The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

Thomas Brooks, 1655

Having spoken much concerning ministers' duty, I shall now speak a little concerning the ministers' dignity, and so finish this text.

"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ!" Ephesians 3:8

This grace, this favor, this honor is given to me—that I should preach, etc. I look not upon it as a poor, low, base, contemptible thing—but as a very great honor, "that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."

The observation that I shall speak to is this: That the office of a minister or preacher is honorable.

For the understanding of this point, premise with me two things:

First, That by a minister, I understand one who is qualified according to gospel rules, and who is internally called by God, and externally called by the people of God, to the ministerial office.

The second thing that I would have you premise with me for the understanding of the point is this, that the common appellation of those who are set apart for the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament is ministers. So in 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6, and chapter 6:4, and chapter 11:15, 23; 1 Tim. 4:16, and in many other places, the word minister is a title of office, service, or administration given frequently to the preachers of the gospel. As for the names of ambassadors, stewards, and the like, wherewith they are often honored, they are figurative, and given to them by allusion only.

These two things being premised, we shall now proceed to the opening of the point.

1. And, in the first place, I shall prove that the office of a minister is an honorable office.

2. And then, in the second place, I shall show you what honor is due to them.

3. And then, in the third place, I shall show you how you are to honor them.

4. And then, in the last place, we shall bring home all by a word of application.

Christians, give me permission to tell you this as an aside—that since the gospel has shined in England, a godly, faithful ministry was never more subtly and vehemently struck at by men who make a fair show, and by men of corrupt doctrines and wicked lives. This age has many church destroyers. Some there are, who under that notion of plucking up corrupt ministers, would pluck up by the very roots the true ministry. But God has and will be still too hard for such men. If they will be monsters, God will be sure to be master. His faithful ministers are stars which he holds in his right hand, Rev. 2:1; and men shall as soon pull the sun out of the skies, as pull them out of the hand of God.

Now, considering that there is such a spirit abroad in the world, I hope no sober, serious Christians will be offended at my standing up to vindicate the honor of a godly, faithful ministry. In order to which,

I. I shall first prove that the office of a minister is honorable; and to me these following things speak it out:

[1.] The several names and titles which are given to them in Scripture, does speak them out to be honorable. They are called fathers, stewards, ambassadors, overseers, and angels, as you all know, who know anything of Scripture. To spend time to prove this, would be to light candles to see the sun at noon.

[2.] Their work is honorable. Their whole work is about souls, about winning souls to Christ, and about building souls up in Christ; and to these two heads the main work of the ministry may be reduced. The more noble the soul is, the more honor it is to be busied and exercised about it: James 5:20, "Let him know, that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." [O divine soul, invested with the image of God, espoused to him by faith, etc.—Bernard.]

"Let him know," that is, let him take notice that an honorable and glorious work is done by him. The soul is the immediate work of God; the soul is the image of God; the soul is capable of union and communion with God; the soul is worth more than a world, yes, than a thousand worlds. Christ prayed for souls, and wrought miracles for souls, and wept for souls, and left his Father's bosom for souls, and bled out his heart's blood for souls, and is gone to heaven to make provision for souls, yes, he is now a-making intercession for souls. All which speaks out the excellency of their office whose whole work is about souls.

The Jews say of Moses his soul, that it was sucked out of his mouth with a kiss. Souls are dear and sweet to Christ.

[3.] A third thing that speaks out this truth is this, they are fellow-laborers with God; they are co-workers with God in the salvation of sinners. And this is a mighty honor, to be a fellow-laborer with God, to be a co-worker with God: 1 Cor. 3:9, "For we are laborers together with God." Who would not work hard with such sweet company? Who would not affect, prize, love, and honor such service? Ministers are called the light and salt of the world, because they enlighten blind souls, and season unsavory souls, and so save them from corruption and perdition, Mat. 5:14; John 5:35; Mat. 5:13; Mark 9:59-60. Oh, to be joined in any work with God, is an honor beyond what I am able to express!

The senate of Rome accounted it a diminution of Augustus Caesar's dignity to join any consuls with him for the better carrying on the affairs of the state. Oh—but our God does not think it a diminution of his dignity, that even his poor despised servants should be fellow-laborers and co-workers with him in the salvation of souls.

[4.] The honorable account that the Lord has of them in this employment, speaks out this truth, that their office is honorable. In Mat. 10:41-42, compared, "He who receives you, receives me; he who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward;" and Luke 10:16, "He who receives you, receives me; and he who despises you, despises me." This honorable account God has of all his faithful servants in this employment. Kings and princes have their ambassadors in very high account: so has God his.

[5.] The fifth thing that speaks out this truth is this, they serve an honorable master. They serve him who is all ear to hear, all hand to uphold, all power to protect, all wisdom to direct, all goodness to relieve, and all mercy to pardon. They serve that God that is optimum, maximum, the best and greatest. God has within himself all the good of angels, men, and universal nature; he has all dignity, all glory, all riches, all treasure, all pleasure, all delight, all joy, all beatitudes. Mark, abstracts do better express God than concretes and adjectives. [He has all—who has the haver of all.—Αugustine.] God is being, goodness, beauty, power, wisdom, justice, mercy, and love itself. "God is love," says the apostle, in the very abstract. God is one infinite perfection in himself, which is eminently and virtually all perfections of the creatures. And oh then, what an honor must it be to those who are employed under so honorable a master!

[6.] Their very work and service is honorable. Why else did the apostle cry out, "Who is sufficient for these things?" There is no such embassage in the world as this is in which they are employed: Eph. 6:19-20, "Pray for me, that I may make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds." [Their main work is to treat with sinners about eternity, etc.] Faithful ministers do represent the person of the King of kings and Lord of lords; their work is to treat of peace between God and man, or of open hostility between the Creator and the creature, 2 Cor. 5:19-20.

[7.] Lastly, Their reward from God is honorable. Though the world crown them with thorns, as it did their Lord and master before them—yet God will crown them with honor: Dan. 12:3, "They shall shine as the stars in the skies." You know ambassadors have not honors while they are abroad—but when they come home into their own country, then their princes honor them, and put much honor upon them. So will God deal with his ambassadors 2 Tim. 4:7, 8, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only—but unto all them also that love his appearing."

So in Isaiah 49:5. "I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength." So in 2 Cor. 2:15, "For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ in those who are saved, and in those who perish." [God will at last highly reward those very services that men don't regard, etc.] Ministers shall be rewarded according to their faithfulness and diligence, though some perish. It shall be with them as with vine-dressers. You know vine-dressers are rewarded according to their diligence and faithfulness, though some vines never bear, nor bring forth any fruit at all. As ministers are diligent and faithful, so the reward, the crown, shall be given forth at last. This is many a faithful minister's grief, that he takes a great deal of pains in rubbing and washing, as it were, to make souls white and clean, pure and holy, and yet they remain after all as black as hell; but surely their reward shall be never the less with God. The nurse looks not for her wages from the child—but from the parent. If ministers, like clouds, sweat themselves to death that souls may be brought to life, great will be their reward, though their souls should perish forever, for whom they have wept, sweat, and bled.

God won't deal by faithful ministers, as Xerxes did by his steerman, who crowned him in the morning, and beheaded him in the evening of the same day. No; God will set an everlasting crown upon their heads who remain laborious and faithful to the death. The world for all their pains will crown them with thorns—but God at last will crown them with glory; he will set a crown of pure gold upon their heads forever. And thus you have the point proved.

The second thing that I am to do is to show you,

2. What honor that is, which is justly due to faithful ministers.

Now, this I shall show you in three things. There is a threefold honor that is due unto them.

[1.] First, Honorable countenance is due unto those who are in so honorable a place and office as they are in: 1 Cor. 4:1, "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers [Under-rowers to Christ, the master-pilot, helping forward the ship of the church to the haven of heaven.] of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God;" 1 Thes. 5:12-13, "And we beseech you, brethren, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very high in love for their work's sake;" or, "to esteem them more than exceedingly," or, more than abundantly, as the Greek will bear. And so, in 1 Tim. 5:17, "Let the elders who rule well be accounted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." The Greek word that is here rendered labor, signifies not simply to labor—but to labor with much travail and toil, to labor even to exhaustion, as he does who chops wood, or that toils in harvest, or who goes a warfare. Preaching is a most difficult work, and enfeebles a man exceedingly; whence the prophet cries out, "My leanness, my leanness," Isaiah 24:16. [Our Savior, at little past thirty, was reckoned by the Jews to be towards fifty, John 8:57, he had so spent himself in preaching. Preaching is a spending, painful work.] No pains, no labor, no work compared to that of the brain, to that of the mind, nor any so worthy of praise as those who are most in that labor, in that work.

No men's work is so holy and heavenly as theirs, nor no men's work is so high and honorable as theirs, and therefore none deserve to be more honored than they, though not for their own sakes—yet their work's sake. Shall Turks and papists so highly esteem and honor every hedge-priest of theirs above their merits, and shall not Christians much more honor their faithful ministers? Faithful ministers must have countenance as well as maintenance, they must have reverence as well as recompense. You are not to nod the head and put out the lip, to scoff, and mock, and jeer at them.

Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace; who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation; who says unto Zion, your God reigns." "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet!" What is their face then? What is their doctrine then? Their very feet, when dirty, sweaty, and dusty, are yet very beautiful and lovely.

It was a common saying at Constantinople, that it was better the sun should not shine than that Chrysostom should not preach.

I have read of one that said, "if he should meet a preacher and an angel together, he would first salute the preacher, and then the angel afterward." If you do not give them honorable countenance, Jews and Turks, papists, and pagans, will in the great day of account rise up against you, and condemn you. I could say much of what I have observed in other nations and countries concerning this thing—but I shall forbear. Should I speak what I have seen, many professors might well blush.

The Grecians used to give far greater respect and honor to their philosophers than to their orators, because that their orators did only teach them to speak well—but their philosophers did teach them to live well. Oh what honor then is due to those who do teach you both to speak well and to live well! both how to be happy here and how to be blessed hereafter. And thus you see that honorable countenance is due to faithful ministers.

[2.] Secondly, There is an honor of maintenance, as well as an honor of countenance that is due to them: 1 Tim. 5:17-18, "Let the elders who rule well be accounted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn, and the laborer is worthy of his reward." [Harvest-laborers have food and drink, and double wages. Some think that the apostle has respect to the law of the first-born, Deut. 21:17, in which a two-fold portion is commanded to be given him. The ancient Christians, as appears by Tertullian, were accustomed, in their Agapae, or love-feasts, to give their ministers a double portion. Surely ministers should have such a liberal, honorable maintenance, as might set them above the vulgar, as the first-born by their double portion were set up above the rest of their brethren.]

Gal. 6:6, "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." So in 1 Cor. 9:7-11, "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?" Mat. 10:9-10, "Don’t take along gold, silver, or copper for your money-belts. Don't take a traveling bag for the road, or an extra shirt, sandals, or a walking stick, for the worker is worthy of his food." God's appointment in all these texts bespeak it.

Again, you may consider the necessity of it. How shall they go on in their warfare if they are troubled with the things of this life? Again, they are to give themselves wholly to the work of the ministry, 1 Tim. 4:5. And again, the equity and justice of the duty Christ and the apostle shows in the forenamed scriptures, Mat. 10:10, 1 Cor. 9:10. The maintenance of the minister should be so free, and so liberal, as may testify that you honor him in your hearts, and as may keep him from contempt and scorn in the world. There are multitudes who grumble at the expense of a penny for the maintenance of those divine candles who spend themselves to give light to them; who will rather die than spend a little money to save their souls. They like well of religion without expense; and a gospel without charge. The scripture says, "Buy the truth, sell it not." You can never overbuy it, whatever you give for it; you can never sufficiently sell it, if you had all the world in exchange for it.

It is said of Caesar that he had greater care of his books than of his royal robes; for swimming through the water to escape his enemies, he carried his books in his hand above the water—but lost his robes. But alas! what are Caesar's books to God's book? The word is the field, and Christ is the treasure that is hid in that field. The word is a ring of gold, and Christ is the pearl in that ring of gold, and is it then worth nothing? Many deal with faithful, laborious ministers, as carriers do with their horses, they lay heavy burdens upon them, and exact work enough; and then to recompense this, they hang bells at their ears and necks. They shall be commended and applauded for brave excellent preachers, and for great painstakers, etc. That maintenance that is justly due to the ministers of the gospel is honorable; it ought to be suitable to their condition and dignity. The maintenance that is due to them, is of the same nature with that which is given to princes and magistrates, by those who are under them, and not a common maintenance which superiors give to their inferiors or servants.

[3.] Thirdly, There is an honor of obedience and service that is due to them. And indeed, of all honors, this is the greatest honor that can be cast upon a faithful minister, the honor of obedience: Heb. 13:7, "Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken to you in the word of God;" and verse 17, " Obey those who rule over you." Oh, submit yourselves, for they "watch for your souls as those who must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief, for that is unprofitable for you."

"Obey those who have the rule over you." The word that is rendered "Rule over you," in the seventh and seventeenth verses, signifies captains, guides. Faithful ministers are your captains, they are your guides, they are your chieftains, they are your champions who bear the brunt of the battle, the heat of the day; and therefore you must obey them, even as soldiers do their captains. So in 2 Thes. 3:14, "And if any man obey not our words, note that man, and have no company with him." Brand him as infamous, beware of him, let him see a strangeness in you towards him, that all may avoid him as one whose company is dangerous and infectious.

Ah Christians! by your submission to their doctrine, you highly honor them, and you make their heavy task to be easy and sweet unto them. Christians! it will be your honor and happiness in the day of Christ, that you have lived out what they have taught to you. I suppose you remember that happiness is not entailed to hearing, or knowing, or talking—but to doing. "If you know these things, blessed and happy are you, if you do them, John 13:17. There are some diseases which are called opprobria medicorum, the reproaches of physicians; and there are some people that may be truly called opprobria ministrorum, the reproach of ministers, and those are those who are great hearers, and talkers, and admirers of ministers—but never obey the doctrines delivered by them. [There is no fear of knowing too much—but there is much fear and danger of practicing too little. I fear, with Augustine, that many grieve more for the barrenness of their lands than for the barrenness of their lives. The more the cypress is watered, the more it is withered. Oh that it were not so with many in these days!]

The Corinthians were Paul's honor, they were his living epistles, they were his walking certificates, they were his letters-testimonial, 2 Cor. 3:2-3. The obedience and fruitfulness of the people is the minister's testimonial, as the profiting of the scholar is the master's commendation. Oh what an honor is it to a faithful minister, when it shall be said of him, as one said once of Octavius, "When he came into Rome he found the walls all of base materials—but left them walls of marble!" So here is a minister who found the people dark and blind—but left them enlightened; he found them dead—but left them alive; he found them a proud people—but has left them humble; a profane people—but has left them holy; he found them a carnal people—but has left them spiritual; he found them a worldly people—but has left them heavenly; he found them a wavering people—but has left them settled and rooted, etc. No honor to a faithful minister like this. And thus you see what honor is due unto them, etc.

USE. And now let me make a word of use. Christians! if their office be so honorable, then honor them. Oh, give them the honor that is due unto them. Will you make conscience to give others their due, and will you make no conscience of giving ministers their due? Are there any who are greater blessings to a nation than faithful ministers? Who have stood more in the gap to turn away wrath than they? Who have begotten you to Christ through the gospel but they? Who have turned you from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God but them? Who have built you up in the light and love of Jesus but them? etc. Oh, do not cast scorn and reproach upon them—but give them that honor that is due unto them!

But you will say to me, How shall we honor them?

I answer, you must honor them these five ways:

[1.] You must honor them by hearing them, and giving credit to their message. The want of this honor troubled Isaiah too much; "Who has believed our report?" Not to believe the report that they make concerning God and Christ, etc., is to cast the greatest dishonor that can be upon them. [Antisthenes, a philosopher, went every day six miles to hear Socrates.] The wise men, Mat. 2, went many weary hundred miles to find Christ at Jerusalem; some think near a thousand miles. The Queen of Sheba, some say, went 964 miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and what was Solomon's wisdom to that wisdom of Christ that is held forth to souls in the ministry of the gospel. [We can never hear that too often that we can never learn too well.] The holy martyrs thought no weather too hot, no winter too cold, no journey too long, nor no torment too great—to enjoy the preaching of the gospel, though darkly.

[2.] You may honor them, by standing fast in the doctrine of the Lord delivered by them. 1 Thes. 3:8, "You are our joy, our crown, if you stand fast in the Lord;" else, says the apostle, you kill our very hearts. If after all our studying, wrestling, sweating, and preaching, you shall play apostates, and leave the precious ways of God, and run after notions and vain opinions which cannot profit you, nor better you, you will kill many at once: your own souls and our hearts.

[3.] You should honor them, by being followers of them, so far as they are followers of Christ. So in 1 Cor. 4:16, "Be followers of me, even as I am of Christ." Chapter 11:11; Heb. 13:7; 2 Thes. 3:7; Phil. 3:7. All these scriptures bespeak you to be followers of them as they are followers of Christ. Oh, it is an honor to faithful ministers, when their people are like them in knowledge, wisdom, love, humility, holiness!

Plutarch said of Demosthenes that he was excellent at praising the worthy acts of his ancestors—but not so at imitating them. Ah, many in these days are excellent at praising and commending the holy and gracious actings of their ministers—but not so at imitating them!

[4.] You must honor them by bearing them upon your hearts when you appear before the Lord in the mount. Eph. 6:13, 19; 2 Thes. 3:1-2; 1 Thes. 5:25; Col. 1:2, 4; Heb. 13:8; Acts 12:5. All these scriptures do bespeak Christians to bear their faithful ministers upon their hearts when they are a-wrestling with God. None usually are opposed as they. Their wants are many, their weaknesses are more, their work is great, their strength is small. Oh pray, pray more and more for them; yes, pray believingly, pray affectionately, pray fervently, pray unweariedly—that they may speak from the heart to the heart, that they may speak things which are seasonable and suitable to the capacities and conditions of his people. They can tell when they lack your prayers, and when they enjoy your prayers; did you pray more for them, they might do more for your internal and eternal good, than now they do.

[5.] Lastly, You must honor them by adhering to them, and abiding with them in all their trials, afflictions, and tribulations that do or shall attend them. It is brave to own them in a storm, to own them when others disown them, when others oppose them, and act highly against them. Paul looked upon himself as much honored by Onesiphorus owning of him in his chains. "May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus." 2 Timothy 1:16-18.

Chrysostom says of Christians, "That they would not be kept from visiting the confessors in prison, although it was forbidden with many threatening terrors, and it was great danger to them." [The saints in the primitive times did so stick and cleave to those who were in bonds, that the very heathen admiringly cried out, "Look how the Christians love one another."]

But to draw to a close, you have heard that the office of a faithful minister is honorable, and you have heard what honor is due unto them. Let me therefore desire you all to take heed of scorning, despising, and despising of those who are faithful, who are qualified according to gospel rules. That is a sad word, 2 Chron. 36:15-18. God sent his messengers early and late to reclaim them—but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, until there was no remedy, nor no healing. David never played such a harsh part all his days, as he did to the Ammonites that despitefully used his ambassadors, as you may see at large in 2 Sam. 10.

The Romans sacked the famous city of Corinth, and razed it to the ground, for a little discourtesy they offered to their ambassadors. [Ambassadors are inviolable by the law of nations, and the least indignity offered to them is to be as severely punished as if it had been offered to the person of that prince whom they represent.] And they slew many of the Illyrians and the Tarentines for misusing of their ambassadors. And do you think that the Lord is not as tender of the credit and honor of his faithful ministers, and that he will not avenge the affronts, wrongs, and injuries which are done unto them? Surely he will. "This is what the Lord Almighty says—I will send war, famine, and disease upon them and make them like rotting figs—too bad to eat. Yes, I will pursue them with war, famine, and disease, and I will scatter them around the world. In every nation where I send them, I will make them an object of damnation, horror, contempt, and mockery. For they refuse to listen to me, though I have spoken to them repeatedly through my prophets." Jeremiah 29:17-19

"Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah—Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and laws, which are contained in the whole law that I commanded your ancestors and which I gave you through my servants the prophets. But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors and refused to believe in the Lord their God. They rejected his laws and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord's command not to imitate them." 2 Kings 17:13-15

Now mark, though these temporal judgments are not visible among us—yet spiritual judgments, which are the worst of judgments, are very visible. Though there is no sword, no famine, no pestilence—yet there is spiritual madness, spiritual drunkenness, spiritual giddiness. Oh the blind minds, the corrupt judgments, the hard hearts, the seared consciences, which are to be found among the professors of this age! As there are no mercies to spiritual mercies—so there are no judgments to spiritual judgments. Jer. 13:12; Ezek. 23:33; 1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15. Oh the slightness, the coldness, the deadness, the barrenness, which is abroad in the world! God suits his judgments to men's sins; the greatest sins are always attended with the greatest judgments. In these days men sin against more glorious means, greater love, more clear light, more tender affections of mercy, etc, than formerly; and therefore God gives men up to more sad and dreadful spiritual judgments than formerly.

They say when Hercules drew up Cerberus from hell, he led him in a chain, and he went quietly until he came to the horizon and saw the peeping of the light—but then he pulled so strongly that he almost pulled the conqueror and all back again. Ah it is sad when men had rather live in darkness, and die in darkness, and go to hell in darkness—rather than see the light, enjoy the light, and walk in the light! Many fret at the light, and at those who bring it, as the Ethiopians once a year solemnly curse the sun. Such souls stand in much need of pity and prayer.

And thus, according to my weak measure, I have given out what God has given in from this scripture, and shall follow it with my prayers, that it may be a word of life and power both to writer, reader, and hearer. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria in Aeternum.