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ministers are set to be lights, not only as teachers, but as ensamples to the flock, 1 Peter v. 3.
The same things that ministers recommend to their hearers in their doctrine, they should also show themi an example of in their practice. Thus the apostle says to Timothy, 1 Tim. iv. 11, “ These things command and teach ;" and then adds in the next verse, “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” So he directs Titus, in his teaching, to recommend sobriety, gravity, temperance, patience, and other virtues, in the beginning of the 2d chapter of Titus. But then adds in the 7th verse, “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works."
We see in natural bodies, that when heat is raised in them to a high degree, at length they begin to shine: And, as I observed before, a principle of true grace in the soul is like an in. ward heat, an holy ardour of an heavenly fire enkindled in the soul: This in ministers of the gospel ought to be to that degree, as to shine forth brightly in all their conversation; and there should as it were be a light about them wherever they go, exhibiting to all that behold them, the amiable, delightful image of the beauty and brightness of their glorious master.
I proceed to the
IV. Thing proposed, which is to show that the excellency of a minister of the gospel consists in his being thus both a burning and a shining light.
This is manifest in two things:
1. Herein his ministry is acceptable and amiable in the sight of God and men.
When light and heat are thus united in a minister of the gospel, it shows that each is genuine, and of a right kind, and that both are divine. Divine light is attended with heat; and so, on the other hand, a truly divine and holy heat and ardour is ever accompanied with light.
It is the glory of the sun that such a bright and glorious light, and such a powerful, refreshing, vivifying heat, are both together diffused from that luminary. When there is light in a miuister, consisting in human learning, great speculative knowledge and the wisdom of this world, without a spiritual warmth and ardour in his heart, and a holy zeal in his ministrations, his light is like the light of an ignus fatuus, and some kinds of putrifying carcases that shine in the dark, though they are of a stinking savour. And if on the other hand a minister has warmth and zeal, without light, his heat has nothing excellent in it, but is rather to be abhorred; being like the heat of the bottomless pit ; where, though the fire be great, yet there is no light. To be hot in this manner, and not lightsome, is to be like an angel of darkness. Bilt ininisters by having light and heat united in them, will be like the angels of light; which for their light and brightness are called inorning stars. Job xxviii. 7. “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” And because of that holy ardour of divine love and zeal with which they burn, they are compared to a flaming fire. Psal. civ. 4. “ Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire,” and are therefore called seraphims, which is a word that is derived from a root that signifies to burn. So that by ministers of the gospel being burning and shining lights, the angels of the churches will become like the angels of heaven, and those stars held in the right hand of Christ here below, will be like those morning stars above, and which is much more, hereby ministers will be like their glorious Lord and Master; who is not only the Master of ministers of the gospel, but is the head and Lord of the glorious angels, whom they adore, and who communicates to thein the brightness in which they shine, and the flame with which they burn, and is the glorious luminary and sun of the heavenly world, from whence all the inhabitants of that world have their light and life, and all their glory. In this Sun of Righteousness is that light, whose brightness is such that the light of the sun in the firmament in comparison of it is as darkness, yea, black as sackcloth of hair: For he is the infinite brightness of God's glory; and of him it is said, Isai. xxiv. 23, “ Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, before his ancients, gloriously.” And accompanying this bright light in him, is the infinitely intense flame of love. There is no love to be compared to his ; nor ever was love both to God and man so manifested, as has been in what Christ has done and suffered; for herein was love! Ministers, by being burning and shining lights, become the sons of God, of whom we read that he is light, and that he is love. 1 John i. 5. " This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” And chap. iv. 16. " And we have known and believed tbe love that God hath to us : God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Therefore it must needs be that ministers, by being burning and shining lights, are acceptable and amiable in the sight of God, as he delights in his own image and in the image of his Son: And hereby also they will be honourable and amiable in the sight of men, all such as have any sense of that which is truly excellent and beautiful; and it is the way to have their
ministry pleasant and delightful to those of this character that sit under it.
2. Herein a minister of the gospel will be likely to answer the ends of his ministry: By this means his ministry will not only be amiable, but profitable. If a minister has light without heat, and entertains his auditory with learned discourses, without a savour of the power of godliness, or any appearance of fervency of spirit, and zeal for God and the good of souls, he may gratify itching ears, and fill the heads of his people with empty notions ; but it will not be very likely to reach their hearts, or save their souls. And if, on the other hand, he be driven on with a fierce and intemperate zeal, and vehement heat, without light, he will be likely to kindle the like unhallowed flame in his people, and to fire their corrupt passions and affections; but will make them never the better, nor lead them a step towards heaven, but drive them apace the other way.
But if he approves himself in his ministry, as both a burning and a shining light, this will be the way to promote true Christianity amongst his people, and to make them both wise, good, and cause religion to flourish among them in the purity and beauty of it.
When divine light and heat attend each other in ministers of the gospel, their light will be like the beams of the sun, that do not only convey light, but give life; and converts will be likely to spring up under their ministry, as the grass and the plants of the field under the influences of the sun; and the souls of the saints will be likely to grow, and appear beautiful as the lily, and to revive as the corn, and grow as the vine, and their scent to be as the wine of Lebanon; and their light will be like the light of Christ, which is the light of life, John viii. 12.
If the sun should shine upon the earth, with the same brightness that it doth now, yet if it were without any heat, it would give life to nothing; the world be a desolate wilderness, with nothing growing in it; the death of every living thing must be the consequence; and the sun's light could be of no service to us, but to cause us to see our own and others' misery, without being able to help ourselves or them. On the other hand, if the sun diffused the same heat that now it does, but the world was destitute at the same time of any light, it would be equally unserviceable: Mankind having no light to guide them in their business, in tilling the field, or gathering the produce of the earth, we should be like the Egyptians in the three days' darkness, who saw not one another, nor rose from their place: And thus also death would be the unavoidable consequence. But by light and heat accompanying one another, the whole face of the earth becomes fruitful, and is adorned, and all things are quickened and flourish, and mankind enjoy both life and comfort.
I proceed to the
V. Thing proposed in handling the doctrine, to apply these things to all bere present, that Christ has called to the work of the gospel ministry, observing how much it concerns such to endeavour to be burning and shining lights.
Our office and work is most honourable, in that we are set by Christ to be lights or luminaries in the spiritual world. Light is the most glorious thing in the material world, and there are, it may be, no parts of the natural world that have so great an image of the goodness of God, as the lights or luminaries of heaven; and especially the sun, who is constantly communicating his benign influence to enlighten, quicken, and refresh the world by his beams; which is probably the reason that the worship of the sun was (as is supposed) the first idolatry that mankind fell into. But so are ministers honoured by their great Lord and master, that they are set to be that to men's souls, that the lights of heaven are to their bodies; and that they might be the instruments and vehicles of God's greatest goodness, and the most precious fruits of bis eternal love to them, and means of that life, and refreshment and joy, that are spiritual and eternal, and infinitely more precious than any benefit received by the benign beams of the sun in the firmament. And we shall be likely indeed to be the instruments of those unspeakable benefits to the souls of our fellow-creatures, if we have those qualifications, which have been shown to be the true and proper excellency of ministers of the gospel. Herein our glory will answer the honourable station Christ has set us in. And hereby our ministry will be likely to be as beneficial as our office is honourable : We shall be like Christ, and shall shine with his beams; Christ will live in us, and be seen in his life and beauty in our ministry, and in our conversation, and we shall be most likely to be the means of bringing others to him, and of their receiving of his light, and being made partakers of his life, and having his joy fulfilled in them. And this will be the way for us hereafter to be as much advanced and distinguished in our reward, as we are honoured in the office and business we are called to here. In this way, those whom Christ has set to be lights in his church, and to be stars in the spiritual world here, shall be lights also in the church triumphant, and shine as stars for ever in heaven. Daniel xii. 3. “And they that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever."
But if we fail of the proper excellency of ministers of the gospel, we shall not be in the sight of God the more worthy or honourable for our high office, but the more abominable and inexcusable; our wickedness being aggravated by God's great goodness and condescension to us, and the peculiar obligations that he laid upon us; and instead of being eminently beneficial and great blessings, as lights to reflect the beams of Christ's glory and love, we shall be so much the more hurtful and pernicious, for our being in such a station; and so shall be likely hereafter to suffer a so much more dreadful punishment. The devils in hell are so much the more odious to God, and more the objects of his wrath, because he set them in the dignity and glory of angels, the excellency of which state they are fallen from. And it is likely that those in hell that will be nearest to the fallen angels, in their state of misery, will be those that Christ once set to be angels of the churches, but through their unfaithfulness, failed of their proper excellency and end.
Here I would apply myself in a few words to the person whose intended ordination, this day, to the great work of the gospel ministry, is the occasion of this discourse.
You have now, dear sir, heard something of the nature and design of that office to which you are this day, in the name of Christ, to be solemnly set apart. You are therein called to be a light to the souls of men, a lamp in God's temple, and a star in the spiritual world. And you have heard wherein, in Christ's esteem, consists the proper excellency of one in that office, and how in this a minister of the gospel becomes, like his glorious master, and glorifies him, and is likely to be the instrument of the salvation and happiness of the souls of men, and to receive a glorious reward from the hands of God.
These, sir, are the motives that you are to be influenced by, to endeavour to be a burning and a shining light in the work of the ministry. As to the things of this world, you are not to expect outward ease, pleasure and plenty: Nor are you to depend on the friendship and respect of men; but should prepare to endure hardness, as one that is going forth as a soldier to war. But they are higher things than these, more excellent benefits than the world can afford, that Christ offers to those that approve themselves to him in this work.
God in his providence has brought you far from your native land, and from your friends and acquaintance there; but you will have reason notwithstanding, to acknowledge the good hand of his providence towards you, if he is pleased to make you a burning and shining light in this part of his church, and by the influence of your light and heat (or rather by his divine influence with your ministry) to cause this wilderness to bud and blossom