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II. Hence, people should endeavor to choose such for their ministers, whose labors they may hope God will bless for the conversion and edification of souls. It is certain that those who are vested with the ministerial office ought to be men of peculiar qualifications; men of learning. The work calls for the most eminent accomplishments : and whether grace be essential to a minister of the gospel, or not; it is certainly a most desirable qualification. And I may add, singularly useful in a minister, both for the performing his duty, and the success of his work. This is absolutely necessary, for a minister's saving himself, and most useful in order to his saving of others. I fully accord with those whose sentiments are, that none should be devoted to, or vested with this holy office, but such as there is reason to hope are by nature, study, yea and grace prepared for it, and are like to be faithful in it. Lay hands sudilenly on no man." These also should first be proved, yea, and found such, as we may judge will be faithful to their trust. “ The saine commit thou unto faithful men, who shall be able to teach others,” 2 Tim. ii. 2.
JII. Hence, the faithful ministers of the gospel ought more than a little to be accounted of, and esteemed. There is double honor due to them that rule well, and labor in the word and doctrine, 1 Tim. v. 17. The apostle's words are very emphatical: 1 Thess. v. 12, 13. “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you ; and to esteem them very highly in love for their works' sake. The words in the Greek carry such an emphasis as cannot well be expressed in the English; importing esteem and love, even to an hyperbole. And since God makes such use and improvement of them, in the converting and edification of souls : why should it not be so? It is not to be looked upon as strange, that the apostle speaking of the preacher's being so instrumental in the matter of faith, does upon it add, “ As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things,” Rom. x. 14, 15. It is pity that any of them should be despised or undervalued. Sure I am, that He that employs them takes notice of it, and accounts the indignities, or affronts that are done unto them, as done unto himself. “ He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you, despiseth me, and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me,” Luke x. 16.
IV. We may inser a reason why Satan is so maliciously set against the ministers of the gospel. So he has been, and so he is, and so he is like to be. He that was at Joshua's right hand to resist him, is at every faithful minister's elbow to oppose bim : so he is when the minister is in his study ; so he is when the minister is in the pulpit : and who can tell all the stratagems, all the devices of the evil one, for the impeding us in our work? How often does he endeavor to intimidate our spirits, and make us afraid? How often to roil us with passion ? And how does he sometimes almost quite discourage us ? Alınost ready with Jonah, to run away from our charge ; and to say with Jeremiah, that we will not make mention of him, or speak any more in his name. And if things go well, yet are we not out of danger; for how does he then endeavor to puff us up with pride in some degree or other? Nor is this to be wondered at, since the blessed God improves the ministers of the gospel for the good of souls. And Satan is a most bitter enemy to precious immortal souls. Ministers endeavor to save them; and the devil to destroy them : if there be any thing that that infernal spirit can take pleasure in, it is to ruin souls, and bring them into the same condemnation with himself.
V. Hence we see, what need the ministers of the gospel do stand in of the prayers of God's people. Christians, there are no greater objects of pity and prayers in the whole world than the ministers of Christ. o, brethren, think upon the importance of their work; the difficulties which they have to conflict withal : how much they are opposed by earth and hell. The account which they have to give; and then realize their weakness and infrmities; and see if it will melt you into compassion towards them. There is not one minister of the gospel in this assembly, but asks your prayers, but whose language is, “ Brethren, pray for us." O be importunate with God, that he would pour abundanıly of his Spirit upon them, that his Thummim and his Urim may be with his holy ones, that the Lord would be with them, and make their labors successful, for the conversion and edification of souls ; the more people pray for their ministers, the more good are they like to obtain by them. And as I would request the prayers of this assembly for all of us, who are in the ministry ; so particularly, and especially the prayers of the church and people of God in this place for him, who is this day to take the ministerial charge. Who is by and by to be set apart to the service of God, in the gospel of his Son, by solemn prayer, and the imposition of the hands of the presbytery : be speaks to you in that language, Rom. xv. 30. “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me."
VI. We may also collect the sad condition of those who are without the ministry of the word. It is a certain truth, that a famine of hearing the word of the Lord, is worse than a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, Amos viii. 11. With what compassion was our Saviour moved, when he saw the inultitude scattered abroad, “as sheep without a shepherd,” Matt. ix. 36. I
have read an account that one gives, when preaching was suppressed at Rome, that letters were framed as coming from hell
, wherein the devil gave them thanks for the multitude of souls sent to him that year. Souls go fast enough to hell under the preaching of the word; but O how fast do they go where there is none!“ where there is no vision, the people perish,” Prov. xxix. 18. What pity then is it, that people should refuse it when offered to them. O let the towns who are without it, get it by all means, and endeavor to be as they should, in attending upon it. Therefore,
VII. How conscientious and careful should people be in attending upon the gospel ministry! How are the ministers of the gospel like to be serviceable in the converting and for the edification and building up of souls, if people are not careful to wait upon their ministry. Let none therefore forsake the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of too many is. Do not be absent from the public worship upon small or trivial occasions ; do not let a little rain, or snow or cold, keep you at home. this to set light by that which God has made the means for conversion and edification of your souls ? Shall God find a mouth to speak, and man not an ear to hear? It is not good to balk the known and ordinary methods of grace ; those that are truly godly will be careful not to do so. It is the inseparable property of a sincere soul, to “ love the habitation of God's house, and the place where his bonor dwells;” to be glad when it is said to them, “ Let us go into the house of the Lord ;” and there the man is in the way of a blessing, in the way to life: “ Blessed is the man that beareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors; for whoso findeth me, findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord,” Prov. viii. 34, 35.
VIII. How ought sinners to do what they can to have the gospel ministry advantageous and effectual to their conversion ; ihough its being thus beneficial depends entirely upon the divine blessing, yet we must (as has been hinted already) do our uttermost. And who are there, but might do more than they do? To quicken you, I might say, what multitudes remain unconverted under the gospel ministry. Our Lord in the parable, Matt. xiii, 1-9, gives us to understand, that among four sorts of bearers, one only is good. The most remain unconvinced, unenlightened, unconverted. I might remind you also, how long you have lived under the ministry of the word, how many years He that has planted you in his vineyard, has come and sought fruit, but found none, Luke xiii. 6. I might also suggest to you, how that if the gospel ministry be not a means of your conversion, it is to be feared that nothing will. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one arose from the dead. If our gospel be bid, it is hid to them that are lost," 2 Cor. iv. 3. They are like to be finally lost, to whom the gospel ministry is not blessed to save! And once more, realize the dreadfulness of their condition who continue impenitent and unconverted under the gospel. It will certainly be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment, than for such, Matt. xi. 24. The worst of heathen will fare better in the day of judgment, ihan such as these. Oh then ! do what in you lies towards your being converted under the gospel dispensations, which you are the subjects of. Come to the word to be converted by it ; and be importunate with God, that it may be blessed to you for this : and remember to pray for your minister as often as you come. It was the expression of a considerable person, “ He that comes to a sermon and does not pray for the preacher, is like one that sils down to his food without asking a blessing." But when sinners do what they can, then are they in a proximity to conversion ; though not converted, yet in a hopeful way to be so. A divine power is requisite hereto; and when sinners are in the way of their duty, then are they most likely to experience and feel that power. Up, therefore, and be doing, and the Lord be with you,
IX. Hence, Christians should be much in examining themselves, how they profit under the gospel ministry ; does God use and improve this ministry, as for the conversion of sioners, so also for the edification and building up of bis saints? Then how do you Christians grow in grace under the means of grace? Do you go backward or forward in religion ? Self-examination is a duty to be attended, not only now and then, but we are to be most frequent in it: let it then be part of our daily exercise, that so we may see what ground we get or lose. And if we can find our souls in any measure edified and built up, we cannot be sufficiently thankful; and let us go on towards perfection ; let us, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before, press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Phil. iii. 13, 14. But if we find ourselves under any spiritual decays, how deeply ought we to be humbled before God! How earnest and importunate in our seeking to him, that he would revive his work in us, that he would quicken us in his way! That to be sure must be minded, Rev. ii. 5. “Remember from whence thou art fallen and repent, and do the first works.”
X. 'Hence God must have the glory, when any souls are profited by the gospel ministry. Ministers, when any thing of this nature is conspicuous and to be taken notice of, must give the glory to God : that must be their language, “ Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory,” Ps. cxv. 1. Thus did he, 1 Cor. xv. 10. " Í labored more abundantly than
they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." And people must give the glory of every thing of this nature to God. Not to the minister : though they ought to have a very tender regard for those ministers whom God hath made instrumental for their conversion and edification ; (they are their spiritual fathers, and a very great value they ought to have, yea, they will have for them ;) but yet as the good they have experienced by them, was from the divine blessing, so the praise of all must be entirely ascribed to the divine being.
XI. How ought such as God is calling to, and are engaging in the ministerial work, to do it in the strength of heaven ; and with an entire dependence on help from above? Verily, they that are like to be most serviceable in this work, will be most humble in their own eyes, will have the greatest sense of their own nothingness ; and after all their study and pains ; after their learning and knowledge; after all their attainments and qualifications, their language will be agreeable with that, “ Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? I will go in the strength of the Lord; I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. If thy presence go not with me, carry me not up hence: but if the Lord will be with me, and prosper me in the work that I go about, praise shall wait for thee, O God, and unto thee shall the vow be performed."
XII. Is it as you have heard? Let those of us whom God has put into the ministry, with an entire dependence upon Heaven, endeavor, and this more and more, the conversion, edification, yea, and salvation of souls : let us be sure to see to it, that we ourselves are converted, that so when we have preached unto others, we ourselves may not be castaways. When we have been made keepers of the vineyard, may not be found not to have kept our own vineyard. And let us use all possible means and endeavors, that ourselves be edified ; that ourselves be built up in our most holy faith ; that we ourselves be lively and thriving Christians ; and then let us do our uttermost to convert and edify, and save others. Let us endeavor to be so in our studies, so in our pulpits, so in our visits, so in our whole conversation, that we may be in the way to attain this great end. In our studies let us be most diligent, that so we may provide the most agreeable doctrines, find out such acceptable words as may both please and profit. In our pulpits let us be vigorous; in our visits, advantageous : and in our whole walk and deportment, most circumspect and exemplary ; and if God will please to make us useful, and any way advantageous in the converting, and for the edification and building up of souls, as he will have glory, so we shall, as