Let's continue Gilbert Tennan'ts Sermon "The Danger of An Unconverted Ministry."
The second general head of discourse is to show why much people, who have no better than the old Pharisee-teachers, are to be pitied:
1. Natural men have no call of God to the ministerial work under the gospel dispensation.
Isn’t it a principal part of the ordinary call of God to the ministerial work to aim at the glory of God and, in subordination thereunto, the good of souls as their chief marks in their undertaking that work? And can any natural man on earth do this? No! No! Every skin of them has an evil eye, for no cause can produce effects above its own power. Are not wicked men forbidden to meddle in things sacred? Psalm 50:16: “But unto the wicked, God saith, ‘What hast thou to do to declare My statues, or that thou shouldst take My covenant in thy mouth?’ ” Now, are not all unconverted men wicked men? Does not the Lord Jesus inform us in John 10:1 that “he who entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber?” In the 9th verse, Christ tells us that He is the Door, and that if any man enters in by Him, he shall be saved by Him, i.e., by faith in Him, says (Matthew) Henry. Hence we read of a “door of faith” being opened to the Gentiles (Acts 14:22).
It confirms that salvation is annexed to the entrance beforementioned. Remarkable is that saying of our Savior in Matthew 4:9: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” See, our Lord will not make men ministers till they follow Him. Men who do not follow Christ may fish faithfully for a good name, and for worldly self, but not for the conversion of sinners to God. Is it reasonable to suppose that they will be earnestly concerned for others’ salvation when they slight their own? Our Lord reproved Nicodemus for taking upon himself the office of instructing others while he himself was a stranger to the New Birth. John 3:10: “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” The Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 1:12) thanks God for counting him faithful, and putting him into the ministry, which plainly supposes that God Almighty does not send Pharisees and natural men into ministry; for how can those men be faithful who have no faith? It’s true, men may put themselves into the ministry through unfaithfulness or mistake. Credit and money may draw them, and the devil may drive them into it, knowing by long experience of what special service they may be to his kingdom in that office; but God does not send such hypocritical varlets.
Hence Timothy was directed by the Apostle Paul to commit the ministerial work to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2), and do not those qualifications necessary for church-officers, specified in 1 Timothy 3:2–3, 9–11 and Titus 1:7–8 plainly suppose converting grace? How else can they avoid being greedy of filthy lucre? How else can they hold the mystery of faith in a pure conscience and be faithful in all things? How else can they be lovers of good, sober, just, holy, temperate?
2. The ministry of natural men is uncomfortable to gracious souls.
The enmity that is put between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent will, now and then, be creating jars. And no wonder; for as it was of old, so it is now: “He that was born after the flesh, persecuteth him that was born after the Spirit.” This enmity is not one grain less in unconverted ministers than in others; though it is possible it may be better polished with wit and rhetoric, and gilded with the specious names of zeal, fidelity, peace, good order, and unity.
Natural men, not having true love to Christ or the souls of their fellow-creatures, find their discourses are cold and sapless, and, as it were, freeze between their lips. And not being sent of God, they lack the divine authority with which the faithful ambassadors of Christ are clothed, who herein resemble their blessed Master of whom it is said, “He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:29).
And Pharisee-teachers, having no experience of a special work of the Holy Ghost upon their own souls, are therefore neither inclined to nor fitted for discoursing frequently, clearly, and pathetically upon such important subjects. The application of their discourses is either short or indistinct and general. They do not distinguish the precious from the vile, and divide not to every man his portion, according to the apostolic direction to Timothy. No! They carelessly offer a common mess to their people, and leave it to them to divide it among themselves as they see fit. This is, indeed, their general practice, which is bad enough; but sometimes they do worse by misapplying the Word through ignorance or anger. They often strengthen the hands of the wicked by promising him life. They comfort people before they convince them, sow before they plow, and are busy in raising a fabric before they lay a foundation. These foolish builders do but strengthen men’s carnal security by their soft, selfish, cowardly discourses. They do not have the courage or honesty to thrust the nail of terror into sleeping souls.
Nay, sometimes they strive with all their might to fasten terror into the hearts of the righteous, and so to make those sad whom God would not have made sad! And this happens when pious people begin to suspect their hypocrisy, for which they have good reason, I may add that, inasmuch as Pharisee-teachers seek after righteousness, as it were, by the works of the law themselves, they therefore do not distinguish as they ought between Law and Gospel in their discourses to others. They keep driving, driving, to duty, duty, under this notion that it will recommend natural men to the favor of God, or entitle them to the promises of grace and salvation. And thus those blind guides fix a deluded world upon the false foundation of their own righteousness, and so exclude them from the dear Redeemer.
All the doings of unconverted men not proceeding from the principles of faith, love, and a new nature, nor being directed to the divine glory as their highest end, but flowing from, and tending to, self as their principle and end, are, doubtless, damnably wicked in their manner of performance, and deserve the wrath and curse of a sin-avenging God. Neither can any other encouragement be justly given them but that, in the way of duty, there is a peradventure of probability or obtaining mercy.
And natural men, lacking the experience of those spiritual difficulties which pious souls are exposed to in this vale of tears, do not know how to speak a word to the weary in season. Their prayers are also cold; little child-like love to God or pity to poor perishing souls runs through their veins. Their conversation has nothing of the savor of Christ, neither is it perfumed with the spices of heaven. They seem to make as little distinction in their practice as preaching. They love those unbelievers that are kind to them better than many Christians, and choose them for companions, contrary to Psalm 15:4, Psalm 119:115 and Galatians 6:10. Poor Christians are stunted and starved who are put to feed on such bare pastures, on such “dry nurses,” as Rev. Mr. (Arthur) Hildersham justly calls them. It’s only when the wise virgins sleep that they can bear with those dead dogs who can’t bark; but when the Lord revives His people, they can’t but abhor them. O! It is ready to break their very hearts with grief, to see how lukewarm those Pharisee-teachers are in their public discourses, while sinners are sinking into damnation in multitudes! But:
3. The ministry of natural men is, for the most part, unprofitable, which is confirmed by a three-fold evidence of Scripture, reason, and experience. Such as the Lord sends not, He Himself assures us, shall not profit the people at all (Jeremiah 23:32). Matthew Poole justly glosses upon this passage of sacred Scripture thus, “None can expect God’s blessing upon their ministry that are not called and sent of God into the ministry.” And right reason will inform us how unfit instruments they are to negotiate that work they pretend to. Is a blind man fit to be a guide in a very dangerous way? Is a dead man fit to bring others to life? A mad man fit to give to cast out devils? A rebel, an enemy to God, fit to be sent on an embassy of peace to bring rebels into a state of friendship with God? A captive bound in the massy chains of darkness and guilt, a proper person to set others at liberty? A leper, or one that has plague-sores upon him, fit to be a good physician? Is an ignorant rustic that has never been at sea in his life fit to be a pilot, to keep vessels from being dashed to pieces upon rocks and sand-banks? Isn’t an unconverted minister like a man who would teach others to swim before he has learned it himself, and so is drowned in the act and dies like a fool?
I may add that sad experience verifies what has been now observed concerning the unprofitableness of the ministry of unconverted men. Look into the congregations of unconverted ministers, and see what a sad security reigns there; not a soul convinced that can be heard of for many years together, and yet the ministers are easy, for they say they do their duty! Aye, a small matter will satisfy us in the lack of that which we have no great desire after, but when persons have their eyes opened and their hearts set upon the work of God, they are not so soon satisfied with their doings, and with lack of success for a time. O! They mourn with Micah that they are as those that gather the summer-fruits, as the grape-gleaning of the vintage. Mr. (Richard) Baxter justly observes that those who speak about their doings in the aforesaid manner are likely to do little good to the Church of God. But many Ministers (as Mr. Bracel observes) think the gospel flourishes among them when the people are in peace, and many come to hear the Word and to the Sacrament. If, with the other, they get the salaries well-paid, then it is fine times indeed in their opinion! O sad! And they are full of hopes that they do good, though they know nothing about it. But what comfort can a conscientious man, who travails in birth that Christ may be formed in His hearer’s hearts, take from what he knows not? Will a hungry stomach be satisfied with dreams about meat? I believe not, though, I confess, a full one may.
What if some instances could be shown of unconverted ministers being instrumental in convincing persons of their lost state? The thing is very rare and extraordinary. And, for what I know, as many instances may be given of Satan’s convincing persons by his temptations. Indeed, it’s a kind of chance-medly, both in respect of the father and his children, when any such event happens. And isn’t this the reason why a work of conviction and conversion has been so rarely heard of for a long time in the churches till of late, that the bulk of her spiritual guides were stone-blind and stone-dead?
4. The ministry of natural men is dangerous, both in respect of the doctrines and practice of piety. The doctrines of original sin, justification by faith alone, and the other points of Calvinism, are very cross to the grain of unrenewed nature. And though men, by the influence of a good education and hopes of preferment, may have the edge of their natural enmity against them blunted, yet it’s far from being broken or removed. It’s only the saving grace of God that can give us a true relish for those nature-humbling doctrines; and so effectually secure us from being infected by the contrary. Is not the carnality of the ministry one great cause of the general spread of Arminianism, Socinianism, Arianism, and Deism, at this day through the world?
And alas! What poor guides are natural ministers to those who are under spiritual trouble? They either slight such distress altogether and call it “melancholy,” or “madness,” or daub those that are under it with untempered mortar. Our Lord assures us that the salt which has lost its savor is good for nothing. Some say, “It genders worms and vermin.” Now, what savor have Pharisee-ministers? In truth, a very stinking one, both in the nostrils of God and good men. “Be these moral Negroes never so white in the mouth (as one expresses it), yet will they hinder instead of helping others in at the strait gate.” Hence is that threatening of our Lord against them in Matthew 23:13: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, nor suffer those that are entering to go in.”
Pharisee-teachers will, with the utmost hate, oppose the very work of God’s Spirit upon the souls of men, and labor by all means to blacken it, as well as the Instruments, which the Almighty improves to promote the same if it comes near their borders, and interferes with their credit or interest. Thus did the Pharisees deal with our Savior.
If it is objected against what has been offered under this general head of discourse, that Judas was sent by Christ, I answer:
(1) That Judas’s ministry was partly legal, inasmuch as, during that period, the disciples were subject to Jewish observances and sent only to the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5–6). And in that they waited after Christ’s resurrection for another mission (Acts 1:4), which we find they obtained, and that was different from the former (Matthew 28:19).
(2) Judas’s ministry was extraordinarily necessary in order to fulfil some ancient prophesies concerning him (Acts 1:16–18, 20; John 13:18). I fear that the abuse of this instance has brought many Judases into the ministry whose chief desire, like their great grandfather, is to finger the pence and carry the bag. But let such hireling, murderous hypocrites take care that they don’t feel the force of a halter in this world, and an aggravated damnation in the next.
Again, if it is objected that Paul rejoiced that the gospel was preached, though of contention and not sincerely, I answer this: the expression signifies the apostle’s great self-denial! Some labored to eclipse his fame and character by contentious preaching, thinking thereby to afflict him; but they were mistaken. As to that, he was easy; for he had long before learned to die to his own reputation. The apostle’s rejoicing was comparative only. He would rather that Christ should be preached out of envy than not at all, especially considering the gross ignorance of the doctrinal knowledge of the gospel which prevailed almost universally in that age of the world. Besides, the apostle knew that that trial should be sanctified to him to promote his spiritual progress in goodness and, perhaps, prove a means of procuring his temporal freedom; and, therefore, he would rejoice. It is certain, we may both rejoice and mourn in relation to the same thing upon different accounts without any contradiction.
But the third general head was to show how pity should be expressed upon this mournful occasion.
My brethren, we should mourn over those who are destitute of faithful ministers and sympathize with them. Our bowels should be moved with the most compassionate tenderness over those dear fainting souls that are as “sheep having no Shepherd,” and that after the example of our blessed Lord.
Dear sirs! We should also most earnestly pray for them that the compassionate Savior may preserve them by His mighty power, through faith, unto salvation; support their sinking spirits under the melancholy uneasiness of a dead ministry; sanctify and sweeten to them the dry morsels they get under such blind men, when they have none better to repair to.
And more especially, my brethren, we should pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth faithful laborers into His harvest, seeing that the harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. And, O sirs, how humble, believing, and importunate should we be in this petition! O! Let us follow the Lord day and night with cries, tears, pleadings, and groanings upon this account! For God knows there is great necessity of it. O! Thou Fountain of mercy and Father of pity, pour forth upon Thy poor children a Spirit of prayer for the obtaining of this important mercy! Help, help, O Eternal God and Father, for Christ’s sake!
And indeed, my brethren, we should join our endeavors to our prayers. The most likely method to stock the church with a faithful ministry, in the present situation of things, the public academies being so much corrupted and abused generally, is to encourage private schools, or seminaries of learning, which are under the care of skilful and experienced Christians; in which those only should be admitted who, upon strict examination have, in the judgment of a reasonable charity, the plain evidences of experimental religion. Pious and experienced youths, who have a good natural capacity, and great desires after the ministerial work, from good motives, might be sought for, and found up and down in the country, and put to private schools of the Prophets, especially in such places where the public ones are not.
This method, in my opinion, has a noble tendency. It builds up the church for the coming of His Kingdom. The church should be ready, according to their ability, to give something, from time to time, for the support of such poor youths who have nothing of their own. And truly, brethren, this charity to the souls of men is the most noble kind of charity. O! If the love of God is in you, it will constrain you to do something to promote so noble and necessary a work. It looks hypocritical to go no further, when other things are required, than cheap prayer. Don’t think it much if the Pharisees should be offended at such a proposal; these subtle, selfish hypocrites are wont to be scared about their credit and their kingdom. And truly they are both little worth, for all the bustle they make about them. If they could help it, they wouldn’t let one faithful man come into the ministry; and, therefore, their opposition is an encouraging sign. Let all the followers of the Lamb stand up and act for God against all opposers. Who is upon God’s side? Who?