Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
My dear Brother and Fellow-labourer,
YOURS I received, but cannot agree with your sentiments in this particular. I never can be brought to believe, that a man of eminent learning, and natural abilities, while he remains destitute of the sovereign grace of God, can be of any use to the household of faith. Christ's kingdom is spiritual, his Gospel is a mystery, and his household is faithful; and how can a carnal earthly infidel be of any real service to such a hidden mystical spiritual body?
I believe every creature can only beget its like: an Arian may beget an Arian, an Antinomian may beget an Antinomian, a bigot may beset a bigot, and a legalist may beget a legalist; but I never will believe that a serpent can beget a dove, or that a goat can beget a lamb. A divine offspring, from a carnal conception, must be a child of confusion; and all such, instead of being the salt of the earth, are but the fuel of it; as the gigantic race of antediluvian professors witness. They are called mighty men, monsters in mind, avid monsters in practice, or sinners against the Holy Ghost, whom the Spirit disdained to take possession of, or always to strive with: though their fathers were sons of God by profession, yet their mothers were the offspring of him who was of that wicker one, the devil, and slew his brother, only because he was righteous. It is impossible for the spirit of Mammon and the spirit of Christ to be co-partners in the work of God: God says of them, the wickedness was great. And although it be said, that many will say, in that day, "We have cast out devils, and done many wonderful works," yet casting out devils is not conversion: the devil must not only be cast out, but Christ must be brought in, and Satan kept out of a soul truly converted: God says of them that run unsent, "they shall not profit the people at all."
A man brought up at an academy, if he is studious, of quick wit, and has a natural genius, may with these human abilities blaze for a time, and appear in the atmosphere of the Christian world, as a comet does in the starry heavens; but, if grace prevent not, he will, sooner or later, drop into some flood of ungodliness; and we often see the false zeal of such soon quenched; and such are too frequently seen afterwards to appear under the direction of the prince of the power of the air, as wandering, stars, only to guide the vessels of wrath, that are laden with error, and bound for destruction, Rev. viii. 10. I have known the awful apostacy of such almost ready to electrify the building of mercy, Acts, v. 10, 11; poor, humble souls, who have trembled at the sound of their fall, have shewn me several persons, who they affirmed were converted by the instrumentality of such men. I thought it at that time prudent to conceal my private opinion; and to watch this wonderful progeny; and when I have got into company with them, have been more confirmed in my sentiments than ever; for not one of them all appeared to me to be a proper child: They seemed with big heads, Prov. x. 8; rickety joints, 1 Kings, xviii. 21; wild, unscriptural notions, I Pet. i. 18; confused ideas; and a language half Hebrew, and half Ashdod: I thought if Nehemiah had been present, he would have plucked off their hair, and cursed them in the name of the Lord, Neh. xiii. 24, 25. However, I fear all such children of Zion will instead of well set hair, appear in baldness, Isaiah, iii. 24.
This last letter of yours has called upon me to explain my secret thoughts upon a subject which I have never mentioned to any soul; I therefore hope you will excuse me if I do not fall in with your judgment, in the passages which I intend to comment on; they appear to me full to the purpose, and sufficient to clear the point in hand, Leviticus, xxi. 16. "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, saying, whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations, that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God."
Blemish signifies a foul spot, a stain, a thing corrupted, or a defection; and such preachers we read of, 2 Peter, ii. 10: who are said to walk after the flesh, in the lusts of uncleanness; to despise the mild government of the King of kings; and to presume on the mercy of God, though they walk in the flesh; such are free-will mongers, who can speak against the dignity and sovereignty of the incomprehensible Trinity, and that without fear. They speak evil of the things of the Spirit, which they understand not; their eyes are filled with adultery; they beguile unstable souls; they are called the followers of Balaam; wells without water; clouds carried away with a tempest; and yet preach great swelling words of vanity: yea, they preach liberty to others while they are the servants of corruption, Satan leading them captive at his will. These are spots and blemishes, says Peter; they dishonour the blessed gospel; they pollute the church of Christ, and sully the glory of God in his righteous cause.
A blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous." Not a blind man shall offer the bread of his God; that is, he shall not preach Christ, the bread of life. A blind man seeth not the depth of his corrupt heart, nor feels the plague of it; and such will deny the dreadful fall of man. A blind man seeth not the spirituality of God's law, and therefore can never handle the law lawfully; for he understands not what he says, or whereof he affirms. A blind man sees not the holiness, justice, and unchangeableness of God, in his law; and as he is a stranger to the terrors of God, he is not a fit person to persuade men, 2 Cor. v. II. How can a blind man see the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ? 2 Cor. iii. 18. And if he has not seen Christ for himself, how shall he see him for another? He must be looking to Jesus, before he can point him out. All that a blind man can say is only, lo, here! and lo, there! and all the establishment flocks can get under such shepherds, is only to halt between two opinions.
"Not a lame man!" It doth not mean a broken spirit; no: for God blesseth him who goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed, and says, he shall doubtless return with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him, Psalm cx xvi. 6: but it means a man broken in judgment, Hos. v. 11. What can a crippled judgment do with a divine parable? "The legs of the lame are not equal, so is a parable in the mouth of fools," Proverbs, xxvi. 7. A minister of Christ is to strengthen the weak hands, and to confirm the feeble knees, Isaiah, xxxv. 3; but how shall he do it, who, like Mephibosheth, is lame in both his feet? If he has not made straight paths for his own feet, he can only turn others out of the way of healing, Heb. xii. 12, 13. Christ sends his servants to bring in the halt, the lame, and the blind, Luke, xiv. 21; but we are not to set about this work with our carnal crutches; the Holy Ghost makes us sing like a Philomel, and leap as a hart, Isa. xxxv. 6.
"Or he that hath a flat nose." A man with a stoppage in his nostrils cannot distinguish an odour from a stench. Zion's garments smell of myrrh; but if Christ never breathed the breath of eternal life in his nostrils, he will not distinguish the odoriferous grace of God from the infernal perfumes of erroneous hypocrites, Prov. vii. 17. He must have a nose in the body mystical; "If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?" This I know, if he cannot smell out the gracious, the gracious will soon smell out him, Isaiah, iii. 24.
Not a man who hath any thing superfluous, verse the eighteenth. Not one in Popish principles, who has got works of supereroagation; that is, more works than the law of God requires. Not a man perfect in the flesh, for he has more perfection than the gospel gives or requires, Galatians, iii. 3. Not a man wise in his own conceit, for he is wise above what is written, 1 Cor. iv. 6. Not a man that holds universal redemption; because he has got more redemption than the Bible, and will apply that to the goats which belongs to the sheep only, John, x. 15. Not a Pharisee, for he is self-righteous overmuch, Eccles. vii. 16. Not a free-thinker; because a preacher of the gospel is to bring in every thought to the obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. x. 5. Not a free agent; because he is to preach free, sovereign grace, and its reigning power, Isaiah ii, 11, 17. Not a self-sufficient man; for he will cry down the sovereignty of God, Luke, xix. 14; and justify the wicked, which is an abomination, Prov. xvii. 15. Not a man swimming away only with a flood of natural affections; for he will think God is just like himself, Psalm 1. 21; and will preach the eternal love of the Godhead as universally fixed on all the human race: this is denying the Bible, which tells us thousands are in hell already, Ezekiel, xxxi. 16, 17; xxxii. 21, 22; and not one there but the object of his hatred. All these principles we bring into the world with us, and they are a superfluity of naughtiness: these old things must be done away, before we can be new creatures. A man in the old Adam is but a very poor divine at best, and will be a bad instrument to proclaim the necessity of a new heart, a new spirit, and self-denial.
"Or a man that is broken footed, or broken handed." A man broken handed cannot work, and he that is broken footed cannot walk. A priest under the law was to receive and kill the sacrifice, and to wave it before the Lord; and if it was offered for himself, he must lay his hands upon the head of it, and confess his sins over it to God; he was to go to God to inquire for the people, and then to come out and lift up his hands, and bless them in the name of the Lord; therefore a ceremonial priest needed both feet and hands; and a gospel minister must be both a wayfaring man and a labourer, 2 Tim. ii. 6; he must walk by faith, 2 Cor. v. 7; and by faith lay hold on eternal life: Free-will is a withered arm, Isaiah, lxiv. 7; and fleshly confidence is a foot out of joint, Prov. xxv. 19.
Not a man crooked-backed, verse the twentieth. Surely it is not a deformed body that is meant in this passage; God is no respecter of persons, neither does he delight in any man's leg's. Paul the apostle was a deformed man, and the devil tempted him enough about it, Gal. iv. 14; and fools often despised him for it, 2 Cor. x. 10. Every unrenewed man is one of Adam's crooked generation; and his ways are as crooked as himself, Prov. ii. 15. The worst crook in man is his serpentine, froward, stubborn, and perverse will; if his will be resigned to the will of God, he is an upright man; but if he is self-willed, he is a cursed child, therefore a very improper channel to convey blessings to others, If the self-willed are to be scattered in Israel, and divided in Jacob, Gen. xlix. 5-7, they are not very fit persons to call the elect to the unity of faith. Shew me a free-will person, and I will slow you a rebel; yea, a rebel against the sovereignty of the King, the laws of his kingdom, and every loyal subject of it. He must not be crook-backed, nor bowed down with a legal yoke; if he is a minister of Christ, he must go upright, Lev. xxvi. 13 ; 2 Chron. xxix. 34.
Not a dwarf shall offer the bread of his God, Lev. xxi. 20. Surely it doth not mean one of low stature in a gospel sense; if it did, Paul would have been excluded, for he was very small, or else they would not have been able to have got him out at a window, or let him down in a basket, Acts, ix. 25. A dwarf is one stinted by illness; or rickety, for want of good nursing. I have seen poor infants crawling on their knees at three years old, when, if they had been properly nursed, they would have been on their feet at fifteen months. We have many bad mothers in our days, who, like the ostrich, are hardened against their young, and leave them for the sun and sand to hatch; forgetting that, if they lose the use of their limbs, every foot may crush them, Job, xxxix. 15. Many such dwarfs we have in Zion's family, and it is much owing to bad nursing. Some nurses live on milk themselves, and use nothing but milk for others; these are unskillful in the word of righteousness; they are babes; and a family nursed by babes must be kept all their years in infancy. Hence the complaint ? "As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them."
Some there are who are afraid to reprove, or rebuke, for fear of distressing the weak; though God has commanded it, in order to make them sound in the faith, Titus, i. 13. Others are afraid to preach up the doctrine of God's election, lest their followers should grow licentious; as if the predestination of God, which is for our eternal welfare, were nothing but a trap. I know some who seldom mention the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, for fear of crying down inherent righteousness, and making them slothful with regard to the works of righteousness; but if all self-righteousness be no better than filthy rags, the less we have of it the better: rags are not worth speaking of, therefore we ought to make mention of thee Lord's righteousness, and of his only, Psalm lxxi. 16. And with respect to good works, God has promised to direct their work in truth, and to work in them both to will and to do. Some do not choose to preach up too much of the final perseverance of the saint, lest it should stop them from striving; but fleshly strivings for mastery will not be crowned, because such do not strive lawfully. Nothing on earth is so bad for seeking sinners as a legal ministry; it keeps poor souls in perpetual bondage. Legal travail is attended with no growth; for how should a soul grow till it is born again? Legal fear makes a soul stick in the womb, Hos. xiii. 13; but "perfect love casteth out fear."
I once was in company with a woman, who sits under a very legal preacher, and her husband is in the same spirit; she was sorely wounded in her conscience with the terrors of God, and in her greatest distress she took herself to private prayer, and earnestly besieged the throne of grace; the kingdom suffered violence, and she took it by force, Matthew, xi. 12. Being filled with light, love, and liberty, she broke forth in raptures to her husband, and told him what she felt: this burning lamp so dazzled his eyes, that he suspected the flame to come from the infernal regions, and told her she was deluded; but she continued still to blaze. He went and fetched other members of the society, and they declared the same; then the minister was desired to examine her; he also declared she was deluded. So she pinned her faith to the priest's judgment, and resisted the Holy Ghost, taking his influences for false comfort; and very soon she lost all her joy and peace in believing; and to this day, for aught I know, sits in the shadow of death. Job calls this rebelling against the light, for such know not the way thereof, Job, xxiv. 13. Milton calls it forcing the Spirit of grace itself, and binding his comfort, Liberty; and I think none but a fool will call this preaching up the new birth. That man who crushes the very vitals of godliness, or knocks the new creature at head as soon as it appears, is but a poor preacher of the kingdom of God. I told her if she ever recovered her comforts again, she must smuggle them.
These elder sons, who never transgressed at any time, cannot bear such music and dancing; they want a kid, as a reward for their labour; but they may cry "my leanness, my leanness," long enough before they shall get it. The shackles of a slave, and the wings of a dove, are two contrary things that will no more unite together than iron and clay. I know several souls at this time, who have long sat under these dwarfs, till their distress of soul has driven them elsewhere for food; and when God has set them at liberty, many arrows have been discharged at them from the pulpit, and many bitter words from the legal flock, only because Christ had made them free indeed. But I hope they will stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free, and not be again entangled with the yoke of bondage. A dwarf shall not approach to offer the bread of his God.
No man with a blemish in his eyes, Lev. xxi. 20, shall be a priest, because he cannot see afar off, therefore can never be a proper person for a seer, while his own understanding is hood-winked, Matt. xv. 14. Not a man with the scurvy, no, if his own blood be foul, he is liable to infect others; he must be purged with hyssop himself, and then he may speak as God's mouth, from his own experience: "I will cleanse their blood, that I have not cleansed, for the Lord dwelleth in Zion." Not a man scabbed, Lev. xxi. 20. No, one scabbed sheep will spoil the whole flock, as say those who speak in proverbs; and a scabby shepherd is a reproach to the flock. God knows we have all too many spots; but this teacheth humility; and God keeping them from breaking out, shews us where our strength lies. The worst running sores are errors propagated, and the worst dry scabs are errors fixed. We may pronounce such utterly unclean, for the plague is in their head, Lev. xiii. 44.
A man that hath big stones broken, Lev. xxi. 20, 21, shall not be a priest. Be not offended at my quoting the passage; "Every word of God is pure," Proverbs, xxx. 5. In a gospel sense, this cannot mean a person bodily deficient. No; the eunuch is not to call himself a dry tree, Isa. lvi. 3. Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake, Matt. xix. 12; and he was one of this sort, to whom God sent a personal message, Acts, viii. 34. Secret members are in scripture called uncomely parts, 1 Cor. xii. 23; yet where they are instrumental in bringing forth a numerous progeny, there is put on them more abundant honour. A barren womb was a dreadful reproach among men, though God is displeased with them who evil intreat the barren that bears not, Job, xxiv. 21. Sometimes God has denounced a man childless, in a way of judgment, and sometimes not, Jer. xxii. 30: there must be spiritual secrets in the body mystical, in order to increase the spiritual Israel of God, I Cor. xii. 22-26. I read of the secret of God's eternal election being with the righteous, Psalm xxv. 14; Prov. iii. 32; Jer. xxiii . 18; and I read also of the incorruptible seed of God being in the souls of real believers, 1 Peter, i. 23; 1 John, iii. 9. I likewise read of God's irrevocable decrees being pregnant, and bringing forth, Zeph. ii. 2; therefore that man who denies the irrevocable decrees of God, denies Zion's fruitful womb, whose offspring is to be as the dew of heaven, Ps. cx. 3; and that man who calls himself a father in Christ, and yet is without the election of God in his heart, is no more than a spiritual eunuch and shall be dealt with as a dry tree. When poor Zion has no better instrumental fathers than these, she may be said to grind under a millstone, Job, xxxi. 10; but shall never be said to bring forth three measures of meal with true leaven in it, or a body, soul and spirit, with the grace of the Trinity in them, Luke, xiii. 21.
Errors occasion a miscarrying womb, and mock the babes of Christ with a dry breast. I have been in company with many of these strange daughters of Jerusalem, some of whom groaned, like souls in real spiritual travail, but it was only a false conception; and if they seemed to bring forth any thing, all the divines in the world could not tell what it was; for there was neither feature, gender, nor member; and who can call it a new creature, without applying the phrase to a snail? Psalm lviii. 8. I believe a man with an alarm in his conscience, may sound an alarm till many find themselves at Sinai; but if God send not a freeman to sound a jubilee trump, they will compass that mount long enough, Deut. i. 6. A man with the fire of wrath in his heart may cry, fire, till many be awakened; but if salvation by grace be not preached, they will, like Lot's sons, lie down in the flames. It is true, many unbelievers will say, "We have cast out devils in thy name;" and though they have, yet it is never said that they have begotten souls to Christ, in the bonds of the gospel: no; the golden oil goes in a golden pipe, Zech. iv. 12. A real spiritual convert is God's seal; but he sets not his seal of approbation to the work of a liar, however Satan may plead this; for I read he has gone out of his own head: it is true, the Spirit spake by Balaam, but he only used his tongue; he let Satan rein in his heart, but made him lie still till he had done with him; his heart was at the high place, while the Holy Ghost used his organs of speech; and, if he had pleased, he could have done all this by the mouth of the ass; for the ass was more honest and reverend than her rider.
Believe me, I do not speak against the learning of any spiritual labourer in Christ's vineyard: no; I love them dearly, and can see eye to eye with them in a measure; and often hear them own that God is a free agent, and can raise up an instrument to be a spiritual preacher of the gospel, who can proclaim light, life, pardon, peace, love, and liberty, without being, a master of arts: and I know astronomy, geography, philosophy, anatomy, botany, c., have little to do with the conscience of a day-labouring man.
God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith;" therefore he that preaches the wisdom this world teaches, makes the cross of Christ of none effect to such, and can be no better to them than a barbarian; and that man who presumes to make human learning an essential in the ministry, condemns the greatest part of the prophets and apostles; yea, and even Christ himself, John, vii. 15; and such may be ashamed, for they cast a reflection on the wisdom of the Holy Ghost, who makes use of the foolish to confound the wise.
About twelve months ago, a young man offered himself to preach at Margaret-street chapel for me: he came with a deal of pomposity, and in robes, as if he belonged to the establishment; and knowing me to be an illiterate man, he chose a text for the purpose, and entertained my hearers about Moses being instructed in all the wisdom of Egypt, Acts, vii. 22. So the wisdom of Egypt was set against apostolic ignorance, Acts, iv. 13; and what success he could expect I shall leave to your judgment. As the word of God has not commanded Egyptian wisdom as an essential to the sacerdotal function, I think he might as well have spent his trifling artillery at the devil, as at my ignorance of school learning.
If Moses was forty years old before it came into his mind to visit his brethren, Acts, vii. 23; and he had been all that time a pupil in Egypt, it is evident his tuition kept him from the church of Christ. I know not who was the chief tutor in Egypt; but it is certain God was not; for he says, when he went out into the land of Egypt he heard a language that he understood not, Psalm lxxxi. 5; therefore he brought his chosen out from among that people of a strange language, Psalm cxiv. 1. If my congregation had been as blind as the preacher, they might have gone away persuaded that none could preach the mystery of the cross, unless they were qualified by magic art; but they saw through him; so he had his work, and they and they had theirs. He cried up the wisdom of Egypt, and they cried down the vanity of him.
God called Amos, the herdsman, to prophesy in the king's chapel, Amos, vii. 13; and Peter from the fishing-boat to confound the Jewish doctor: and I was called from the coal-barge, to tell sinners that Jesus is risen indeed, and hath appeared to me. And this advocate for gypsies wisdom was called, or ran from the apothecary's shop; but why he should use his pestle against my coal-sack, I know not; however, if men of supposed learning lift up their heels, and kick against God in the choice of his instruments, they may expect to be checked; for whosoever cries up the wisdom of this world in a pulpit, only exalteth folly; and God will visit it with a rod. He keeps "a whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back." I deny not but a man of gifts and learning may be of use to inform a person's judgment, or to explain the meaning of a text in the original language; but I never will believe a well without water, a cloud without rain, an instrument without life, or a lamp without oil, can convey what they have not got themselves. God uses not such instruments to convey the precious gifts of the Holy Ghost; the golden oil flows through the golden pipes, Zech. iv. 12. Our faith must not stand in man's wisdom; for God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and make their understanding foolishness. And if the foundation be destroyed, we all know the superstructure must fall.
I did not think to have sent you so long a letter, but I know you will bear with me. Tender my respects to your wife and family, while I remainAffectionately thine in the Lord,