[Sketch of a Sermon addressed to the Students
of the Stepney Academical Institution.]
"But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." - 2 Timothy iv. 5, 6.
BEING requested to address a word of exhortation to my younger brethren, I doubt not but I shall be heard with candour and attention; and that not only by those immediately addressed, but by all my younger brethren in the ministry. You will not suppose, then, that I mean to compare myself to an apostle, or you to evangelists; but the work is in substance the same, whether it be in the hands of extraordinary or ordinary men: and as Paul argued the importance of Timothy's work from his own approaching dissolution, I may be allowed to enforce it upon you from kindred considerations; namely, that many of your elder brethren are gone, and others are going the way of all the earth.
You will not expect me, my dear young men, to discourse to you on the advantages of literary acquirements. I might do so indeed, and that from experience. I know the value of such acquirements, both by what I have been enabled to attain, and by the want of that which I have not attained; but it is more congenial with my feelings to speak of things of still greater importance. Three things in particular are suggested by the passage which I have read, and these I shall recommend to your serious attention; namely, the work itself to which you are devoted - the duties inculcated as necessary to the discharge of it - and the considerations by which it is enforced.
I. THE WORK ITSELF to which you are devoted. - It is called a "ministry." The word signifies, as you are aware, service. The leading character of a minister is that of a servant. This is an idea that you must ever bear in mind. It is a service, however, of a special kind. Every Christian is a servant of Christ, but every Christian is not a minister of the gospel. A deacon is a servant, as the word also signifies; but his service respects temporal things; yours is that on account of which the office of deacon was appointed, that you should "give yourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." It is that which Jethro assigned to Moses - "Be
thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God." Your living under the gospel dispensation renders this a pleasant work: it must, if you enter into the spirit of it, be pleasant to study and impart the gladdening doctrine of salvation.
I have observed two extremes relative to this work; one on the part of ministers themselves, and the other on the part of the people. That on the part of ministers has been an abuse of their office of ruling, a fondness for power, aspiring to the exercise of dominion over their brethren. It has always grated in my ears to hear such language as this: - My church, my deacons, &c., as if churches were made for them, rather than they for churches. Do not emulate this empty swell. True greatness will revolt at it. He that will be great, let him be the servant of all. Think of the woe denounced against the idol shepherd: "The sword shall be upon his arm, and his right eye shall be darkened." Think especially of him who said, "I have been amongst you as one that serveth."
The extreme on the part of the people is this: from the idea of ministers being servants, some of them seem to have imagined that they are their masters. It is true they have a Master, and one to whom they must give account; but it is not to the people of their charge. As Christians, they are accountable to one another, the same as other Christians; but as ministers, to Christ only. In serving the church of God, you will act as a faithful steward towards his lord's family; who renders service to them all, but is accountable to his lord only. Serve the church of Christ for his sake.
II. Let me direct your attention to THE DUTIES INCULCATED AS NECESSARY TO THE DISCHARGE OF THE MINISTRY. These will be found to consist in four things: -
1. Vigilance. - "Watch thou in all things." This is a general quality that is required to run through all our work. If any of you enter the ministry as furnishing you with a genteel post in society, you will be at best a drone, and had better be any thing than a preacher. You are watchmen, and must be awake when others are asleep.
2. Patience. - "Endure afflictions." If you cannot bear these, you had better let the ministry alone. If you be good ministers of Jesus Christ, you will not only be afflicted in common with others, but the afflictions of others will become yours. "Who is offended, and I burn not?" You must care for all, and expect on some occasions, when you have done, to receive evil for good.
3. Activity in the great work of evangelizing men: - "Do the work of an evangelist." Without considering you as evangelists in the full import of the term, there is a portion of the work pertaining to that office which is common to us all as ministers. Wherever Providence may station you, my dear young men, be concerned to evangelize your neighbourhood. Look at the situations of a number of the ejected ministers, and see if the effects of their evangelical labours do not remain to this day. Who can look over the churches in Cambridgeshire, without seeing in them the fruits of the labours of Oddy and Holcroft? Who can review those of Bedfordshire, and not perceive in them the effects of the labours of Bunyan - labours for which he suffered twelve years' imprisonment? The same remarks might be made respecting other parts of the kingdom. Emulate these men of God in evangelizing your respective neighbourhoods.
Fidelity in discharging your trust: - "Make full proof of thy ministry." The word means thoroughly to accomplish that which you have undertaken. Such is the import of Colossians iv. 17, "Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it." Were you to present a soldier with a sword, and bid him make full proof of it, he
could not misunderstand you. Would you see an example, look at that of the great apostle in the context: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
But here allow me to be a little more particular. If you would make full proof of your ministry, you must attend,
(1.) To personal religion. - This is often inculcated by the apostle. - "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock." - "Take heed to thyself and to thy doctrine," &c. Many people will take our personal religion for granted; as though a man who teaches others must needs be religious himself: but woe unto us if we reason in this way! Tremble at the idea of being a graceless minister - character, it is to be feared, not very unfrequent! To what is it owing that some of our churches have been prejudiced against an educated ministry? I may be told, to their ignorance; and in part it is so; but in part it is owing to other causes. The lightness, the vanity, the foppery, and the irreligion of some young men have produced not only this effect, but an abhorrence of the very worship of God, as by them administered. Who were ever known to be prejudiced against a Pearce, a Francis, or a Beddome, on account of their education? If there were individuals of this description, let them be disregarded as ignorant, and let them be told that vicious characters are found among the uneducated as well as the educated. But be it your concern, my dear young men, to shun these evils. The instructions which you receive, if consecrated to Christ, will be a blessing to you; but if your object be to shine before men, they will be a curse.
(2.) Let the time allotted you for education be employed in acquiring a habit of useful study. - To make full proof of your ministry, you must give yourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the word. "Meditate on these things, and give yourselves wholly to them;" and this to the end of your lives. Let no one imagine that he will leave his present situation fully qualified for the work. If, by prayer and a diligent application to study, you acquire such a habit of close thinking as that on entering the work it shall be your delight to prosecute it, this is all that will be expected of you. It is for the want of this habit of study that there are so many saunterers, and have been so many scandals amongst ministers.
(3.) In every stage of literary improvement be concerned to have it sanctified and subordinated to God as you go on. On this depends its utility. It were desirable that the study of languages and sciences should commence in early youth, and that religion should come after it to make the last impression, seeing it is this that ordinarily stamps the character. Could we be certain that the faith of Christ, and the gifts suited to the ministry, would follow an early education, this would be our course; but as this cannot be, our dread of an unconverted ministry makes us require religion as the first qualification. Only pursue learning that you may be better able to serve the Lord, and all will be well. It is thus that our brethren in India, though their attainments were not made in the earliest stages of life, have retained their spirituality and increased in usefulness. Let me conclude by noticing,
III. THE CONSIDERATION WITH WHICH THESE EXHORTATIONS ARE ENFORCED: - "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." This language denotes an anxiety in the apostle that the work of God might go on when he should have fallen asleep; and if we be worthy of the name of Christian ministers, we must feel a portion of the same. Dear young men, to you we look for successors in the work. It is not for me to say how long your elder brethren may continue; but we have seen stars of no ordinary magnitude set within a few years! It seems but yesterday since they were with us, and we were the juniors amongst them. Now
we are obliged to take their place; and you, beloved youths, will soon have to take ours. We do not wish to hold ourselves up as your examples; but the cause in which we have been engaged, and in which the Lord has not frowned on our attempts, we do most earnestly recommend to your tender and solicitous regards.
Your elder brethren may be spared a little longer, and yet be able to do but little more. We feel the force of the wise man's counsel; may you feel it too - "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them."
===============[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 518-521. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. Originally published in the Baptist Magazine, Volume V, 1813, pp. 356-361. Formatted by Jim Duvall.] Andrew Fuller Sermon Index
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