A sermon, occasioned by the death of
the late Rev. John Berry, preached in Carrs Lane Meeting House, Birmingham,
March 25, 1821, by John Angell James.
"Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah, and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: shepherd God's flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God's will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (1 Peter 5:1-4)
No circumstance has contributed so much to the rise and progress of infidelity—as abuses in the Christian ministry. When, instead of the holy, spiritual, humble, laborious pastors of the apostolic age, were seen the proud, ambitious, avaricious and domineering ministers of succeeding centuries, it is not to be wondered at that men of corrupt minds, who were looking around for objections to the truth as it is in Jesus, should find one so near at hand and so specious, as the vices of its ministers; and without stopping to enquire whether this was the necessary consequence, or the wicked corruption of Christianity, should resolve the whole into priestcraft and imposture. Infidelity, if not actually generated by the sins of ministers, has been fed by them, and by the retributive justice of God they have been doomed to suffer most from its venom, since against them have been chiefly directed the attacks of its ridicule, malignity, and sarcasm.
How much concern, then, should be felt by all who bear the sacred office, to exhibit it in its native simplicity, spirituality, and benevolence; and with what eagerness should we avail ourselves of every opportunity to exhibit to the public eye the character of those who have the testimony both of their own consciences and of others. "For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God-given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God's grace." (2 Corinthians 1:12)
Such an opportunity Divine
Providence has furnished us this day by the removal of the Rev. John Berry,
whose life was an exemplification of Peter's directions in the context, and
whose death conducted him to the glorious reward so beautifully described in
the text. As I shall enter pretty much at length into the context, it may
possibly be thought by some that such a passage is more suited for an
ordination charge, than a funeral discourse. But what, I ask, are sermons
for the dead, when properly conducted, but charges to the living; charges
delivered not so much from the pulpit as from the tomb; not so much by men
of like passions with ourselves, as by viewless monitors who address us from
the world of spirits. I wish to day to preach to myself, and I am sure that
the sons of our deceased friend, who sustain the ministerial character, (of
whom there were three present, besides several other ministers.) will not
think this an untimely discussion of such a subject, as it comes home to
their hearts enforced not only by the weight of divine authority, but by the
remembrance of his living example.
I. The nature, qualifications, and duties of the ministerial office, as stated in the text. "The elders which are among you, I exhort," said the apostle in the first verse. The term "elder" was primarily addressed to people of advanced years; but by an easy transition it was applied as a title of esteem and dignity to those who, whatever their age, were eminent for the qualities usually looked for in declining life; and eventually it became a term of office, and was the appellation of those who filled any station of importance, it being assumed that they would be eminent either for years or wisdom. It is one of the terms by which the ministers of the gospel are designated, for the reason last assigned. But they are also denominated bishops, "Feed the flock, taking the oversight thereof," or, "acting the part of bishops towards them." By implication they are also designated pastors or shepherds. The first term is a title of dignity, the second describes their duty as appointed to overlook the church, and the third conveys the same meaning as the second, expressing it by a figure taken from rural affairs. It is this last view of the ministerial office, which I shall now illustrate, by setting forth the qualifications and duties of the pastoral character. (It is an unanswerable argument that the words bishops, elders, and pastors, mean precisely the same officers; that in this passage, as well as in Acts 20:17-18, they are all applied to the same people.)
The flock which is committed to their care is the "God's flock"—which is thus denominated to teach us that believers are the special property of Christ, which he owns, loves, and protects—in distinction from the wicked (who, in comparison with the righteous, are a kind of wild beasts in whom he has neither peculiar property nor pleasure), and are thus denominated also to teach us that Christians are not to live solitarily and unconnected, but are to unite themselves with each other in visible communion and brotherly love, and are to submit to the guidance and directions of their great Shepherd, and in all things to manifest the simplicity, harmlessness, and innocence of which the sheep is the natural emblem.
1. I shall consider the DUTIES which this figurative description of the pastoral office implies.It is incumbent on a Christian shepherd to FEED the flock. This is expressly enjoined by Peter, who, in such admonition, does but echo the thrice repeated injunction addressed to himself by his risen Lord. The principal part of a shepherd's duty is to provide food for the sheep. In summer you will see him conducting them to the verdant pasture; and in winter, when the snow has covered the herbage, or the frost has withered it, you will behold him supplying them with fodder, anxious and laborious to satisfy their craving appetite with plentiful and suitable supplies. Such is the beautiful and instructive emblem by which the Christian shepherd is taught his duty, and admonished to perform it.
And what is the provision with which he is to feed them? Food for the mind and heart, suited to their condition as rational beings, as fallen sinners, and as immortal creatures—the truth as it is in Jesus. He is not to offer them the mere flowers of rhetoric, or the dry husks of criticism, or the thorns of controversy, but "wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness," whereby they may be nourished in faith, righteousness, hope and love—to everlasting life. He is to spread before them the whole counsel of God, and to keep nothing back which is profitable for them. The doctrines are to be explained and proved, the duties stated and enforced. In the corrupt phraseology of some misguided Christians, the term food is restricted to the doctrinal parts of divine revelation, while the duties of religion, however evangelically they may be treated by the minister, are regarded in the light of useless chaff. But where, we would like to know, is such restriction of the term to be found in the Word of God. There we are taught that all which God has revealed as truth—is food for the soul, whether in the way of fact, of doctrine, or of duty. That Christian is fed, in the best sense of the term—who has his filial fear excited, his love kindled, and his zeal quickened, whether it be by promise, or by threatening, or by precept.
To provide this food is one of the chief anxieties of a Christian pastor. He will not, if he be worthy of his name and office, scatter before them the mere common-place thoughts of a superficial theology, which he has innumerable times previously repeated to them. That would be to gather up and spread again before the flock fodder which they had often refused and trampled upon before. He will study the sacred Scriptures in his closet, and give himself to reading, meditation, and all sacred learning. He will ever labor to gain clearer, and more enlarged, and more affecting views of divine truth, that he may lead his people onward in the path of understanding. He will not be satisfied merely to get through his sermons in any manner, and feel himself sufficiently rewarded by escaping the language of complaint, but will mourn as having labored in vain until he sees them growing in grace, and in the knowledge of God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
INSPECTION of the state of the flock is another duty implied in this elegant figure. A shepherd examines into the condition of the sheep, and adapts his conduct to each individual case. It is a beautiful description which the Divine Pastor gives of his own conduct, and it should be imitated by everyone of his servants. "I will feed my flock, and cause them to lie down. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick." Yes, we should know the circumstances of our people—the sorrows which oppress them, the cares which perplex them, the sins which beset them, the temptations which assail them, and the difficulties which sink them, in order that we may give to each "a portion of food in due season."
The pulpit should not be the only scene of our labors, but uniting the pastor with the preacher we should ascertain exactly, either by our own personal examination or by the aid of competent assistants, the character and circumstances of each member of the flock. There are peculiar cases, which require peculiar treatment. This part of our duty, I am aware, is very difficult in the present age of the church, but ought not to be neglected. Duties cannot be in opposition to each other, and therefore no man can be under any obligation to go so much away from home, even in the cause of religion, as necessarily to interfere with the claims of his own flock. I am sure that more is expected in this respect, from many ministers, than they either can or ought to render. (In large towns, where the sphere of a minister's duty is wide, and he, from peculiar circumstances, is necessarily much from home, the liberality of the church should provide him, or enable him to provide himself, with a suitable assistant to bear a part of the burden of pastoral and ministerial cares. Unhappily this has not always been found to be practicable on other grounds than those of financial difficulty.)
PROTECTION of his flock is also the duty of a shepherd. In eastern countries, where wild beasts abound, it often requires no small share of courage and resolution to defend the sheep against their attacks. David informs us that in the course of his pastoral duties he slew a lion and a bear which came to assail his fleecy charge. And are there no enemies prowling round the fold of Christ, against which it is necessary for the Christian shepherd to guard his flock? Is not SATAN perpetually going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour? Is not the spirit of the WORLD ever watching for an opportunity to enter and devastate the interests of piety in our churches? Are there not HERESIES ever lurking about the pastures of truth? Against all these it is incumbent on the ministers of the gospel to employ the eye of vigilance and the arm of authority.
Our Savior himself warned his first ministers against some, who though inwardly they were ravenous wolves, yet, under the guise of sheep's clothing, would gain access to the flock. There are cases in which it requires no ordinary courage to arrest and expel these mischievous intruders. To stop the progress of the antinomian heresy which in modern times has desolated so many churches; to resist the influence of some powerful or worldly-minded professor; or to curb the ambition of some rising Diotrephes, who is perpetually making encroachments on the liberty both of the pastor and people, requires a degree of boldness not always possessed by the ministers of the gospel. A temporizing policy has sometimes been resorted to for the sake of peace, but it has only given the mischief more time and more scope for operation. I admit that great prudence and mildness are necessary in such cases, but they should be combined with great firmness.
Affectionate tenderness is generally associated with the character of a shepherd. The description of our great Redeemer given by the evangelical prophet has always been admired. "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." And this, in measure, is the character of every consistent minister of Christ. It is but a very small part of the minister's character which you see in the pulpit. You may there behold the beamings of holy affection in his eye, and hear the breathings of tenderness from his lips; but the solicitude which oppresses his heart, and the love that glows in his bosom, which neither time can diminish nor injury destroy; which lead him to weep over your failings, and smile upon the budding excellences of your character; and which, could he serve you in no other way, would render him willing to be offered upon the service and sacrifice of your faith; these you cannot know. He bears upon his heart the burden of all your interests, and is indifferent to nothing that concerns you. Even in temporal affairs he sympathizes with all your joys and sorrows—but he concentrates his solicitude in what relates to your souls. His ear is ever open to the voice of your enquiries and complaints; he will try to soothe your sorrows, hush your alarms, scatter your fears, guide your feet, and "being affectionately desirous of you, he will be gentle among you even as a nurse cherishes her children."
A faithful minister will enforce all his instructions by his EXAMPLE. In eastern countries shepherds do not drive the flock before them as ours do—but go before the sheep, and allure them onward by their well-known voice. Hence the Psalmist says in that beautiful pastoral ode, the twenty-third Psalm, "He leads me," not drives me, "beside the still waters." What force and beauty does this fact give to our Lord's own language, "The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out; and when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." The necessity of a holy example in the teacher of religion is strongly implied even in the negative part of the injunction, "neither as being lords over God's heritage." To enjoin others to do what we refuse to do ourselves would be to treat our people as slaves or servants, who are commanded to perform services from which their masters are exempt. To submit to the same obligations both in faith and practice which we enforce upon the people, to mind the same thing, to walk by the same rule as we lay down for them—is the only way in which we can come up to the spirit of this injunction. We are to be "examples to the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." Instead of lagging behind in these things, our proper place is before the flock.
We should not be satisfied with the same religious attainments as our hearers—but should strive to excel them. Defects and failings which would be unnoticed in them, will be instantly observed in us. If obscurity is a privilege, we have disenfranchised ourselves of this. Our congregations treat our excellences and our failings with a different measure; having surveyed the latter by a magnifying power, they look at the former through a lens which diminishes the object; and for this reason, because they expect from us more good and less evil than from the rest of the world. They expect to see our descriptions of piety copied into our own conduct, and happy the man who having set forth true godliness in his discourses, in all its beautiful proportions and all its glowing colors, shall constrain the audience to exclaim, "The painter has delineated his own likeness." Happy the man who, when the people shall ask, "What is religion?" shall be not only able to reply in reference to his pulpit, "Come and hear," but in reference to his life, "Come and see."
He alone is an honor to his pastoral office, or is honored by it, who lives the gospel which he preaches, and adorns by his conduct the doctrines which he believes. But the unholy minister of religion is a disgrace to Christianity and the worst enemy of mankind. He is the most powerful abettor of infidelity, and does more to wither the eternal interests of mankind than the most malignant and pestiferous treatises that ever issued from the press. If he perished alone in his sins, our feelings might be those of unmingled pity; but when we view him ruining the souls of others by his example, we unite abhorrence with our compassion, just as we would at the conduct of the shepherd who first drove his flock over a precipice and then dashed himself upon the rocks below.
And even where the misconduct does not amount to vice, how many hinder the salutary effect of their preaching by inconsistencies unworthy of the Christian, much more of the Christian minister. Such men resemble not the lighthouse, which hangs out its beaming signal to warn the tempest-tossed sailor of his danger and guide him in safety on his course; but the wandering and delusive fires, which mislead the unwary traveler to engulf him in the marsh.
We are too apt to lose sight of moral blemishes when they are accompanied by the splendor of brilliant powers of mind; beholding some men, like the angel standing in the sun, enveloped in the blaze of their talents, we feel inclined to make or admit on their behalf excuses which would not be entertained in behalf of people of inferior abilities. I know of nothing more dangerous to the interests of true piety than that idolatry of talent which resembles the superstitions of the old heathens who worshiped gods suited to their own tastes or pursuits without any heed of the vices ascribed to them.
In the present day, when the active virtues of Christianity are called forth into such constant and vigorous exercise, and when a minister is thought, and justly thought, behind the spirit of his time, if he stands aloof from schemes of public usefulness, it is very probable that the value of the pure, and mild, and passive graces may be underrated. If the former are necessary for converting the heathen abroad, the latter are equally necessary for rebuking the spirit of infidelity at home. I contend that these two classes of excellence are by no means incompatible with each other; so far from it, the grandest elevation of human character to which any man can attain, is to unite the ardor of zeal with the purity of holiness, and public spirit with personal religion; and he is the first of his species, because most like the Redeemer of the world, who causes his zeal to rise upon mankind with the blaze and benefits of the sun, and at the same time makes the influence of his holy example to descend upon them, silent, pure, and penetrating as the dew.
2. The apostle states in a negative form the manner in which the duties of the pastoral office are to be entered upon and discharged.A minister is not to take upon him the oversight of a flock under constraint—but with a willing mind. This had a particular reference to the state of things during the apostolic age. The demon of persecution had recently risen from the bottomless pit like the beast in the apocalypse ascending from the sea, "to whom it was given to make war with the saints, and to overcome them." At such a time the pastors of the churches were the first objects of attack, in order that the shepherds being seized, the flocks might be scattered with greater ease. Under these circumstances it was difficult to persuade some who were eminently qualified for the pastoral office to undertake its duties, and when prevailed upon to accept the charge of souls, they would do so with reluctant and unwilling minds. To check this spirit of cowardice the apostle admonished them not to shrink from the post of danger, nor to occupy it upon compulsion—but cheerfully to undertake its arduous functions.
At the present day the danger is not the same in reference to entrance upon the pastoral office; many are now too ready, and run before they are sent; but many, having entered the office, perform its duties unwillingly. They go to their studies as men who are dragged to prison; the work of preparing for the pulpit is disgusting drudgery, and even the high employment of preaching the Gospel is a weariness of which they constantly complain. They are in office, and they must remain there, and they act only under the compulsion of this necessity. Everything withers under their hands; they benumb every interest which they touch. The flock wander from a shepherd who does nothing for them except by constraint, until he can almost say, "I alone am left." Oh for more of that ready mind, that being willing in season and out of season to preach the word, to visit the sick, to instruct the ignorant, which shall look as if we felt the value of souls, were anticipating the approach of eternity, and had our eye fixed on the solemnities of the judgment day.
We are forbidden to take the oversight of the flock for the sake of filthy lucre. The love of money will impel men to do all things which are evil; it has led to the neglect of every duty, and the perpetration of every crime—it has steeled the heart against all the claims of humanity, and gratitude, and justice, and affection; it has transformed men into beasts and fiends. But the very climax of its guilt, its mischief, and its punishment, will be found in that man who undertakes the ministry of the word and the care of souls from no higher motive than financial advantage. And yet what crowds, with hands unclean, and hearts unsanctified, rush to the altar, merely "to eat the fat and drink the sweet," unawed by the voice which is ever crying, "Off, off, you profane!" It is true that the candidates for dissenting pulpits, who see no splendid dignities, no rich emoluments, no ecclesiastical distinctions to which they can attain, and have no possibility of advancement sufficient to gratify avarice or ambition, are far less in danger of this evil than those who labor within a communion where a graduated scale of rank and emolument, extending from the arch-episcopal palace down to the vicarage, is presented to the eye of everyone who looks towards the church; still, among us there are some, it is to be feared, who, having tasted the 'bread of idleness' love it so well as to exclaim, "Evermore give us this bread." Such a man, too indolent to work, and foolishly considering that the ministry is an easy mode of life, steals into the priest's office for a morsel of bread. Contemptible creature! Considerate men esteem him a dead weight on the community. His God despises him, and throws him his morsel by the hands of an ignorant people. The night comes on, and all is dark and dismal. He has had his reward; it is all spent, and not a drop of water remains for a vast eternity. Unhappy man! he took upon him the care of other men's souls, when he knew not how to take care of his own!
A Christian minister is not to lord
it over God's heritage.* He has no dominion over the conscience; no power
resides in him to enjoin anything in the way of faith or practice. He is a
ruler—but it is for Christ; he is to enjoin—but it is in the name of Jesus.
His power in the church is ministerial, not legislatorial. He is to assume
no haughty airs, no official pride—but to conduct himself amidst the people
of his charge with all humility, deriving all his dignity from the purity of
his character, and the sublimity of his employment. Such is the view Peter
gives of the office and duties of a Christian pastor.
(* The original term is cleros,
or clergy. Nothing can be more indisputable than that Peter here applies it
to the flock. The people are here called God's clergy, that is, his lot,
portion, or inheritance, in allusion to the division of the land of Canaan
among the children of Israel by lot. Moses, in an address to God, uses this
language, "They are your people and your inheritance." Deut. 9:29. The same
people are in the same sentence called both clergy and laity. So also Peter
calls the church in one verse the flock, and in another the clergy.)
II. The pastor's subordination and responsibility to Christ.These are implied in the expression, "the Chief Shepherd." It is needless to say that this refers to our divine Lord. Under the figure of a shepherd he was predicted by prophets, represented by apostles, and at great length described by Himself. An adjective of distinction is, however, generally applied to him, and he is called "the great," "the good," "the chief Shepherd." This latter epithet which is given to Jesus in the text implies,
1. His SUPERIORITY to all other all under-shepherds.Pastors are mere men of the same nature as their flocks; Jesus in his mysterious and complex person unites the uncreated glories of the Godhead with the milder beauties of the perfect man. Pastors (in a good sense of the term) are hired pastors; Jesus is the great owner of the sheep, whom he purchased from divine justice by the ransom of his blood, and rescued from the dominion of Satan by the power of his arm. Pastors partake of the infirmities of the people; Jesus is holy, harmless, and undefiled. Pastors are encompassed with ignorance, and with the best intentions often err in the direction of the church. Unerring wisdom characterizes all his dispensations towards the church, and then is he most wise (if comparison may be instituted) when most mysterious. Pastors, even when most particular in their attention, may overlook some members of their flock, and be unacquainted with the concerns of many whom they may wish to know; Jesus, by his attributes of omnipresence and omniscience, is near to everyone, and knows as accurately the state of all, and exercises as tender a care over each, as if one single lamb were the sole and exclusive object of his pastoral attention. Pastors possess affection for their flock—but the warmest bosom that ever glowed with ministerial love, is as the frigid zone itself compared with the love of his Jesus' heart. Pastors sink under the multiplied cares of office; but though the government is upon his shoulder, Jesus faints not, neither is weary, for "He is the Alpha and Omega, the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." Pastors are mortal, and continue not by reason of death; Jesus is the "blessed and only potentate, who only has immortality," and reigns, as Head over all things to his church, not "by the law of a carnal commandment—but by the power of an endless life." Death has access to our pulpits—but not to his throne. Jesus maintains his church amidst the ravages of death, and though his flocks die, and the shepherds die with them, he raises up other sheep to occupy the folds, and other shepherds to feed and watch them.
It is in this sense (as some think) we are to understand his own language, "Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell (The word in the original, Hades, signifying the unseen world; of which, according to this interpretation, death is the gate.) shall not prevail against it." The gates of the unseen world were thrown open by the hand which plucked the forbidden fruit, and have been kept open ever since by the justice of God. Not only have the wicked passed through those gloomy portals—but every generation of the righteous. Millions of saints have passed the solemn barrier, with myriads of faithful holy ministers—but still others have been raised up in their place, and the church still continues through the power of her deathless Lord. Her boast and her joy amidst the ravages of death, is in his language, "I am he who lives and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of death and of the unseen world."
2. The AUTHORITY of Christ over all under-shepherds. He, in this respect, is the chief Shepherd. "All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth, and he is head over all things to his church." Any dominion over his church which is either independent of his, or opposed to it, whether it is civil or ecclesiastical, is clearly a rebellious invasion of his sublime and inalienable prerogative. It is exclusively his right to rule in the church, to regulate all its concerns, and all its officers. He calls the under-shepherds to their office, furnishes them with their intellectual and spiritual qualifications, assists them in their duties, selects for them their stations, blesses their ministrations, and will at last gather them around his bar to account for their conduct. Yes; for all the talents he has entrusted to their care, for all the opportunities of usefulness he has put within their reach; for all they have done and all they might have done; for their acts and their motives; for every hour of their time and every particle of their influence; for their Sabbaths and their sermons, must they render to Christ at the last day an exact and correct account. No distinctions either of talents or success will raise them above the scrutiny; no obscurity of station or feebleness of intellect will depress them below it. The shepherd and the flock must confront each other before the tribunal of the universal Judge; they to testify how he preached, and he to testify how they heard. O great and merciful Savior, who will then lay aside the amiable character of the shepherd for the solemn one of the judge, grant us that we may find mercy of you in that day. Then, when our conduct shall come under review, and even the motives of it shall be scrutinized,
"Cleansed in your own all-purifying
III. The faithful minister's glorious REWARD.
1. The reward will be bestowed WHEN the chief Shepherd shall appear.Jesus Christ was once an inhabitant of our world. "The word was made flesh and dwelt among us," but having finished the work which required his personal appearance, having, like the high priest of the Jews, offered oblation for the sins of the people, "he entered, by his own blood, within the veil to appear in the presence of God for us." Since his ascension to glory he has carried on his cause by the operations of providence, the influence of grace, and the dependent agency of man—but He himself is invisible.
The whole fabric of practical Christianity is built upon the principle of faith; we believe in him whom we have not seen; and how will it redound to the glory of his wisdom and power, that notwithstanding the human race are so unwilling in most things to follow any other guide than the testimony of their senses, millions of them should be enabled by the operation of faith to make things unseen predominate over things seen; things future over things present; things eternal over things temporal; and in expectation of a world which none of them have ever seen, and which they knew only from the writings of men who lived nearly two thousand years ago—to resist the fascinations which surround them, and mortify the propensities inherent in their own hearts. Think what a triumph of faith is exhibited, when, out of love to an unseen Savior, men to whom life presents all its attractions, and death all its terrors, should be willing to die upon the scaffold or at the stake.
But the Son of God will not always be invisible "He shall appear." The veil of the material heavens will be drawn aside, and he who now makes intercession for us, shall be seen, like his illustrious type, clad in his beautiful garments, returning from the most holy place to bless the people in the name of Jehovah. He shall not come in humiliation, as he did when his business was to redeem the world; but he shall be manifested in glory befitting the judge of the universe, and appear as "the Great God and our Savior." It is not for us even to imagine the splendor of that appearance, which is expressly called the revelation of Jesus Christ. Who can form an idea of a being exhibiting as well as possessing the mingled glories of deity and humanity? or of that union of solemn justice and ineffable love which will then be visibly enthroned on his brow? or of that concentration of majesty which is implied in his coming in his own glory, and the glory of his Father, and the glory of his holy angels? or of the sights and the sounds which shall attend his descent from heaven, and announce his approach to our flaming world?
The present defects of our knowledge will, however, be supplied by the testimony of our senses, for when "he comes in the clouds, every eye shall see him." It is at this time, it is amidst these circumstances, that the reward of the faithful minister will be bestowed. Marks of favors conferred by a king in private are valued by every loyal subject; but to be singled out on a court day, to be applauded at a reception in their honor, and to receive an honorable distinction before all the rank and nobility of a kingdom, enhances, beyond calculation, the value of the favor. The minister, and indeed the Christian, no sooner leaves the body than he enters into the presence of Christ, and receives, as it were, a private testimony of his approbation—but this is not all. At the judgment day, when the chief Shepherd shall appear upon the throne of his glory; when all of the earth, with all their monarchs, legislators, philosophers, and warriors, shall be around his footstool; when thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, shall surround the seat of the eternal majesty, and the cherubim and seraphim shall gaze upon the scene; then, to be singled out and proclaimed as the man whom the King of the universe delights to honor, will be a joy and a glory which no language can enable us ever to comprehend!
2. WHAT the reward shall be."He shall receive a crown of life that fades not away." The ancients rewarded those who conquered either in their battles or their games, with crowns or garlands composed of the leaves of trees and herbs. These were of course but of short continuance, and withered, if not in the hand that bestowed them, upon the brows that received them. In allusion to this, it is that the apostle speaks when he says, "they do it to receive a corruptible crown—but we an incorruptible (amaranthine) one." On some occasions the crowns were composed of a flower which, because it retained its beauty for a long time, was called amaranthus (or incorruptible), and was, on that account, chosen by poets as the emblem of immortality. Amaranthine crowns were not unfrequently presented as votive offerings to departed heroes; and it is probably in allusion to this circumstance also that the Christian minister is said to receive an amaranthine crown. The figure implies honorable distinction. The crown was an emblem of honor; and to be crowned with glory is, perhaps, the most expressive phrase which language contains. The faithful pastor will no doubt be singled out amidst the solemnities of the last day, and occupy a station where every eye will behold him. He will receive a public testimony of approbation from the Chief Shepherd. With amazing condescension the Lord Jesus will recite all the acts of service which he has performed, proclaim before the universe that he was faithful until death, and finish the whole by saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!" Tell me what higher honor, what richer bliss can be conferred on any rational being, than to hear the Lord of heaven and earth say publicly to him, "Well done, I am pleased with your services; you have found grace in my sight."
The hero who has fought England's battles, and subdued her enemies, delights in the acclamations of the multitude, and contemplates with pleasure the wealth and titles which he has won; but the proudest moment of his life, the meridian of his glory is, when he stands before the parliament of his country, when its members receive him standing, and the venerable president, in the name of the house and the nation, pronounces, "Well done you good and faithful servant." But O, what is this compared with the honor and distinction of that man, who shall stand before the judgement bar of the universe, and hear the King of kings and Lord of lords say to him, "Well done, well done!" The very anticipation almost overwhelms us. No wonder Peter thought nothing of living or dying—but had all his solicitude drawn to the one point of being accepted by Jesus Christ; no wonder the countenance of Cain fell when he went out from the presence of the Lord, or that despair marked every step of the rejected anger-smitten fugitive.
As we have every reason from Scripture to believe that there are degrees of glory in the celestial world, we may safely conclude that they who have been most useful in the cause of Christ on earth will be nearest his throne in heaven. This is another part of their honor. "They that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever." And the distinctions of that world will be borne without pride, and be seen without envy.
Perfect felicity is evidently implied in this figurative description of a minister's reward. The crown of victory was worn on days of public rejoicing, and he who wore it was considered the happiest of the festive throng, and the center of the universal joy. He received the congratulations of the admiring multitude as having reached the summit of human happiness. The apostle, therefore, intended to include the idea of perfect happiness in his beautiful allusion. The holy pastor shall partake, in common with his people, of all those sublime felicities which the Father has prepared for those who love him. He shall see God face to face, and behold the glory of the Lamb; he shall possess a body glorious, incorruptible, and inhabited by a spirit perfect in knowledge, holiness, and love; he shall be associated with the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.
But, in addition, he shall have sources of felicity peculiar to his office. The consciousness of having spent his life in the service of Christ; of having stood, as it were, at the fountain of celestial radiance for so many years, to pour the streams of truth and holiness over the parched plains of this desert world; of having made known the glory of God to those who but for his instrumentality, must have remained in ignorance of his nature; of having scattered along his path to immortality the unsearchable riches of Christ, and sown the seed of righteousness for an eternal harvest; of having rescued many from everlasting death, and elevated them to the life that never ends; in short, of having been instrumental in accomplishing the lofty schemes of redeeming love, and lived in fellowship with the cross.
Such a reflection, when all the acquirements of ambition, of learning, of science, or of avarice, shall cease to be regarded with delight, will be a perennial spring of ineffable delight in the bosom of its possessor. It will be no small accession to the faithful pastor's felicity to see around him in heaven the souls whom he was the honored instrument of bringing to glory, the saints whom his labors prepared for their inheritance in light. How striking is the language which the apostle addressed to the believers in Thessalonica. "For who is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy!" Those of you who have tasted the rich emotions which benevolence excites in the bosom of the philanthropist, can conceive with what delight you would gaze upon a large company seated around your own table, all of whom owe their comfort in life to your exertions. But such a survey would be infinitely less gratifying than will be that of the minister of Christ, who, while he shall look around upon immortal souls, rescued from hell, and elevated to heaven by his instrumentality, shall hear them uttering his name in the excess of their rapture, as the means of their salvation, and shall behold them turning upon him, eyes expressive at once of their glory and their gratitude.
The hope of usefulness is the noblest stimulus to exertion, and the evidence of it is our richest reward. It is beyond expression delightful to behold the profligate reclaimed, reformed, and sanctified; and to see those who were hastening to the bottomless pit, and becoming every day more fit for it—transformed by the blessing of God upon our ministry, into humble, holy, spiritual followers of the Lamb. There is not a man on earth whom a minister can envy when he beholds around him those whom he has been the instrument of saving from eternal death. Still it is with mingled feelings that we look upon these pleasing indications of successful labor. Many a vernal blossom is now putting forth its petals to the sun, which shall never ripen into fruit; and we have so often seen such nipped by the frost and scattered by the wind, that even when the garden of the Lord puts on the most encouraging aspect, and most invites to gratitude and delight, we rejoice indeed, for even the hope of doing good is blissful—but recollecting how frail human goodness is, "we rejoice with trembling." The flow of our joy is often checked by the foreboding that some of our apparently most beautiful plants will never bloom in the paradise above. For experience makes us suspicious. But none of these suspicious will arise to interrupt our felicity above. There, the good we have done shall be permanent and eternal. We shall see those sermons and those prayers, which we thought were utterly lost, obtain their reward in the glorified forms of redeemed sinners. We shall see the seed which we sowed oftentimes amidst many tears, waving in a rich harvest of everlasting joy. And we shall survey the scene with unmingled feelings. No 'appearances of piety' will be delusive there. Never shall we sorrowfully exclaim over anyone, "Your goodness is as the morning cloud and early dew." The souls whom we there shall behold elevated to glory through our ministry will never deceive us; no inconsistency will ever awaken our fears or grieve our hearts; none will be seen falling like meteors from the church—but everyone will present the settled splendor of a fixed star.
Who can conceive of that delight which will arise from such a scene? What an incentive to our labor! What an excitement to our zeal! The mere plaudits of men expire upon the vibrations that bear them to the ear. Miserable is the man who is satisfied with the admiration instead of the salvation of his hearers, and wretched forever will he be when he shall hear the Judge say to him, "You have had your reward."
Eternal duration is ascribed by the Apostle to the honor and happiness promised in the text. The garland of the earthly victor soon withered; the amaranthine chaplet of the earthly hero, in spite of its name, lost its beauty; the diadem falls from the brow of the earthly monarch; but the pastor's crown shall "never fade away!" His reward shall be not only ineffable—but eternal. "What is lacking here?" exclaimed the flattering courtier to a royal conqueror, riding in the pomp of a triumphal procession. "Continuance," replied the moralizing emperor. But when amidst the splendor of celestial glory, one happy spirit shall ask another, "What is lacking here?" the answer shall be, "Nothing! for these scenes shall never fade!" The attribute of immortality to which, amidst the groans of creation, the human race have ever aspired, belongs to the joys which the Father has prepared for those who love him. These joys are all summed up in that one expression, most sublime to hear—eternal life. With us, who enjoy the benefit of revelation, immortality is not, as it was with the wisest of the heathen, a mere conjecture. They looked across the sea of life, and thought they saw the mountains of another and better country—but all was dim; and whether what they saw was delusive or real, they could not tell. Judaism gave some assuring intimations of a state of future glory, yet clouds and shadows rested on the prospect. "Life and immortality were first brought to light by the gospel," and they are revealed and promised not to the philosopher only—but to the unlettered and the child. Deathless honors shall flourish on the brow of every servant of God, and eternal felicity settle in his bosom. He is ever advancing to "an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away." To this honor and felicity we feel confident our deceased friend has been advanced by his approving Lord.
Let us learn from this subject to look up amidst the mortality of ministers with joy and confidence to the perfections and immortality of the chief Shepherd. Let us be admonished by it to be ever ready for the last eventful hour of life. Let us learn the excellence of that religion which regenerates the heart, sanctifies the life, soothes the mind under all its sorrows, supports the soul amidst the decays of nature, throws a luster over the dark valley of death, opens the portals of the celestial city, and having conducted the disembodied spirit to the throne, returns again to earth to pour the balm of consolation into the minds of mourning relatives, and conduct them onward to that world where relationships strengthened and hallowed by religion shall be rewarded, perfected, and perpetuated! Amen.