Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
Dear Brother and Fellow Labourer,
GRACE and peace be multiplied unto you, and to the winnowed flock at B., whom I love in the truth, and for the truth's sake. Having received no answer to my last letter, I suspected something was the matter: howbeit, I shall pray for them, for they need my prayers more than I need an answer to my letter. Your letter has grieved me in part, and caused my soul to weep in secret before God, in behalf of those few sheep left in that part of the wilderness.
Mr. N. is a man that I love in the bowels of Christ, but he is unstable as water; in judgment he shall not excel. I had a very hot contention with him during my stay the last time I was there, about a very capital error. He is a simple man, and such generally fall a prey to those who lie in wait to deceive. He only dropped a word, which I caught hold of, and closely withstood him, and foiled him, till he could not get out with truth on his side; and by that word I suspected there was a troop in ambush, but he would not marshal them before me; and to engage on suspicion, is to beat the air.
But, though I love him as my own soul, I will withstand him in his error, if he comes to contend; I hope never to sacrifice a grain of truth to his delusion, nor give ground to the devil. I must tell you that I think this man is sent as a scourge to you; I saw many little failings in you which I was sorry for. Your little ones seemed very disorderly, and you make yourself too cheap to bring any honour to your other; you also seemed at ease, and not studious enough. A man who preaches in our day should have his head, eyes, and heart in the Bible day and night: it is while men sleep the enemy sows tares, and goes his way. I had some room also to suspect you had not been faithful among them; and, indeed, a man who makes himself too cheap, and is in the least uncircumspect, cannot be faithful, without condemning himself; but he had better condemn himself, than deal deceitfully in the covenant; because it is injurious to the honour of God and to the souls of men.
But this false cry of fire, I hope, will alarm the watchman, and awake him out of his lethargy. You must ascend your watchtower now, and stand in your ward whole nights; I hope God will work by you yet; when the branch is purged, it brings forth fruit; the flock will now see truth from error; the heart of the wise is a wellspring of life, and those of understanding will draw it out. I thought your ministry was too much straitened; but now you will sound an alarm, and declare the whole counsel of God. God often reveals the true faith in the midst of contention, and rides upon the storm, in order to stay the rough wind, in the day of the east wind. This is a wind from the high place of spin ritual wickedness; and, I hope, under grace, both to fan and cleanse. A vessel of mercy may be blown to and fro, but eternal election will not allow him to shoot the gulf.
While many are blown to and fro with this wind of doctrine, you must prophesy to the wind also, and pray for a gale from the everlasting hills; pray for supporting grace, divine fortitude, and a discerning eye; wait patiently, watch the hand of God, and you shall see his wonders in the deep. As for the chapel, the flock, the deceiver, and the deceived, are the Lord's. Truth will cut her way and defend you; therefore stand in the truth, and truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Does he preach up faith? Then you must preach up the spirit of it, 2 Cor. iv. 13. Does he tell them what faith is? Then you must tell them what faith does. Examine all its feats in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews; such as the rise of faith, the progress of faith, the difficult work of faith, the fight of faith, the victory of faith, its holy triumph and its purifying efficacy. Shew the discerning eye of faith, the promises it obtains, the union it brings about, the answers it gets to prayer, I John, v. 14; and the sweet love it works by.
Does he enforce an assent to the truth in the judgment? Then you must insist on faith in the heart unto righteousness, or to the justification of the soul before God. Does he preach up reliance on the written word? Then you must preach up the necessity of the word dwelling in the heart richly, and being written there by the Spirit of the living God; "The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." I charge you to demand of him a reason of the hope that is in him; and remember it is experience that worketh hope. But here let me caution thee, for many have been deceived in this point by rotten hypocrites: it is not the experience of law terrors, mark me, I mean if they work alone, such as Cain, Esau, Saul, Judas, Ahab, and Pharaoh had, for their experience wrought despair: nor is it the experience of church trials, such as opposition, persecution, slander, and abuse: I mean such as Alexander, who was once stoned for preaching, yet afterwards withstood the truth; this experience is common to rotten-hearted preachers as well as sound; and it often worketh apostacy instead of hope. This is not being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, already obtained by faith, but rather to obtain one; as you see by Alexander's revolt.
Nor is it the experience of providential blessings on the body such as feeding the Israelites with manna, the multitude with loaves and fishes, who followed Christ for nothing else; and such as the two lepers in the famine of Samaria had: these experiences in graceless souls often work excess and ingratitude, instead of gospel hope. Nor is it the experience of bodily afflictions, or family trials, such as those had who never ate with pleasure, Job, xxi. 25; these, in graceless souls, often work rebellion, instead of hope. All the above trials are curses to ungodly sinners; but blessings, when sanctified, to the righteous. Hope springs from the application of the promises; " Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience, and comfort of the scriptures, might have hope." Hence hope is joined with comfort, you read of "everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace," 2 Thess. ii. 16. This brings about a deliverance from darkness to light, from guilt to peace, from a sense of wrath to the enjoyment of love; from bondage to liberty; from the dreadful sinking curse of God, to the blessing of eternal life. It is the experience of this change that worketh a joyful and lively hope of the glory of God. The Spirit testifying of Christ to us, and enabling us by faith to receive him, with pardon, righteousness, peace, love, life, and liberty, is Christ formed in the heart the hope of glory.
By faith's applying the revealed word, we are begotten of God; and by the operation of the Holy Ghost, Christ is formed in us, as surely as he was in the Virgin's womb. All other hopes are as dead as the sinner, and will give up the ghost when he dies; but this hope has to do with the general resurrection, and anchors in God within the vail of Christ's flesh, and holds every vessel of mercy fast, in all the storms of life: such souls expect the glory that is to be revealed at the appearing of the great God and our Saviour, whom Paul calls that blessed hope.
Some hope in the law; others in a set of principles in the head, without any change of heart; others hope in an external form, or show of religion; others in a reformation brought about under a preacher who deals more in the letter than in the spirit; but Christ revealed in the word is the saint's ground of hope; and the spirit of faith revealing and applying Christ to the soul, as his only atonement and righteousness, is a most sure and blessed hope.
When our own name or character is reproached, we may act the part of a Dove; but when any false preacher, mounted on the spirit of error, comes among us, to invade God's honour, we must be Dans, serpents in their way, and adders in their path, and bite their horses' heels, till their riders fall backward. Such preachers had better fall alone, than take legions with them; but most of them send their errors in many souls beforehand to judgment, and leave some to propagate, and bring their bane after them; but whether before or behind their iniquity cannot be hid from God.
In preaching, preach as contrary to him as God's word will allow you; and as far as you discover his error, set truth against it; and every text you handle, observe minutely every blessing or threatening that it contains; describe the sinner and the saint, and divide the word between them; if it be a new covenant blessing, trace it in its freeness from the fountain, I mean the purpose of God, founded on the sovereignty of that all-wise and absolute disposer of all men and things. Follow it from that fountain through the meritorious life and death of our blessed Saviour, and insist upon an application to the heart by God the Holy Ghost; yea, insist upon the experience of it, the enjoyment of it, and the practice of it in life; and by these means the flock will soon see whose lamp burns the brightest; and search out the feelings of the flock, and appeal to scripture and to conscience, in God's sight, and let every sentence come forth from him: and if they laugh at feelings, they never were quickened at all; they have only a name to live, while they are dead.
If you set the Sun of Righteousness against that wandering star, your flock will soon see the true light from the false; "The light of the righteous rejoiceth, but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out," Prov. xiii. 9; Job, xviii. 6; Matt. xxv. 8; but your lamp shall burn brighter and brighter, Ps. xviii. 28 ; Prov. iv. 18. The light that shines in false preachers, is but darkness at best, Luke, xi. 35: it is a lamp that comes out of the mouth of Satan, yea, every spark that a sinner kindles comes from the same quarter, Job, xli. 19; Isa. 1. 11. But remember it is God that sends the deluder, though Satan furnisheth him with light, 2 Thess. ii. 11. "The Lord hath made all things for himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil." No man dares to vend any infernal wares in God's market, till he has license from God, I Kings, xxii. 22. But, though God sends them, you must bear witness against them, to clear yourself of their blood, and to leave them to God's judgment without excuse; and likewise you must feed the flock also, that they may have strength to perfect praise, to the glory of God, and to stop the months of these enemies and avengers of Satan's quarrel.
Does he preach up the full assurance of faith? It is a most blessed and comfortable grace; the choicest piece of silver of the ten, except love; but it may for a time be lost, I mean in a dark night; but the soul that has ever enjoyed it, will sweep the house, and seek diligently till he find it again; and we often bear of the joy of such. But as there is a counterfeit assurance, we must learn to know the image and superscription of the real. It is stamped on the soul by the Holy Ghost; and is the preveiling hand of the new man, and brings much comfort, peace, and love with it: it is attended with diligence and hope, Heb. vi. 11; it is attended with a true heart and a purged conscience, Heb. x. 22; and is attended with peace and quietness; this is to be its effects for ever, Isa. xxxii. 17
If his assurance is not productive of these effects, it is the carnal confidence of a prating fool; and this confidence may be found in a man void of faith, and is no better than a broken tooth, or a foot out of joint, Prov. xxv. 19; yea, false confidence may lift him up to heaven in appearance, and his head may touch the clouds, yet all shall give up the ghost when he bows his head to the King of Terrors; and many simple souls, who have heard him on earth, shall say, when they miss him at the general doom, where is he? If the assurance that he preaches destroys peace, unity, and love; if it divides and scatters the flock; if it condemns the broken and contrite heart, it is not the assurance of faith; it is presumption, and the preacher "is earthly, sensual, and devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work."
Remember the private and public warnings I gave you, and the flock also, at my departure: and if you flinch from God's truth, let me never see your face again. N. is a man whom I love and judged favourably of; and, indeed, he has been a friend to me in many respects; but, I hope, by God's grace, to sacrifice his friendships rather than give up one grain of truth to his error. We must pity and pray for their souls, but give no ground to the devil. If he calls on me, you may depend upon it, by God's grace, I will withstand him to the last.
Thy Father tells thee to be wise, and make his heart glad, that he may know how to answer them that reproach him, Prov. xxvii. 11. That sweet word has often melted my soul; the Lord is good indeed to unworthy me, bless his holy name; and thou shalt be more than conqueror through his love in Christ Jesus. If thou wield his sword valiantly, my prayer shall be in thy calamity; but it is our spiritual Aaron alone must stay thy hand if Amalek be defeated. However, fight boldly, and be sure to guard the rear rank; he began the battle at the feeblest of the host at first, and ever since has lain hottest at the heel; but God hath sworn that he will have war with him for ever. I hope to shout for the battle, but never to bear that the ark is taken. Fare thee well; faith and patience be with thee, while I remain
W.H. William Huntington