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PITTSBURGH, AUGUST, 1836.
BY R. M. CUNNINGHAM, D. D.
THE DUTIES AND DIFFICULTIES OF THE GOSPEL MINISTRY.*
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
It will be recollected by some of the members who compose this Synod, that some four or five years ago, the Presbytery of South Alabama assigned to her stated members subjects on which they were directed to prepare written discourses, and to deliver them before Presbytery, as occasion might offer. The subject assigned myself was the Duties and Difficulties of the Gospel Ministry; one of vital importance to all who are called to preach the gospel; and one, in our humble opinion, not foreign to the occasion of our present meeting.
At what period or place in our guilty world shall we begin to describe the thorny path these ambassadors of mercy have been destined to travel? No minister of salvation, from Moses and the prophets down to the close of apostolic times, has escaped trials and tribulations, peculiar to this high and sacred appointment. Look at the life of Moses and all the prophets; at the whole life of the meek and merciful Son of God; at the lives of all his apostles; and you will find that the duties and difficulties they were called to sustain wore out their strength and shortened their lives. Whilst they delivered their messages of peace, the tongue of slander never ceased; the sword of persecution never slumbered, until these victims of unmerited displeasure had passed the gates of death.
We will confine our illustrations and remarks principally to New Testament times. It would have been well for the church of Christ had the blood of those innocent men appeased the spirit of persecution. It did not; for it has continued under different modifications, and doubtless will continue, under some form or other, until the glory of the mil
* Delivered at the opening of the first Synod of Tuscaloosa, 1835.
lenial day changes its character. Brethren, I feel myself inadequate to a subject inscribed upon the heart and life of every faithful minister of Jesus Christ. One which will remain secret and unknown in its multifarious bearings, until the day of eternity. Oh! for a portion of that intelligence and zeal, which fired the breast of that holy man who delivered to the elders of the church at Ephesus the sentiments contained in the text and context. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I might finish my course with joy, &c. What an illustrious example of ministerial zeal and fidelity, sufficient to elicit the feelings and to enkindle the affections of every minister of the New Testament!
The apostle appears to have been peculiarly anxious, that he might be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost: a day of special recollection ་ and deep interest in the Christian church.
On that day, in the city of Jerusalem, the Holy Ghost was shed down on the apostles, and thousands of infidel Jews were converted to God under Peter's sermon. This day brought up a distinct recollection of the Jewish Passover: a feast venerable from its long continuance in the church of God; and one that involved in its constitution and termination some of the most sublime and awful scenes which can occupy the minds of men on this side of eternity.
Another leading object of desire with the apostle was, that on his way to Jerusalem he might visit the churches of Greece and Asia, and strengthen the brethren. In this farewell address he apprises these elders that, after his departure, grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock, and likewise from among themselves men would arise speaking perverse things, and would draw away disciples after them. He therefore urges them to watchfulness and ministerial fidelity. The apostle appears to have had a distinct view of the evils that would fall on the church at Ephesus, as well as of the trials that awaited himself. "The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, that bonds and afflictions abide me." God has mercifully hid from our eyes the trying scenes through which we have to pass, as well as our brethren in heathen lands, lest the sight of them should paralyze their strength. But Paul, in view of bonds and imprisonments, remained unshaken in his purpose-" none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself." How vastly important did Paul view the office of a gospel minister? It involves in it the glory and government of God, the redemption of man, the peace and prosperity of ministers and people here, and their assurance of being and happiness beyond the grave.
We shall endeavor to lay before you, brethren, and this congregation, some of the duties and difficulties attached to the office of a faithful minister. We will here assume for the present, that none take upon themselves the responsibility of this sacred office, but those who are called as was Aaron.
Suffer me to make two or three preliminary remarks. In the first place, whatever may have been our early advantages, our mental or
moral training with regard to preaching the gospel; however deeply and thoroughly read, in all the necessary branches of science and philosophy; and however carefully instructed in theology and polemic divinity; we will still be accounted unskillful and unsuccessful ambassadors of Jesus Christ, if we rely on our own acquirements; for notwithstanding all the above mentioned attainments, excellent in themselves, we shall still need the preaching of the divine Spirit, to open the seals of God's word and to show us the mysteries of salvation.
A minister of Jesus Christ should be a man of prayer, after the example of his Lord and Master: every thought of his heart, and every effort of his life should be consecrated to God and his service by solemn prayer.
This temper and tendency of heart will excite his affections, and keep his way open to a throne of grace through a Mediator, and will enable him at all times, to make wise and profitable preparations for the sanctuary, which, by the grace of God, will save himself and those that hear him.
The apostle, while he viewed afflictions like black and angry clouds obstructing his way, with a soul filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed with emphasis, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy; that is, my travels, my earthly pilgrimage, my conflicts, and my trials, as well as the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify the gospel of the grace of God."
Let us stop for a moment and inquire, what was contained in that ministry he received of the Lord Jesus, which so warmed and captivated his whole soul? To this inquiry, a satisfactory answer may be found in the following language of that noble defence Paul made before king Agrippa and his royal court, (Acts 26:16, 17, 18:) "To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me."
Brethren, if any thing within the range of human thought can give confidence and courage to the heart of a minister, it is a belief, that he has received his commission from the Lord Jesus. A commission from a king or an emperor, to negotiate terms of peace and amity for the prosperity of a nation, is esteemed highly honorable among men; and so it is: But a commission from the King of kings, the Prince of peace, which includes the glory and perpetuity of his kingdom, the peace and salvation of his subjects, is inexpressibly more so. Beyond all personal considerations, that minister, who possesses any of the spirit of Paul, or of his divine Master, will be sustained, and when darkness obscures his path and enemies obstruct his way, then one cheering ray from the sun of righteousness will clear his view and give a buoyancy to the soul that defies all opposition.
Brethren, were we devoutly engaged in our Master's service, as was this holy man, we would like him, finish our course and our ministry
with joy. Happy the man, who can say with honesty of heart, "For me to live is Christ; and to die is gain."
My design, on the present occasion, is to bring before you some of those doctrines, we apprehend to be closely connected with the plan of salvation; such as the depravity of the heart, regeneration by the Spirit of God; faith, holiness, &c. But on these subjects our time will only allow us to touch.
Human depravity lies deep and eludes the knowledge of superficial observers; from which I would say, that as every wise and skillful physician traces the symptoms of complaint until he has reached the character of the disease, so must every faithful minister. The holy Scriptures minutely point to the heart, as the true source of all moral and mortal discase. The melancholy experience of the whole human family attests the truth," that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Allow me, while on the doctrine of human depravity, to advert to a few Scripture proofs: "That the wicked are estranged from the womb. They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies:" (Ps. 58:3.) Moses, in confirmation of the apostacy of man, says, "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil, and that continually." This delineation of the enmity of the human heart is so plain and so definite, as to need but little comment. Job asks the question, "How can man be just with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?" To which, if we add the Psalmist's acccount of his own original impurity, the doctrine in question must be established. For, says he, (in Ps. 51:5,) "Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." Language must deceive us, or that man's mind must be prejudiced, or shaded with scepticism, who hesitates in coming to a conclusion with Jeremiah the prophet, (Jer. 2:21,) "We are plants of a strange vine," whose degenerate nature cannot be changed by any human effort. "Though thou wash thee with nitre and take thee much soap, yet thy iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God."
It is the universal law of nature, that every thing produces its own likeness without any change of its species. Hence, Adam begat a son in his own likeness, after his own image: (Gen. 5:3.) In what that image consisted is obvious. Paul tells us, (Rom. 5:14,) "That sin reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," and gives the reason for this universality of death over the human family, (Rom. 5:12,) "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." The apostle assures us, that sin is not imputed where there is no law; but sin was imputed to Adam and his posterity, inasmuch as they became the subjects of human infirmity, disease, and death.
Children, therefore, must be involved in Adam's transgression; for they suffer the penalty of the law, which proves they have transgressed the law. But, inasmuch as their transgression could not be personal,
we therefore conclude, that children are reputed sinners from their relation to Adam, their covenant head and representative. If the imputation of Adam's guilt to his posterity be denied, it would seem to follow, from a parity of reasoning, that the benefits of Christ's death, who is called the second Adam, cannot be imputed, or applied to children, for justification and acceptance with God.
The apostle states the doctrine of federal imputation in a clear and conclusive manner when he says, "Since by man came death, by man came the resurrection of the dead; for, as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive:" (1 Cor. 15:22.) If all mankind do not stand in some distinctive relation either to the first or second Adam, the heads and responsible persons in the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, words have lost their meaning, and consequently there is no confidence to be placed in the long settled doctrines of the Bible.
The contrivers and preachers of the new scheme of perfectibility by human efforts a scheme which sets aside the Scriptural doctrine of federal imputation-are doing immense evil in the church. In the charity of our divine Master, we would say "These men are ignorantly, or sceptically spreading a dark and dismal veil over the future destiny of more than two-thirds of the most innocent and helpless of the human race.
Connected with these new schemes of the day, which are drawing around the churches of God the waters of Noah, is that doctrine which denies the necessity of a divine agency, in the conviction and conversion of a sinner, said to be dead in trespasses and in sins, having no hope and without God in the world. When we speak of the death of a sinner, we do not mean, that he is incapable of intellectual or moral action. We still believe, he is a rational and sensitive being, having a love of pleasure, and a fear of pain: were it not for the derangement of his faculties, and the indisposition of his heart, he might work out his own salvation. But when we speak of the death of a sinner, we mean that he is spiritually dead, having no faith, by which he can either see or comprehend the Savior, or the plan of salvation. This is all we understand by the declaration, and from this view of the subject is there any rational hope that such characters, by their own intrinsic and unassisted powers, can or will make any serious or successful efforts to recover themselves from the snare of the devil taken, as they are, captive by him at his will? (2 Tim. 2:26.) Why are invitations and promises given to poor helpless sinners, if not to encourage them to look to God for aid, and to expect it only in the use of appointed means? The great and important point to be labored in the successful preaching of the gospel is to convince men of their entire helplessness.
The spirit and condition of a helpless, self-righteous sinner, is correctly and forcibly presented in the epistle of John to the church of Laodicea, (Rev. 3:17,)" Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” There is a secret aversion in the heart of every natural man, to use the means of grace God has appointed, or to break off from the prac