by J. C. Philpot
Among the various subjects of divine truth which at different times have come before our mind, and more or less occupied our thoughts, that of 'the Christian ministry' has not been the least frequent or the least important. As we have ourselves been engaged in the ministry of the gospel for more than thirty years, and have thus known something experimentally of its cares and anxieties—as well as of its blessings and benefits, we may hope, with the Lord's help and blessing, to examine the subject not only as presented to our view in the Scriptures of truth, but be able to bring some lengthened experience to bear upon its consideration, and thus handle it not as a mere question of doctrine or speculation—but as a matter of personal interest and practical knowledge and possession. We have felt inclined, therefore, to bring the subject before our readers as a part of those Meditations which we have ventured, in the strength of the Lord, for some little time past, to cast as our mite into his treasury.
It is indeed a most difficult and delicate subject to handle rightly—and a feeling sense of this difficulty and of our own inability to treat it with that clearness and fullness, that faithfulness and decision, that authority and power, which it demands and deserves—would have almost deterred us even now from making the attempt, had we not hoped to experience the same gracious help from the Lord in unfolding it which, we trust, has been given to us upon the other branches of divine truth which we have thus far brought before our readers, and the same kind consideration and patient indulgence from them. We shall, therefore, venture forthwith to launch our little bark, freighted with many cares as well as many treasures, and spread our sail to waft it over a not altogether unknown sea; and though we may meet storms and cross currents, strong winds and threatening gales by the way, may the gracious Lord guide us with his eye and direct us by his word. May our eye be single to his glory and his people's good; may the Scriptures be our chart, and a personal, experimental knowledge of the truth our compass; may no seductive breezes, or a desire to sail in smoother waters divert us from our course; and, above all, may the blessed Spirit grant a favorable gale, that we may reach the desired haven—the approbation of God in our own conscience, and a place for his truth in the consciences of our gracious readers.
In handling any subject, especially when it is both long and difficult, some degree of order seems requisite. Order is to a subject what it is to our books, letters, papers, and even the commonest implements of the factory or the forge and the furniture of the parlour or the kitchen, not to say the accounts of the merchant or the goods of the tradesman. "Order," says the poet, "is heaven's first law;" and a higher authority than he, viewing with enlightened eye the order of God as displayed in creation, and speaking with inspired tongue, has declared—"You established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve your plans." (Psalm 119:90, 91.)
But though we intend to lay down, and hope to preserve, some such orderly arrangement of our subject as may preserve us from confusion and repetition, yet we do not mean thereby to tie ourselves rigorously down to a certain fixed path. A marked-out, definite road is necessary to reach safely and comfortably the end of a journey; but it need not be as straight and as level as a railway, still less so hard and so confined—the way so rigid, the transit so rapid. It may wind through a forest, or slip through shady hedges where the flowers bloom and the birds sing; it may stretch over the breezy heath where the lark soars and the sheep-bell tinkles, and may yield quiet resting-places during sun or shower, or even for a night's abode, without hurrying us on, amid clouds of steam and smoke, to our destination.
Pardon this little sportive spurt. It may have a deeper meaning than you may attach to it; it may be an emblem of our journeying together, and the incidents of the way in our present subject of meditation. Our gracious Lord has not disdained such figurative language in the invitation given to his beloved bride—"Come, my love, let us go out into the fields and spend the night among the wild-flowers. Let us get up early and go out to the vineyards. Let us see whether the vines have budded, whether the blossoms have opened, and whether the pomegranates are in flower. And there I will give you my love." (Song Sol. 7:11, 12.)
We shall, therefore, hope to consider our subject under these five points of view.
I. The FOUNDATION of the gospel ministry.
II. The NATURE and CHARACTER of the gospel ministry.
III. The ENDS for which the gospel ministry was established.
IV. The promised BLESSINGS which accompany of the gospel ministry.
V. The TRIALS, EXERCISES, COMFORTS and ENCOURAGEMENTS of the gospel ministry.
Before, however, we launch our ship, it may be as well to dispose of an objection which may present itself to some of our readers—the comparative narrowness of the question. They may say, "Such a subject as you now propose to handle is limited to a few, comparatively, of the Lord's people. None are interested in it but ministers, who, however highly we may esteem them in love for their work's sake, form but a small part of your readers. Why do you not take some subject of a wider range, in which we shall all feel a general interest?"
With your leave, kind objector, the matter does not stand exactly as you have put it. The subject is of wider interest than may at first sight appear. It is true that the ministers of experimental truth are few, and, sad to say, getting fewer and fewer every day, and their hearers many. But have not their hearers an equal if not a greater interest in the ministry than the ministers themselves? If you were a pauper, and depended on charity for a supply of bread, would the nature, quality, and quantity of the loaves which were given, be of no interest to you? Who would have the greater interest in the bread distribution—the bread distributor or the bread eater?
So, as in some measure dependent on the ministry for a supply of the bread of life, is it nothing to you whether you get a loaf--or a stone? Sound, solid, nourishing bread--or an indigestible lump which hunger itself can scarcely persuade you to touch or taste? Thus the hearer has really quite as much an interest in the subject of the ministry as the minister himself; for if he has no personal experience of the exercises and blessings of the preacher, he has of the exercises of a soul when starved under it, and of the blessings of a soul when under it comforted and fed.
We shall now, therefore, without further preface, address ourselves to our subject, "The Ministry of the Gospel;" and our first point shall be to show—the foundation on which it rests.