studies, of sounding all the depths of antiquity

for the elucidation of the doctrines and discipline of Christianity, or of

furnishing the church of God with new and useful publications: these are

not the things which the spirit of your vocation exacts from you: these are

studies and talents manifested in an eminent degree by only a small number

of the wisest ministers whom God has raised up to be general lights of their

age. But I say that for those common, ordinary studies, which are

indispensably necessary to qualify a minister to “divide the word of truth

aright, and to give to each their portion of meat in due season;” in short, to

be in a situation to exercise his functions with light and success: I say that

for these studies he must have a spirit accustomed to think, to meditate, and

to be with and in himself; he must fly from that commerce with the world

which soon annexes to his books a weariness which is insupportable; he

must have a desire of increasing in divine knowledge; a character of mind

which is an enemy to frivolous employments; a habit of retirement and

reflection; an arrangement of life, whereby he can give an account to

himself of his progress, and whereby the moments set apart for the different

duties of his situation will always find them selves in their own place, and

conformable to their destination; in a word, a kind of uniform, occupied,

regulated life, which can in nowise have the least alliance with the perpetual

variations and derangements of a worldly life and conversation.

6. I SHALL FINISH THIS HEAD WITH ONE REFLECTION

MORE; NAMELY, THAT WE SHOULD WATCH AGAINST

THE LEAST ALIENATION OF OUR MINDS FROM GOD,

BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF

PIETY.

1. By this spirit of piety, I understand not only blamelessness of morals,

but that candor of conscience, that tenderness of religion, that taste of God,

that delicacy of soul, which the appearance alone of evil alarms. Behold that

spirit of piety, which is the soul and safeguard of our ministry!

2. We live, as it were, in a continual commerce with holy things. But what

a life of prayer, of retirement, of circumspection, of faith, and of rigorous

attention to the senses, ought we not to lead, that we may be always

prepared for our holy duties! All the dispositions, desires, and affections of

our hearts, should be purified, sanctified, consecrated by the unction of the

Holy Spirit, residing within us. How can we appear before the

congregation of the Lord, in their name to raise ourselves up to the footstool

of the eternal throne, there to humble ourselves with the dominions and

powers of heaven into a sort of self-annihilation, there to sing praises with

them to the majesty of God, when just before we were drawn a hundred

different ways through the dirt of the world? How can we in such case

ascend the pulpit, and manifest to the people all the seriousness and grief of

true zeal? With what grace can we speak of a death to the world, of

avoiding the dangers to which it exposes us, and the snares which Satan

there lays in our way, of the necessity of prayer, retirement, and

watchfulness, of the eye which should be plucked out, of the hand and foot

which should be cut off; <401808>Matthew 18:8, 9, of the account we must render

even for every idle word, <401236>Matthew 12:36, and in short of all those

crucifying maxims so unknown to the world, and so contrary to its

manners? To be good preachers of Jesus Christ, and of him crucified, we

must ourselves be fastened to the cross of Jesus Christ: to inspire a taste of

God, and the things of heaven, we must feel them ourselves: to touch the

hearts of the people, our own hearts must be touched with the living coal.

3. I grant, as observed in my former discourse, that our itinerant plan

keeps us at a considerable distance from the world in general. But among

the families which we visit, are there not, in most of them, some who do

not make even a profession of religion? How cautious should we then be

that we do not enter into their spirit, thereby hardening them against the

truth, and injuring the minds of those who are truly religious! And of our

own people, alas! all are not Israel who are of Israel. To such, instead of

indulging them in their vain conversation, how closely, how faithfully

should we speak, as being peculiarly responsible for their souls! If in a

family there be any mourners in Zion, how dangerous, how dreadful would

it be for such to hear any thing trifling from the lips of him to whom they

are looking for a word of comfort! No time can be lost in laboring to bring

such to Christ. All reading and study should be laid aside, while the

opportunity is afforded us of leading to the Savior’s blood an immortal soul

under the convincing operations of the Holy Spirit. Such occasions should

be peculiarly prized — occasions of fixing jewels of the highest value in our

crown of glory, for

“they that turn many to righteousness shall shine

as the stars for ever and ever,” <271203>Daniel 12:3.

Again, when we meet with souls which enjoy the love of God, how careful

should we be to feed them with spiritual food, — how careful to say

nothing which might injure the tender spiritual life within them, or grieve

that holy Comforter who has thus far brought them on their way to heaven!

But, especially, when we meet with those who have drunk deep of the

waters of life, and live in close fellowship with God, then we should

improve the precious moments for the welfare of our own souls; and from

their spiritual observations learn more to enlarge in our public addresses on

the most important of all subjects, Christian experience. Here is a field of

action! Here are opportunities for doing good! What mighty privileges do

we enjoy as traveling preachers! “May the Lord enable us to improve them

to the uttermost, for his glory and the salvation of millions!”

4. But I must here observe, once for all, that these discourses are

addressed only to ministers of the gospel. The private members of the

church of Christ have a different calling; and if they improve the means

which the Lord affords them, he will preserve them in the midst of all their

business; and use many of them in their respective stations in his church for

the advancement of his kingdom upon earth. One grand truth which I have

been laboring to establish is this, — that when any receive a full call to the

ministry, it is their duty to sacrifice every secular employment to it; and if

not, that divine unction which they received for their office — that peculiar

apostolic spirit which, according to their measure, was bestowed upon

them, and which none can comprehend but those who possess it, will soon

be extinguished; and they themselves will incur the guilt of unfaithfulness to

the vocation of God, in the high office to which he has called them, or in

which he has been pleased to station them.

PART 2

I now proceed to consider the next grand particular in the apostle’s charge

to Timothy: “Endure afflictions.”

1. We have reason to bless God that we are not called to suffer like the

faithful ministers of Christ in former ages. A spirit of civil and religious

liberty has accompanied even the spirit of infidelity; whereby the enemies of

revelation have, in a considerable degree, disarmed and incapacitated

themselves from injuring the church of God: and the earth has been made in

a wonderful manner to help the woman. <661216>Revelation 12:16. We have

succeeded to the ministry of that noble army of martyrs, who suffered “for

the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,” <662004>Revelation 20:4; and we

are sent forth like them as “sheep in the midst of wolves,” <401016>Matthew

10:16. No thanks are due to our opponents, if we be not persecuted like our

predecessors. If we had reason, like the martyrs of old, to fear the barbarity

of the enemies of our religion — if the most cruel torments were the only

recompense we could promise ourselves in this life for all our zeal and

labors, we also should be brought to the alternative of renouncing Jesus

Christ, and the sacred ministry with which he has honored us, or to face

these dangers with holy joy. But, on the contrary, what in comparison have

we to suffer? Only the insults occasionally of the vilest of the people, which

will not touch even the skirts of our clothes, if we suffer them not to affect

our hearts; and those crosses which are indispensably necessary to keep us

at the feet of Jesus Christ, and to render us fit instruments for His service

who will not give his glory to another.

2. If we will be disciples, much more ministers of Christ, we must daily

take up his cross. Without this, he refuses to acknowledge us as his

disciples, or to make us partakers of that glory into which he entered not

himself but by the way of the cross.

“Whosoever doth not bear his cross, says Christ,

“and come after me, cannot be my disciple,” <421427>Luke 14:27.

“If [we be] children,” says St. Paul, “then heirs; heirs of God, and

joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may

be also glorified together,” <450817>Romans 8:17.

1 . But, perhaps, you will say,” I am too weak to endure afflictions.” Alas!

it is because we are weak; because the least disappointment in our favorite

pursuit makes us revolt against the will of Providence; because

contradiction raises our anger, or commendation and success our vanity and

pride, that the Lord sees it necessary we should pass through tribulation and

trials.

2. In short, what is it to be weak in the present sense of the word? It is to

love ourselves excessively: it is to live more by nature than by faith: it is to

suffer ourselves to be conducted by the vivacity of our own natural

inclinations, and not by the wisdom from above. Now, with this excessive

fund of self-love, if the Lord were not to manage our weakness, and to

humble us by affliction; if he did not strike our bodies with some habitual

languor, to render the world insipid to us; if he did not prepare for us some

losses in our substance; if he did not defeat some of our most favorite

projects; if he did not place us in such situations, that the most trying and

yet unavoidable duties should fill up our happiest hours; if he were not to

raise up a against us opposition by false brethren or by true brethren in a

word, if he were not to fix between us and our weakness some kind of

barrier, which might be strong enough to arrest and retain us, we should

soon be deceived by our false peace and prosperity; we should soon be

without a bridle for ourselves or our desires. The same weakness and selflove

which make us so sensible of trials and afflictions would make us still

more sensible of; and less prepared for, the dangers of pleasure and

prosperity.

3. If; therefore, we be discouraged under trials and afflictions, let us not

endeavor to excuse ourselves, by saying we are weak. The weakness of our

hearts arises only from the weakness of our faith; the soul of a Christian

should be a strong soul, proof against persecutions, reproaches, infirmities,

and death itself. The Christian may be oppressed, but he cannot be

subdued; you may snatch from him his goods, his reputation, his whole

fortune, yea, his life itself; but you cannot rob him of the treasure of faith

and grace which lies at the bottom of his heart; and abundantly compensates

for all his frivolous and temporary losses: you may, perhaps, make him

shed tears of sensibility and sorrow, for religion does not extinguish the

feelings of nature; but his heart in an instant resists, disavows, as it were,

his weakness, and turns even his tears into tears of piety. What shall I say?

A Christian rejoices even in tribulations; he regards them as marks of the

benevolence and watchful providence of him God, as precious sureties of

future promises, and as the happy characters of his resemblance of Jesus

Christ.

4. All the precepts of the gospel require strength from above; and if we

have not sufficient to support the crosses which the Lord is pleased to lay

upon us, we have not sufficient for those other duties which the gospel

prescribes. It requires strength of grace to pardon an injury; to speak all the

good we can of those who calumniate us; or to hide the defects of those

who would destroy our reputation or usefulness. It requires strength of

grace to fly from a world which allures us; to snatch ourselves from

pleasures, or to oppose inclinations, which would draw us into evil; to

resist customs to which the usage of the world has given the authority of

laws or to use prosperity in a Christian spirit. It requires strength of grace to

conquer ourselves; to repress the rising desire; to stifle the pleasing

sentiments; continually to recall to the strict rules of the gospel a heart which

is so given to wander. In short, were we to review all the precepts of the

gospel, there would not be one which does not suppose a strong and

generous soul, fortified by grace. Throughout it is necessary that we do

violence to ourselves. The kingdom of God is a field, which must be

cleared and rooted up; a vineyard, in which we must bear the heat and

burden of the day; a career, in which we must perpetually and valiantly fight

the battles of the Lord. In a word, the whole life of a true disciple of Jesus

Christ bears the character of the cross; and if we lose for an instant this

strength of grace, we fall. To say then that you cannot endure afflictions

because you are weak, is to say that you are destitute of the spirit of the

gospel.

5. But, besides this, my brethren, however weak we may really be, we

should have a confidence in the goodness of our God, that he will never

prove, afflict, or try us beyond our strength; that he always proportions the

afflictions to our weakness; that he gives his chastisements, as he does his

judgments, in weight and measure; that in afflicting he wills not to destroy

us, but to purify and save us, and qualify us for greater usefulness in his

church; that he who aids us, himself bears the crosses which he himself

imposes upon us; that he chastises us as a father, and not as a judge; that the

same hand which strikes us, supports us; that the same rod which gives the

wound, brings the oil and the honey to soften it. He knows the character of

our hearts, and how far our weakness goes; and, as in afflicting us his will

in Christ Jesus is our sanctification, <520403>1 Thessalonians 4:3, he knows how

far to weigh his hand, and lay the burden upon us.

6. Alas! What other design can our gracious Lord have in afflicting his

ministers and disciples? Is he a cruel God, who takes pleasure in the

sufferings of his servants? Is he a barbarous tyrant, who finds his grandeur

and safety only in the tears and blood of the subjects who adore him? It is

then for our benefit alone that he punishes and chastises us; his tenderness

suffers, if I may so speak, from our woes; and yet his love is so just and

wise, that he still leaves us to suffer, because he foresees that by

terminating our afflictions he would in the end increase our misery, and

prevent our usefulness and glory. He is like a skillful surgeon, who has

pity indeed on the cries and sufferings of his patient, and yet cuts to the

quick all that he finds corrupted in the wound; he is never more kind or

beneficent to his servants than when he appears to be most severe; and it is

indubitably evident that afflictions are necessary and useful to us, since a

God so good and so kind can resolve to lay them upon us. We read in the

histories of the martyrs, how weak girls could set at defiance all the

barbarity of tyrants! how children, before they were able to support the

labors of life, could run with joy to meet the rigors of the most dreadful

deaths! how old men, sinking already under the weight of their bodies,

seemed, by their cries of triumph, to feel their youth renewed like that of an

eagle, in the midst of the torments of slow martyrdoms! And are you weak,

my brethren? Then that weakness itself if you be faithful to the grace of

God, will bring glory to the faith and religion of Jesus Christ. It is on that

account that the Lord has chosen you, to make known in you and by you

how much stronger grace is than nature. He

“hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;

and hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things

which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which

are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to

bring to naught the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his

presence,” <460127>1 Corinthians 1:27-29.

7. If you were born with any spiritual strength, you would do no honor to the

power of grace; that patience which is now the pure gift of God, would then

be justly attributed to man. Thus, in a sense, the weaker we are, the fitter

instruments we become for the designs and glory of God. He delights to

choose the feeble for his greatest purposes, that man may attribute nothing

to himself; and that the vain constancy of the wise and the philosophers may

be confounded by their example. His first disciples were but feeble lambs

when he sent them into the world, and exposed them in the midst of

wolves. These are the earthen vessels which the Lord is pleased to break,

like those of Gideon, that in them the light and power of faith might shine

with greater splendor and magnificence. And if you enter into the designs of

his mercy and wisdom, your weakness, which in your eyes justifies your

murmurs or unfaithfulness, would prove one of the sweetest consolations

of your trials.

8. “Lord,” you would say to him all your days, “I ask not that proud

reason or philosophy, which seeks all the consolations of its pains in the

glory of suffering with constancy. I ask not that insensibility of heart which

either feels not its miseries, or despises them. Give me, Lord, that sweet

simplicity, that tender sensible heart, which appears so little fit to support its

tribulations and trials: only increase thy comforts and thy graces. Then, the

weaker I appear in the eyes of men, the greater wilt thou appear in my

weakness; and the more will the children of this world admire the power of

faith, which alone can raise the feeblest and most timid souls to that point of

constancy and firmness which philosophy has never been able to attain.”

“Endure,” therefore, “afflictions.”

II. 1. Nothing is more common, than for ministers and private professors

to justify their murmurs or unfaithfulness, by the character or peculiarity of

the afflictions themselves. We easily persuade ourselves that we could bear

crosses of another nature with resignation; but those which the Lord has

laid upon us are of such a character as can yield no consolation; that the

more we examine what passes among men, the more singular we find our

trials or afflictions to be, and our situation almost without example.

2. But to remove this feeble defense — of self-love, so unworthy of

genuine faith, I would answer, That the more extraordinary our trials or

afflictions are, the more clearly may we discover the hand of Providence in

them; the more evidently may we observe the secret designs of a God ever

attentive to our interests; the more may we presume, that under such new

events he conceals new views and singular designs of mercy, for the

welfare of our souls, and for our future usefulness in his church.

3. Now, what is the most powerful consolation under trials and afflictions?

“God sees me.” He counts my sighs; he weighs my afflictions; “he puts my

tears in his bottle;” he blesses the whole to my present sanctification and

usefulness in his church, and to my eternal happiness. Since I have felt his

heavy hand upon me, in so singular a manner that there seemed to be no

resource remaining here below, I feel myself more than ever under his

immediate inspection. O! if I had enjoyed a more tranquil situation, his eyes

would not have been upon me as they are at present; perhaps I should have

been forgotten, and confounded among those who have their portion in this

world. Lovely sufferings! which, in depriving me of all human succor,

restore to me my God, and make him my refuge and resource through his

blessing. Precious afflictions! which, in making me forget the creatures,

have rendered me, through the co-operation of rich and suffering grace, a

continual object of the remembrance and mercies of my Lord!

4. But is there any one among us who wishes that he may not be called to

endure afflictions? Alas! take care that the Lord does not hear thee in his

wrath: take care that he does not punish thee in granting thee thy desire; that

he does not find thee unworthy of his temporal afflictions; for

“whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,

and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” <581206>Hebrews 12:6.

5. To all these truths, so consoling to an afflicted soul, I could still add, my

brethren, that if our pains and trials appear excessive, it is only through the

excess of corruption in our affections, which gives strength to our

sufferings: our losses or afflictions become so grievous to us, only through

those attachments which bind us to external objects; and the excess of our

sorrows or chagrin is always the excess of an unjust love of the creatures.

Alas, brethren, the woes and afflictions of others are too often nothing in

our eyes. We do not observe that the trials of thousands around us are

greater than our own; that our afflictions have innumerable resources,

which theirs have not; that in our habitual infirmities, or in our trials in the

church, we find in the number of persons who are still attentive to our

wants, an abundance of comforts denied to others — when we have lost a

warm and faithful friend, we have many ways to soften our bitterness:

when persecuted by our relations or families, we can find in the tenderness

an confidence of our friends and brethren, attentions and kindness which

we found not at home. In short, we have an abundance of human sources

of satisfaction, to compensate for our trials; and if we put into the scale, on

one side our comfort, and on the other our afflictions, we shall find that our

comforts, if improved, far overbalance our sorrows,

BESIDE THE CONSOLATIONS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.

6. Truly, my brethren, it is not only the excessive love of ourselves, but

hardness of heart toward our fellow creatures, which magnifies in our eyes

our own afflictions. Let us daily enter under the unfurnished and miserable

roofs of the poor, where shame frequently conceals miseries the most

frightful and affecting: let us go to those asylums of wretchedness, where

calamities seem to be heaped together: it is there we shall learn what we

ought to think of our own afflictions: it is there that touched with the excess

of so many and great miseries, we shall blush to have given names to the

lightness of our own: it is there that our murmurs an unfaithful attentions

will change into expressions, and into the very spirit of gratitude and

thankfulness: and, less occupied with the thoughts of those light crosses

which we bear, than with the many from which we have been delivered, we

shall almost begin to fear the indulgence of our God, so far from

complaining of his severity. Endure,” therefore, “afflictions.”

III. 1. I will conclude this head of the apostle’s charge with the following

important reflection: That God, in all the trials and afflictions which he lays

upon, or suffers to happen to, his zealous ministering servants, has but two

ends in his view and in his gracious intention; first, their sanctification and

eternal happiness; secondly, their usefulness in his church. Every thing he

permits or does for them here below, he does it, or permits it, only to

facilitate these gracious designs: every agreeable or afflictive event which

any way concerns them, he has prepared for them, to make them more

holy, useful, and eternally glorious. All his plans concerning them have

reference to these purposes alone: all that they are in the order of nature,

their birth, their talents, the age in which they live, their friends, and their

vocation — all these, in his views of mercy toward them, and mercy toward

the world, have entered into his divine impenetrable designs for the eternal

salvation of themselves and others; and not all the powers of earth and hell,

no, NONE BUT THEMSELVES, can possibly defeat or counteract them. All this

visible world itself was only made for the world which is to come: all that

passes here has its secret connection with eternity: all that which we see is

only the figure of things invisible. This world would not be worthy of the

care of an infinitely wise and merciful God, but as far as, by secret and

wonderful connections, its various revolutions tend to form that church in

the heavens, that immortal assembly of the redeemed, where he will be

eternally glorified: he acts not in time but for eternity; and he is in this the

great model which we should in ever thing follow.

2. “Ah! When shall it be, O our God, that our souls, raised by faith above

all the creatures, shall no more adore but thee in and through them all; shall

no more attribute to them events, of which thou alone, in thy immediate or

permissive providence, art the author; shall acknowledge in all the various

situations in which thou hast placed us the adorable conduct and wisdom of

thy providence; and in the midst of crosses themselves shall taste that

unutterable peace which the world and all its pleasure can never bestow!”

3. Religion alone, my brethren, can afford us solid comfort under all our

trials and afflictions. Philosophy may stop our complaints, but can never

truly soften our grief. The world may stupefy our anxiety, but can never

heal it; and in the midst of all its employments or amusements, the secret

sting of sorrow will remain always deeply plunged in the bottom of the

heart. God alone can prove the effectual comforter of all our pains; and is

there need of any other for the faithful soul? Weak mortals, by their vain

discourse and ordinary language of tenderness and compassion, may speak

to the ears of the body; but it is the God of all consolation who alone knows

how to speak to the heart.

4. It would perhaps be presumption in me to call any afflictions heavy

which I have experienced; and it was probably owing to my want of grace,

that they to me appeared to be great. But I can bless God that ever I was

tried and afflicted; and hardly know for which to thank him most, his

disguised or undisguised mercies. O how he has broken my stubborn will,

and humbled my proud heart, and moderated my ambitious views, (though

all seemed to be for his glory,) by trials and afflictions! And I doubt not but

many of my brethren, as well as myself, (though not in the same degree

with me, because they did not equally need it,) can bear testimony to the

grace and power of God in the use of this profitable. means. Let us, then,

my brethren,

“endure afflictions:” let us “take unto us the whole armour of God,

that we may be able to withstand in the evil day;

and having done all, to stand,” <490613>Ephesians 6:13.

5. “O God, it is thou alone who canst support us under all our trials: we are

weakness itself without thee. It is thy grace alone which can sanctify the

means, and make our afflictions profitable. Lord, teach us to depend wholly

upon thee: it is with thee alone we desire to forget all our trials, all our

pains, all the creatures. But, alas! too often have we wished that the foolish

projects of our own hearts should serve as the rule of thine infinite wisdom!

We have wandered, and been lost in our thoughts: our imaginations have

formed a thousand flattering dreams; our hearts have run after phantoms.

We have desired more favor from men, more health of body, more talents,

more glory, as if we had been wiser and better acquainted with our true

interests than thou, O omniscient Lord God! We have not entered, as we

might, into the gracious designs of thy love in our favor. But O! from this

time thou shalt be our only comforter; and we will seek, in the meditation of

thy holy law, those solid and lasting consolations which the creatures can

never afford. Lord, take us into thyself; be thou the joy of our hearts, be

thou the delight of our eyes, be thou our portion for ever! Even so, Lord

Jesus. Amen.”

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