"I have this day set thee over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down,
and to destroy, and to throw down, and to build, and to plant." - Jeremiah i. 10
THIS language, my brother, is not in every sense applicable to the present occasion. The prophet's was an extraordinary, yours is an ordinary office. His was to be exercised over nations and kingdoms, yours over a church and congregation. Yet, even in his case, there was no civil power - he was no pope - nor was he invested with the authority of a modern bishop. All the power he had pertained to his office as a prophet: he had no secular authority: he pulled down and built up prophetically. And though you have no such power as this, by extraordinary inspiration, yet, in a way of declaring the truths of God's word, "whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted, and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained."
Your labour is less than the prophet's was, but the nature of your work is much the same; and the same spirit of faithfulness is required over a few things as over many things.
Your work is divided into two parts. One is, to discourage evil: "to root out, to pull down, to destroy, and to throw down." The other is, to encourage good: "to build, and to plant."
The imagery, you perceive, is of two kinds - that of a house, and that of a garden.
The church is God's house, God's building; and you are appointed to be a labourer "together with God," to pull down, and destroy, and throw down the rubbish, and them to build upon a new and good foundation.
The church is also God's garden; and you are appointed to work in it, and keep it in order, to root out the weeds, and to plant and cultivate the goodly fruit.
Give me your attention, my clear brother, while I inquire what are the evils you are to oppose, and the good you are to encourage, and the methods to be adopted in pursuing these objects. Let us,
I. Inquire WHAT ARE THE EVILS AGAINST WHICH YOU MUST CONTEND, AND THE METHODS YOU ARE TO ADOPT IN THIS OPPOSITION.
1. By your public ministry root out errors in doctrine. Overturn them - not by empty declamation, but by solid Scriptural evidence - not by the wild fury of a bigot, but with the pure love of the Christian pastor, whose care it should be to preserve his charge from things that tend to the ruin of their souls. - Particularly, if you love God, you will be concerned to root up every thing that opposes the glory of his character and moral government. Vindicate the ways of God to men against all their hard thoughts and speeches. Vindicate his law both in its precepts and penalty. You have observed, I doubt not, that this is the foundation for the grace of the gospel. - If you love Christ, you will root up those principles which degrade his dignity and set aside his atonement. - If you love your people, you will root up those principles which endanger the salvation of their souls; such as self-righteousness and presumptuous hope. There is plenty of work to remove the covering and to pull down the vain expectations of sinners . . . . You have seen, and will see, many whose habitual deportment proves them enemies to the cross, who yet entertain hopes of heaven: try and find out the delusive ground of their hope, and expose it; only be careful to avoid personalities, which will irritate rather than convince.
2. By leading the church, in the exercise of faithful discipline, root out evil-doers. - Churches which in former years have been respectable and prosperous are fast falling into decay for want of discipline. Some have pleaded the parable of the wheat and tares as an excuse for negligence in discipline; but this is a perversion. The field is the world, not the church. The application of the principle to the church would render all the rules of the gospel superfluous.
3. By rendering your occasional visits subservient to the purposes of conviction and correction.- You may in this way root up many evils which you cannot by either of the other means. There are cases which you cannot touch in the pulpit, on account of their singularity and minuteness, - without being personal, which, as I just said, will irritate rather than reclaim. There are also cases which do not fall under church censure, which yet should come within the cognizance of a faithful pastor. This, I confess, is a difficult part of your work; and some, for fear of giving offence, have declined it: but suppose offence were given, if you are in the path of duty, what have you to fear? Some will say, "If such and such persons are offended, the cause will sink." Then let it sink. You may safely leave that, however, to Christ: if it should therefore sink, he will not blame you. But what cause must that be that is upheld by such unworthy means? After all, however, there is a way of managing these things by which offence is seldom or ever given. The great secret is to mingle love with your fidelity. This was Paul's method with the Corinthians. Consider the peculiar temptations and constitutional or educational tendencies of the party, and mingle counsel and encouragement with censure. We proceed to inquire,
II. WHAT IS THAT GOOD WHICH YOU ARE TO ENCOURAGE, or what is the work denoted by building and planting? This is a much more agreeable part of the subject than the other, though not more necessary.
In general, encourage and impart just sentiments. The truth has ever been God's honoured instrument in doing good. - Encourage and cultivate holy tempers and dispositions. Labour to build up your people in these things. That is not always the best ministry that draws the most followers, but that which does the most good. When I see a company of modest, humble, upright, lovely, diligent, holy people, I see the best evidence of a good minister. But let me be a little more particular.
First, As A BUILDER - 1. Be sure that you lay a right foundation. - Christ is the foundation of God's laying, the foundation of the apostles and prophets; and you must lay him, as the foundation of faith and holiness. All true holiness is built upon faith in Christ. Many preachers who profess to entertain a great regard for a holy life, and deal much in moral declamations, omit this part of their work.
2. See that your materials be fitly framed together, Ephesians ii. 21. Three things belong to this: (1.) That the materials be hewed and squared. - What would a company of proud, self-willed, prejudiced professors do together with the godly? These sins must be cut off. They ought to be like the stones of the temple before you lay them in the house of God. (2.) That they be formed by the same rule. - The stones must not only be cut even, but so as to fit the foundation and each other, or they cannot be fitly framed. Whatever variety there may be in some respects, there must be uniformity in others. No society can exist without similarity of views. Our hearts must be renewed after the image of Christ; and if they fit and fall in with his gospel and government, they will fit one another. But all attempts to build men into religious society without this will be vain. "For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" &c. - See 2 Corinthians vi. 14-18. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" (3.) That, in being placed in the building, every one be put in that situation for which he is, formed. - Some have splendid gifts, and are like stones in the front of the building, for ornament and strength. Others have more private excellences; but, though less conspicuous, they may not be less useful. Some are like Barnabas, affectionate; and excel in seeking out obscure humble inquirers, Acts ix. 27. Others are wise in counsel and grave in deportment. Every gift should be so disposed of as that it shall be of the greatest use to the whole, otherwise the building will not be fitly framed together. Where offices are filled with men because they are men of property, it is often otherwise.
3. So frame the whole as that it may be a fit habitation for God. - It must be God's house, not yours. Beware that you go not about it as Nebuchadnezzar went about Babylon - "This is the house which I have built" - this is my house! I trust you have no greater desire than that God would take up his abode with you. Well - build you but upon his foundation, and by his rule, and he will dwell with you. All buildings are with a view to habitation.
Secondly, As A PLANTER, prepare the soil by searching and convincing doctrine. - Sow "wholly a right seed." When you see the plants growing up, give attention to them. Cultivate them by every means, and pray that they may be watered by the Holy Spirit.
Allow me a word or two, my brother, particularly applicable to yourself individually. 1. While you root out and pull down, and build and plant, in God's house and vineyard, do not overlook your own. Personal religion is of the utmost importance to a minister.
2. Take into consideration that you are "a labourer together with God." - He that employs you will reward you. Look, my brother, beyond the grave for your reward. We have but little here; but if we had much, it would be an awful thing to receive that for our reward! ==================
[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, Idaho. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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