by John Newton, 1769
“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings.” 2 Timothy 3:10-11
1. The characteristic excellence of Paul, which was as the spring or source of every other grace—was the ardency of the supreme love he bore to his Lord and Savior. It would not be easy to find many periods throughout his epistles which do not evidence the fullness of his heart in this respect. He seems delighted even with the sound of the name of Jesus, so that, regardless of the cold rules of academic composition, we find him repeating it ten times in the compass of ten successive verses. (1 Cor. 1:1-10) He was so struck with the just claim the Savior had to every heart, that he accounted a lack of love to him—as the highest pitch of ingratitude and wickedness, and deserving the utmost severity of wrath and ruin. (1 Cor. 16:22)
When he was conscious that, for his unwearied application to the service of the Gospel, in defiance of the many dangers and deaths which awaited him in every place—he appeared to many as one beside himself, and transported beyond the bounds of sober reason; he thought it a sufficient apology to say, “The love of Christ constrains us!” (2 Cor. 5:14) “We are content to be fools for his sake, to be despised so he may be honored, to be nothing in ourselves that he may be all in all.” He had such a sense of the glorious, invaluable excellence of the person of Christ, of his adorable condescension in taking the nature and curse of sinners upon himself, and his complete suitableness and sufficiency, as the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption of his people—that he often seems at a loss for words answerable to the emotions of his heart! And when he has exhausted the powers of language, and astonished his readers with his inimitable energy, he intimates a conviction of his inability to do justice to a subject—the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of which are too great for our feeble capacities to grasp!
But, besides these general views, he was particularly affected with the exceeding abundant love and grace of Christ to himself, when he reflected on the circumstances in which the Lord had found him, and the great things he had done for him. That he who had before been a persecutor, a blasphemer, and injurious—should be forgiven, accepted as a child of God, entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel, and appointed to everlasting salvation—was indeed an instance of wonderful grace! So it appeared to himself, and at the thought of it he often seems to forget his present subject, and breaks forth into inimitable digressions to the praise of Him who had loved him, and given himself for him!
Happily convinced of the tendency and efficacy of this principle in himself, he proposes it to others, instead of a thousand arguments, whenever he would inculcate the most unreserved obedience to the whole will of God, or stir up believers to a holy diligence in adorning the doctrine of their God and Savior in all things. And his exhortations to the conscientious discharge of the various duties of family life, are generally enforced by this grand motive. In a word, at all times, and in all places, the habitual and favorite subject that employed his thoughts, his tongue, and his pen—was the love of Christ!
Supported and animated by this love, he exerted himself to the utmost, in promoting the knowledge of him whom he loved, and bearing testimony to his power and grace. Nothing could dishearten, or weary or terrify, or bribe him from his duty!
This love to Jesus, must and will be universally, the leading principle of a faithful minister. Should a man possess the tongue of men and angels, the finest genius, and the most admired accomplishments, if he is not constrained and directed by the love of Christ—he will either do nothing, or nothing to the purpose. He will be unable to support either the frowns or the smiles of the world. His studies and endeavors will certainly be influenced by low and selfish views. Selfish interest or a desire of applause may stimulate him to shine as a scholar, a critic, or a philosopher; but until the love of Christ rules in His heart, he will neither have inclination nor power to exert himself for the glory of God, or the good of souls!
2. The inseparable effect, and one of the surest evidences of love to Christ, is a love to his people. Of this likewise, our apostle exhibits an instructive and affecting example. The warmth and cordiality of his love to those who loved his Lord and Master, appear in every page of his writings. He so rejoiced in their prosperity, that to hear of it, at any time, made him in a manner forget his own sorrows, when encompassed with troubles on every side. And though, in many instances, he did not meet that grateful return he had reason to expect, yet he could not be discouraged. But when he had occasion to expostulate with some upon this account, he adds, “I will still gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more I love you—the less I am loved.” (2 Cor. 12:15) Of such a generous temper as this, the world, would they observe it, must acknowledge (as the magicians in Egypt), “This is the finger of God!” For nothing but his grace can produce a conduct so contrary to the natural inclination of man, as to persevere and increase in kindness and affection to those who persevere in requiting it with coldness and ingratitude!
His epistles to the Thessalonians abound in such expressions and strains of tenderness, as would doubtless be generally admired, were they not overlooked, through the unhappy disregard which too many show to that best of books in which they are contained. When he is appealing to themselves concerning the sincerity of his conduct, and how far he had been from abusing his authority, he says, “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother nurtures her own children,” —who, by her tender and assiduous offices, supplies their inability to take care of themselves. (1Th. 2:7-8)
He then adds, “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us!” No comment can do justice to the spirit of this sentiment.
In another passage, “We were forced to leave you,” (1 Th. 2:17) the original term has an emphasis which no single word in our language can answer. It imports such a state of separation as is made between a parent and a child by the death of either, when the child is left a helpless and exposed orphan, or the parent is bereaved of the staff and comfort of his old age. It beautifully intimates the endearing affection which subsisted between the apostle and the people he was writing to, and demonstrates the greatest tenderness, simplicity, and love.
But his regard went beyond words, and was evidenced by the whole course of his actions. Nor was it confined to those who had enjoyed the benefits of his personal ministry; his heart was charged with the care and welfare of all the churches; and even those who had not seen his face, had an unceasing share in his solicitude and prayers, (Col. 2:1) Nay, so strong was his love to the churches, that it balanced his habitual desire to be with Christ; he could not determine which was best choice—to suffer with the members upon earth (so that he might be serviceable to them), or to reign with the Head in heaven. (Phi. 1:23-24) In the passage referred to, we see the happy centripetal and centrifugal forces which carried him on through the circle of duty—he constantly tended and gravitated to his center of rest; but successive opportunities of usefulness and service drew him off, and made him willing to wait yet longer.
In this part of his character we are not to consider him exclusively as an apostle. All who have truly known the Gospel to be the power of God unto salvation, are partakers of the same spirit, according to the measure of their faith. That person is unworthy the name of a Christian, who does not feel a concern and affection for his brethren who are in the world. It must be allowed that prejudices and misapprehensions too often prevent the Lord’s people from knowing each other; but, so far as they believe a person to be a child of God through faith—they cannot but love him. This is the immutable criterion which our Lord himself has given, whereby his real disciples are to be known and acknowledged. (John 13:35) He has not directed us to judge by their discourses, their knowledge, or even their zeal—but by the evidence they give of mutual love! We may as easily conceive of a sun without light, or a cause without an effect, as of a person duly affected with a sense of the glory of God and the love of Christ—and not proportionally filled with a spirit of love to all who are like-minded. But especially this disposition is essential to a minister of the Gospel, and the apostle assures us, that all imaginable qualifications are of no avail without it! Though we could possess the powers of a prophet or an angel, or the zeal of a martyr—if we are destitute of this love—we are, in the sight of God—but as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
3. Paul’s inflexible attachment to the great doctrines of the Gospel is another part of his character which deserves our attention. He knew their worth, experienced their power in his own soul, and saw that, though they were unacceptable to the wisdom of the world, they bore the impress of the manifold wisdom of God. He takes notice that, in those early days, there were many who “corrupted” the Word of God. (2 Cor. 2:17) Corrupted properly signifies to adulterate; to imitate the practice of dishonest winemakers, who mix and sophisticate their liquors, so that, though the color is preserved, and the taste perhaps nearly counterfeited, the quality and properties are quite altered. But he says, “We are not as they.” He preached the Gospel in its purity and simplicity, the sincere, genuine milk of the word, (1 Peter 2:2) neither weakened by water, nor disguised by any artful sweetening to render it more palatable. He added nothing of his own, nor employed any arts or gloss to palliate the truth—that it might be more acceptable to men of carnal minds.
As he was not ashamed of it, neither was he afraid lest it should fall without success to the ground, if not supported and assisted by inventions of his own. He knew whose Word it was, and therefore cheerfully ventured the outcome with him, who alone could procure it a welcome reception. And as he disdained the thought of himself deviating one iota from the plain and full declaration of the truth—neither could he bear, no, not for an hour, with any others who presumed to do so. (Galatians 2:5) I doubt not but the warmth of his zeal, in this respect, has disgusted many in the present day, wherein a seeming candor and tolerance is pleaded for and extended to almost every foolish sentiment—except the truths in which Paul gloried! There is little doubt but many, if they had the courage and honesty to speak out, would add Paul himself to the list of those whom they despise as uncharitable, and hot-brained, narrow-minded bigots; for who has offended more than he—against the rules of that indifference to error, which is at present miscalled love?
The Galatians, in a short time after he left them, had ventured to admit some alteration in the doctrine they had received from him—it was chiefly in one point. They had been persuaded into an undue regard for the law of Moses. This, some may think, was little more than a secondary matter; that it could not have any great or direct influence upon their moral practice, and that they might be very good Christians, though, in this one thing, they could not see exactly with their teacher’s eyes. But how different was the apostle’s judgement! If the Galatians had returned to the practice of idolatry, or broke out into the most scandalous immoralities—Paul could hardly have expressed his surprise and grief in stronger terms! He changes his usual manner of address, and speaks to them as a foolish people (Galatians 3:1) under the power of some unaccountable fascination. He tells them that, by admitting such an addition, (Galatians 1:6-9) small and inconsiderable as they might think it—they had, in effect, received another Gospel—which was, however, so enervated and despoiled of efficacy, that it was, more properly speaking, become no Gospel at all, utterly unworthy the least pretense to the name!
Further, he denounces an anathema! (the highest curse!) upon any person who should dare to preach any such pretended Gospel, even though, if such a thing were possible, it should be himself, or an angel from heaven! And this denunciation he immediately repeats, lest it should be thought that he spoke rather from warmth of temper, than from a just sense of the importance of the case.
What would some of my readers think of a man who should, at this time, express himself in terms like these? But let it be remembered that our apostle, who was so ready with an anathema upon this occasion, and who, in another place, passes the same severe judgement (1 Cor. 16:22) upon any man who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ—was far from speaking thus from emotions of anger and ill-will. The disposition of his own mind, the tender concern with which he viewed the worst of sinners, may be judged of from his willingness to be made an anathema himself (Romans 9:3) if, by all he could suffer, he might be a means of saving the Jews, who were his worst enemies, and from whom he had constantly received the most unjust and cruel treatment!
But when the cause of the Gospel and the honor of Christ were in question—he could not, he dared not, consult with the feelings of flesh and blood; but, as the minister and messenger of the Lord, he solemnly declared what must, and will, be the awful consequence of neglecting or corrupting the Word of life!
Every faithful minister of the Gospel is possessed of a measure of the same attention to the purity of the truth and faith once delivered to the saints. They must not deviate from their instructions; nor can they behold with indifference, the specious attempts of others to mislead the unwary. They know what censures they must expect upon this account. It is sufficient for them, that they can appeal to the Searcher of hearts, that though, as the servants of Christ, they dare not aim to please men by speaking smooth things—yet they act from principles of benevolence and love, and would rejoice in the salvation of their greatest opposers!
The world, perhaps, would judge more favorably of these faithful ministers, if they knew more about them—if they were witnesses to the prayers and tears which they pour out for them in secret; and the emotions of mind they feel when they are constrained to declare the more solemn parts of their message. But, as ministers, and in their public work, they cannot avoid pointing out the danger of those who venture their souls and eternal hopes upon any other doctrine, than that which Paul preached.
4. But though Paul was so tenacious of the great foundation-truths of the Gospel, and would not admit or connive at any doctrine that interfered with them, he exercised, upon all occasions—a great tenderness to weak consciences, in matters that were not essential to the faith, and when the scruples were owing rather to a lack of clear light—than to obstinacy. This was evident in his conduct with regard to the great controversy that soon took place between the Jewish and Gentile converts, about the distinction of meats and drinks, and other rituals enjoined by the law of Moses (Romans 14:1-23); the obligation of which, many, who had been educated in the practice of those observances, did not immediately see were superseded by the Gospel of Christ. He knew and asserted his own liberty; yet, in condescension to the weakness of others—he often abridged himself of it, and declared that, rather than grieve or cause offence to a weak brother—he would eat no meat while the world stood.
His practice herein will probably be of general application, so long as the present state of human infirmity exists. A defect in knowledge, the prejudices of previous education and custom, the remains of a legal spirit, the influence of great names, and other causes of a like nature—will probably always operate, so far as to keep up lesser differences in judgement and practice among those who agree in the great and fundamental truths.
The enemy gains too much advantage from these things—not to increase such differences into divisions. SELF is too prevalent in the best men, and the tendency of self is—to exact submission, to hurry to extremes, to exaggerate trifles into points of great consequence, and to render us averse to the healing expedients of peace. From these sources, discords and evils innumerable have been multiplied and perpetuated among the various denominations under which the Lord’s people have been ranged, which have greatly hindered the welfare and progress of the common cause, and exposed each contending party to the scorn of their real enemies.
But were the spirit and conduct of our apostle more adopted, many debates would entirely cease; and in those things where a difference of judgement would still exist—the exercise of patience, gentleness, and mutual forbearance, would, perhaps, afford fairer occasion for the display of the Christian character—than if we were all exactly of one mind! Then the strong would bear the infirmities of the weak; the one would not censure—nor the other despise. Nor would those whose minds have been enlarged by a variety of experience and observation, think it at all strange, much less would they be angry, if others, who have not had the same advantages—cannot immediately enter into all their sentiments!
Paul, in knowledge, abilities, and usefulness, was eminently superior to all those among whom he chiefly conversed; and, as an apostle, he had a stronger right than any man since the apostles’ day could have—to exact an implicit deference and submission; but he had drunk deeply of the spirit of his Master, and we are concerned to follow him, as he followed Christ, in the exercise of tenderness to the weakest of the flock.
It is not my present business to define what are properly essentials in the Christian religion, and to separate them clearly from the less important points, which, for that reason, and in contradistinction to the other, are called secondary points. This would lead me too far away from my topic; though, perhaps, it would not be so difficult as a person might at first expect, who should be told of all that has been written, with little satisfaction, upon the subject. I foresee a future period in our history, when a treatise of this kind will be almost necessary; and, if I am spared to reach so far, I shall probably embrace the occasion. In the mean time I would just hint an observation or two on this head, which the intelligent reader, if he thinks them just, may apply as he sees proper:
A. Essentials and secondary points in religion (if we speak with propriety) are derived from the same source, and resolved into the same authority. To consider the commands of God as essentials, and the inventions and traditions of men super-added thereto, as secondary points, would be a very improper, and, indeed, a very false division of the subject. Nothing but what is prescribed by the Word of God, or may be fairly deduced from it—is worthy of the name even of a secondary point in true religion. Human appointments, if not repugnant to Scripture and the light of conscience, may be submitted to for the sake of peace, or when the general purposes of edification cannot be attained without them; but they seem not to deserve a place even among the secondary points of a religion which is of divine institution. All the labored arguments, whether for or against the color of a garment, the shape of a building, and a multitude of other things equally insignificant, seem to have occasioned a needless loss of time and temper, chiefly by a mistake of the question on both sides!
B. Essentials in Christianity are those things without which no man can be a Christian in the sight of God, and by the decision of his Word. And, on the other hand, those things alone are essential, which whoever possesses, is, by Scripture declaration, in a state of favor with God through Christ. These might be branched out into many particulars; but they are fully and surely comprised in two—faith and holiness. These are essential to the being of a Christian; are only to be found in a Christian; are infallible tokens that the possessor is accepted in the Beloved; and whoever dies without them must assuredly perish. These are essentials, because they are absolutely necessary; for it is written, “Whoever does not believe—shall be damned,” (Mark 16:16) and, “Without holiness—no man shall see the Lord,” (Hebrews 12:14)
And they are essential likewise, because they demonstrate and evidence—a saving interest in the promise of everlasting life. Thus our Lord declares, “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and will not come under judgment—but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24) And the apostle, writing to the believing Romans, tells them, “But now, since you have been liberated from sin and become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in holiness—and the end is eternal life!” (Romans 6:22)
These, then, are the essentials of religion; and though they are produced by the same power of the Holy Spirit, and derived from a knowledge of the same truths, and therefore cannot be separated, they may properly be distinguished—for the conviction of those who pretend to one without the other. The most specious appearances of holiness, which are not accompanied with faith in Christ, may be safely rejected as counterfeits! On the other hand, a profession of faith which is not evidenced by the fruits of holiness, by gracious tempers, and a tenor of life befitting the Gospel—is dead, deluding, and destructive!
If the question is removed another step, and it should be asked, “which, or how many, of the doctrines of Scripture are necessary to produce the faith and holiness supposed requisite?” It may suffice to say, that, in the nature of things, no person can be expected to believe in Christ, until convinced of his need of him, and of his ability, as a Savior, fully to answer his expectations. And as a supreme love to God, and a hatred of all sin—are evidently included in the idea of holiness, it supposes a disposition of mind which every man’s experience proves to be beyond the power of fallen human nature. And therefore a competent knowledge and cordial acceptance of what the Scripture teaches concerning the nature and desert of sin; the person and mediatory acts of Christ; the causes, ends, and effects of his mediation; together with the necessity of that change of heart which is expressed by a being born again—appear to be essentially necessary to that faith and holiness which are described in the Gospel.
C. The secondary points of religion include all those particulars of revelation which a person, possessed of the above-mentioned essentials, may as yet be unacquainted with, or unable to judge of with certainty. A careful application to the Scripture, a diligent waiting upon God in prayer, and an improvement of the means of grace—will, by the divine blessing, which is promised to those who seek in this manner—increase our light, comprehension, and certainty, with regard to these points; which, though not essentially necessary to the being of a Christian, are exceedingly conducive to his well-being, to his growth and establishment in the truth.
This subject may be, perhaps, illustrated from the physical body, in which what we call the vital parts may be considered as essential to life, because there can be no life without them. We may easily conceive that a man may live without an arm or leg, or several members and organs, which, though highly valuable for use and comfort, are not necessarily connected with life. But if we conceive of him as deprived of his head, heart, or lungs—we can no longer consider him as living. Yet it is desirable to have a body not only barely alive—but thriving.
Just so in true religion: those who are truly partakers of it, will not too curiously inquire—how much knowledge, or what degree of practice—is barely consistent with a possibility of life. But they will earnestly desire to be acquainted with the whole will of God, and that every part of it may have a suitable influence upon their practice.
But, in the mean time, a consolation is provided, in the promises of God made to those who have received the seeds of faith and true holiness, against the fears, doubts, and involuntary mistakes which, from remaining ignorance, they are yet subject to. God will supply what is lacking, pardon what is amiss, and lead them on from strength to strength. They are to walk by the light already afforded, to wait on him for an increase, to be wary of themselves, and gentle to others. And things which as yet they do not understand, God will, in his due time, reveal to them. But to return from this digression.
5. Every part of Paul’s history and writings demonstrates an unselfish spirit, and that his uncommon labors were directed to no other ends than the glory of God and the good of men. No man had, probably, so great an influence over his hearers, or could have a juster claim, from the nature and number of his services, to a suitable provision for himself. But he could say, with truth, “I will not burden you, for I am not seeking what you have—but you!” To cut off all occasions of misapprehension on this head, he usually submitted to work with his own hands rather than be dependent on his friends. It is true, he does not propose himself to us as a pattern in this respect, for he tells us that “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” and that “the Lord had ordained that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:14) And when he saw it expedient, he did not refuse to be himself assisted by others. He showed, by accepting such assistance from some, that he understood his liberty, and did not act from a spirit of pride or singularity when he declined it. And by his more general practice, he evidenced that he was superior to all selfish and mercenary motives; and, upon the whole, he was content to appear and live as a poor man. And though he had learned in the school of Christ, how to abound, as well as to suffer poverty, the latter seems to have been more frequently his lot. (Phi. 4:12)
He saw too many false teachers, who, under the sanction of a minister, made merchandise of souls, and he not only severely censured them—but by this self-denial, which they were unable to imitate—he manifested the vanity of their pretenses in setting themselves forth as the apostles of Christ. This seems to have been his chief design in it, and the reason of his repeating, with so much earnestness, his determination to take nothing from the Corinthians, who were too much inclined to listen to some of these teachers, to his disadvantage. But whatever parade they might make of gifts or zeal, or however they might presume to equal themselves to him in other respects; he knew they would not attempt to share with him—in the glory of preaching the Gospel freely, which was diametrically inconsistent with their whole design!
The circumstances with us are so far different, that, in proposing Paul as a pattern of unselfishness, we do not lay a stress upon his preaching the Gospel without expense to his hearers. Yet, in his noble contempt of worldly advantage, and making everything stoop to the great ends of his mission—he stands as a precedent to all Christian ministers in succeeding times! In those passages of his epistles to Timothy and Titus, where the negative part of a minister’s character is given, this is constantly one branch of it, that he must not be influenced by a love of gain; and as constantly the word is compounded with the epithet, filthy—”not given to filthy lucre;” to intimate that nothing can be more dishonest or dishonorable, than to enter the Christian ministry for mercenary reasons! Nor is this the judgement of Scripture only—but the general voice of mankind.
Nothing is a greater bar to a minister’s usefulness, or renders his person and labors more contemptible, than a known attachment to money, a grasping fist, and a hard heart! Those who enter into the pastor’s office for filthy lucre, who are less concerned for the flock—than their fleece, who employ all their arts and influence to exchange a lesser benefit for a greater, or to superadd one benefit to another—may obtain the reward they seek! But of all the methods of acquiring wealth, which do not directly expose a man to the lash of human laws—this is the most to be lamented and avoided!
If the Scriptures are true; if Paul was a servant of Christ; and if the authority of his precepts and example is still binding—a day will come when mercenary preachers will wish they had begged their bread from door to door, or been chained as slaves to the oar of a galley for life—rather than have presumed to intrude into the church upon such base and unworthy motives! It is to be feared that too many read the awful denunciations upon this head, in the prophets Jeremiah (23:1-40) and Ezekiel, (13:1-23; 34:1-31) with indifference, as supposing they only relate to the Jews who lived at that time. But they are equally applicable to all who prostitute the Word and worship of God—to the purposes of ambition and avarice!
6. From the foregoing particulars we may collect the idea of true Christian zeal, as exemplified in our apostle. Hardly any word in our language is more misunderstood or abused, than zeal. It is used in the New Testament in both a good or bad sense—and it is considered as a vice or virtue, according to its object and principle.
In the BAD sense—it sometimes denotes envy, indignation, or disdain, an obstinate and ignorant opposition to the truth, a misguided warmth in unnecessary things, and a contentious, disputatious temper. A zeal replete with these traits has too frequently been the bane and opprobrium of the Christian church!
But, “It is GOOD to be to be zealous, provided the purpose is good,” (Galatians 4:17) and then it is sinful to be otherwise. Our passions were not given us in vain. When the judgement is well informed, and the understanding duly enlightened by the Word of God: the more warmth—the better.
But this warmth and earnestness, in an ignorant or prejudiced person, is dangerous and hurtful to himself and others! It is like haste in a man in the dark, who knows not where he is going, nor what harms he may suffer by his haste. False zeal spends its strength in defense of names and forms, the externals of religion, or the inventions of men! False zeal enforces its edicts by compulsion and severity! False zeal would willingly call for fire from heaven; but, unable to do this, it kindles the flame of persecution, and, if not providentially restrained, wages war with the peace, comfort, and liberty of all who disdain to wear its chains; and breathes threatening, slaughter, and destruction with an unrelenting spirit! The mildest weapons (which false zeal never employs alone, except where it is checked by a superior power)—are calumny, contempt, and hatred. And the objects it seeks to harm are generally the quiet in the land, and those who worship God in spirit and in truth. In a word false zeal resembles the craft by which it works—and is earthly, sensual, devilish.
But the true Christian zeal is a heavenly gentle flame. It shines and warms—but knows not to destroy. It is the spirit of Christ, infused with a sense of his love into the heart. It is a generous philanthropy and benevolence, which, like the light of the sun, diffuses itself to every object, and longs to be the instrument of good, if possible, to the whole race of mankind. A sense of the worth of souls, the importance of unseen and eternal realities, and the dreadful condition of unawakened sinners—makes it, indeed, earnest and importunate; but this it shows—not by bitterness and constraint—but by an unwearied perseverance in attempting to overcome evil with good. It returns blessings for curses, prayers for harsh treatment, and, though often reviled and affronted, cannot be discouraged from renewed efforts to make others partakers of the happiness itself possesses. It knows how to express a befitting indignation against the errors and follies of men; but towards their persons—it is all gentleness and compassion. It weeps (and would, if possible, weep tears of blood) over those who will not be persuaded. But, while it plainly represents the consequences of their obstinacy, it trembles at its own declarations, and feels for those who cannot feel for themselves.
True Christian zeal is often grieved—but cannot be provoked. The zealous Christian is strictly observant of his own failings, candid and tender to the faults of others; he knows what allowances are due to the frailty of human nature, and the temptations of the present state, and willingly makes all the allowances possible. And though he dares not call evil good, cannot but judge according to the rule of the Scripture—yet he will conceal the infirmities of men as much as he can. He will not speak of them without just cause, much less will he aggravate their case; or boast himself over them!
Such was the zeal of our apostle: bold and intrepid in the cause of God and truth, unwearied in service, inflexible in danger. When duty called, he was not to be restrained either by the threats of enemies, the solicitations of friends, or the prospect of any hardships to which he might be exposed. He cheerfully endured hunger and thirst, watching and weariness, poverty and contempt, and counted not his life dear—so that he might fulfill the great purposes of the ministry which he had received of the Lord.
But at the same time, in all his interaction with men—he was gentle, mild, and compassionate. He pursued the peace, and accommodated himself to the weakness, of all about him. When he might command—he used entreaties. When he met with harsh and injurious treatment—he bore it patiently, and, if opportunity offered, requited it with kindness. Thus as he had drunk of the spirit of Jesus—so he walked in the steps of his Lord and Master.
All who bear the name of ministers of Christ, would do well to examine how far their tempers and conduct are conformable to Paul’s. Are there not too many who widely differ from him? Where he was immovable as an iron pillar—they are flexible and yielding as a reed waving in the wind, suiting their doctrines and practice to the depraved taste of the world, and prostituting their talents and calling to the unworthy pursuit of selfish ambition and applause!
On the other hand, in things less essential, or not commanded, they invade the rights of the private judgement of others, and attempt to bind heavy yokes and impositions upon those whom Christ has made free. And while they readily tolerate (if not countenance) false doctrine and immorality—they exert all their strength and subtlety to disquiet or suppress those who differ from them in the slightest issue, if they profess to differ for conscience’ sake. But Jesus has no such ‘ministers’! their claim is utterly vain! None but those who are ignorant of the plainest truths can allow them this character; their tempers, their behavior, the tenor of their professed instructions, and the total lack of efficacy and influence in their ministrations, plainly demonstrate that Christ neither sent them nor owns them!
7. Having considered the subject-matter and the leading views of the apostle’s ministry—it may be proper to take some notice of his manner as a preacher. This he reminds the Corinthians of. They were reputed as an educated and clever people. Paul was aware of their character, and expresses himself as if he had been deliberating before he saw them, in what way he would address them with the fairest probability of success. He tells them, (1 Cor. 2:1-4) that he determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; including, in this one comprehensive expression, the whole scheme of Gospel doctrine.
And as to the manner in which he delivered this doctrine, he says, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom—but in demonstration of the Spirit and with power.” We are sure that he did not renounce justness of reasoning, or propriety of expression. In these respects he exceeded their most admired orators, as may appear to any who have skill to compare his epistles and discourses with the best performances of the Greek writers. But he renounced “the enticing,” or plausible, “words of man’s wisdom.” In the term “man’s wisdom,” may be included— whatever the natural faculties of man are capable of discovering or receiving, independent of the peculiar teaching of the Spirit of God. “Enticing words of man’s wisdom” may include all those ways and arts which the wise men of the world have used, or approved, as most effectual to express, adorn, or defend their own wise sentiments and discoveries. These, and the methods of setting them off to advantage, have been divided into many branches, and dignified with high sounding names.
But all the efforts of man’s wisdom, considered as engaged in the subjects of religion, may be summed up in three particulars:
A. A vain inquiry into things which lie wholly beyond the capacity of man in his present state, and which can only be discovered by supernatural revelation.
B. A vain attempt to account for everything according to the light and principles of depraved reason.
C. A studious exactness in language, either an easy flow of words to please and amuse the ear, or a torrent of strong and figurative expressions to engage the passions, according as a different taste or fashion happens to prevail.
It would be too dry a task to illustrate these points, by adducing specimens of each from the works of the ancient and modern philosophers; but if we had no other employment in hand, it would be easy to show that man’s wisdom, in the first sense, is Uncertainty; in the second, Prejudice; in the third, Imposition and artifice. It is sufficient for my present purpose, that the apostle renounced them all.
Instead of vain conjectures, he spoke from certain experience; he could say, “I received of the Lord, that which I also delivered to you.” Instead of accommodating his doctrine to the taste and judgment of his hearers—he spoke with authority, in the name of God whom he served. Instead of losing time in measuring words and syllables, that he might obtain the reputation of a fine speaker—he spoke, from the feeling and fullness of his heart, the words of simplicity and truth! The success of his preaching did not at all depend upon the softness and harmony of his words, and therefore he disdained an attention to those petty ornaments of speech, which were quite necessary to help out the poverty of “man’s wisdom”.
He sought something else, which those who preach themselves rather than Christ Jesus the Lord, have little reason to expect. I mean, the power and demonstration of the Spirit. He knew that this alone could give him success!
Ministers may learn from him, what to avoid and what to seek for—if they would be useful to their hearers. Men can but declare the truths of the Gospel; it is the Spirit of God who alone can reveal them with power, to the heart of the listener. Nothing less than a divine power can present them to the mind in their just importance, and throw light into the soul by which they may be perceived! Nothing less than this power can subdue the will, and open the heart to receive the truth in the love of it. Without this divine power—even Paul would have preached in vain!
From what has been said, we may remark two obvious reasons, among others, why we have so much unsuccessful preaching in our days: either the Gospel truths are given up, or the Gospel simplicity departed from. Where either of these is the case, the Lord refuses his power and blessing.
8. Another observable part of Paul’s character, is his sincere humility. In the midst of his eminent and extensive services, he retained a deep sense of the evil part he once acted against the Lord. He speaks of himself, on this account, in the most abasing language, as the chief of sinners, and strongly expresses his unworthiness of the grace and apostleship he had received. And though his insight into the mysteries of the Gospel, the communion he maintained with God by faith in His Son, and the beauty of holiness which shone in his life, were all beyond the common measure—yet having, in the same proportion, a clearer sense of his obligations, and of the extent and purity of the divine precepts—he thought nothing of his present attainments, in comparison of those greater degrees of grace he was still pressing after. While, in the eyes of others, he appeared not only exemplary—but unequaled, he esteemed himself less than the least of all the saints; (Ephesians 3:8) and his patience and condescension towards others, and his acquiescence under all the trying dispensations of providence with which he was exercised—were a proof that this was not an pretended manner of expression—but the genuine dictate of his heart!
To speak of one’s self in abasing terms is easy—and such language is often a thin veil, through which the motions of pride may be easily discerned. But though the language of humility may be counterfeited, its real fruits and acting’s are inimitable. Here again, Paul is a pattern for Christians.
A humble frame of mind is the strength and ornament of every other grace, and the proper soil wherein they grow! A proud Christian, that is, one who has a high conceit of his own abilities and attainments, is no less a contradiction, than a sober drunkard, or a generous miser. All other seeming excellencies are of no real value, unless accompanied with humility. And though a person should appear to have little more than a consciousness of his own insufficiency, and a teachable dependent spirit, and is waiting upon the Lord, in his appointed way, for instruction and a blessing, he will infallibly thrive as a tree planted by the waterside; for God, who resists the proud, has promised to give grace to the humble. (James 4:6)
But, in an especial manner, humility is necessary and beautiful in a minister! The greatest abilities and the most unwearied diligence will not ensure success without it! A secret apprehension of his own importance, will deprive him of the Holy Spirit’s assistance, without which he can do nothing! “His arm will be dried up, and his right eye will be darkened;” (Zec. 11:17) for the Lord Almighty has purposed to stain the pride of all human glory, and will honor none but those who abase themselves, and are willing to give all the praise to him alone!
If any man had ground to set a value upon his knowledge, gifts, and services—Paul might justly claim the pre-eminence. But though he was an apostle, and an inspired writer, though he had planted churches through a considerable part of the known world, though he was received as an angel by many to whom he preached; and, by a special blessing, had been caught up into the third heaven; yet he was, by grace, preserved from being exalted above measure—or from assuming an undue superiority over his brethren. The authority with which he was entrusted, he employed solely to their advantage, and accounted himself the least of all, and the servant of all. How very opposite has been the conduct of many since his time—who have aimed to appropriate the glory exclusively to themselves!
Such was our apostle, and the same spirit (though in an inferior degree) will be found in all the faithful ministers of the Lord Jesus! They love his name; it is the pleasing theme of their ministry, and to render it glorious in the eyes of sinners is the great study of their lives. For his sake they love all who love him, and are their willing servants to promote the comfort and edification of their souls. They love his Gospel, faithfully proclaim it, without disguise or alteration, and shun not to declare the whole counsel of God, so far as they are themselves acquainted with it. They contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; and are desirous to preserve and maintain the truth, in its power and purity. The knowledge of their own weakness and fallibility makes them tender to the weaknesses of others. And though they dare not lay, or allow, any other foundation than that which God has laid in Zion—yet, knowing that the kingdom of God does not consist in foods and drinks—but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit—they guard against the influence of a party spirit. And, if their labors are confined to Christians of one denomination, their love and prayers are not limited within such narrow bounds—but extend to all who love and serve their Master.
They have entered upon the ministry, not for selfish and sordid ends—for popular applause, or filthy lucre—but from a constraining sense of the love of Jesus, and a just regard to the worth and danger of immortal souls! Their zeal is conducted and modeled by the example and precepts of their Lord; their desire is not to destroy—but to save; and they wish their greatest enemies a participation in their choicest blessings.
In the subject-matter and the manner of their preaching, they show that they seek not to be men-pleasers—but to commend the truth to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And when they have done their utmost, and when God has blessed their labors, and given them acceptance and success beyond their hopes, they are conscious of the defects and evils attending their best endeavors, of the weak influence the truths they preach to others have upon their own hearts; that their sufficiency of every kind is of God, and not of themselves; and therefore they sit down, ashamed, as unprofitable servants, and can rejoice or glory in nothing but in him who came into the world to save the chief of sinners!
It might be expected that a spirit and conduct thus uniformly benevolent and unselfish, and witnessed to, in a greater or less degree, by the good effect of their ministry and example among their hearers, would secure them the good-will of mankind, and entitle them to peace, if not to respect. But, on the contrary, these are the very people who are represented as deceivers of souls, and disturbers of society; they are not permitted to live in some places; and it is owing to a concurrence of favorable circumstances if they are permitted to speak in any. The eyes of many are upon them, watching for their halting; their infirmities are aggravated, their words twisted, their endeavors counteracted, and their persons despised.
The design of our history is to show, in the course of every period of the church, that those who have approached nearest to the character I have attempted to delineate from Paul, have always met with such treatment. From his declaration, that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12) we may expect it shall always be so—while human nature and the state of the world remain as they are. However, it may be a consolation to those who suffer for righteousness sake, to reflect, that the apostles were thus treated before them; particularly Paul, who, as he labored more abundantly than the rest—so he suffered more abundantly than the rest. His person was treated with contempt and despite, his character traduced, his doctrine misrepresented. And though his natural and acquired abilities were great, and he spoke with power and the demonstration of the Spirit—yet he was reckoned as “a babbler,” and “a madman,” and “the scum of the earth, and the refuse of the world!”
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9