« PreviousContinue »
but merely a servant in it, who desired to be regarded by them no farther than he could prove that he spake in a greater name than his own.
Let a man, says he, so esteem of us as ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, of whom the great thing required is, that we be found faithful to him whose cominission we bear. Nor did they ever pretend that this extraordinary character of messengers from heaven gave them any claim to secular power on earth; they assumed no authority in temporals in order to spirituals; and they were not penetrating enough to understand the doctrine of the Two swords *, with which many have since been so fond of meddling, I fear to their own wounding, as well as to the dishonour of the christian name, and the destruction of many of their fellow-creatures. The weapons of the apostle's warfare were not carnal, but spiritual, as it was necessary they should be, in order to the bringing every thought into subjection to the law of Christ t. Which Jeads me to pass on from this negative part of their character, to observe, that as they did not preach themselves, so as to make their own reputation, or interest, or dominion the end of their labours; so,
2. They faithfully devoted their ministry to the service of Christ.
We preach Christ Jesus the Lord; which plainly intimates, that they made Christ the great object of their preaching, and that they endeavoured to speak of him in such a manner, as to promote his empire over the hearts and consciences of men.
They made Christ the great subject of their preaching.
So they declare, We preach Christ crucified, though to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness I. At Corinth in particular, curious as it was, the apostle declares, I determined to know, i. e. to make known, and insist upon nothing among you save Jesus Christ, even that crucified person $; with whatever scorn and contempt such a subject might be treated. And therefore it is observable, that preaching Christ is sometimes used as a comprehensive expression for all that the apostles taught. Not that Paul or his brethren neglected the great doctrines of natural religion, which are so evidently the foundation of the gospel itself, that it is perfect madness to pour contempt upon them. We might in reason conclude, as we find it to have been fact, that when they came amongst gentile and idolatrous nations, they began with asserting the being and
1 1 Cor. i. 23.
* Luke xxii. 38.
+ 2 Cor. x. 4.5. $ 1 Cor. ii, 2. Kai TYTO' sçaupape EVOY •
attributes of the only true God, the universality of his providence, and that certainty of a state of future retribution, which is so naturally connected with it. All this they taught ; but they did not stop here, for they well knew that it was their duty to make these things the plan on which to raise that glorious superstructure which christianity hath built upon them. They served God with their spirit in the gospel of his Son, and therefore proclaimed the glory of the Father, as reflected froin the face of Christ Jesus the Lord.
They established the truth of his deity, the mystery of his incarnation, the necessity of his atonement, the perfection of his righteousness, the riches of his grace. They described him as living on earth an example of universal goodness, as dying on the cross a sacrifice for sin, as rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven, and as reigning there the Lord of universal nature, and Head over all to the church * You cannot but know, that these are the darling topics on which they most copiously insist in their sermons and writings which are transmitted to us : and if St. Paul at Athens + seems to touch more sparingly than usual on these important doctrines, it is to be considered, that we have only the beginning of a discourse, in which the rudeness of the philosophers interrupted him, before he could proceed to open and establish those doctrines which were peculiar to his character as an ambassador of Jesus. And I am persuaded, that whoever impartially peruses the epistles of that great apostle, and observes not only his direct arguments, but his lively and pathetic digressions on this glorious subject when it comes in his way, will not only see that Paul was delighted with it, but will himself be disposed to wish that every christian minister may copy after this great original. Especially when it is considered,
That he and his brethren preached Christ in such a manner as might most effectually establish his empire over the hearts and consciences of men.
We preach Christ Jesus the Lord, i. e. We preach him under the character of the great Lord, the ruler and governor of his church. They very well knew, that the design of christianity was not merely to amuse the world, but to reform it: and that its sublimest speculations were received and admitted in vain, if the life were not regulated, and the heart subdued by the gospel. Therefore do they on all occasions inculcate it, that God had exalted Christ to be a prince as well as a Saviour I;
* Eph. i. 22.
+ Acts. xvi. 22---31.
# Acts v. 31.
had ordained, and even sworn in his holiness, that Every knee should bow unto him*. These good men did not think it enough to declare the grace of the gospel, and then leave it to the Spirit of God, by his own immediate agency, to draw the proper consequences relating to duty ; but they expressly draw those consequences themselves, and enter into a very large and particular detail of those duties. They insist upon it with great spirit and earnestness, as a Faithful saying, that those who have believed in God, should be careful to maintain good works, and direct succeeding ministers to affirm it constantly +. They declared, that it was the very purpose for which the Saving grace of God had appeared unto all men, to teach them to deny ungodliness and wordly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly I. They urge christians, therefore to Yield themselves to God as alive from the dead, and to employ their members as instruments of righteousness s. Beseeching them by the mercies of God to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which was indeed their most reasonable service | Nor did they think it beneath the honour of the evangelical ministry, sometimes to insist on arguments taken from the terrors of the law. Knowing those terrors, they laboured to persuade men by them; they affectionately warned them, that The ground, which under divine cultivation, brought forth nothing but briars and thorns, was nigh unto cursing, and its end was to be burned (; that to those who did not Obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, there remained a certain fearful expectation of wrath, and fiery indignation, which should devour them, yea, that they should be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power **. This was the apostolic method of preaching Christ, so Warning every man, and teaching every man, as that they might, through the divine blessing, most probably hope to present every man perfect in Christ; that having their fruit un!o holiness, their end might be everlasting life ft.
You see I have generally expressed these things in scripture language, that the illustration and proof might advance together. And if we desire to approve ourselves faithful in the same cause, we must conduct our ministration thus, and must also imitate these good men in the third particular of their conduct, which alone now remains to be considered from these words: which is,
* Rom. xiv. 11. g Heb. vi. 8.
+ Tit. iii. 8. # Tit. ii. 11, 12. Rom. vi. 13. || Rom. xii. 1. ** 2Thess, i. 8,9. Heb. x. 27. # Col. i. 28. Rom. vi. 22.
3. That they endeavoured to serve their great master, by the most bumble and affectionate condescension to those that were committed to their care.
So far were they from lording it over their brethren, that according to the example and command of Christ himself, they owned themselves the servants of all: nor was it merely an empty compliment, for their actions spoke it as well as their words; they exercised great humility and condescension towards all, and they did it for Jesus sake.
They exercised great humility and condescension towards all their brethren, not excepting even the meanest of them.
To this Paul frequently exhorts others : Mind not high ihings, but condescend to men of low estate *. In love serve and be subject to one another, and let each esteem others better than himself. Thus be advised, and thus he acted, and his brethren, no doubt, behaved like him. They well knew their calling as christians, and plainly saw, that Not many mighty, not many noble, were called, but that God had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty ; that he had Chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of a kingdom of eternal glory +. And if God would stoop thus low, they were cordially willing to do it. They could discern a dignity in a child of God, and an heir of glory, which shone through all their poverty and meanness in their dress, and outward
appearance ; inconsiderable circumstances, which could not prevent these holy men from Honouring them that feared the Lord I, though they might want some of those decorations which the vilest of mankind may wear, and perhaps to their greater infamy.
St. Paul was a memorable instance of this amiable temper; though by his education fit for higher company, and from his early years accustomed to it, he did not disdain the meanest of the people, and was not only easy of access to them, but visited them at their own dwellings, and carried his instructions and consolations from house to house, even to those where he could expect no entertainment, but such as arose from religious converse, society in worship, and a consciousness of being useful to the souls of men. And it is worthy of our notice, that in subserviency to this great design, this holy man was a very affectionate friend to their temporal interests ; and that to such a degree, as to be far from imagining that he had done his part, when he had exhorted his hearers to contribute liberally to the supply of their indigent brethren. Most instructive in this view, is the address he makes to the presbyters or bishops of the church of Ephesus; in which, appealing to them, that They themselves knew that his own hands had ministered to his necessities, and those that were with him ; he adds, I have shewed you that, so labouring, you ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, it is more blessed to give than to receive *.
* Rom. xii. 16.
+ 1 Cor. i. 26, 27. James ii. 5.
Psal. xv. 4.
The same true greatness of soul which engaged him cheerfully to contribute out of his small stock, for the relief of those that were yet more necessitous than himself, disposed him with great condescension and tenderness to bear the infirmities of his people, and in many instances to sacrifice his own taste and humour to theirs. Who was weak, and he was not weak ? Who was offended, and he did not burnt with desire to remove the offence? When his converts behaved with too much of the peevishness and perverseness of children, he did not haughtily chastise them ; but rather chose tenderly to expostulate with them, and if possible to love them out of their follies. He put on not only the bowels of a father, but the indulgence of a nurse towards them ; We were, says he, gentle amongst you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children, and ready to have imparted to you, not only the gospel of Christ, but our own souls or lives also, i. e. to have died, as we lived, for your service, because you were singularly dear to us I.
This was the governing temper of St. Paul, and it carried him through some circumstances which required great and resolute self-denial; He became all things to all men, if by any means he might gain some sincere converts to the gospel. And in particular, to the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might gain them, i. e. he voluntarily laid himself under all the restraints of the Mosaic law, though he knew it was now abolished, that he might as a christian apostle convert the Jews. And this he carries so far, as to declare his readiness, not only to forbear those kinds of food which the law of Moses pronounceth unclean, but to give up all animal diet, and subsist entirely on vegetables, rather than he would grieve and offend his brethren, i. e. the feeblest christian. If meat, says he, make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth. Thus, though the apostles were free from all, they nevertheless voluntarily became the Servants of all S, and indeed condescended to do, and forbear many things, because disagreeable to their christian
* Acts xx. 34, 35. + 2 Cor. xi. 29. 11 Thess, ii. 7, 8. f 1 Cor. is. 19, 20.