"You are aware that there are two main objects to be attained in the work of the Christian ministry - enlightening the minds and affecting the hearts of the people." - [p. 479]
Spiritual Knowledge and Holy Love Necessary for the Ministry
"He was a burning and a shining light." -- John v. 35
By Andrew Fuller
[Sketch of a Charge delivered to a young Minister at his Ordination]
IN addressing you, my dear brother, on this solemn occasion, I shall not undertake so much to communicate any thing new as to remind you of
what you know, and have felt already. You are aware that there are two main objects to be attained in the work of the Christian ministry - enlightening the minds and affecting the hearts of the people. These are the usual means by which the work of God is accomplished. Allow me to remind you that, in order to the attainment of these objects, you yourself must be under their influence. If you would enlighten others, you must be "a shining light" yourself. And if you would affect others, you yourself must feel; your own heart must "burn" with holy ardour. You must be "a burning and a shining light."
It is not enough that you should be what is called a popular preacher. A man may have gifts, so as to shine in the eyes of the multitude, almost as bright as he does in his own eyes; and yet possess little or nothing of spiritual light - light, the tendency of which is to transform the heart. So also a man may burn with zeal, as Jehu did, and yet have little or no true love to God, or affection for the souls of men. Spiritual light and holy love are the qualities which Christ here commends.
You will give your candid attention, my dear brother, while I endeavour to remind you of the necessity of each of these, in the different parts of your important work: - in the great work of preaching the gospel - in presiding in the church - in visiting your people - and in your whole demeanour through life.
I. In the great work of PREACHING THE GOSPEL. - O my brother, in this department we had need resemble the living creatures mentioned by Ezekiel, (chap. i. 18,) "full of eyes." We had almost need, in one view, to be made up of pure intellect -- to be all light. I shall not attempt to decide how much knowledge is necessary, of men and things, of past and present times, of the church and the world; but shall confine myself to two or three particulars, as specimens.
1. How necessary is it to understand in some good degree the holy character of God! -- It is this to which you will find that men in general are blind. They conceive of God as if he were such a one as themselves . . . . And hence they fancy they are not enemies to him. You will have to point out the true character of God, that the sinner may see his own deformity, and not have the enmity of his heart concealed from his eyes. A just view of the holy character of God will also be one of the best preservatives against error in other respects. Almost all the errors in the world proceed from ignorance of the true character of God. To what else can be attributed the errors of Socinianism, Arianism, and Antinomianism? From degraded views of God's character arise diminutive notions of the evil of sin -- of its just demerit -- of our lost condition -- of our need of a great Saviour -- and of the work of the Spirit. O my brother, may you shed abroad this light with unsullied lustre! And, in order to this, commune much with God in private; since there is no way of knowing the true character of another so well as by personal, private intercourse.
2. A knowledge of Christ, as the Mediator between God and man, is necessary. -- "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Here, also, men are greatly ignorant. He is in the world, and the world knows him not. It must, be our concern, as ministers, to know him; and, comparatively speaking, "to know nothing else" . . . . and this that we may diffuse the knowledge of him to others. The glory of Christ's character is such that if he were but viewed in a true light, and not through the false mediums of prejudice and the love of sin, but through the mirror of the gospel, he must be loved, John iv. 29. 39-42. Here, my brother, we need to be intimately acquainted with Christ, that we may be able on all occasions to give him a just character -- that we
may be able to tell of his dignity, his love, the generous principles of his undertaking, and how nobly he executed the arduous enterprise.
3. A knowledge of human nature as created is necessary. -- We shall be unskilful workmen, unless we are acquainted with the materials on which we have to work. It is not more necessary for a surgeon or a physician to understand the anatomy of the human body, than it is for ministers to understand what may be called the anatomy of the soul. We had need enter into all the springs of action. In particular, we must be very careful to distinguish between primary and criminal passions. God habitually addresses the former, and so should we, but not the latter; the latter being only the abuse of the principles implanted in our nature. To be more explicit, God has created us with the love of possession, but the excess of this love becomes covetousness and idolatry. God has implanted within us a principle of emulation; but the abuse of this is pride and ambition. God has created us with the love of pleasure; but this indulged to excess becomes sensuality. Now the gospel never addresses itself to our corrupt passions; but the word of God is full of appeals to those principles of our nature with which we are created. For example: in his word, God addresses himself to our love of possession; and points to "an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away" -- to the principle of emulation; and presents to our view "a crown" -- to our love of pleasure; and informs us that "in his presence there is fulness of joy, and att his right hand are pleasures for evermore." And, in short, in the same way, he addresses the principles of zeal, love, hatred, shame, fear, revenge, &c. And so must we.
4. A knowledge of human nature as depraved is necessary. -- Without this knowledge, we shall be unable to trace and detect the workings of a wicked heart. Sin is a deceitful thing, and we are apt to be imposed upon by its specious names. Parsimoniousness is called frugality; prodigality, generosity; bitterness of spirit in reproving, fidelity; and resentment, a becoming spirit. We need therefore to know the root of the disease, and the various ways in which it operates. In order to effect a cure, the knowledge of the disease is indispensable; and in order to attain to this knowledge, we must study the various symptoms by which the disorder may be distinguished.
5. A knowledge of human nature as sanctified by the Spirit is necessary. -- Without this, we shall be unable to trace the work of God in the soul; and unable to fan the gentle flame of Divine love in the genuine Christian, and to detect and expose the various counterfeits.
You will need also, my brother, a heart warmed with Divine things, or you will never be "a burning and a shining light." When we are thinking or preaching, we need to burn, as well as shine. When we study, we may rack our brains, and form plans; but unless "our hearts burn within us," all will be a mere skeleton -- our thoughts mere bones; whatever be their number, they will be all dry -- very dry; and if we do not feel what we say, our preaching will be poor dead work. Affected zeal will not do. A gilded fire may shine, but it will not warm. We may smite with the hand, and stamp with the foot, and throw ourselves into violent agitations; but if we feel not, it is not likely the people will -- unless, indeed, it be a feeling of disgust. But suppose there be no affectation, nor any deficiency of good and sound doctrine; yet if in our work we feel no inward satisfaction, we shall resemble a mill-stone -- preparing food for others, the value of which we are unable to appreciate ourselves. Indeed, without feeling, we shall be incapable of preaching any truth or of inculcating any duty aright. How can we display the evil of sin, the love of Christ, or any other important truth, unless we feel it? How can we preach against sin, without feeling a
holy indignation against it? It is this that will cause us, while we denounce sin, to weep over the sinner. Otherwise, we may deal in flings and personalities; but these will only irritate; they will never reclaim. O! if ever we do any good in our work, it must be the effect of love to God and love to men -- love to the souls of men, while we detest, and expose, and denounce their sins. How could Paul have pursued his work with the ardour and intenseness which he manifested, if his heart had not burned with holy love?
II. Spiritual light and holy love are equally necessary in PRESIDING IN THE CHURCH OF GOD.
Wisdom and love are necessary, calmly to lay down rules of discipline -- to solve difficult questions -- to prepare and digest, in concurrence with the deacons, such matters as require to be laid before the church -- to nip little differences in the bud -- to mediate between contending parties, &c. My brother, think of the example of the Lord Jesus, who, in his intercourse with his disciples, saluted them with this benediction -- "Peace be with you!" The great art of presiding in a church, so as to promote its welfare, is to be neutral between the members, always on the side of God and righteousness, and to let them see that, whatever your opinion may be, you really love them.
III. These qualities are necessary in the more privateduty Of VISITING THE PEOPLE.
A considerable part of the pastoral office consists in visiting the people, especially the afflicted. Paul could appeal to the elders of the church at Ephesus, that he had taught them publicly and "from house to house." It is of great consequence that, in your pastoral visits, you should preserve the character of "a burning and a shining light." Pastoral visits should not degenerate into religious gossiping -- a practice in which some have indulged to the disgrace of religion. Unused to habits of reflection, they feel no relish for solitude; and therefore, to employ the time which hangs so heavy on their hands, they saunter about to see their friends, and to ask them how they are. Nor is this the worst. Satan promptly furnishes a subject where there is such a dearth; and hence gossiping has generally produced tales of slander, and practices which have proved a scandal to the Christian name! I trust, my brother, you know the preciousness of time too well to squander it away in idle visits. And yet visiting is an essential part of your work, that you may become acquainted with the circumstances, the spiritual necessities of your people. They will be able to impart their feelings freely and unreservedly; and you will be able to administer the appropriate counsel to much better purpose than you possibly can from the pulpit, and with greater particularity than would be becoming in a public address. Only let us burn while we shine. Let a savour of Christ accompany all our instructions. A minister who maintains an upright, affectionate conduct, may say almost any thing, in a way of just reproof, without giving offence.
IV. Spiritual light and holy love are necessary in YOUR DEMEANOUR THROUGH LIFE. May you, my brother, shine in holy wisdom, and burn with ardent love. You will need them, wherever you go -- in whatever you engage -- that you may walk as one of the children of light.
Allow me to point out a few things which I have found of use, to conduce to these ends:
1. Read the lives of good men -- the lives of such men as God has distinguished for gifts, and graces, and usefulness. Example has a great influence. The Scriptures abound with such examples. And, blessed be God, we have some now.
2. Study the word of God, above all other books, and pray over it. -- It is
this will set our hearts on fire. There are no such motives exhibited any where as there – no such exhibitions of wisdom and love.
3. Read men, as well as books, and your own heart, in order that you may read others. -- Copyists, you know, are generally bunglers. There is nothing that equals what is taken immediately from the life. We need always be making our observations, wherever we are, or wherever we go. If we get a system of human nature, or experience, or any thing else, from books, rather than from our own knowledge, it will be liable to two disadvantages. First, It is not likely to be so near the truth; for systems which go through several hands are like successive copies of a painting, every copy of the preceding one is more unlike the original -- or like the telling of a tale, the circumstances of which you do not know of your own personal knowledge: every time it is repeated there is some variation, and thus it becomes further removed from the truth. Thus Agrippa showed his wisdom, when, instead of depending on the testimony of others, he determined to hear Paul himself. Secondly, If it be correct, still it will not be so serviceable to you as if it were a system of your own working. Saul's armour might be better than David's sling; but not to him, seeing he had not proved it.
4. Live the life of a Christian, as well as of a minister. – Read as one, preach as one, converse as one – to be profited, as well as to profit others. One of the greatest temptations of a ministerial life is to handle Divine truth as ministers, rather than as Christians – for others, rather than for ourselves. But the word will not profit them that preach it, any more than it will them that hear it, unless it be "mixed with faith." If we study the Scriptures as Christians, the more familiar we are with them, the more we shall feel their importance; but if our object be only to find out something to say to others, our familiarity with them will prove a snare. It will resemble that of soldiers, and doctors, and undertakers with death; the more familiar we are with them, the less we shall feel their importance. See Prov. xxii. 17, 18; Psal. i. 2, 3.
5. Commune with God in private. – Walking with God in the closet is a grand means, with his blessing, of illuminating our minds and warming our hearts. When Moses came down from the mount, his face shone bright, and his heart burned with zeal for the honour of God and the good of his people. Alas! alas! for want of this . . . . See Jer. x. 21.
6. Hold forth the word of life, not only by precept, but by a holy practice. "Let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father who is in heaven." Without this, in vain will be all our pretensions to being "burning and shining lights."
My dear brother, allow me to conclude with an earnest prayer, that you may long continue a "burning and a shining light" to this church; and that, after having "turned many to righteousness," you may shine as a distinguished star in the firmament for ever and ever! ===============[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 478-482. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. — jrd] Andrew Fuller Sermon Index
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