Here is part 3 of the Sermon "The Danger of An Unconverted Ministry:
The improvement of this subject remains:
1. If it is so, then the case of those who have no other, or no better, than Pharisee-teachers is to be pitied. Then what a scrole and scene of mourning, lamentation, and woe is opened, because of the swarms of locusts, the crowds of Pharisees, that have so covetously and cruelly crept into the ministry in this adulterous generation! They as nearly resemble the character given of the old Pharisees, in the doctrinal part of this discourse, as one crow’s egg does another. It is true, some of the modern Pharisees have learned to prate a little more orthodoxy about the New Birth than their predecessor Nicodemus, who are, in the meantime, as great strangers to the feeling experience of it as he. They are blind who see not this to be the case of the body of the clergy of this generation. And O! that our heads were waters, and our eyes a fountain of tears, that we could day and night lament, with the utmost bitterness, the doleful case of the poor church of God upon this account.
2. From what has been said, we may learn that such who are contented under a dead ministry do not have in them the temper of that Savior they profess. It’s an awful sign that they are as blind as moles and as dead as stones without any spiritual taste and relish. And alas! Isn’t this the case of multitudes? If they can get one who has the name of a minister, with a band and a black coat or gown to carry on a Sabbath-day among them, although never so coldly and unsuccessfully; if he is free from gross crimes in practice and takes good care to keep at a due distance from their consciences, and is never troubled about his unsuccessfulness, “O!” think the poor fools, “that is a fine man, indeed! Our minister is a prudent, charitable man; he is not always harping upon terror, and sounding damnation in our ears, like some rash-headed preachers who, by their uncharitable methods, are ready to put poor people out of their wits, or to run them into despair. O! How terrible a thing is that despair! Aye, our minister, honest man, gives us good caution against it.” Poor, silly souls, consider seriously these passages of the Prophet Jeremiah (5:30–31).
3. We may learn the mercy and duty of those who enjoy a faithful ministry. Let such glorify God for distinguishing a privilege, and labor to walk worthy of it to all well-pleasing. Left for their abuse thereof, they are exposed to a greater damnation.
4. If the ministry of natural men is as it has been represented, then it is both lawful and expedient to go from them to hear godly persons; yea, it’s so far from being sinful to do this that one who lives under a pious minister of lesser gifts, after having honestly endeavored to get benefit by his ministry, and yet gets little or none, but finds real benefit elsewhere, I say, he may lawfully go, and that frequently, where he gets most good to his precious soul. He may do this after regular application to the pastor where he lives for his consent, proposing the reasons thereof when this is done in the spirit of love and meekness, without contempt of any, and also without rash anger or vain curiosity.
Natural reason will inform us that good is desireable for its own sake. Now, a Dr. Voetius observes that good added to good makes it a greater good, and so more desireable; and, therefore, evil as evil, or a lesser good, which is comparatively evil, cannot be the object of desire.
There is a natural instinct put even into the irrational creature by the Author of their being to seek after the greater natural good, as far as they know it. Hence, the birds of the air fly to the warmer climates in order to shun the winter cold, and also, doubtless, to get better food; for where the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. The beasts of the field seek the best pastures, and the fishes of the ocean seek after the food they like best.
But the written Word of God confirms the aforesaid proposition while God, by it, enjoins us, “to covet earnestly the best gifts; as also to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good” (1 Corinthians 12:31 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2). And is it not the command of God that we should grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18 and 1 Peter 2:2)? Now, does not every positive command enjoin the use of such means as have the directest tendency to answer the end designed, namely, the duty commanded? If there is a variety of means, is not the best to be chosen? Else how can the choice be called rational and becoming an intelligent creature? To choose otherwise, knowingly, is it not contrary to common sense as well as religion, and daily confuted by the common practice of all the rational creation, about things of far less moment and consequence?
That there is a difference and variety in preachers’ gifts and graces is undeniably evident from the united testimony of Scripture and reason. And that there is a great difference in the degrees of hearers’ edification, under the hearing of these different gifts, is a evident to the feeling of experienced Christians as any thing can be to sight.
It is also an unquestionable truth that, ordinarily, God blesses most the best gifts for the hearer’s edification, as by the best food He gives the best nourishment. Otherwise, the best gifts would not be desirable, and God Almighty, in the ordinary course of His providence, by not acting according to the nature of things, would be carrying on a series of unnecessary miracles which, to suppose, is unreasonable. The following places of Holy Scripture confirm what has been last observed: 1 Corinthians 14:12; 1 Timothy 4:14–16; 2 Timothy 1:6 and Acts 11:24.
If God’s people have a right to the gifts of all God’s ministers, pray, why may they not use them as they have opportunity? And, if they should go a few miles farther than ordinary to enjoy those which they profit most by, who do they wrong? Now, our Lord informs His people in 1 Corinthians 3:22 that whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, all was theirs.
But the example of our dear Redeemer will give farther light in this argument. Though many of the hearers, not only of the Pharisees but of John the Baptist, came to hear our Savior, and that not only upon week-days, but upon Sabbath-days, and that in great numbers, and from very distant places; yet He reproved them not. And did not our Lord love the Apostle John more that the rest, and took him with Him, before others, with Peter and James, to Mount Tabor and Gethsemane (Matthew chapters 17 and 26)?
To blind men to a particular minister, against their judgment and inclinations, when they are more deified elsewhere, is carnal with witness, a cruel oppression of tender consciences, a compelling of men to sin. For he that doubts is damned if he eats, and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Besides, it is an unscriptural infringment on Christian liberty (1 Corinthians 3:22). It’s a yoke worse than that of Rome itself. Dr. Voetius asserts, “Even among the Papists, as to hearing of sermons, that people are not deprived of the liberty of choice.” It’s a yoke like that of Egypt which cruel Pharaoh formed for the necks of the oppressed Israelites when he obliged them to make up their stated task of bricks, but allowed them no straw. So we must grow in grace and knowledge; but, in the meantime, according to the notion of some, we are confined from using the likeliest means to attain that end.
If the great ends of hearing may be attained as well, and better, by hearing another minister than our own, then I see not why we should be under a fatal necessity of hearing him, I mean our parish-minister, perpetually or generally. Now, what are, or ought to be, the ends of hearing but the getting of grace and growing in it (Romans 10:14)? 1 Peter 2:2 says, “As babes desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow there by.” (Poor babes do not like dry breasts, and living men do not like dead pools.) Well then, may not these ends be obtained out of our parish-line? Faith is said to come by hearing (Romans 10). But the apostle doesn’t add, “your parish-minister.” Isn’t the same Word preached out of our parish? And is there any restriction in the promises of blessing the Word to those only who keep within their parish-line ordinarily? If there is, I have not yet met with it; yea, I can affirm that, so far as knowledge can be had in such cases, I have known persons to get saving good to their souls by hearing over their parish-line; and this makes me earnest in defense of it.
That which ought to be the main motive of hearing any, that is, our soul’s good or greater good, will excite us if we regard our own eternal interest, to hear there where we attain it; and he that hears with less views acts like a fool and a hypocrite.
Now, if it is lawful to withdraw from the ministry of a pious man in the case aforesaid, how much more from the ministry of a natural man? Surely, it is both lawful and expedient for the reason offered in the doctrinal part of this discourse; to which let me add a few words more.
To trust the care of our souls to those who have little or no care for their own, to those who are both unskilful and unfaithful, is contrary to the common practice of considerate mankind, relating to the affairs of their bodies and estates, and would signify that we set light by our souls and did not care what became of them. For if the blind lead the blind, will they not both fall into the ditch?
Is it a strange thing to think that God does not ordinarily use the ministry of His enemies to turn others to be His friends, seeing He works by suitable means? I cannot think that God has given any promise that He will be with and bless the labors of natural ministers for, if He had, He would be surely as good as His Word. But I can neither see nor hear of any blessing upon these men’s labors, unless it is a rare, wonderful instance of chance-medley! Whereas, the ministry of faithful men blossoms and bears fruit as the rod of Aaron. Jeremiah 23:22: “But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.”
From such as have a form of godliness and deny the power thereof, we are enjoined to turn away (2 Timothy 3:5). And are there not many such?
Our Lord advised His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6), by which He shows that He meant their doctrine and hypocrisy (Mark 8:15: Luke 12:1), which were both sour enough.
Memorable is the answer of our Lord to His disciples in Matthew 15:12–14: “Then came His disciples and said unto him, Knowest Thou that the Pharisees were offended? And He answered and said, Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they be blind leaders of the blind: And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
If it is objected that we are bid to go to hear those who sit in Moses’ chair (Matthew 23:2–3), I would answer this, in the words of a body of dissenting ministers: “Sitting in Moses’ chair signifies a succeeding of Moses in the ordinary part of his office and authority; so did Joshua and the 70 elders (Exodus 18:21–26). Now, Moses was no priest (say they) though of Levi’s tribe, but king in Jeshurun, a civil ruler and judge, chosen by God (Exodus 18:13).” Therefore, no more is meant by the Scripture in the objection but that it is the duty of people to hear and obey the lawful commands of the civil magistrate, according to Romans 13:5.
If it is opposed to the preceeding reasonings that such an opinion and practice would be apt to cause heats and contentions among people, I answer that the aforesaid practice, accompanied with love, meekness, and humility, is not the proper cause of those divisions, but the occasion only, or the cause by accident, and not by itself. If a person, exercising modesty and love in his carriage to his minister and neighbors, through up-rightness of heart, designing nothing but his own greater good, repairs there frequently where he attains it, is this any reasonable cause of anger? Will any be offended with him because he loves his soul and seeks the greater good thereof, and is not like a senseless stone, without choice, sense, and taste?
Must we leave off every duty that is the occasion of contention or division? Then we must quit powerful religion altogether, for he who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. And particularly, we must carefully avoid faithful preaching, for that is wont to occasion disturbances and divisions, especially when accompanied with divine power. 1 Thessalonians 1:5–6: “Our gospel came not unto you in Word only, but in power,” and then it is added that they “received the Word in much affliction.” And, the Apostle Paul informs us in 1 Corinthians 16:9 that a great door, and an effectual one, was opened unto him, and that there were many adversaries. Blessed Paul was accounted a common disturber of the peace as well as Elijah long before him, and yet he left not off preaching for all that. Yea, our blessed Lord informs us that He came not to send peace on earth, but rather a sword, variance, fire, and division, and that even among relations (Matthew 10:34–36; Luke 12:49, 51–53). And also, while the strong man armed keeps the house, all the goods are in peace.
It is true, the power of the gospel is not the proper cause of those divisions, but the innocent occasion only. No, the proper and selfish lusts are the proper cause of those divisions. And very often natural men, who are the proper causes of the divisions aforesaid, are wont to deal with God’s servants as Potiphar’s wife did by Joseph; they lay all the blame of their own wickedness at their doors, and make a loud cry!
Such as confine opposition and division, as following living godliness and successful preaching, to the first ages of Christianity, it is much to be feared, neither know themselves nor the gospel of Christ. For surely the nature of true religion, as well as of men and devils, is the same in every age.
Is not the visible church composed of persons of the most contrary characters? While some are sincere servants of God, are not many servants of Satan under a religious mask? And have not these a fixed enmity against the other? How is it then possible that a harmony should subsist between such till their nature is changed? Can light dwell with darkness?
Undoubtedly, it is a great duty to avoid giving just cause of offence to any; and it is also highly necessary that pious souls should maintain union and harmony among themselves, notwithstanding their different opinions in lesser things. And, no doubt, this is the drift of the many exhortations which we have to peace and unity in Scripture.
Surely, it cannot be reasonably supposed that we are exhorted to a unity in any thing that is wicked or inconsistent with the good, or greater good, of our poor souls; for that would be like the unity of the devils, a legion of which dwelt peaceably in one man. Or it would be like the unity of Ahab’s false prophets; all these four hundred daubers were very peaceable and much united, and all harped on the pleasing string. Aye, they were moderate men, and had the majority on their side.
But, possibly, some may again object against persons going to hear others besides their own ministers. They may use the Scripture about Paul and Apollos from 1 Corinthians 1:12, and say that it is carnal. Dr. Voetius answers the aforesaid objection as follows: ‘The apostle reproves such as made sects, saying, ‘I am of Paul, and I of Apollos,’ and we, with him, reprove them. But this is far from being against the choice which one has of sermons and preachers; seeing at one time we cannot hear all, neither does the explication and application of all equally suit such a person in such a time or condition, or equally quicken and subserve the increase of knowledge.”
Because of that, the apostle, in the aforesaid place, reproves an excessive love to, or admiration of, particular ministers accompanied with a sinful contention, slighting, and disdaining of others who are truly godly, and with sect-making. To say that from hence it necessarily follows that we must make no difference in our choice, or in the degrees of our esteem of different ministers according to their different gifts and graces, is an argument of as great force as to say that, because gluttony and drunkenness are forbidden; therefore, we must neither eat, nor drink, or make any choice in drinks or victuals, let our constitution be what it will.
Surely the very nature of Christian love inclines those that are possessed of it to love others chiefly for their goodness and, therefore, in proportion thereto. Now, seeing the inference in the objection is secretly built upon this supposition, that we should love all good men alike, it strikes at the foundation of that love to the brethren which is laid down in Scripture as a mark of true Christianity (1 John 5), and so is carnal with a witness.
Again, it may be objected that the aforesaid practice tends to grieve our parish-minister, and to break congregations in pieces.
I answer, if our parish-minister is grieved at our greater good, or prefers his credit before it, then he has good cause to grieve over his own rottenness and hypocrisy. And as for breaking congregations to pieces upon the account of people’s going from place to place to hear the Word with a view to getting greater good, that spiritual blindness and death that so generally prevails will put this out of danger. It is but a very few that have gotten any spiritual relish. The most will venture their souls with any formalist, and be will satisfied with the sapless discourses of such dead drones.
Well, doesn’t the apostle assert that Paul and Apollos are nothing? Yes, it is true, they and all others are nothing as efficient causes; they could not change men’s hearts, but were they nothing as instruments? The objection insinuates one of these two things: either that there is no difference in means, as to their suitableness, or that there is no reason to expect a greater blessing upon the most suitable means; both which are equally absurd and have already been confuted.
But it may be further objected, with great appearance of zeal, that what has been said about people’s getting of good, or greater good, over their parish-line is meer fiction, for they are out of God’s way.
I answer that there are three monstrous ingredients in the objection: namely, a begging of the question in debate, rash judging, and limiting of God.
It is a mean thing in reasoning to beg or suppose that which should be proved, and then to reason from it. Let it be proved that they are out of God’s way, and then I will freely yield; but, till this is done, bold “Say-sos” will not have much weight with any but dupes or dunces. And for such as cry out against others for uncharitableness to be guilty of it themselves, in the mean time, in a very great degree, is very inconsistent. Isn’t it rash to judge things they have never heard? But those that have received benefit, and are sensible of their own uprightness, will think it is a light thing to be judged of man’s judgment. Let Tertullus ascend the theatre, and gild the objection with the most mellifluous Ciceronean eloquence; it will no more persuade them that what they have felt is but a fancy (unless they are under strong temptations of Satan, or scared out of their wits by frightful expressions) than to tell a man, in proper language, that sees that it is but a notion, that he does not see; or to tell a man that feels pleasure or pain that it’s but a deluded fancy. They are quite mistaken.
Besides, there is a limiting the Holy One of Israel in the aforesaid objection, which sinful sin the Hebrews were reproved for. It is a piece of daring presumption to pretend, by our finite line, to fathom the infinite depths that are in the being and works of God. The query of Zophar is just and reasonable from Job 11:7–8: “Canst thou by searching find out God?” The humble apostle, with astonishment, acknowledged that the ways of God were past finding out (Romans 1:33). Surely the wind blows where it will, and we cannot tell whence it comes, nor whither it goes. Doesn’t Jehovah ride upon a gloomy cloud, and make darkness His pavilion? And isn’t His path in the great waters (Psalm 77:19)?
I would conclude my present meditations upon this subject by exhorting all those who enjoy a faithful ministry to a speedy and sincere improvement of so rare and valuable a privilege lest, by their foolish ingratitude, the righteous God is provoked to remove the means they enjoy, or His blessing from them, and so at last to expose them in another state to enduring and greater miseries. For surely, their sins which are committed against greater light and mercy are more presumptuous, ungrateful, and inexcusable. There is in them a greater contempt of God’s authority and slight of His mercy. Those evils awfully violate the conscience, and declare a love to sin as sin. Such transgressors rush upon the bosses of God’s buckler, they court destruction without a covering and embrace their won ruin with open arms. And, therefore, according to the nature of justice, which proportions sinner’s pains, according to the number and heinousness of their crimes, and the declaration of Divine truth, you must expect an enflamed damnation. Surely, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of the Lord than for you, except you repent.
And let gracious souls be exhorted to express the most tender pity over such as have none but Pharisee-teachers; and that in the manner before described. To which let the example of our Lord in the text before us be an inducing and effectual encitement, as well as the gracious and immense rewards which follow upon so generous and noble a charity in this and the next state.
And let those who live under the ministry of dead men, whether they have the form of religion or not, repair to the living where they may be edified. Let who will oppose it. What famous Mr. Dudley Fenner observed upon this head is most just, “If there be any godly soul, or any that desires the salvation of his soul, and lives under a blind guide, he cannot go out (of his parish) without giving very great offence; it will be thought a giddiness, and a slighting of his own minister at home. When people came out of every parish roundabout to John, no question but this bred heart-burning against John, aye, and ill-will against those people that would not be satisfied with that teaching they had in their own synagogues.”
But though your neighbors growl against you, and reproach you for doing your duty, in seeking your soul’s good, bear their unjust censures with Christian meekness and persevere, knowing that suffering is the lot of Christ’s followers, and that spiritual benefits infinitely overbalance all temporal difficulties.
And, oh, that vacant congregations would take due care in the choice of their ministers! Here, indeed, they should hasten slowly. The church of Ephesus is commended for trying them who said they were Apostles and were not, and for finding them liars. Hypocrites are against all knowing of others, and judging in order to hide their own filthiness; like thieves they flee a search because of the stolen goods. But the more they endeavor to hide, the more they expose their shame.
Does not the spiritual man judge all things? Though he cannot know the states of subtle hypocrites infallibly, yet may he not give a near guess as to who are the sons of Scev, by their manner of praying, preaching, and living? Many Pharisee-teachers have got a long fine string of prayer by heart, so that they are never at a loss about it. Their prayers and preachings are generally of a length, and both as dead as a stone, and without all savor.
I beseech you, my dear brethren, to consider that there is no probability of your getting good by the ministry of Pharisees, for they are no shepherds (no faithful ones) in Christ’s account. They are as good as none, nay, worse than none upon some account. For take them first and last, and they generally do more hurt than good. They strive to keep better out of the places where they live; nay, when the life of piety comes near their quarters, they rise up in arms against it, consult, contrive, and combine in their conclaves against it as a common enemy that reveals and condemns their craft and hypocrisy. And with what art, rhetoric, and appearances of piety, will they varnish their opposition of Christ’s kingdom? As the magicians imitated the works of Moses, so do false apostles, and deceitful workers imitate the apostles of Christ.
I shall conclude the discourse with the words of the Apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 11:14–15: “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light: Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”