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He must be so well acquainted with things in general, that his people will not despise him for his ignorance; and especially, must he be so well versed in the scriptures, that he can defend the doctrines which they contain; and convince, or confute, gainsayers.
The Bible which we have, being a translation, it would be well for every public teacher to be acquainted with the languages in which it was originally written. By many, I know, it is thought indispensable, that every minister should have a critical knowledge of both Greek, and Hebrew. This is not my own opinion, and my reasons are submitted for consideration.
The translation which we possess, has stood the test of many generations; and however it might be amended in some particulars, it has never yet been thought by the christian world, expedient to set it aside, and provide a substitute for it. We may therefore conclude, that the best qualified judges have put their sanction upon it; and, that if we conform to it in our preaching, we shall not fall into any dangerous mistake.
It will be remembered too, that learned commentators have noticed the passages which they supposed incorrectly translated, and have given us their own ideas of their meaning. We may avail ourselves of the result of their inquiries.
It may be added, that some of the most distinguished divines, and some who have presided, with great dignity, in colleges, have had but a very superficial acquaintance, if any at all, with the Hebrew language.
Farther, since there are so many societies destitute of religious ministerial instruction, as the case is at present, when would they be supplied, if those only were to be admitted to the ministry in future, who could themselves, detect, and correct, every mistake to be found in our translation of the Bible; and if those ministers should be deprived of their office who were not able to come up to this standard?
Finally if we were ever so competent to criticise translation which we have, and to substitute alterations where they would be proper, it would be quite inexpedient
for us to do it, very frequently, in our preaching, for no method could be adopted which would tend more effectually to unsettle the minds of our people, with respect to the scripturés, as a system of truth.
The intention of these observations is, by no means, to encourage indolence, and ignorance. Knowledge in every thing, is making progress, and we ought to rejoice in the prospect, that the ministry will become more, and more learned, and respectable.
But one more qualification of a minister will be mentioned at this time, or one more evidence which we ought to look for, that we are sent of God to preach the gospel. This a true saying, If a man desireth the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. One part of this passage will explain the other. He who desires the office of a bishop, is the one who desires the work of a bishop. It will be understood, that bishop in the scriptural use of the term, is but another name for one whom we ordinarily call a minister; and therefore, what is here said respects the personal concern of every minister. If we do not enter into the ministry because the service, with all the difficulties, and discouragements, attending it, is more agreeable to us than any other employment, we undertake that for which we have no qualification.
Fourthly. If we are sent of God to preach the gospel, what shall we consider his glory to consist in, when we are seeking it, in the performance of our work?
A hireling minister might think he was doing much, if he did nothing more than refine the manners of his people, by introducing among them customs, and fashions, such as are to be found in a more advanced state of society. The exterior appearance of a place, and of a people, may often be improved; but surely, this is an object of small comparative importance, and a minister should never forget, that it would be desirable, or otherwise, according to the moral effect which might be produced by it.
It is suitable that a minister should be engaged in any thing, which can be viewed as connected with the glory of God; and by this, his conduct ought altogether to be governed. God is infinite, and therefore, we cannot increase,
nor diminish, his glory. Of course, all that we can intend by seeking the glory of God, is endeavoring, that there may be a farther manifestation of it. The glory of God is manifested in any place, exactly in proportion to the religion of that place; and there are just as many persons to witness this glory, as there are subjects of the grace which opens their eyes upon the object.
For this reason that minister who seeks the glory of God, will desire, and endeavor, to promote religion, sensible, that there is no other way in which he can accomplish his purpose. The majority of the people, in almost every place, is made up of those who make no profession of religion. If they actually have no religion, the work is to be begun with them; and if they can be brought to the exercise of faith, and repentance, God will be glorified in this important change effected in their condition. This change is brought about by God; but ordinarily by the instrumentality of his ministers.
There may be religion in the heart, when there is a great want of information respecting the doctrines, and the duties, of it. As Peter sought the glory of God in instructing Cornelius, and Aquila, and Priscilla, in expounding to Apollos that way, more perfectly, which he had begun to understand, so every minister who is faithful, will consider himself as having a part to perform, in leading on new converts and communicating to them knowledge, as their case may require.
It is manifest from the establishment, and preservation, of a church in the world, that it is the will of God that his people should appear as public witnesses for the truth; and embody themselves that they may be known. In his sermon on the mount Christ said to his disciples, Ye are the light of the world; a city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid: Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. The manifold wisdom of God is made known by the church to principalities, and powers, in heavenly places. If there were no church in the world, how different would be the state of things? Those ought not to unite with the church, who have not united with
Christ; but every one of his disciples, should be told of the importance of confessing him before men.
God is glorified, or his glory is displayed, when his church is in a condition of good order, and it is incumbent upon every minister to attend to this business. It is no uncommon thing for those who meet at the same sacramental table, to be of various religious opinions, some sound in the faith, and others very unsound, and heretical.
I know there are not wanting advocates for the opinion, that this is an affair of no great importance; and, that no measures ought to be taken to make the state of things otherwise. If such an opinion be founded upon the parable of the tares, it must be owing to a misconstruction of the meaning of that parable; for other scriptures are very explicit upon this point. Every one who adopts this opinion should be able to answer this question, How can two walk together except they be agreed?
A man that is an heretic after the first and second, admonition, is to be rejected. Heresies are coupled with idolatry, seditions, and other works of the flesh; and, that they are evil in the extreme, is evident from this, that they are called damnable. A denial of the Lord Jesus Christ is what St. Peter particularly mentions; and this he speaks of in the plural, denominating it heresies, because it is a combination of falsehoods. Heretics are never harmless members of a church, for it is said, that many will follow their pernicious ways; and that their word will eat as doth a canker.
There are also, not unfrequently bickerings, and contentions in a church. Such things are in direct violation of duty, and of all covenant obligation; and productive of the most unfavorable effects, in general, and particularly, upon those who are without, and who are busily employed in attending to the conduct of the professors of religion.
Such things will not much disturb him who is seeking his own glory, unless some damage is likely to accrue to him personally; but the minister who makes the glory of God his principal object, will weep between the porch and the altar and say, Spare thy people O Lord! and give not thy heritage to reproach!
If we must tell the whole truth about those who profess religion, we must say, that some of them, we know not how many, are very delinquent with respect to public worship; and omit; either altogether, or in a great degree, the morning and evening sacrifice, in their own houses. The consequence is what might be looked for, for they forsake the company of sober, and regular christians; and frequent places of public resort, where there is drinking; and swearing; and lying; and cheating; and where, from the temptation, they fall into the practice of drinking, and swearing, and lying, and cheating; themselves.
These evils, and all others, which, at any time, have an existence in a church, must be very grievous to every minister who seeks the glory of God; and he will study, and endeavor, to prevent, or correct them.
Fifthly. We come, in the last place, to consider what measures will be adopted by the minister, who seeks the glory of God, to accomplish his purpose.
Among other things he will preach the gospel; and be very careful, not to substitute any thing for that which may be strictly called the gospel of Christ, however clamorous any of his people may be for a greater variety in his discourses, and for something more entertaining. Our Saviour has told us, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. If this is the whole work, there is nothing else to be done. If we consult the writings of St. Paul, we shall find how tenacious he was with respect to this matter. To the Corinthians he says, For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; But we preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. With him all the other apostles are perfectly agreed.
This was the doctrine preached at the day of pentecost, when such wonderful effects were produced, and about three thousand souls were gathered into the church. Though the cry has ever been for something more plain, and intelligible, it is presumed, that where the preaching has been any thing but the cross of Christ, not one solitary instance can be mentioned, of what deserves to be called a reformation, effected by it, among a people, or in a case of