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THE HONEST AND FAITHFUL MINISTRY.
CORINTHIANS IV. 1, 2. Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the trath, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
The ministry of the reconciliation is an office peculiar as to its responsibility, its trials, its honors, and its enjoyments. We are placed in the office through the instrumentality of men, but have our commission from heaven. We negotiate a reconciliation between God, and a rebel world. Men are saved by our ministry, if we do our duty; if we are unfaithful they are lost. If we give them not the timely alarm, we must answer for their blood. We must meet our hearers in the last day, at the judgment seat, and must know, when no mistake can be corrected, what has been the bearing of our ministry upon their everlasting destiny.
Hence we must do our duty, at the risk of interest, reputation, and life. Under every dispensation, the messengers of God have but one plain track, they must hazard the danger of being faithful. Jeremiah might not withhold his message, when he must write in a dungeon, when he must anathematize the monarch who imprisoned him, and when his message would impeach his loyalty and his patriotism, and endanger his life. Paul must do his duty in the face of stripes, the dungeon, and the cross. The hope that we can fully please the holy God, who sends us, and the disloyal to whom we are sent, is a fruitless hope; and none but the traitor will ask, whose pleasure he shall seek. If we had no interest of our own to risk, the honest man would aim to do his Master honor. But pesonal perdition hangs over us if we compromise the honors of our Lord. Men should be pleased with us when we do our duty, but men are not what they should be, else they had needed no gospel. The same depravity that prompts them to hate the government of Jehovah, renders them hostile to any conditions of peace, that will consist with his honor. Hence the minister of Christ, who cultivates a bending conscience, and is seen carefully providing for himself, at the expense of his Master, is of all men the most miserable, and the most contemptible.
But upon a ministry thus exposed, God has poured the highest honors. Not the gospel simply, but the gospel in the lips of men, he has pledged himself to use as the grand instrument of redeeming the world.
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us : we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Not the very angels, who minister to those who shall be the heirs of salvation, have a commission more dignified. We are workers together with God, in laying the foundation and rearing the superstructure of a spiritual temple, whose topstones are to be laid with shouting, Grace, grace, unto it!
And with the responsibility and the trials of the office, God has mingled not only honors, but enjoyments. The work is pleasant. To study divine truth and proclaim the divine honor; to be conversant with sacraments and Sabbaths, with prayer and praise, is living, if the heart be right, hard by the Oracle of God. And when the work is done, the reward is great. They that turn many to righteousness, are to shine in the kingdom of their father, and as the stars for ever and ever.
The apostle in the context had been commending his office: had showed, by various arguments, that it was more honorable than a ministry under the law. The law he denominates the letter, the gospel the spirit. That was the ministration of condemnation and death; this the ministration of the Spirit, and the ministration of righteousness. The legal ministration was temporary, but that of the gospel remains a lasting and permanent establishment. Hence Moses, conscious that he was the minister of a dispensation that would soon be eclipsed by one more glorious, veiled his face. But the heralds of the gospel may use great plainness of speech, as they proclaim a system in which there is nothing dark or mysterious. The true light has shined ; the veil is taken away, and we now behold the glory of God, not enveloped in clouds and darkness, but with open face, as in a glass, shining in the face of Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
And while we gaze upon this brightness, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory. And all is accomplished by the Spirit of the Lord, else the world had abode still in its native hideous darkness. Thus does the apostle, when he contemplates the dispensation of which he is a minister, rise to a tone of triumph, where language and figure are exhausted. Therefore, says he, seeing we have this ministry, we faint not. The office is so dig. nified, that no trials shall shake our confidenee, no onset subdue our courage. We will neither use dishonesty, craft, or deceit, but commend ourselves to every man's conscience, by manifesting the truth. Thus interesting is the attitude in which the apostle places himself, and all who after him should publish salvation to a dying world. Following the train of thought he suggests, I remark,
I. The mercy of God qualifies men to be his ministers. The very messengers he employs are by nature hostile to the truths and glories which the gospel reveals, and to the temper and duties it enjoins. The character of God and of the Savior displeases them. There cluster in the Godhead the very attributes that render character unlovely to the carnal mind. We naturally spurn the kingdom that God erects, and the heaven he reveals. All that was odious in the law, and more yet, we see in the gospel, till the eyes of our understandings are enlightened. It contains a law as rigid, as that which issued from the flames of Sinai, while it digs a deeper pit, and kindles a more consuming fire than were employed to avenge the broken law of Moses.
We are by nature like our hearers, the prey of a carnal mind, that is not subject to the law of God. Hence, till the grace of God renew us, how disqualified are we to be ministers of the reconciliation! But of just such men, sanctified, he makes ministers. He forgives them, and loves them, and they are then called to plead with rebels, just such as they were themselves up to the hour of the new birth. They have but just quitted the standard of revolt, and lo! they are seen standing hard by the host they have abandoned, proclaiming a pardon in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul had gone to lay waste that very church, which a few days afterward it was his honor and his joy to edify. The devourer was caught with the very prey in his teeth, and was made a lamb. The disciples were afraid of him; nor can we wonder: a few days gone and he was a fiend; and very much so of all Christ's ministers. We mingled with the congregation of the ungodly, and could resist the kindest entreaties of a pitying Redeemer. Not one of all the multitude had a conscience more polluted, or a temper more revolting. If grace has sanctified us, how surprising our escape. Perdition we deserved, but are made the messengers of life. What a humiliating retrospect! One look behind, covers us with shame, cast we that look but through,
Then the overtures of the gospel, which we now proclaim, were like music to the deaf adder. Some of us, perhaps, were pressing on to perdition like Paul, in the very van of that
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multitude which now it is our effort to save. On this point ! hardly know how to say enough. We were " aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”
We “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
And we had a mind as benighted, as was the heart depraved. Whether the apostle had reference or not to the supernatural gifts, by which he and his fellows had become qualified to serve God in the gospel, we may well ascribe to his grace any small degrees of preparation in us for such an embassy. That gospel which it has become our duty and our delight to publish, little as we now understand it, was once still less understood. The Bible was a dead letter. Neither was the mind imbued with its doctrines, nor the memory stored with its facts, nor the tongue used to its dialect. It seems incredible, when we look as it were but to yesterday, and recollect how gross was our ignorance of the gospel, that we should now be the teachers of that same religion to the multitudes who are perishing as we were for lack of knowledge. But the grace of God furnished us the means of improvement, and poured in the few rays of light, covered as we still are with ignorance, by the aid of which light we are introduced into an office similar to that which once was filled by the Son of God.
But the grace of God was still conspicuous, else our unworthie ness had debarred us from a situation so sublime and so honored. Might we but have occupied the obscurest place in God's house, been only door-keepers, it had been more than we deserved. The shame of having been totally depraved, and the guilt of having stood in the ranks of revolt so long, the habits of indolence we had acquired, and the still remaining passions, and prejudices, and the whole catalogue of moral plagues, deep rooted in our natureall seemed to forbid 'us the occupancy of a station so honored. God has indeed committed the treasure of the gospel to earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of him and not of us. How well does the language of the prophet become us. “Behold, Lord, I cannot speak, for I am a child.” And that of the apostle, “ Unto me whom am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
And where is it that God has put us? Into almost the very same office once filled by prophets and apostles, and even by the VOL. II,
Lord Jesus himself. He has emancipated slaves, and sent them to invite back a strayed world. He has placed us on the ramparts of his Zion, and has entrusted the prosperity of his kingdom, the honor of his government, the vindication of his law, and the glories of his name, to our sleepless, and watchful, and devoted fidelity. On our way to the place of execution, and the halter about our necks, he hailed us, and pardoned us, and now here we stand, between the condemned, and the arm of justice, between the burning glories of the Godhead, and the wretches whom his ire threatens to consume. We are occupying the station that Moses filled, while Israel were dancing around the golden calf; or that of David while he offered sacrifice on the threshing floor of the Jebusite; or that of Abraham when he sent up his last petition in behalf of the devoted cities—to turn away the wrath of heaven, to stay the plague, to ward off the storm of fire, and save, if it be possible, the abandoned transgressor.
Connected with our fidelity, are the everlasting hosannas of a multitude that no man can number, or with our neglects, the weepings and wailings of the damned. Ah, why did the holy God attach so high an office to beings so debased. Why did he not commission angels, who would have been faithful, and who were worthy of his honors. They would have brought no pollution with them, would have made no compromise of truth, would have exhibited no dire instances of apostacy, would have seen eye to eye, and might have gathered in the elect from the ranks of revolt, leaving wholly behind that multitude of hypocrites, who now pol. lute the ordinances of God. Well may we exclaim, “I am a worm and no man,” and ascribe, with the apostle, our appointment to the work, and our equipment for it, all our success in it, and the rewa
ward, if any should be ours, to the grace of God.
II. The ministry of the reconciliation is an office big with trials. This we should infer from its very nature. We are the agents of negotiation, between God, a holy and a good Jehovah, and men who hate his character, his government, and his glory. We preach a gospel which, till men are sanctified, they cannot love. We are directed to describe their character, in all its odiousness, and show that they have been unreasonable and vile in every principle, and in every act of their revolt. We must warn them of a coming moment when all their sin and their shame must be uncovered. We dare hide from them no part of the truth, whether they will hear or forbear : must show them that not merely is