Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
Dear Brother and Fellow Labourer,
LOVING KINDNESS crown thee both in thy study, and in the pulpit. Yours I gladly received, but shall return no thanks for the encomiums you have made on my experience, judgment, or penetration. If we experience life, it is the breath of the second Adam: if we have the light of knowledge, it is the gift of God, in which we discern and embrace his revealed mind and will concerning us; therefore to him be all the glory from everlasting, to everlasting.
Let them feed on applause, and sing, of merit, who are perfect in the flesh; but, for my part, I hope to live and die a believing sinner, and must remain a debtor to free grace and mercy to all eternity; and as such, can never join the chorus with any who sing that ancient God-dethroning, self-exalting, and soul-damning, ditty of free-agency. This will be harped upon by many at the day of doom, Matt. xxv. 44; but will be condemned by the Judge of quick and dead. Sovereign mercy will erase it from the mind and memory of every songster in heaven; and retributive Justice will make conscience cry it down in hell: therefore, let us sing the song in time that grace will allow in eternity, we will sing of mercy and of judgment: my mind, my understanding, and my memory received this song under the twofold impression of the Holy Ghost; and I believe it will never be erased from my soul in this world, nor be prohibited to be sung in the next.
Indeed, my brother, I know not how to resolve your question you have set me a hard task: to give you a true portrait of a refined Antinomian requires a more ingenious limner than I am; nor are you the first believer this character has puzzled. You say. "he is circumspect in his walk." True; Satan is often entombed in a painted sepulchre, and has deceived many an innocent sheep, by wearing a skin. You say, "he has a great gift." This he may have also, and speak with the tongue of men and of angels: God sometimes gives a tinkling cymbal, to please a bastard child. Be not deceived by his running; he is not always on the winning side who runs the fastest; but he is a winner who runs sure; the first are last in the Christian race, and the last first: the prey is not always taken by the swift of foot, but by the cripple in spirit: "the lame take the prey."
Law terrors he may have had also, and yet be a stranger to justification: salvation lies not in Moses's rod, but in Christ's balm; it is Moses that gives the wound, and Christ the cure. Many have said I am wounded, who never could say I am healed; therefore inquire after his health; ask how the atonement operated on his conscience when he began to amend; what views and thoughts he had of the great physician; and whether he received joy only, Matt. xiii. 20; or the oil of joy, Isa. Ixi. 3. This nice distinction is very necessary in examination; joy may lift a man up, but the oil of joy works upwards and downwards; it softens the heart, and lays it composed in deep humility; but raises the mind and affections heavenward: he will know something, of this, if ever he was made whole. If you feel his pulse, you will soon find it beat high with anger; and indeed, you must not wonder if he should call you a quack, or a physician of no value.
"By their fruits you shall know them." True; but Christian fruits are twofold: there are fruits of the Spirit within, and the fruits of faith without. Paul asks this question, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" Now, says he, the fruits of the Spirit are these, love, joy, peace, &c. Gal. v. 22: "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" If ye have not the Spirit of Christ ye are none of his, Rom. viii. 9. A sinner's heart under the curse of the law is like the earth under the curse of God; it brings forth nothing but briers and thorns; and who can gather grapes of thorns? Indeed, you need not wonder at the apostacy of so many of them. What is an Antinomian? In short, a superfine Antinomian is one who is an Evangelist in the head, a Pharisee in the foot, a Believer in the tongue, but an Infidel in heart: he is one of Satan's bellmen; be cries up the letter but cries down the spirit; his business is to condemn the meek, but justify the presumptuous. The operation of the Holy Ghost is laughed at, and called inward tickling; to have a single doubt of final victory in the fight of faith is certain damnation, but to harden one's conscience, and cast off all fear, is to be more than a conqueror.
These noble Bereans take us to the law and to the testimony, and when we come to that bar with them, their main business is to dispute us out of the law written in our hearts, and out of the testimony of a good conscience: and thus the kingdom stands only in word, and that is to be exalted above the power, This turning things upside down God esteems as potter's clay, Isaiah, xxix. 16; and toes part of iron and part of clay, is a kingdom partly strong, and partly broken, Dan. ii. 42; and they are too strong, in the head, but not broken enough in the heart. The first step these gentlemen take in their apostacy is, to cavil against the power of godliness: it is a rare thing to find one of those foxes in the Lord's corn-field, without a coal of contention at his tail. The business of a contentious man is to kindle strife; and Solomon says, we must spit upon it; but when we shall put it out, I know not. Let not their fiery zeal deceive you; if a man gets a notion into his head, he will defend it with something; and if he has not got spiritual weapons. we may expect him to defend it with the fist of wickedness, or with the tongue of the crafty.
A Christian who enjoys communion with Christ is compared to a dove, and his lonely moments are often the sweetest; but an Antinomian is like a seagull, the busiest in a storm. However, God allows us to contend with them until they are seated in the scorners chair, and then to leave them as irreclaimable: "He that reproveth a scorner, getteth himself a blot." Look back, my brother, on all in D. who ran so well in appearance, but are now stumbling at the divinity of our Lord, that Rock of offence; look, I say, was there one of them all, who could give an account of the pardon of sin, of a godly sorrow, and of the witness of God's Spirit? A broken heart, and a daily cross were wanting.
On a proper reflection you may say with the Psalmist, when he looked back upon the profession of Ahithopbel, he had no changes, therefore he feared not God. I need make no apology, knowing that your regard for me will oblige you to spread your skirt over every fault. I will send you an account how we go on in London in my next. Oh, my brother, the sweetest religion is Christ crucified in a broken heart! Be this thy lot and mine.
I remain affectionately
Your's in gospel ties,
W. H. S. S.