The Pastor's Request for the Prayers of His Flock
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel" Ephes. 6:18-19
The Church of God, as if reflecting from its bosom, like a sea of glass, the order and the perfection of the heaven of glory, from which it descended, presents a beautiful harmony of relation and dependence in all its parts; while, as a whole, it forms a temple of magnificent construction and consummate symmetry- the Zion of God, the "perfection of beauty." In nothing does the evidence of this more strikingly appear than in the relation of the Church of God and the Christian ministry. The obligations involved in this relation, and the reciprocal influence which it is perpetually exerting, illustrate the harmony of this masterpiece of divine workmanship in a manner the most surprising. The Christian church and the Christian ministry are synchronous institutions. Separate and distinct from each other though they are, they yet never existed apart. There never was a church without a ministry; and the appointment of the Christian ministry always implied the existence of the Christian church- the one necessarily involving the other. Of this beautiful relation in one of its most interesting features we are now to speak- namely, the RELIANCE OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY UPON THE INTERCESSIONS OF THE CHURCH.
It might be supposed, from a cursory view of this subject, that a Christian pastor, from the exalted nature of his office, and from the superior attainments in grace and knowledge to which he is supposed to have arrived, would occupy a place so far in the ascendant of the feeblest member of his flock, as to place him in a position independent of the influence which that individual might be capable of exerting. But not so. And here we trace the wisdom and the goodness of God in the nice adjustment of every part of the body of Christ to the whole. As in the physical structure of the human frame, the smallest and most insignificant muscles are observed to perform the most important and delicate actions- the minutest fibre transmitting a vital influence to the brain- so in the more beautiful and perfect body, the church of God, "much more those members which seem to be more feeble are necessary." Thus no pastor can be unaffected by the individual influence of the lowliest member of a Christian body.
The portion of God's word which suggests the topic of this chapter, presents to our view the sublime moral spectacle of the great Apostle of the Gentiles- a man full of wisdom and of the Holy Spirit, mighty in grace, and enriched in gifts- so deeply conscious of personal weakness, and so crushed by the weight of his official responsibilities, and so desirous, too, of delivering his divine message with a moral courage worthy of its high character, stooping to ask at the hands of the Ephesian church, and even of the obscurest member of that church, an interest in his intercessory prayers. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit- and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel." The subject is an interesting and an important one. Its bearings upon the mutual usefulness, holiness, and happiness of a pastor and his flock are solemn and far-reaching. It affords a solution of a difficult problem why there is often, comparatively, so little happiness and perpetuity in the pastoral relation; and why there is so much complaint on the one part of unprofitable preaching, and on the other part of careless and fruitless hearing. Prayer for the pastor is restrained before God! Let us endeavor to understand the meaning of the apostle's words, that we may feel the full force of his earnest and solemn request.
The first point to which it is proper to turn our attention is, THE SUBLIME TOPIC OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY. The apostle designates it the "mystery of the gospel." He doubtless borrows the word from the secret rites of the heathen temples, to which none were admitted, and which none understood but the initiated. To all others they were mysteries. Freed from its original and profane use, it is here appropriately applied to designate the nature and the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and thus becomes, by its association, a hallowed and expressive term. Nor is this the only place in which it occurs in the same use. Thus in I Cor. 2:7, "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world for our glory." Equally clear is it, that none are initiated into this mystery of the gospel but those who are partakers of the second birth. For "unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It is to him a mystery. He is blind and cannot see the glorious mysteries of this kingdom of grace. Addressing his twelve disciples, our Lord further elucidates this idea when he reminds them of their great and gracious privilege "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto those who are outside, all these things are done in parables." Mark 4:11. Still more clearly is this truth developed in his remarkable prayer thus recorded: "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in his spirit and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and have revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight."
Permit one remark in passing. If, dear reader, you have been led in any degree into the knowledge of this glorious mystery of truth, hesitate not to ascribe it to the grace of God. Unto you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom. The sovereignty of God has so ordered it. The learning, the intellect, and the philosophy of the worldly wise and prudent, have afforded you no help in the solution and unraveling of these divine and glorious enigmas. "But God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God." To babes in Christ- to the lowly minded disciple- to the learner, willing to receive the kingdom of God, as a little child- God unfolds this mystery, that no flesh should glory in his presence. O favored, happy soul, if you, through the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit, have been led into the mystery of the Father's love in Christ to poor perishing sinners! "Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight!"
Now, here at the very threshold of the kingdom of grace, many hesitate and stumble. The glory of the Gospel- its divine mystery- is their great hindrance. The dim light of nature has conducted them thus far, and here they are brought to a stand-still. Looking into the sacred volume, and finding doctrines there propounded for their faith, which tower above their reason, they scornfully cast it aside, proudly and triumphantly asking, "If this were a revelation from God, why has He not excluded all mystery, clothing every truth with light, and freeing every doctrine from difficulty? Why can we not understand what he has revealed? Are we such babes in understanding, or such dolts in intellect, that these revelations should be veiled in mystery? And are we such fools as to believe that to be true which our reason pronounces to be false?" Thus, "vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild donkey's colt."
But, if it may avail to argue with such an objector, we would inquire- Is not the world without you and the world within you crowded with problems, which laugh to scorn your oft-made attempts to solve them! Is not the universe of mind and of matter, of which you form a most mysterious speck, replete with mysteries which you cannot explore? Either search out those difficulties, and unravel those mysteries, and thus plant a new sun in the intellectual firmament, that shall dispel the lingering night of ages, or admit the truth of the mystery of the gospel. Where will you place your foot on this little planet of ours, that brings you not in contact with some law or with some product of nature which you cannot explain? The leaf that falls on the pathless desert, the dust brushed from the emmet's wing, baffle and confound you. The pulsations at your heart, the movement of your arm, awe and perplex you. Your very being is a fathomless mystery! Why, then, assume an air of such astonishment, and an attitude of such contempt- why look, why speak so doubtingly, when we present for your belief the mystery of revelation; the inexplicable wonders of God's salvation of man?
"Observe, I ask you," argues, with much force and beauty, an eminent continental divine, "in what manner the mysteries of which you complain have taken their part in religion. You readily perceive they are not by themselves, but associated with truths which have a direct bearing on your salvation. They contain them, they serve to envelope them; but they are not themselves the truths that save. It is with these mysteries as it is with the vessel which contains a medicinal draught; it is not the vessel that cures, but the draught; yet the draught could not be presented without the vessel. Thus each truth that saves is contained in a mystery, which, in itself, has no power to save. So the great work of expiation is necessarily attached to the incarnation of the Son of God, which is a mystery; so the sanctifying graces of the new covenant are necessarily connected with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is a mystery; so, too, the divinity of religion finds a seal and an attestation in the miracles, which are mysteries. Everywhere the light is born from darkness, and darkness accompanies the light. These two orders of truth are so united, so interlinked, that you cannot remove the one without the other; and each of the mysteries you attempt to tear from religion, would carry with it one of the truths which bear directly on your regeneration and salvation. Accept the mysteries, then, not as truths that can save you, but as the necessary conditions of the merciful work of the Lord in your behalf."
"The true point at issue in reference to religion is this- Does the religion which is proposed to us, change the heart, unite to God, prepare for heaven? If Christianity produces these effects, we will leave the enemies of the cross free to revolt against its mysteries, and tax them with absurdity. The gospel, we will say to them, is then an absurdity; you have discovered it. But behold what a new species of absurdity that certainly is, which attaches man to all his duties, regulates human life better than all the doctrines of sages, plants in his bosom harmony, order, and peace, causes him joyfully to fulfil all the offices of civil life, renders him better fitted to live, better fitted to die, and which, were it generally received, would be the support and safeguard of society! Cite to us, among all human absurdities, a single one which produces such effects. If that 'foolishness' we preach produces effects like these, is it not natural to conclude that it is truth itself? And if these things have not entered the heart of man, it is not because they are absurd, but because they are divine." -Alexander Vinet
And yet how credulous is man when folly clothes itself in affected mystery, and demands his faith! The atheist, for example, seizing upon every childish cause that promises to solve his difficulties, and dispel his fears; the sceptic, launched upon the stormy sea of uncertainty and doubt, becomes the plaything of chance and fate, whose dreamings he implicitly believes. What folly so egregious has not man credited? By what imposture so gross has he not been entrapped? And to what superstition so abject has he not been a slave? And yet the sublime, glorious, precious mystery of the gospel, he, in the pride of his intellect, and in the depravity of his heart, scornfully and utterly rejects!
But let us specify some of the mysteries of the gospel, which, while it declares transcending our reason, yet propounds for our faith. We commence with the doctrine of the TRINITY. That this is a truth of express revelation, we think it will not be difficult to show. We may not find the term employed to designate the doctrine in the Bible, but if we find the doctrine itself there, it is all that we ask. On opening the Bible, with a view to the examination of this subject, the first truth that arrests our attention, is a solemn declaration of the Divine Unity- "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." Deut. 6:4. Prosecuting our research, we find two distinct people spoken of in relation to the Godhead, under the titles of the "Son of God," and the "Holy Spirit of God," to whom are ascribed the attributes of Deity and the qualities of a person, implying Divine personality. A step further brings us to a passage in which we find these three distinct, divine people, associated in an act of solemn worship- "Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." What conclusion must we draw from these premises? First, that there is a unity in the Godhead; and secondly, that in this unity, or in this one Godhead, there is a trinity of people, or three istinct subsistences, styled the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here, then, we have the doctrine for which we plead. The following passage clearly teaches the same glorious truth, Matt. 3:I6 "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." What a conclusive evidence is this passage of the blessed Trinity! The FATHER speaks from the excellent glory; the SON ascends from the water, and receives the attestation of his Father; and the Holy SPIRIT descends from the heavens, and overshadows him. Here are three distinct people, to each of whom the marks of Deity are ascribed, and between whom it is impossible not to observe a bond of the closest and tenderest unity. Again, I Cor. 12:4-6 "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same SPIRIT. And there are differences of administrations, but the same LORD. And there are diversities of operations; but it is the same GOD who works all in all." With what a sunbeam is this glorious truth here written! How richly it glows with light peculiarly its own! That here are three distinct subsistences, who can deny? And that they are equal, who can doubt? Gal. 4:6 "And because you are sons, GOD has sent forth the SPIRIT Of His SON into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Again, here are three people announced in connection with the blessed act of the Father's adoption of his people. Jude 2O:21 "But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the HOLY SPIRIT, keep yourselves in the love of GOD, looking for the mercy of our LORD Jesus Christ, unto eternal life."
Wilfully, or judicially blind must he be, who sees not in these words the great truth for which we plead. And it is the glory of our land, and the joy of our hearts, to know, that from every Christian pulpit, the doctrine of the blessed Trinity is proclaimed whenever the apostolic benediction is pronounced, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen." That the mode of its existence is an awful mystery, we unhesitatingly admit; but it is not the mode of the fact, but the fact itself which the word presents as the object of our faith. I am not required to believe how the three people subsist as the One Godhead; but I am to believe upon the express testimony of revelation that they do so exist.
I find 'a trinity' within me- matter, mind, and spirit. I am baffled in my attempts to unravel the mystery. In vain I search for a clue; every attempt leaves me puzzled, lost, and more confounded. Do I therefore deny my own being? Or, do I not rather subordinate my reason to my faith, believing a fact, the truth of which I have the evidence, but the mode of which I cannot understand? Surely, then, if I cannot fathom the shallows of a finite existence, how can I fathom the depths of an infinite? Foolish man! expecting all else to be wrapped in profound mystery, and God alone to be understood! "Can you by searching find out God? can you find out the Almighty unto perfection. It is higher than heaven, what can you do? deeper than hell, what can you know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea."
There is so much excellence of thought, and so clearly expressed, in the following observations, pertinent to our subject, by one of the ablest divines, that we are constrained to quote them. Alluding to the doctrine of the Trinity, he remarks- "The doctrine of which I now speak is freely admitted to be above reason. But it is of consequence to observe, that on this very account, it seems impossible to prove it contrary to reason. It is a common and just remark, that there is an essential difference between anything being above reason, and being contrary to it; and that it may be the former, without being the latter. I think we may go a step farther, and affirm, as I have just hinted, that this very circumstance of its being the former, precludes the possibility of proving it to be the latter. I question whether anything that is above reason can ever be shown to be contrary to it. For unless we have some notion of the thing itself, on what principle can we make out the contrariety? Were we to say that the people of the Godhead are one and three in the same sense, we should evidently affirm what is contrary to reason; because such a proposition would involve, in the very terms of it, an irreconcilable contradiction; but so long as we do not pretend to know, nor to say, how they are one, and how they are three, to prove that we assert what is contrary to reason, when we affirm that they are both, is, from the very nature of the thing, impossible. For what is it which is to be proved contrary to reason? Upon the supposition made, we cannot tell- it is something which we do not know, of the nature and circumstances of which we are left in total ignorance. For our own part, so far from being staggered by finding mysteries in revelation, I am satisfied that the entire absence of them would have formed a much stronger ground for suspicion. All analogy excites and justifies the expectation of them. Nature, in its various departments, is full of them; and shall we, then, account it strange, that there should be any in the department of grace? They abound in the works of God; why, then, should we not wish for them in his word? They present themselves in the nature and constitution of every one of his creatures; and is it to be conceived, that in his own nature and essence nothing of the kind should be found? Is it reasonable to think that all should be plain and easily comprehensible, which relates to God himself, and that inexplicable difficulties should embarrass and stop our researches, only in what regards his creatures? Ought we not rather, on such a subject, to anticipate difficulties?- to expect to feel the inadequacy and the failure of our faculties?- and to expect this, with a certainty proportioned to the superior magnitude of the subject above all others that can engage our attention, and its complete and absolute remoteness from the sphere of all our senses, and of all our experience? If finite things every moment confound us, ought we to be surprised at finding that we cannot comprehend what is infinite? Let us remember the apostolic lesson, and let it be our desire, that we may think, and feel, and act, on all subjects, and on all occasions, consistently with the principle and spirit of it. 'I say, through the grace given to me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly."' -Dr. Wardlaw
Before we dismiss all allusion to this doctrine, we must venture to observe that, in an experimental and practical point of view, it is a truth fraught with the richest blessing to a believing mind. The relation which it sustains to our spiritual knowledge, happiness, and future glory, is but little considered. It is to the Christian, the key of the Bible. The Spirit imparting skill to use it, and the power, when used, it unlocks this divine arcade of mysteries, and throws open every door in the blest sanctuary of truth. But it is in the light of salvation that its fitness and beauty most distinctly appear- salvation in which JEHOVAH appears so inimitably glorious- so like Himself. The Father's love appears in sending his Son- the Son's love in undertaking the work- the Holy Spirit's love in applying the work. Oh, it is delightful to see how, in working out the mighty problem of man's redemption, the Divine Three were thus deeply engaged! With which of these could we have dispensed? All were needed- and had one been lacking, our salvation had been incomplete, and we had been eternally lost. In bringing to glory the Church they thus have saved, the sacred Three are solemnly pledged. And in the matter of prayer, how sustaining to faith, and how soothing to the mind, when we can embrace, in our ascending petitions, the blessed Three in One! "For through him (the Son) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father."
The doctrine of the INCARNATION presents another gospel mystery, if possible, more astonishing than the one which we have just considered. We can more easily understand that there should be three people in a unity of subsistence, than that God should be manifested in the flesh. The analogy of the one meets us everywhere; we turn the eye within ourselves, or we turn it outside upon the broad expanse of God's creation- from every point of observation, a trinity of existence bursts upon our view. But, of the other, in vain we search for anything approaching to resemblance. It was a thing so unheard of and so strange, so marvellous and so unique, that there was nothing in the sublime or the rude, in the bold or the tender of nature's varied works, to prepare the mind for, or awaken the expectation of, a phenomenon so strange, so stupendous, and so mysterious. We do not overlook the fact that there have been found to exist in the history of nations, ideas that would seem analogous to the revealed doctrine of the incarnatian. For instance, the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls- the Hindoo idea of the incarnation of Vishnu, and other examples which might be adduced. But how far these dim and vague notions were extracted from biblical tradition would be a nice and interesting question. But that the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God is any other than a pure and express revelation, no true believer will for a moment question. It was a secret originating and enclosed within the mind of JEHOVAH. He only could reveal it. Not that the possibility of such an event astonishes us. With Jehovah all things are possible. "Is anything too hard for me?" is a question that would seem to rebuke the first rising of such an emotion, "A God allowed, all other wonders cease."
But we marvel at the fact itself. Its stupendousness amazes us- its condescension humbles us- its glory dazzles us- its tenderness subdues us- its love overpowers us. That the uncreated Son of God should become the created Son of man- that the Eternal Word should be made flesh and dwell with men- that he should assume a new title, entwining in the awful letters that compose his divine name, others denoting his inferior nature as man, so revealing himself as Jehovah-Jesus! O wonder, surpassing thought! Before this, how are all others infinitely outshone; their luster fading away and disappearing as stars before the advancing light!
But viewed as a medium of the most costly blessings to the church of God, how precious a mystery does the incarnation of our Lord appear! The union of the divine and the human in Immanuel, is the re-union of God through the second Adam with fallen man. The first Adam severed us from the Divine nature- the second Adam re-unites us. The incarnation is the grand link between these two extremes of being. It forms the verdant spot, the oasis in the desert, of a ruined universe, on which God and the sinner can meet together. Here are blended, in marvellous union, the gloomy clouds of human woe, and the bright beams of divine glory- God and man united! And will you, O theist, rob me of this truth, because of its mystery? Will you yourself reject it, because reason cannot grasp it? Then might I rob you of your God, (whom you ignorantly worship,) because of his incomprehensibleness, not one attribute of whom can you understand or explain. No! It is a truth too precious to part with so easily. God in my nature- my Brother- my Friend- my Counselor- my Guide- my Redeemer- my Pattern- my all! God in my nature- my wisdom, my righteousness, my sanctification, my redemption! But for this heaven-descending communication, of which the Patriarch's ladder was the symbol and the type, how could the holy God advance towards me, or I draw near to him? But he takes my nature that he may descend to me, and he gives me his nature that I may ascend to him. He stoops because I could not rise! O mystery of grace, wisdom, and love! Shall I doubt it?
I go to the manger of Bethlehem, and gaze upon the infant Savior. My faith is staggered, and I exclaim, "Is this the Son of God?" Retiring, I track that infant's steps along its future path. I mark the wisdom that he displayed, and I behold the wonders that he wrought. I mark the revelations that he disclosed, the doctrines that he propounded, the precepts that he taught, the magnanimity that he displayed. I follow him to Gethsemane, to the judgment hall, and then to Calvary, and I witness the closing scene of wonder. I return to Bethlehem, and with the evidences which my hesitating faith has thus collected, I exclaim, with the awe-struck and believing centurion, "Truly this is the Son of God!" All the mystery of his lowly incarnation vanishes, and my adoring soul embraces the incarnate God within its arms.
We marvel not that, hovering over the spot where this great mystery of godliness transpired, the celestial choir, in the stillness of the night, awoke such strains of music along the plains of Bethlehem, as were never heard before. They left the realms of glory to escort the Lord of glory in his advent to our earth. How gladly they trooped around him, thronging his wondrous way, their benevolent bosoms dilating in sympathy with the grand object of his mission. And this was the angel's message to the astonished shepherds: "Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will to men." Shall angels rejoice in the incarnation of the Son of God, and our hearts be cold and unmoved? Forbid it, love, forbid it, gratitude, forbid it, O my soul!
THE MYSTICAL UNION OF CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH is also declared to be one of the mysteries of the gospel. "This is a great mystery," says the apostle, "but I speak concerning Christ and his Church." That Christ and his people should be one- one as the head and the body- the vine and the branch- the foundation and the house- is indeed a wondrous truth. We cannot understand how it is; and yet so many, palpable, and gracious are the blessings flowing from it, we dare not reject it. All that a believer is, as a living soul, he is from a vital union with Christ. As the body without the soul is dead, so is a sinner spiritually dead without union to Jesus. Not only his life, but his fruitfulness is derived from this source. All the "beauties of holiness" that adorn his character, spring from the vital principle which his engrafting into Christ produces. He is skillful to fight, and strong to overcome, and patient to endure, and meek to suffer, and wise to walk, as he lives on Christ for the grace of sanctification. "Without me you can do nothing."
Is it not indeed a mystery that I should so be one with Christ, that all that he is becomes mine, and all that I am becomes his? His glory mine, my humiliation his. His righteousness mine, my guilt his. His joy mine, my sorrow his. Mine his riches, his my poverty. Mine his life, his my death. Mine his heaven, his my hell. The daily walk of faith is a continuous development of the wonders of this wondrous truth: That in traveling to him empty, I should return from him full. That in going to him weak, I should come away from him strong. That in bending my steps to him in all darkness, perplexity, and grief, I should retrace them all light, and joy, and gladness. Why marvel at this mystery of the life of faith? My oneness with Jesus explains it.
And what a mystery is THE OPERATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE SOUL! That a work so renewing, so gracious, and so holy, should ever transpire in the heart of a poor sinner, is itself a wonder. What a marvellous view of the power, nor less of the grace of God, does it present! Every step in the mighty process awakens new amazement. The first conviction of sin that saddens the heart- the first beam of light that illuminates the mind- the first touch of faith that heals the soul, possesses more that is truly wonderful than the most sublime mystery, or the profoundest secret, in nature. There is more of God in it; and the more of God, the more of wonder; and the more of wonder we see in his work and operations, the more readily should reason assent, and the more profoundly should faith adore.
The mystery of grace is illustrated by the mystery of nature. "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." I saw one man just yesterday living without God, and in total neglect of his soul's salvation. The solemn eternity to which he was hastening, gave him not a moment's serious concern. His heart was filled with pharisaical pride, worldly ambition, and covetous desires. Self was his God- the only deity he worshiped; this world was his paradise- the only heaven he desired. Today I see him the subject of deep and powerful emotion; a humble suppliant, in the spirit of self-abasement, pleading for mercy as the chief of sinners. What a change has come over him! How in a moment have old things passed away, and all things become new! And he who but as yesterday was dwelling among the tombs, himself dead in trespasses and sins, today is sitting as a lowly disciple and an adoring worshiper at the feet of Jesus. Where did this wondrous transformation, this new creation, come from? Oh, it was the Spirit of God who wrought it, and the work is marvellous in our eyes!
Nor do the SUSTAINING AND THE CARRYING FORWARD OF THIS WORK OF GRACE IN THE SOUL unfold less of the wonderful power of God the Holy Spirit. When we take into consideration the sinful mass which the little leaven of grace has to transform- the extent of that revolted territory which the new kingdom has to subjugate to itself- then the sustaining and the perfecting of this work is one continued miracle of wonder. To see one strong in conscious weakness maintaining his position in the face of much opposition- buoyed up amid billows of sorrow- growing in grace in the midst of circumstances the most unfavorable- witnessing for God and his truth at the loss of family affection and long-endeared friendship- is a spectacle that must fill the mind with adoring thoughts of the love and faithfulness and power of that divine Spirit whose work it is.
There are other doctrines comprehended in the gospel which equally come under the denomination of mysterious. Such is the doctrine of THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. "Behold," says the apostle in his splendid argument on this subject, "I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." And yet shall it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? He who could call into existence that which was not, shall he be baffled in recalling into existence that which was? Why, then, should we reject the doctrine of the resurrection, because the process of resuscitating the identical dead, God has concealed in profound mystery?
These are some of the gospel mysteries which the apostle desired to make known. He admitted that they were mysteries- mysteries which he could not fully unravel. It was enough for him that they were so revealed. He bowed his great intellect to the truth; and what his mighty reason could not comprehend, his humble faith implicitly and gratefully received. We may learn much from this. Let no minister of the gospel withhold any part, or doctrine, or truth of God's word, because it is "hard to be understood." Our functions are limited. We are but the expositors of what God has seen most consistent with his glory to make known. We are not to unloose seals which he has not broken, nor attempt to ascribe reasons for what he has seen fit to conceal. "He gives no account of any of his matters." All revealed truth is unqualifiedly to be declared. The doctrines of grace, towering though they do above the comprehension of carnal reason, and humbling though they are to human pride, are yet fully and broadly to be stated. "Even so, Father; for so it seems good in your sight," is the only answer we should give to him who dares to "reply against God." O for grace to preach as God has commanded; neither taking from, nor adding to, his revealed word!
It may be profitable for a moment to contemplate THE SPIRIT in which the apostle desired to make known this mystery of the gospel. The two blessings which he craved through the prayers of his flock were, utterance and boldness. "That utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel." The first which Paul desired was UNFETTERED UTTERANCE. He knew that He who made man's mouth could only open his lips to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Great as were his natural endowments, and rich and varied as were his intellectual acquirements, he felt their inadequacy when working alone. We should never fail to distinguish between the natural eloquence of man, and the holy utterance which the Spirit gives. Paul had splendid gifts, and commanding powers of elocution. But what were they? He needed more- he asked for more. Dear reader, if the ministry of reconciliation comes to your soul with any power or sweetness, remember whose it is. Give not to man, but to God, the glory. Be very jealous for the honor of the Spirit in the ministry of the word. It is "spirit and life" to you only as God gives utterance to him that speaks. It is mournful to observe to what extent the idolatry of human talent and eloquence is carried, and how little glory is given to the Holy Spirit in the gospel ministry.
But there was yet another ministerial qualification which Paul sought. He desired to be unshackled from the fear of man: "That I may open my mouth BOLDLY." Had we heard him utter this request, we might have been constrained to reply, "Do you desire boldness? You are the most courageous and heroic of the apostles. You fear no man." Ah! we forget that when God stirs up the heart of a believer deeply to feel his need, and earnestly to desire any particular grace of the Spirit, that grace will be the distinguishing trait of his Christian character. The very possession and exercise of a grace strengthen the desire for its increase.
The more we have of Christ, the more we desire of Christ. The heart is never satiated. Do we see a man earnest and importunate in prayer for faith? faith will be his distinguishing grace. See we another wrestling with God for deep views of the evil of sin? that man will be marked for his humble walk with God. Is it love that he desires? his will be a loving spirit. Be sure of this the more you know of the value and the sweetness of any single grace of the Spirit, the more ardently will your heart be led out after an increase of that grace. The reason why our desires for grace are so faint, may be traced to the small measure of grace that we already possess. The very feebleness of the desire proves the littleness of the supply. As all holy desire springs from grace, so the deeper the grace the more fervent will be the desire. The Lord rouse us from our slothful seeking of him upon our beds!
Here, then, is the apostle desiring boldness yet who so bold in preaching Jesus as he? It was the master-spirit- the distinguishing trait of his ministry. At the very commencement of his Christian career, when even the disciples stood in doubt of him, we find him "speaking boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus." Acts 9:29. The feathers were scarcely upon his wing, yet see how the eaglet soars! What promise of bolder flight and of fiercer bravery! One can almost see the white-haired martyr, in the Christian stripling. But just freed from the chain of Satan, we yet see at once the future character of the man- the fearless apostle of the Gentiles. His boldness never forsook him. His moral courage never failed him. He was never awed into silence by superior rank, nor brow-beaten into cowardice by vulgar threatening. Flattery never seduced, danger never alarmed him. Whether a friend or a criminal, fidelity and fearlessness were his strong characteristics. Whether among the polished or the rude, the lettered sceptics of Athens or the ignorant barbarians of Malta, he was the same; a dignified and graceful, but bold and uncompromising preacher of Jesus Christ. And yet this was the man who now was entreating the prayers of God's people, that he might with freedom of utterance and undaunted boldness make known the mystery of the gospel!
And who should be bold if not the ministers of the gospel? How can they be faithful and efficient preachers of the truth, if awed by a corrupt public sentiment, or fettered by a pusillanimous fear of man? How much is the glory of the truth shaded, and its power impaired, and the dignity of their office compromised, by the man-pleasing, man-fearing spirit which, alas, so much prevails! We meet with boldness everywhere: Satan is bold in his onset upon the church of Christ. Sin is bold in developing its dark designs. Error is bold in its attacks upon truth. Men are bold in disseminating soul-destroying doctrines, and in following corrupt and superstitious practices. The whole kingdom of darkness and of sin is moving on to the coming battle with the kingdom of Christ, with a boldness of enterprise and of attack, which fills the mind with awe and wonder. And is the ministry of reconciliation, of truth, and of holiness to be the only exception? Is it at all congruous that men should have boldness enough to declare their sins, to speak them, to proclaim them, to wear them, to glory in them; and that those officers who are sent for no other business but, in the name and authority of Almighty God, to fight against the corruptions of the world, should, in the mean time, hang down the head and be tongue-tied? that men should have more boldness to destroy themselves, and to do Satan's work, than we to save them, or to serve God? No! it is not congruous that men should be bold and fearless in sinning against God, and in plunging into hell; and that those who are sent to warn, and to expostulate, and to save, shall be time-serving, man-pleasing, and cowardly in the discharge of their high and solemn trust.
And was ever boldness a more needed qualification of the Christian ministry than now? Error is rampant- the truth is assailed on every side- the enemy is coming in like a flood - the ancient land-marks are removed- false teachers are beguiling souls- men who "seemed to be pillars" are as reeds shaken by the wind- and but few preach a whole gospel and a full Christ. Verily, never were holy courage and uncompromising fearlessness, in contending earnestly for the faith, more urgently demanded than at the present moment!
We have now reached, perhaps by a too lengthy discussion, the specific subject of this chapter; one, it must be admitted, of universal interest and of high importance, yet not often brought before the Christian church. We allude to THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER IN BEHALF OF THE CHRISTIAN PASTOR. It was through this channel the Apostle sought the ministerial fitness which he craved: "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel." Not in this instance only does he cast himself upon the intercessions of the saints. Thus he writes to the church at Rome: "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." And then he proceeds to specify the petitions he would have them make on his behalf. He again pleads, "You also helping together by prayer for us." "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayers, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." "Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance to speak the mystery of Christ." How significant is this language, and how touching are these appeals! The solemn earnestness which is here betrayed, is no expression of feeling exaggerated beyond the importance of the object eliciting it.
There are many weighty and solemn considerations, to a few of which we may allude, which powerfully plead for the prayers of the church of God in behalf of her ministers and pastors. The first which may be adduced is the magnitude of their work. A greater work than theirs was never entrusted to mortal hands. No angel employed in the celestial embassy bears a commission of higher authority, or wings his way to discharge a duty of such extraordinary greatness and responsibility. He is a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ- an ambassador from the court of heaven- a preacher of the glorious gospel of the blessed God- a steward of the mysteries of the kingdom. Properly to fill this high office- giving to the household their portion of food in due season- going down into the mine of God's word, and bringing forth to the view of every understanding its hidden treasures- to set forth the glory of Immanuel, the fitness of his work, and the fulness of his grace- to be a scribe well instructed, "rightly dividing the word of truth,"- to be wise and skillful to win souls, the grand end of the Christian ministry- oh, who so much needs the sustaining prayers of the church as the Ministers of the Christian church?
Secondly. The painful sense of their insufficiency supplies another affecting plea. For an office so high, how unworthy do they at times feel, and how imperfectly furnished with grace and gift for a work which "Might fill an angel's hands, Which filled the Savior's heart," do they appear to themselves to be! Who are ministers of Christ? Are they angels? Are they superhuman beings? Are they inspired? No, they are men in all respects like others. They partake of like infirmities, are the subjects of like assaults, and are estranged from nothing that is human. As the heart knows its own bitterness, so they only are truly aware of the existence and incessant operation of those many and clinging weaknesses of which they partake in sympathy with others. And yet, God has devolved upon them a work which would crush an angel's power if left to his self-sustaining energy. Oppressed often to the very earth with the consciousness of this, is it incongruous with a pastor's dignity and character that he should still acknowledge his dependence upon the prayers of the feeblest member of his flock?
Thirdly. The many and peculiar trials of the ministry and the pastorate ask this favor at our hands. These are peculiar to, and inseparable from, the office that he fills. In addition to those of which he partakes alike with other Christians- personal, domestic, and relative- there are trials to which they must necessarily be utter strangers. And as are they unknown to, so are they unrelievable by, the people of their charge. With all the sweetness of affection, and the tenderness of sympathy, and the delicacy of attention, which you extend to your pastor, there is yet a lack which Jesus only can supply, and which, through the channel of your prayers, he will supply. In addition to his own, he bears the burdens of others. How impossible for an affectionate, sympathizing pastor to separate himself from the circumstances of his flock, be those circumstances what they may! So close and so sympathetic is the bond of union, if they suffer, he mourns; if they are afflicted, he weeps; if they are dishonored, he is reproached; if they rejoice, he is glad. He is one with his church. How feelingly the apostle expresses this! "Besides those things that are external, that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?" To see a Christian pastor, in addition to his own personal grief, borne often in uncomplaining loneliness and silence, yet bowed down under accumulated sorrows not his own- others looking to him for sympathy, for comfort, and for counsel; is a spectacle which might well arouse in behalf of every Christian pastor, the slumbering spirit of prayer. We marvel not to hear the chief of the apostles thus pleading, "Brethren, pray for us."
Fourthly. Your own personal profit through his ministry lays you under the deepest and most solemn obligation to give your pastor, in return, an especial and constant interest in your intercessions at the mercy-seat. Paul could say to the Philippians, "You are partakers of my grace." Most true is it, that in the grace bestowed by God upon a Christian pastor, all the members of the flock share. They partake of that which belongs to him. All the grace with which he is enriched- all the gifts with which he is endowed- all the acquirements with which he is furnished- all the afflictions with which he is visited- all the comforts with which he is soothed- all the strength with which he is upheld- all the distinction and renown with which he is adorned- belong alike to the church over which God has made him an overseer. There is in the pastoral relation a community of interest. He holds that grace, and he exercises those gifts, not on account of his own personal holiness and happiness merely, but with a view to your holiness and happiness. You are partakers with him. You are enriched by his 'fatness,' or are impoverished by his 'leanness.' The degree of his grace will be the measure of your own. The amount of his intelligence, the extent of yours. As he is taught and blessed by Christ, so will you be. The glory which he gathers in communion with God will irradiate you; the grace which he draws from Jesus will sanctify you; the wealth which he collects from the study of the Bible will enrich you. Thus, in all things, are you "partakers of his grace."
How important, then, that on all occasions he should be a partaker of your prayers! Thus your own best interests are his strongest plea. Your profit by him will be proportioned to your prayer for him. To the neglect of this important duty, much of the barrenness complained of in hearing the word may be traced. You have, perhaps, been wont to retire from God's house, caviling at the doctrine, dissecting the sermon in a spirit of captious criticism, sitting in judgment upon the matter or the manner of the preacher, and bitterly complaining of the unprofitableness of the preaching. With all tender faithfulness would we lay the question upon your conscience- How much do you pray for your minister? We repeat the interrogation more emphatically- How much do you pray for your minister? Here, in all probability, lies the secret of the great evil which you deplore. You have complained of your minister to others- alas! how often, and how bitterly, to your deep humiliation be it spoken- have you complained of him to the Lord? And have you ever seriously pondered the fact, that your soul's barrenness under the preached word- of which you seem in some degree aware- may, in a great degree, be traceable to yourself? The surmise, perhaps, startles you. The thought may never have occurred to your mind before. New and strange though it may be, it is yet worthy of your profoundest consideration.
Have you ever seriously reflected how closely allied may be the deficiency in the pulpit, of which you complain, to your own deficiency in the closet, of which you have not been aware? You have restrained prayer in behalf of your pastor. You have neglected to remember in especial, fervent intercession with the Lord, the instrument on whom your advancement in the divine life so much depends. You have looked up to him as a channel of grace, but you have failed to ask at the hands of Jesus that grace of which he is but the channel. You have waited upon his ministrations for instruction and comfort, but you have neglected to beseech for him that teaching and anointing by which alone he could possibly establish you in truth, or console you in sorrow. You have perhaps observed a poverty of thought, and have been sensible of a lack of power in his ministrations, but you have not traced it in part to your own poverty and lack in the spirit and habit of prayer in his behalf. You have marveled and lamented the absence of sympathy and feeling and tenderness, in the discharge of his pastoral duties, but you have forgotten to sympathize with the high responsibilities, and oppressive anxieties, and bewildering engagements, inseparable from the office which your pastor fills, and in which he may largely share, often "pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that he may despair even of life."
Thus in a great degree the cause of an unprofitable hearing of the word may be found nearer at home than was suspected. There has been a suspension of sympathy on your part, and God has permitted a suspension of sympathy on his. "If a man could, when he enters God's house," to quote an apposite remark of the godly Bishop Reynolds, "but pour out his heart in these two things- a promise and a prayer, 'Lord, I am now entering into your presence, to hear you speak from heaven unto me, to receive your rain and spiritual dew, which never returns in vain, but ripens a harvest either of grain or weeds, of grace or judgment. My heart is prepared, O Lord, my heart is prepared, to learn and love any of your words. Your law is my counselor, I will be ruled by it; it is my physician, I will be patient under it; it is my schoolmaster, I will be obedient unto it. But who am I that I should promise any service unto you? and who is your minister, that he should do any good unto me, without your grace and heavenly call? Be therefore, pleased to reveal your own Spirit unto me, and to work in me that which you require of me.' I say, if a man could come with such sweet preparations, of heart unto the word, and could thus open his soul when this spiritual manna falls down from heaven, he should find the truth of that which the Apostle speaks. You are not straitened in us, (or in our ministry,) we come unto you with abundance of grace; but you are straitened only in your own affections, in the hardness, unbelief, incapacity, and negligence of your own hearts, which receives that in drops which falls down in showers.
We exhort the people to pray for their ministers, since they have a service upon those who, without divine grace, none are sufficient for, that God would, by his special assistance, enable them to discharge so great a trust. God commands it; we beseech it; our weakness courts it; your souls require it. The more you pray for your minister, the more you will profit by him. You help to edify yourselves; you help him to study, and pray, and preach for you, while you pray for him."
Oh you flocks of the Lord, you churches of Christ, you saints of the Most High, pray, PRAY for your ministers! No one more deeply needs, no one more affectingly asks your prayers than he. For you he toils in the study, wrestles in the closet, and labors in the pulpit. For your best welfare he consecrates his youthful vigor, his mature experience, his declining years. To you he has been the channel of untold blessing. Often has the Lord spoken through him to your oppressed heart, thoughts of peace and words of love. He has often been instrumental in removing doubt from your mind, in clearing up points of truth that were hard to be understood, and in building you up on your most holy faith. Often, too, has he been the means of endearing Christ to you, leading you to him as a Counselor, as a Brother, as a Friend, and as a Redeemer, thus unveiling his glory to your eye, and his preciousness to your heart.
Perhaps he first told you of Jesus! From his lips you heard the life-giving sound of the gospel; by him you were wounded, by him you were healed, and by his hands you were received within the pale of the visible church. Oh, then, is it an unreasonable request that he should ask especial remembrance in the petitions which you breathe to God for "all the saints?" Think how often you have filled his mind with thoughtfulness, his heart with anxiety, his eyes with tears, his mouth with holy and fervent pleadings at the throne of grace. Then, will you not continue to pray for your pastor? Gratitude demands it. Remember him not in your petitions on ordinary occasions merely, but let there be especial seasons of prayer set apart for him alone.
Particularly if you know him to be passing through a season of trial, or sorrow, or mental anxiety, take him constantly and especially to the Lord. You need not know the cause of that sorrow. Proper feelings dictating, you will not wish to know. It will be enough for you that with delicacy of perception you have seen the shade of sadness on his brow; the look of anxiety in his eye; the expression of deep thoughtfulness upon his countenance; you will instantly take him in your heart to the Lord. And oh! who can unfold the extent of the blessing which your prayers may thus be the channel of conveying to his soul?
You may deem yourself, my reader, but an insignificant member of the flock. The grace which the Lord has given you may constrain you to think lowly of yourself, and to retire into the shade; but low and feeble though you may be in your own eyes, yet you have power with God in prayer. See yon little cloud sailing athwart that blue sky? It has absorbed its precious treasures from some hidden spring, and, guided by God's invisible hand, is going to unbosom itself upon some parched and thirsty spot, refreshing, gladdening, and fructifying it. The little rivulet, that flows noiseless and unseen from that shaded spot, has thus transmitted from its sequestered glen an influence felt far beyond it, and to an extent it never conceived and never can know. Such, dear reader, may be the character and such the results of your intercessions in behalf of your pastor. Silver and gold you have none to offer him. He asks not this at your hands. But your prayers you may give, and your prayers he does ask. He beseeches you, earnestly and affectingly, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive in your prayers to God for him. And oh! the hallowing, gladdening influence which those prayers may shed upon his mind- eternity alone can reveal!
The return of blessing to yourself will be incalculable and immense. The moisture absorbed from the earth returns again to the earth in grateful and refreshing showers. And thus every prayer which you in fervency and in faith breathe to heaven for your pastor, will, through him, return again in "showers of blessing" upon your own soul.