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. . . A word or two of serious advice. First, "Watch over your own soul, as well as the souls of your people." . . . Further, "Know your own weakness, and depend upon Christ's all-sufficiency." . . . Finally, "Be often looking to the end of your course, and viewing yourself as giving an account of your stewardship." - [p. 144]
[p. 135]The Qualifications and Encouragement of a Faithful Minister
Illustrated by the Character and Success of Barnabas
"He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith; and much people was added to the Lord." -- Acts xi. 24.
By Andrew Fuller
[To the Rev. Robert Fawkner, at his ordination, at Thorn, Bedfordshire, Oct. 31, 1787.]
MY DEAR BROTHER,
It is a very important work to which you are this day set apart. I feel the difficulty of your situation. You
need both counsel and encouragement; I wish I were better able to administer both. In what I may offer,
I am persuaded you will allow me to be free; and understand me, not as assuming any authority or
superiority over you, but only as saying that to you which I wish to consider as equally addressed to myself.
Out of a variety of topics that might afford a lesson for a Christian minister, my thoughts have turned,
on this occasion, upon that of example. Example has a great influence upon the human mind: examples from
Scripture especially, wherein characters the most illustrious in their day, for gifts, grace, and usefulness, are
drawn with the pencil of inspiration, have an assimilating tendency. Viewing these, under a Divine blessing,
we form some just conceptions of the nature and importance of our work, are led to reflect upon our own
defects, and feel the fire of holy emulation kindling in our bosoms.
The particular example, my brother, which I wish to recommend to your attention is that of Barnabas,
that excellent servant of Christ and companion of the apostle Paul. You will find his character particularly
given in the words I have just read.
Were we to examine the life of this great and good man, as related in other parts of Scripture, we
should find the character here given him abundantly confirmed. He seems to have been one of that great
company who, through the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, submitted to Christ soon after his
ascension; and he gave early proof of his love to him, by selling his possessions, and laying the price at the
feet of the apostles for the support of his infant cause. As he loved Christ, so he loved his people. He
appears to have possessed much of the tender and affectionate, on account of which he was called
"Barnabas -- a son of consolation." Assiduous in discovering and encouraging the first dawnings of God's
work, he was the first person that introduced Saul into the company of the disciples. The next news that
we hear of him is in the passage which I have selected. Tidings came to the ears of the church at Jerusalem
of the Word of the Lord being prosperous at Antioch, in Syria. The church at Jerusalem was the mother
church, and felt a concern for others, like that of a tender mother towards her infant offspring. The young
converts at Antioch wanted a nursing father; and who so proper to be sent as Barnabas? He goes; and,
far from envying the success of others, who had laboured before him, he "was glad to see the grace of
God" so evidently appear; "and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the
Lord." As a preacher, he does not seem to have been equal to the apostle Paul; yet so far was he from
caring about being eclipsed by Paul's superior abilities, that he went in search of him, and brought him to
Antioch, to assist him in the work of the Lord. It may well be said of such a character, that he was a
"good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith." Oh that we had more such ministers in the church at this day!
Oh that we ourselves were like him! Might we not hope, if that were the case, that, according to God's
usual manner of working, more people would be added to the Lord?
There are three things, we see, which are said of Barnabas in a way of commendation: he was "a good
man, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith." Thus far he is held up for our example: a fourth is added,
concerning the effects which followed: "and much people was added unto the Lord." This seems to be held
up for our encouragement. Permit me, my dear brother, to request your candid attention, while I attempt
to review these great qualities in Barnabas, and by every motive to enforce them upon you.
I. HE WAS A GOOD MAN. It were easy to prove the necessity of a person being a good man, in
order to his properly engaging in the work of the ministry: Christ would not commit his sheep but to one
that loved him. But on this remark I shall not enlarge. I have no reason to doubt, my brother, but that God
has given you an understanding to know him that is true, and a heart to love him in sincerity; I trust,
therefore, such an attempt, on this occasion, is needless. Nor does it appear to me to be the meaning of
the evangelist. It is not barely meant of Barnabas that he was a regenerate man, though that is implied; but
it denotes that he was eminently good. We use the word so in common conversation. If we would describe
one that more than ordinarily shines in piety, meekness, and kindness, we know not how to speak of him
better than to say, with a degree of emphasis, He is a good man. After this eminence in goodness, brother,
may it be your concern, and mine, daily to aspire!
Perhaps, indeed, we may have sometimes heard this epithet used with a sneer. Persons who take
pleasure in treating others with contempt will frequently, with a kind of proud pity, speak in this manner:
Aye, such a one is a good man; leaving it implied that goodness is but an indifferent qualification, unless it
be accompanied with greatness. But these things ought not to be. The apostle Paul did not value himself
upon those things wherein he differed from other Christians; but upon that which he possessed in common
with them -- charity, or Christian love. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy,
and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not charity; I am nothing."
My dear brother, value the character of a good man in all the parts of your employment; and, above
all, in those things which the world counts great and estimable. More particularly,
1. Value it at home in your family. If you walk not closely with God there, you will be ill able to work
for him elsewhere. You have lately become the head of a family. Whatever charge it shall please God, in
the course of your life, to place under your care, I trust it will be your concern to recommend Christ and
the gospel to them, walk circumspectly before them, constantly worship God with them, offer up secret
prayer for them, and exercise a proper authority over them. There is a sort of religious gossiping which
some ministers have indulged to their hurt; loitering about perpetually at the houses of their friends, and
taking no delight in their own. Such conduct, in a minister and master of a family, must, of necessity, root
out all family order, and, to a great degree, family worship; and, instead of endearing him to his friends, it
only exposes him to their just censure. Perhaps they know not how to be so plain as to tell him of it at their
own houses; but they will think the more, and speak of it, it is likely, to each
other, when he is gone. I trust, my brother, that none of your domestic connexions will have to say when you are gone, He was loose and
careless in his conduct, or sour and churlish in his temper; but rather, He was a good man.
2. Value this character in your private retirements. Give yourself up to "the word of God, and to
prayer." The apostle charged Timothy, saying, "Meditate on these things, give thyself wholly to them;" or,
"be thou in them." But this will never be, without a considerable share of the good man. Your heart can
never be in those things which are foreign to its prevailing temper; and if your heart is not in your work, it
will be a poor lifeless business indeed. We need not fear exhausting the Bible, or dread a scarcity of Divine
subjects. If our hearts are but kept in unison with the spirit in which the Bible was written, every thing we
meet with there will be interesting. The more we read, the more interesting it will appear; and the more we
know, the more we shall perceive there is to be known. Beware also, brother, of neglecting secret prayer.
The fire of devotion will go out if it be not kept alive by an habitual dealing with Christ. Conversing with
men and things may brighten our gifts and parts; but it is conversing with God that must brighten our graces.
Whatever ardour we may feel in our public work, if this is wanting, things cannot be right, nor can they in
such a train come to a good issue.
3. Value it in your public exercises. It is hard going on in the work of the ministry, without a good
degree of spirituality; and yet, considering the present state of human nature, we are in the greatest danger
of the contrary. Allow me, brother, to mention two things in particular, each of which is directly opposite
to that spirit which I am attempting to recommend. One is, an assumed earnestness, or forced zeal, in the
pulpit, which many weak hearers may mistake for the enjoyment of God. But though we may put on violent
emotions -- may smite with the hand, and stamp with the foot -- if we are destitute of a genuine feeling sense
of what we deliver, it will be discerned by judicious hearers, as well as by the Searcher of hearts, and will
not fail to create disgust. If, on the contrary, we feel and realize the sentiments we deliver, emotions and
actions will be the natural expressions of the heart; and this will give weight to the doctrines, exhortations,
or reproofs which we inculcate; what we say will come with a kind of Divine authority to the consciences,
if not to the hearts of the hearers. The other is, being under the influence of low, and selfish motives in the
exercise of our work. This is a temptation against which we have especial reason to watch and pray. It is
right, my brother, for you to be diligent in your public work; to be instant in season and out of season; to
preach the gospel not only at Thorn, but in the surrounding villages, wherever a door is opened for you: but
while you are thus engaged, let it not be from motives of policy, merely to increase your auditory, but from
love to Christ and the souls of your fellow sinners. It is this only that will endure reflection in a dying hour.
The apostle Paul was charged by some of the Corinthian teachers with being crafty, and with having caught
the Corinthians with guile; but he could say, in reply to all such insinuations, in behalf of himself and his
fellow-labourers, "Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly
sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world."
4. Value it in the general tenor of your behaviour. Cultivate a meek, modest, peaceful, and friendly
temper. Be generous and humane. Prove by your spirit and conduct that you are a lover of all mankind.
To men in general, but especially to the poor and the afflicted, be pitiful, be courteous. It is this, my brother,
that will recommend the gospel you proclaim. Without
this, could you preach
with the eloquence of an angel, you may expect that no good end will be answered.
5. Prize the character of the good man above worldly greatness. It is not sinful for a minister, any more
than another man, to possess property; but to aspire after it is unworthy of his sacred character. Greatness,
unaccompanied with goodness, is valued as nothing by the great God. Kings and emperors, where that is
wanting, are but great "beasts, horned beasts," pushing one at another. When Sennacherib vaunted against
the church of God, that he would "enter the forest of her Carmel, and cut down her tall cedars," the
daughter of Zion is commanded to despise him. God speaks of him as we should speak of a buffalo, or
even of an ass: "I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the
way by which thou camest." Outward greatness, when accompanied with goodness, may be a great
blessing; yet, even then, it is the latter, and not the former, that denominates the true worth of a character.
Once more, --
6. Value it above mental greatness, or greatness in gifts and parts. It is not wrong to cultivate gifts; on
the contrary, it is our duty so to do. But, desirable as these are, they are not to be compared with
goodness. "Covet earnestly the best gifts," says the apostle, "and yet show I unto you a more excellent
way;" viz, charity, or love. If we improve in gifts and not in grace, to say the least, it will be useless, and
perhaps dangerous, both to ourselves and others. To improve in gifts, that we may be the better able to
discharge our work, is laudable; but if it be for the sake of popular applause, we may expect a blast.
Hundreds of ministers have been ruined by indulging a thirst for the character of the great man, while they
have neglected the far superior character of the good man.
Another part of the character of Barnabas was that,
II. HE WAS FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit sometimes denotes his extraordinary gifts,
as in Acts xix., where the apostle Paul put the question to some believers in Christ whether they had
received the Holy Spirit; but here it signifies his indwelling and ordinary operations, or what is elsewhere
called "an unction from the Holy One." This, though more common than the other, is far more excellent.
Its fruits, though less brilliant, are abundantly the most valuable. To be able to surmount a difficulty by
Christian patience is a greater thing in the sight of God than to remove a mountain. Every work of God
bears some mark of Godhead, even a thistle, or a nettle; but there are some of his works which bear a
peculiar likeness to his holy moral character: such were the minds of men and angels in their original state.
This will serve to illustrate the subject in hand. The extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit are a communication
of his power; but in his dwelling in the saints, and the ordinary operations of his grace, he communicates
his own holy nature; and this it was of which Barnabas was full. To be full of the Holy Spirit is to be full of
the dove, as I may say; or full of those fruits of the Spirit mentioned by the apostle to the Galatians; namely,
"love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness."
To be sure, the term full is not here to be understood in an unlimited sense; not in so ample a sense as
when it is applied to Christ. He was filled with the Spirit without measure, but we in measure. The word
is doubtless to be understood in a comparative sense, and denotes as much as that he was habitually under
his holy influence. A person that is greatly under the influence of the love of this world is said to be drunken
with its cares or pleasures. In allusion to something like this, the apostle exhorts that we "be not drunken
with wine, wherein is excess; but filled with the
Spirit." The word "filled," here, is very expressive; it denotes, I apprehend, being overcome, as it were, with the holy influences and fruits of the blessed Spirit.
How necessary is all this, my brother, in your work! Oh how necessary is "an unction from the Holy One!"
1. It is this that will enable you to enter into the spirit of the gospel, and preserve you from destructive
errors concerning it. Those who have an unction from the Holy One are said to "know all things; and the
anointing which they have received abideth in them, and they need not that any man teach them, but as the
same anointing teacheth them all things, and is truth, and is no lie." We shall naturally fall in with the dictates
of that spirit of which we are full. It is for want of this, in a great measure, that the Scriptures appear
strange, and foreign, and difficult to be understood. He that is full of the Holy Spirit has the contents of the
Bible written, as I may say, upon his heart; and thus its sacred pages are easy to be understood, as
"wisdom is easy to him that understandeth."
It is no breach of charity to say, that if the professors of Christianity had more of the Holy Spirit of God
in their hearts, there would be a greater harmony among them respecting the great truths which he has
revealed. The rejection of such doctrines as the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the total depravity of mankind,
the proper Deity and atonement of Christ, justification by faith in his name, the freeness and sovereignty of
grace, and the agency of the Holy Spirit, may easily be accounted for upon this principle. If we are destitute
of the Holy Spirit, we are blind to the loveliness of the Divine character, and destitute of any true love to
God in our hearts; and if destitute of this, we shall not be able to see the reasonableness of that law which
requires love to him with all the heart; and then, of course, we shall think lightly of the nature of those
offences committed against him; we shall be naturally disposed to palliate and excuse our want of love to
him, yea, and even our positive violations of his law; it will seem hard, very hard indeed, for such little things
as these to be punished with everlasting destruction. And now, all this admitted, we shall naturally be blind
to the necessity and glory of salvation by Jesus Christ. If sin is so trifling an affair, it will seem a strange and
incredible thing that God should become incarnate to atone for it; and hence we shall be very easily
persuaded to consider Christ as only a good man, who came into the world to set us a good example; or,
at least, that he is not equal with the Father. The freeness and sovereignty of grace also, together with
justification by imputed righteousness, will be a very strange sound in our ears. Like the Jews, we shall "go
about to establish our own righteousness, and shall not submit to the righteousness of God." It will seem
equally strange and incredible to be told that we are by nature utterly unfit for the kingdom of God; that,
therefore, we must be born again; that we are so bad that we cannot even come to Christ for life, except
the Father draw us; yea, and that our best doings, after all, are unworthy of God's notice. It will be no
wonder if, instead of receiving these unwelcome and humiliating doctrines, we should coincide with those
writers and preachers who think more favourably of our condition, and the condition of the world at large;
who either deny eternal punishment to exist, or represent men in general as being in little or no danger of
it. And having avowed these sentiments, it will then become necessary to compliment their abettors
(including ourselves in the number) as persons of a more rational and liberal way of thinking than other
My dear brother, of all things, be this your prayer, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me!" If once we sink
into such a way of performing our public work as not to depend on his enlightening and enlivening
influences, we may go on, and probably shall go on, from one degree of evil to another.
Knowing how to account for the operations of our own minds, without imputing them to a Divine agency, we shall be
inclined, in this manner, to account for the operations in the mind of others; and so, with numbers in the
present age, may soon call in question even "whether there be any Holy Spirit."
2. Being full of the Holy Spirit will give a holy tincture to your meditation and preaching. There is such
a thing as the mind being habitually under the influence of Divine things, and retaining so much of a savour
of Christ as that Divine truths shall be viewed and expressed, as I may say, in their own language. Spiritual
things will be spiritually discerned, and if spiritually discerned, will be spiritually communicated. There is
more in our manner of thinking and speaking upon Divine truth than perhaps, at first sight, we are aware
of. A great part of the phraseology of Scripture is by some accounted unfit to be addressed to a modern
ear; and is, on this account, to a great degree laid aside, even by those who profess to be satisfied with the
sentiments. Whatever may be said in defense of this practice, in a very few instances, such as those where
words in a translation are become obsolete, or convey a different idea from what they did at the time of
being translated, I am satisfied the practice in general is very pernicious. There are many sermons, that
cannot fairly be charged with untruth, which yet have a tendency to lead off the mind from the simplicity of
the gospel. If such Scripture terms, for instance, as "holiness, godliness, grace, believers, saints, communion
with God," &c., should be thrown aside as savouring too much of cant and enthusiasm, and such terms as
morality, virtue, religion, good men, happiness of mind, &c., substituted in their room, it will have an
amazing effect upon the hearers. If such preaching is the gospel, it is the gospel heathenized, and will tend
to heathenize the minds of those who deal in it. I do not mean to object to the use of these latter terms, in
their place; they are some of them Scriptural terms: what I object to is putting them in the place of others,
when discoursing upon evangelical subjects. To be sure, there is a way of handling Divine subjects after
this sort that is very clever and very ingenious; and a minister of such a stamp may commend himself, by
his ingenuity, to many hearers: but, after all, God's truths are never so acceptable and savoury to a gracious
heart as when clothed in their own native phraseology. The more you are filled, my brother, with an unction
from the Holy One, the greater relish you will possess for that savoury manner of conveying truth which is
so plentifully exemplified in the Holy Scriptures. Further,
3. It is this that will make the doctrines you preach, and the duties you inculcate, seem fitted in your lips.
I allude to a saying of the wise man: "The words of the wise are pleasant, if thou keep them within thee; they
shall withal be fitted in thy lips." It is expected that there should be an agreement between the character of
the speaker and the things which are spoken. "Excellent speech becometh not a fool." Exhortations to
holiness come with an ill grace from the lips of one who indulges himself in iniquity. The opposite of this is
what I mean by the doctrines and duties of religion being fitted in your lips. It is this that will make your face
shine, when you come forth in your public labours, like the face of Moses when he had been conversing
with God in the holy mount.
4. It is this that will give a spiritual savour to your conversation in your visits to your friends. Though
religious visits may be abused; yet you know, brother, the necessity there is for them, if you would ascertain
the spiritual condition of those to whom you preach. There are many faults also that you may discover in
individuals which it would be unhandsome, as well as unfriendly, to expose in a pointed manner in the pulpit, which
nevertheless ought not to be passed by unnoticed. Here is work for your private visits; and, in
proportion as you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will possess a spirit of love and faithfulness, which is
absolutely necessary to successful reproof. It is in our private visits also that we can be free with our
people, and they with us. Questions may be asked and answered, difficulties solved, and the concerns of
the soul discussed. Paul taught the Ephesians, not only publicly, but "from house to house." Now it is being
full of the Holy Spirit that will give a spiritual savour to all this conversation. It will be as the holy anointing
oil on Aaron's garments, which diffused a savour on all around him.
5. This will also teach you how you ought to behave yourself in every department you are called to
occupy. It will serve instead of ten thousand rules; and all rules without it will be of no account. This it is
that will teach you to be of a meek, mild, peaceful, humble spirit. It will make such a spirit be natural to you.
"As touching brotherly love," said the apostle to the Thessalonians, "ye need not that I write unto you, for
ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another."
6. In short, it is this that will denominate you the man of God. Such was Barnabas, and such, my
brother, was your predecessor, whose memory is dear to many of us;* and such, according to all that I
have heard, was his predecessor, whose memory is equally dear to many here present.+ Each, in his day,
was a burning and shining light; but they shine here no more. May you, my brother, and each of us, be
followers of them, as they also were of Christ!
Another part of the character of Barnabas is,
III. HE WAS FULL OF FAITH. It may be difficult to ascertain with precision the real meaning and
extent of this term; but, I should think, in this connexion it includes, at least, the three following ideas: --
having the mind occupied with Divine sentiment; being rooted and grounded in the truth of the gospel, and
daily living upon it. The first of these ideas distinguished him from those characters whose minds are void
of principle; the next, from such as are always hovering upon the borders of scepticism; and the last, from
those who, though they have no manner of doubts about the truth of the doctrines of the gospel, yet
scarcely ever, if at all, feel their vital influence upon their hearts and lives. Let us review each of these a little
1. His mind was well occupied, or stored, with Divine sentiment. How necessary is this to a gospel
minister! It is to be feared that many young men have rushed into the work of the Lord without any decided
principles of their own; yea, and have not only begun in such a state of mind, but have continued so all
through their lives. Alas! what can the churches expect from such characters? What can such a void
produce? How can we feed others with knowledge and understanding if we ourselves are destitute of
them? To say the least, such ministers will be but "unprofitable servants." But this is not all; a minister that
is not inured to think for himself is constantly exposed to every false sentiment, or system, that happens to
be presented to him. We sometimes hear of a person changing his sentiments; and, doubtless, in many cases
it is just and right he should change them: but there are cases in which that mode of speaking is very
improper; for, in reality, some persons have no sentiments of their own to change; they have only changed
the sentiments of some one great man for those of another.
2. He had a firm persuasion of the truth of that gospel which he preached to others. He was rooted and
grounded in the gospel. The great controversy
* The Rev. David Evans
+ The Rev. William Butfield
of that day was whether the gospel was true; whether Jesus
was the Messiah; whether he, who so lately expired on the cross, was the Son of God; and whether his
death was the way to obtain eternal life. There were great temptations for a person who should view things
through a medium of sense to think otherwise. The popular opinion went against it. To the Jews it was a
stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. Those who adhered to the gospel, thereby exposed
themselves to cruel persecutions. But Barnabas "was full of faith;" he was decidedly on the Lord's side; he
"believed on the Son of God," and had the "witness" of the truth of his gospel "within himself."
Preaching the gospel is bearing a testimony for God; but we shall never be able to do this to any good
purpose, if we be always hesitating and indulging a sceptical disposition. There is no need of a dogmatical,
overbearing temper; but there is need of being rooted and grounded in the truths of God. "Be not carried
about," said the apostle to the Hebrews, "with strange doctrines: it is a good thing that the heart be
established with grace." But he elsewhere condemns the character of those who are "ever learning, and
never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
3. That gospel which he preached to others he himself lived upon. "The word preached," we are told,
"did not profit some, because it was not mixed with faith in them that heard it." This will equally hold good
in the case of the preacher as of the hearer. If we mix not faith with the doctrine we deliver, it will not profit
us. Whatever abilities we may possess, and of whatever use we may be made to others, unless we can say,
in some sort, with the apostle John, "That which we have seen with our eyes, and looked upon, and our
hands have handled of the word of life -- that declare we unto you," our own souls may, notwithstanding,
everlastingly perish! This is a very serious matter, and well deserves our attention as ministers. Professors
in the age of Barnabas might be under greater temptations than we are to question whether Jesus was the
true Messiah; but we are under greater temptations than they were of resting in a mere implicit assent to
the Christian religion, without realizing and living upon its important truths.
The studying of Divine truth as preachers rather than as Christians, or, in other words, studying it for
the sake of finding out something to say to others, without so much as thinking of profiting our own souls,
is a temptation to which we are more than ordinarily exposed. If we studied Divine truths as Christians, our
being constantly engaged in the service of God would be friendly to our growth in grace. We should be
"like trees planted by the rivers of waters, that bring forth fruit in their season," and all that we did would
be likely to "prosper." But if we study it only as preachers, it will be the reverse. Our being conversant with
the Bible will be like surgeons and soldiers being conversant with the shedding of human blood, till they lose
all sensibility concerning it. I believe it is a fact that, where a preacher is wicked, he is generally the most
hardened against conviction of any character whatever. Happy will it be for us if, like Barnabas, we are "full
of faith" in that Saviour whom we recommend -- in that gospel which it is our employment to proclaim.
IV. We now come to the last part of the subject, which is held up by way of encouragement: AND
MUCH PEOPLE WAS ADDED UNTO THE LORD. When our ministry is blessed to the conversion of
sinners, to the bringing them off from their connexion with sin and self to a vital union with Christ; when our
congregations are filled, not merely with professors of religion, but with sound believers; when such
believers come forward and offer themselves willingly for communion, saying, "We will go with you, for
we have heard that God is with you;" then it may be said that "much people is
added unto the Lord." The connexion between such additions, and eminency in grace and holiness in a minister, deserves our serious
I think it may be laid down as a rule, which both Scripture and experience will confirm, that eminent
spirituality in a minister is usually attended with eminent usefulness. I do not mean to say our usefulness
depends upon our spirituality, as an effect depends upon its cause; nor yet that it is always in proportion
to it. God is a Sovereign; and frequently sees proper to convince us of it, in variously bestowing his blessing
on the means of grace. But yet he is not wanting in giving encouragement to what he approves, wherever
it is found. Our want of usefulness is often to be ascribed to our want of spirituality, much oftener than to
our want of talents. God has frequently been known to succeed men of inferior abilities, when they have
been eminent for holiness, while he has blasted others of much superior talents, when that quality has been
wanting. Hundreds of ministers, who, on account of their gifts, have promised to be shining characters, have
proved the reverse; and all owing to such things as pride, unwatchfulness, carnality, and levity.
Eminency in grace, my brother, will contribute to your success in three ways:
1. It will fire your soul with holy love to Christ and the souls of men; and such a spirit is usually attended
with success. I believe you will find that, in almost all the great works which God has wrought, in any period
of time, he has honoured men of this character, by making them his instruments. In the midst of a sore
calamity upon the murmuring Israelites, when God was inclined to show mercy, it was by the means of his
servant Aaron running with a censer of fire in his hand, and standing between the living and the dead! The
great reformation that was brought about in the days of Hezekiah was by the instrumentality of a man "who
wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God;" and then it follows, "and in
every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments,
to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered."
There was another great reformation in the Jewish church, about the time of their return from Babylon.
One of the chief instruments in this work was Ezra, "a ready scribe in the law of his God" -- a man who had
"prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments"
-- a man who "fasted and prayed at the river Ahava," previously to his great undertaking -- a man who was
afterwards "sorely astonished, and in heaviness, and would eat no meat, nor drink water, but fell upon his
knees, and spread out his hands unto the Lord his God, on account of the transgressions of the people."
Another great instrument in this work was Nehemiah, a man that devoted himself wholly to the service of
God and his people, labouring night and day, and was not to be seduced by the intrigues of God's
adversaries, nor yet intimidated by their threatenings; but persevered in his work till it was finished, closing
his labours with this solemn prayer and appeal, "Think upon me, O my God, for good, according to all that
I have done for this people."
Time would fail me to speak of all the great souls, both inspired and uninspired, whom the King of kings
has delighted to honour: of Paul, and Peter, and their companions; of Wickliff, and Luther, and Calvin, and
many others at the Reformation; of Elliot, and Edwards, and Brainerd, and Whitefield, and hundreds more
whose names are held in deserved esteem in the church of God. These were men of God; men who had
great grace, as well as gifts; whose hearts burned in love to Christ and the souls of men. They looked upon
their hearers as their Lord had done upon Jerusalem,
and wept over them. In this manner they delivered their messages; "and much people were added unto the Lord."
2. Eminency in grace will direct your ends to the glory of God, and the welfare of men's souls; and
where this is the case, it is usually attended with a blessing. These are ends which God himself pursues; and
if we pursue the same, we are "labourers together with God," and may hope for his blessing to attend our
labours; but if we pursue separate and selfish ends, we walk contrary to God, and may expect God to walk
contrary to us. Whatever apparent success may attend the labours of a man whose ends are evil, all is to
be suspected; either the success is not genuine, or, if it be, it is not in a way of blessing upon him, nor shall
it turn out, at last, to his account. It must he an inexpressible satisfaction, brother, to be able to say as the
primitive ministers and apostles did: "James, a servant of God -- Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ -- We seek
not yours, but you."
3. Eminency in grace will enable you to bear prosperity in your ministry without being lifted up with it;
and so contribute towards it. It is written of Christ, in prophecy, "He shall build the temple of the Lord, and
shall bear the glory." He does bear it indeed; but to bear glory without being elated is no easy thing for us.
I am often afraid lest this should be one considerable reason why most of us have no more real success in
our work than we have; perhaps it is not safe for us to be much owned of God; perhaps we have not grace
enough to bear prosperity.
My dear brother, permit me to conclude with a word or two of serious advice. First, "Watch over your
own soul, as well as the souls of your people." Do not forget that ministers are peculiarly liable, while they
keep the vineyard of others, to neglect their own. Further, "Know your own weakness, and depend upon
Christ's all-sufficiency." Your work is great, your trials may be many; but let not your heart be discouraged.
Remember what was said to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect
in weakness;" and the reflection which he makes upon it, "When I am weak, then am I strong." Finally, Be
often looking to the end of your course, and viewing yourself as giving an account of your stewardship. We
must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, and give account of the deeds done in the body.
Perhaps there is no thought more solemn than this, more suitable to be kept in view in all our undertakings,
more awakening in a thoughtless hour, or more cheering to an upright heart.
I have only to request, my dear brother, that you will excuse the freedom of this plain address. I have
not spoken so much to instruct you in things which you know not, as to remind and impress you with things
which you already know. The Lord bless you, and grant that the solemnities of this day may ever be
remembered with satisfaction, both by you and your people!
[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 135-144. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]
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