The Ministry of the Gospel

by J. C. Philpot

The FOUNDATION of the gospel ministry

The most prominent feature of the gospel ministry is, that it is peculiarly an institution and an ordinance of the New Testament.

Instruction in the truth was always requisite for its preservation on earth. That it might not die with the individual or the generation to which it was first revealed, it was absolutely necessary that the father should hand it down to the son. This patriarchal mode was, in consequence, the earliest, as it was the simplest. We find, therefore, the Lord thus speaking of Abraham—"Should I hide my plan from Abraham?" the Lord asked. "For Abraham will become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord and do what is right and just. Then I will do for him all that I have promised." (Gen. 18:17-19.) One of the main purposes of God in the call of Abraham was to make known in him and by him his truth, and by giving him a godly seed, in whom it might be maintained, as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, to preserve it from that loss and corruption which it had suffered since the time of Noah, through the rise and prevalence of idolatry involving the descendants of Shem, and even the immediate ancestors of Abraham. (Gen. 31:30; Josh. 24:2.)

This patriarchal method was preserved down to the time of the Exodus from Egypt, when the Lord made a covenant at Sinai with the children of Israel, and a new mode of divine instruction was instituted and inaugurated. A written word was given; sacrifices and priesthood were, not indeed for the first time instituted, but put upon a new foundation; a tabernacle set up, and daily ministrations in it prescribed, and an order of men specially set apart to teach the people, as the Lord speaks by Malachi—"Then at last you will know it was I who sent you this warning so that my covenant with the Levites may continue. The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and this is what I gave them. This called for reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people all the truth they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. The priests' lips should guard knowledge, and people should go to them for instruction, for the priests are the messengers of the Lord Almighty." (Mal. 2:4-7.)

By this written code of laws, by these sacrifices, and by the Levitical priesthood, the people were instructed; and, as the Apostle speaks, had the gospel preached unto them—"For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." (Heb. 4:2.) Thus the children of Israel had, in a sense, a preached gospel given to them; and yet, as we shall see by-and-by, quite distinct from the ministry of the gospel now existing as a New Testament ordinance. After they had reached and been settled in the land of Canaan for a considerable time, as the priesthood had become corrupt, (1 Sam. 2:22-36,) and idolatry very prevalent, (Judges 2:11-13, 17; 3:6; 17:3, 4,) it pleased God to raise up a new order of men, commencing with Samuel, who continued to the close of the Old Testament canon, that is, the prophets, through whom the Lord himself specially spoke to the people. Then came the reading of the law and of the prophets in the synagogues, commenced by Ezra, which we find still carried on in the time of our Lord.

We have thus hastily sketched the mode of instruction under the Old dispensation, that it may help to throw a clearer, broader light on that instituted and enjoined in the New.

We have laid it down as a primary, fundamental element of the ministry of the gospel that it is purely an institution and an ordinance of the New Testament. In fact, there were no good tidings to preach until the promised Seed was come, and by his death and resurrection had finished the transgression and made an end of sin, had made reconciliation for iniquity, brought in everlasting righteousness, and sealed up (that is, by accomplishing, put an attesting seal upon) the vision and prophecy, and was anointed as the most holy by his exaltation to the right hand of God. (Dan. 9:24.) There was everything to prophesy, but nothing to preach. But when the work was finished which the Father had given him to do, when he had put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, then there was room for a world-wide proclamation of the joyful tidings which Paul preached at Antioch in Pisidia—"Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38, 39.) But before we proceed to prove the truth of our assertion by testimonies from the word of God, let us drop a few words as to the foundation itself, for that is the point in hand, and which, therefore, we desire to make as clear and firm as possible.

The death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the blessed Lord, as they are the subject, so are they the foundation of the ministry of the gospel. A moment's consideration will show this. But for his death, there could have been no propitiation for sin; therefore no proclamation of reconciliation, pardon, and peace for those who believe in his name. But for his resurrection, there could have been no open, visible declaration that he was the Son of God with power, (Rom. 1:4,) and no justification; (Rom. 4:25;) therefore no preaching Jesus as the Son of the Father in truth and love, no testifying how a sinner is justified by his righteousness; for "if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:17.) But for his ascension, there could have been no intercession at the right hand of the Father; therefore no Mediator to be set forth between God and men, (1 Tim. 2:5,) and no message from, no access unto the Father. (Eph. 2:18.) Unless he had been glorified, he would not have received the Spirit as a gift for us; (John 7:39; 16:7, 13-16;) therefore there would have been no power of the Holy Spirit to make the ministry of the gospel effectual to the calling of sinners or the comforting of saints. We see, therefore, how the foundation of the ministry of the gospel is laid in the death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord Jesus.

But you will, perhaps, say, "Was not the gospel preached before the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, not only typically and ceremonially, as you have pointed out under the Old Testament, but in the days of Christ, before his death and resurrection?" Yes; most certainly, both by the Lord himself and by his disciples; for we read—"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom." (Matt. 4:23.) The Apostle, therefore, writes—"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by those who heard him?" (Heb. 2:3.) So also the Lord sent forth the twelve apostles, at a very early period of his ministry, to "go and preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 10:7.) But all this was merely in a foreview of his death and resurrection, and as it were a preparation for it, and an intimation of its character and nature, as certain good news to be in due time brought. In this way it much resembled—resembled, we say, for it was not the same as, the ministry of John the Baptist, whose mission was to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight, as the angel testified of him—"And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17.) So the Lord's ministry, and that of his disciples, until after his ascension, was a ministry of preparation. But a preparation for an event is not the same thing as the event itself, any more than the preparation for the last supper (Luke 22:7-13) was the same thing as Jesus sitting down and breaking bread to the disciples.

It was not, then, until after his resurrection that the ministry of the gospel was instituted as a permanent ordinance of the New Testament; and its gracious and glorious charter we may read in those memorable words which the Lord spoke unto his disciples just before his ascension into heaven—"Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20.) This was the divine command, this the authoritative institution of the ministry of the gospel. And the attendant promise both testifies to its permanence and insures its blessing—"surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Almost similar is the language of Mark, recording the same commission—"And he said unto them, Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who believes not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15, 16.)

But it will be observed, that though this was the institution of the ministry of the gospel, yet it was not to commence at once. The parting words of the Lord, as recorded by Luke, clearly show this—"Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:45-49.)

Thus, though the apostles were already divinely commissioned, the commission was not to take effect or be acted upon until the Holy Spirit, as a fruit of Christ's glorification, was poured out. We, therefore, read in that last interview with his disciples before his ascension, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles—"On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4, 5.)

Having thus seen the foundation of the ministry of the gospel, first as laid in the death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord Jesus, and secondly as instituted by the Lord himself after his resurrection, we shall perhaps be better prepared to consider some other scriptures which testify to the same purport. One of the most clear and striking is that of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Ephesians 4:7-16. As we shall have occasion to dwell much upon that portion of the word, we merely quote a part of it for the present, as confirming what we have already advanced as the foundation of the Christian ministry—"When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people. Notice that it says "he ascended." This means that Christ first came down to the lowly world in which we live. The same one who came down is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that his rule might fill the entire universe. He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ." (Eph. 4:8-12.) The Apostle here quotes Psalm 68:18, with a little verbal alteration which is of no consequence, as the meaning is the same, for the Lord received that he might give. Without these gifts of the Holy Spirit received by him and given to us, the ministry would have been merely in word, without efficacy or power; a barren, unprofitable proclamation; not in itself, but barren to the souls of men as too deaf to hear it, too blind to see it, too dead to feel it.

We thus see four leading points in connection with the source and origin of the gospel ministry—

1. Its foundation in the death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord Jesus.

2. Its institution by the Lord just before his ascension.

3. Its permanence as a standing ordinance of the New Testament.

4. Its power as accompanied by the Holy Spirit to the souls of men.

We find, therefore, that the disciples, according to their Lord's command, waited at Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. They kept together as a little band, and "continued with one accord in prayer reed supplication," but did nothing except choose by lot a successor to Judas that he might take part of the ministry and apostleship from which that traitor by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. (Acts 1:14-26.) But now comes the setting up of the ministry of the gospel as a visible fact, a realization of the promise given to the disciples by their risen Lord—"On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Jesus' resurrection, the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them, and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability." (Acts 2:1-4.)

The sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, the cloven tongues of fire sitting upon each of them, their speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, were so many visible signs and marks that the Holy Spirit was come upon them. And what was the effect? The opening of the mouth to preach the word—"Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said unto them," etc. This was the first gospel sermon preached upon earth. Then, for the first time, did a gospel minister stand forth as an ambassador of Christ divinely commissioned, spiritually equipped, and enabled to preach Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ exalted, Christ as having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, and having visibly shed him forth in his gifts and graces.

And what was the effect of that first gospel sermon by a gospel minister? The call of three thousand souls! O what a testimony to the power of a preached gospel. What a demonstration that Jesus was at the right hand of the Father. What a visible fruit of his intercession and mediation. Before this day there was no preaching, in the New Testament sense of the word, but now there was good news to tell to poor perishing sinners, whether Jew or Gentile; for he who is our peace had made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition between them. Now the types were all fulfilled, the sacrifices of the law accomplished in the one great sacrifice, and therefore useless and virtually abrogated; and the legal dispensation come to an end by the bringing in of a new and better covenant. There was now an open field in which to preach the glad tidings of salvation, for the door of mercy was set open to the Gentiles, as intimated by the gift of tongues, and in pursuance of the Lord's command to go and teach all nations. Poor Gentile sinners, who had been aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world—were now made near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:12, 13.) And those who were once alienated and enemies in their mind by wicked works he had reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present them holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight. (Col. 1:21, 22.)

It is true that in harmony with all his dealings with Israel, after the flesh, to them the gospel was first preached, as Peter declared—"You are the children of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in your seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first, God having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities." (Acts 3:25, 26.) But they, except a remnant according to the election of grace, (Rom. 11:5,) rejected the gospel, blasphemed its doctrines and divine Author, persecuted its preachers, and filling up the measure of their sins, soon brought upon themselves swift destruction. But O what a confirmation did God give to those who by grace received it, that the gospel was a message from himself. The miracles which the apostles wrought (Acts 3:1-8; 5:12-16; 9:36-41; 14:8-10), the diverse languages with which they spoke; (1 Cor. 14:18;) the sufferings which they endured with such holy joy; (Acts 5:40, 41; 16:24, 25;) their undaunted boldness and faithfulness; (Acts 4:8-20; 5:29-32;) and above all, the power and authority which attended their word; (Acts 6:10; 8:5-8; 11:21-24; 1 Thess. 1:5-10;) all proved that the gospel which they preached was from God, and that he had commissioned and qualified them to preach it.

What they preached we shall see more clearly and fully when we come to our second point, the nature and character of the gospel. At present we are engaged with the foundation, which we desire to make as plain and clear as we can, not only as affording a strong and broad basis for the rest of the superstructure which we hope to build upon it—but for the comfort and encouragement of the servants of God, who are often cast down by the trials and temptations of the ministry, a sense of their inability, and the lack of that success in it which is the crown of all their labors. Now it may be good for them to consider, with the Lord's help and blessing, the foundation on which their ministry rests. And we would direct their attention to the four points which we have thus far brought forward.

1. First, let them consider that the foundation of their ministry is laid in the death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Son of God. What strength and firmness are here. What an immoveable foundation; for let them bear in mind that the foundation of their ministry is the same as that which God has laid in Zion. For was not this the foundation of Paul's ministry? "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:10, 11.) So it is of ours, if we preach Paul's gospel with any measure of Paul's grace. If we have been allowed by God to be put in trust with the gospel; (1 Thess. 2:4;) if God has committed unto us ("put in us," margin) the word of reconciliation; (2 Cor. 5:19;) if he has in any measure separated us unto the gospel of God, (Rom. 1:1,) the foundation of our ministry is already laid for us. And O what a foundation. Nothing less than the Son of God, as crucified, as risen from the dead, as gone up on high, as even now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.

2. And consider also its institution. No command of man, no invention or institution of Pope or prince, no appointment of prime minister or bishop—have commissioned God's servants to preach the gospel. The Lord himself, the risen Jesus, the great Head of the Church has appointed that the gospel should be preached, that a proclamation might be made of his Person and work, blood and obedience, grace and glory, that those who believe might be saved.

3. Consider, further, the permanence of the gospel ministry, and the promise which ensures not only its continuance, but its ever-abiding blessing—"And lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." The ministry of the gospel did not die with the apostles. Like the fire upon the brazen altar, like the light in the holy place, it was never to be quenched or put out, sink down for lack of fuel, or die out for lack of oil. "The end of the world" has not yet come. Until that time, then, God shall never lack a servant, Christ an ambassador, or the Church a minister. With a little change we may adopt the words of Berridge on the death of Whitefield:

"As one Elijah dies,
True prophet of the Lord,
Shall some Elisha rise,
To blaze the gospel word."

This is your strength, hope, and confidence, you servants of God—that the Lord is with you. What the angel of the Lord said to Gideon, "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor," may be said to and of you. And if any, in the despondency of his heart say, "If the Lord is with me, why has all this befallen me, and where are all the miracles which our fathers told us?" may the gracious Lord look upon him in all the beauty, blessedness, and strength-giving light of his glorious countenance, and say, "Go in this my might. Have not I sent you?" (Judges 6:12-14.)

4. And lastly, may they bear in mind the power which the Lord has promised shall accompany his word—"For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not there, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater—so shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isa. 55:10, 11.) The gospel still is "the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes." (Rom. 1:16.) And as we witness the power which attends it still to the souls of men, we may say with the Apostle—"For this cause also we thank God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which you heard of us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth—the word of God, which effectually works also in you who believe." (1 Thess. 2:13.)

It is true that we have fallen on evil days, when little power for the most part attends the preached gospel. And yet there may be more good done than we are aware of, or are permitted to see. Much of the blessing that the word is made to the people of God is hidden, wisely hidden, from the servants of the Lord. Pride is so deep and so prolific a root that, to hide pride from man, many of the servants of God are not permitted to see the fruit of their own labors, or to harvest their own crop. O that those whom the Lord has himself taught, equipped, commissioned, and sent forth to preach his precious gospel may still go on holding forth the word of life, that they may rejoice in the day of Christ, that they have not run in vain, nor yet labored in vain. (Phil. 2:16.) May none of us be weary in well doing, whether we labor with tongue or pen; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. And may I not add, as a fellow-laborer and a fellow-helper, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. 15:58.)

We have attempted to show the foundation—the strong and broad foundation, on which the Ministry of the Gospel rests. To have clear views of, to be well established on, this foundation, is not only most desirable, but almost indispensable, both for minister and people—for the minister that, feeling the firmness of his standing, he may preach the gospel with authority and power, and for the people that they may receive the word from his lips in faith and love, as a message from God to their souls. To lose sight, then, of this foundation will ever bring with it loss both of power and of comfort; and it is hard to say which, in such a case, suffers most, the people or the minister.

Wherever man is, there is weakness; wherever the Lord is, there is power. Now, in the ministry of the word, above most other things, there is a continual temptation to look too much to man, and too little to the Lord. As poor wretched man is always in extremes, some of the Lord's people think too much, others too little of the minister; but whether too much or too little, the effect in both cases is much the same—to look to the man, and to lose sight of the Lord. You that are young may so admire, if not idolize, your minister as to think that he can scarcely speak anything that is wrong; you that are old may see so much infirmity in him that you can scarcely receive from him even what you know to be truth. Both of you are in grievous fault; and though you so widely differ, the cause of your fault is the same; it is from looking off the foundation—and looking at the ministry of the gospel more as a thing of man than of God.

The minister also falls into weakness the moment that he loses sight of, or gets moved off this foundation. Nor is he less in extremes than the people. Some ministers think much too highly of themselves, feeding on their own gifts and the flattery of their admirers, often the weakest and least discerning of the flock, until, forgetting they have nothing that they have not received, they are full, they are rich, and reign as kings, able to bear no rival near their throne—and full of jealousy against the most honored of the Lord's servants, if they approach too near their own little dominion. (1 Cor. 4:7, 8.)

(There is a wonderful opening up and laying bare of this point in 1 Cor. 3, 4, which will amply repay examination and meditation. We will just furnish the key-note to those of our readers who may desire to see the mind of the Spirit in these two chapters. It is the contrast which the Apostle draws between himself and the teachers who had supplanted him at Corinth, with the effects produced on the people by their ministry.)

Others, again, of the Lord's servants see and feel so much of their own inability, infirmities, shortcomings, and the inward stream of pollution which defiles every thought, word, and work—that their heart sinks, their hands droop, and they cannot stand before the people and deliver their message with that holy boldness and firm confidence which they should maintain as servants of the living God. They, too, are looking off the foundation, and looking at self in its weakness—just as the proud and puffed up look at self in its strength.

We see, therefore, even from these few hints, that the foundation of the ministry of the gospel is not a mere doctrinal speculation or theological theory, only fit to be discussed by divines in their studies, but a solemn truth of such practical influence, and living effect and operation, that without it the ministry is but an empty noise, of no more real value to the souls of men than a course of lectures at a Mechanics' Institute. It is for this reason that, in our last paper, we took so much pains and devoted so much space to lay this foundation plainly and clearly before our readers' eyes; and as the whole of the superstructure which we hope, with God's help and blessing, to build up will rest on this foundation, we would affectionately suggest to those who are desirous or willing to receive any instruction from us, carefully to read again what we have written on this point, and compare it and all we shall advance in connection with it, with the word of truth, that we may have the sweet privilege of seeing eye to eye, and the blessed comfort of walking step by step, during the rest of our journey together.

We shall now, therefore, pass on to consider the second point that we proposed to examine—the nature and character of the ministry of the gospel.