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CHARGE TO THE MINISTER.
BY REV. J. H. THOMSON, EAGLESHAM.
“ Preach the gospel."--MARK xvi. 15. DEAR BROTHER, -In accordance with a time-honoured custom, it is now my office, by appointment of the Presbytery, to address you respecting what will be expected of you in the new sphere which you are henceforth to occupy. More than five years ago, when you entered upon your ministry elsewhere, a full statement of the varied duties of a servant of Christ in the Gospel was laid before you. I am thus saved the necessity of entering into details, for, doubtless, the charge then given you is still fresh upon your memory, and has been oftener than once read by you in its printed form. Perhaps I shall best occupy the time in which I am to address you, by asking your attention to a charge, which, I am sure, has been often before your own mind, but which, nevertheless, cannot be too deeply engraven upon the memory of the Christian minister, or be too much obeyed in his daily life. It is that which our Lord gave on the evening of the memorable day on which He rose from the grave. It was an evening of an induction of the apostles into a new state of things. Their past worldliness and cowardice were henceforth no more to be found; and their understandings were opened as they had not hitherto been to understand the Scriptures. When in the early part of His public ministry our Lord sent them forth to preach, their field of labour was limited: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was very different now: limitation there was none: “Go ye into all the world, and PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE.”
What our Lord signified by the Gospel is not here said in so many words, but there can be no doubt, from the circumstances in which the charge was given, what His meaning was.
He had just risen from the dead. The satisfaction He had sought to make to the justice and the law of God, in man's behall, had been accepted. Delivered for our offences, He had been raised again for our justification. The Gospel, therefore, must be the good news of what He had done for sinners.
A very different view has sometimes been taken of its nature. The work which Christ accomplished has been regarded as mainly consisting in instruction and in example. Christ was indeed the great Teacher, and words rich in wisdom flowed from His lips. In His perfect obedience to the Divine law, in His continually going
about doing good, He afforded us an example of excellence such as cannot be surpassed. Nevertheless, the chief end of Christ's coming into the world was that of redemption. He came as a Redeemer, to deliver a chosen people from the degradation into which they had fallen, and to bear in their stead the punishment to which they stood exposed by sin. Indeed, the teaching and the example of Christ do not meet man's case, but in connection with satisfaction to the Divine law. For man is guilty, and the law he has broken demands him for punishment. Hence his first necessity is to know how he can meet it, so as to escape from it; and, since this is impossible, where he can find one mightier than himself to bear it for him. But the truth that Christ's end in coming into the world was to obey, and suffer the punishment of sin, meets this necessity. It gives relief to the troubled conscience. It gives comfort to the soul, trembling on account of its guilt, for it sets forth Christ as a Divine Redeemer, who, as the God-man, had an infinite dignity, and so gave an infinite worth to His obedience and sufferings and death on our behalf—a worth amply sufficient to cancel all the law's demands. Hence, this doctrine is the great theme of Holy Scripture, the theme which stands out prominent on its pages, and first and foremost calls for faith. The spirit of Paul is that of all the sacred writers when he says : “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Of course the Gospel is more than a reiteration of the fact of Christ's character as a Saviour from sin, able to save unto the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. It is the proclamation and assertion of the many truths that centre in, and arise out of, this fact, such as the heinous guilt of man as a transgressor of God's lawman's inability to give an adequate satisfaction for what he has done -the punishment, endless and unspeakably awful, he has brought upon himself-the wondrous love of God in so loving the world as to give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life—the marvellous combination that exists in the one Person of the Redeemer of Divinity and Humanity, in virtue of which He is linked to us by the tie of a common nature, and yet has a dignity infinite in degree that gives infinite value to His actings for us—the perfection of His obedience --the penal character and substitutionary nature of His sufferings and death as for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. All these and cognate truths enter into the proclamation of the Gospel, and form part of the faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief.
To a stranger to its power it might seem as if the Gospel would be a theme soon exhausted, that ere long it would become trite and threadbare. It is not so. No theme admits of a more varied treatment, or presents so many aspects in which it can be viewed, for it presents us with God in Christ rich in mercy; and “who can by searching find out God? who can find out the Almighty unto perfection ?” The experience of the Church is, that when men reject the cardinal doctrine of the Gospel—that of an atonement, infinite in value, offered for sinners by God's own Son,—then their
preaching becomes uninteresting, lacks variety, and finds so little in the Bible that it is obliged to turn to politics or literature or science as themes for the pulpit. But when the Gospel—the good news of Him who was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,-is the theme, then there is no lack of interest, no lack of variety; and the Bible becomes to the Christian minister so full of truth, that a lifetime is found insufficient to master its contents, or fully to understand its teachings.
This Gospel Christ charges you to preach. “Preach the Gospel." The word “preach," primarily denotes the act of a herald or public crier; and when applied to the Gospel, signifies the public proclamation and assertion of its truths. These truths it is to be your business to make known. To preach the Gospel is to be the leading feature of your calling as a Christian minister. When our Lord thrice over charged the penitent Peter, two of these charges, the first and the last, the most important of the three, were to feed
my lambs," and to "feed my sheep,” Booke; while the second only is to “keep” or to "rule” Toluaive, as if to tell him that ruling was altogether to be subordinate in the Christian minister to preaching the Gospel. Your office, therefore, is not mainly to rule or to administer the sacraments, it is to preach the Gospel. For this you are to live. For this you are to direct your energies. For this you are to regulate your studies, your reading, and even your very recreations and holidays. All is to be done with a view to the more effective preaching of the Gospel. To the accomplishment of this end everything else is to be secondary. You are so to spend your days, that when a description of your profession is asked, you can say with Paul, “ We preach Christ crucified.”
Again, this charge of Christ to "preach the Gospel,” is to preach it, and nothing else. It is not merely to be the grand theme, but the one theme of your ministry. Nothing else will save sinners, and nothing else will build up saints in holiness, but the preaching of Christ. The pious hearer will never tire of the constancy with which
before his view the Lord to whom he owes every
blessing. The sinner may, but a day may come—the day of God's power-when he will be all gratitude for the reiteration with which the good news of Christ, as the saviour of sinners, have been kept before him, for they have been made to him the power of God unto salvation. As you would save the souls of them that hear you, preach, therefore, the Gospel of Christ, and nothing else, so that when in future time you review the past years of your ministry, you can say with a preacher of renown, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Preach the Gospel believingly and intelligently. Believe in it for yourself, so that you may speak from the heart to the heart. Give time for patient and laborious study, in order that your preaching may have the freshness, the variety, and the tone of intelligent mastery of its truths, which long continued thought can alone give. Education is spreading throughout the land, and is every year rising beyond the mere elements once supposed enough for the mass of the nation to know. The age in which we live is an age of literature, when the productions of our best writers find their way into the homes of even the humblest of our people. If ever, therefore, it was needed that the Christian minister "give attendance to reading," whether this reading be the reading of the Scriptures in the language in which they were written, or the reading of books in general, it is now. And yet, while a high degree of intelligence is more than ever demanded of the Gospel minister that he may preach effectively, there, perhaps, never was an age in which there were so many temptations to lay aside protracted study. What with visitors, and classes, and meetings, many a city minister can scarcely call three or four hours at a time his own for study, yet these hours you must often secure, if you would intelligently preach the Gospel to your people.
Preach the Gospel fully. Not a few of its doctrines are humbling to human pride. The exceeding sinfulness of man, the sovereignty of Divine grace in electing some to everlasting life, and leaving others to the punishment of their sins, the absolute need of God's power to produce faith and repentance, have been rejected by multitudes. Yet they are part of Gospel truth. They have their place in the scheme of redemption, and must be preached, not, indeed, always, but with the frequency with which they appear in the pages of revelation. In all probability the Epistle to the saints at Ephesus presents, in a written form, the substance of Paul's teaching during his three years ministry in that city,-a ministry in which he affirms he kept back nothing profitable, and shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God, and yet, nowhere in Scripture are the doctrines that make up the offence of the Cross more strikingly exhibited. Preach the Gospel, therefore, fully, in its solemn and in its awful, as well as in its pleasing and in its winning aspects.
Preach the Gospel fearlessly. If you preach the Gospel fully, you will not be long of exciting the opposition of carnal-hearted hearers. No unbeliever likes to be told again and again of the utter insufficiency of man and the all-sufficiency of God to save; of the absolute need of holiness ere we can enter heaven ;-and yet a holiness not in man nor of man, but which God alone can supply. Do not be alarmed, therefore, if there should arise opposition to your ministry on the part of some of your hearers. It is what you may expect by-and-by to appear, if you fully preach Christ crucified, who has not seldom been to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness, and yet to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Preach the Gospel to every creature. In the full sense of the words this cannot be done by you; nevertheless you are, in the spirit of this command, to preach to all who hear you,--urge upon them acceptance of the Saviour,-plead with them to be reconciled unto God. And once reconciled, still preach the Gospel to them, for it is a Gospel to the believer as well as to the sinner. It tells where strength can be obtained for duty, where comfort can be had in sorrow, where guidance on the path of life, where deliverance in temptation, where support in affliction, and where protection in the hour of death. In order suitably to present the Gospel to these varied needs of your people, you must of necessity know them; in other words, you must be a visiting pastor. Like Paul, you must
, teach not only publicly but from house to house.
Preach the Gospel prayerfully, looking to the Head of the Church to bless His own ordinance to the conversion of sinners and the edification of His people. The preaching of the Gospel is the grand means by which the Redeemer advances His kingdom in the earth. In the presentation of His truth to the minds of men, He enters into their hearts and makes them His willing people. Hence, times of reformation and revival, and increase of His Church, have always been noted for the abundant preaching of the Gospel; yet the Gospel is often preached, and fails with many to produce any saving effect, as if to teach us that its efficacy rests in a higher than man. Realise, therefore, the position in which you stand as a preacher of the Cross, and never preach but in a spirit of prayerfulness, that the Redeemer would make your preaching to be in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.