Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
TO N. MY BELOVED SON.
I wish thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth; and that in this, and in every thing, thou mayest commit thy ways unto the Lord, and he shall direct thy steps; leave it with him, and he shall establish thy thoughts: wait, look, and expect, and he shall bring it to pass.
But now to comply with my son's request, in giving him my thoughts of ministerial qualifications. In doing this, I do not intend to arraign thee at my bar, but shew thee how I have arraigned myself at God's bar. There are some who run to this work without being sent of God; and they may seem to outstep him that is, because they, like Ahimaaz, run by the way of the plain; but whether Cushi's road be rough or smooth, he has got the tidings in his mouth, 2 Sam. xviii. 23. These forward men are, like Noah's raven, the first that go out, and the last that come back; for they often end with the world: but we must imitate the dove; go to the everlasting and evergreen olive-tree, and take one of those leaves which are for the healing of the nations; and if we carry the medicines, we shall be found out by those who have need of healing. But a man who runs unsent of God, cannot expect God to screen his head in the day of battle; he is likely to get no better answer from God in time of trial than the prophet did when he fled from Jezebel to Horeb; "What dost thou here, Elijah?"
A gospel minister has some of the same trying work, to make his calling to the ministry clear, as he had to make his effectual calling and eternal election sure; and when a man has done this, he has full liberty to appeal, both to God and man, as Moses did, when rebels invaded his office, and rebelled against his authority, "I have not done them of mine own mind." God sent an awful judgment to convince all Israel that Moses was no impostor.
A minister must not be a novice, 1 Timothy, iii.6. It doth not mean an ignorant man in natural things; for God chose an illiterate Peter to confound a wise Sanhedrin; an ignorant man made wise unto salvation, is often God's instrument to confound the wise in their own conceit , but it means, he must not be a novice in grace, in experience, or in spiritual things; he must have humbling grace to counterbalance his spiritual pride, or else he will be lifted up as the devil was, and fall into condemnation for pride as the devil did. He must be "the husband of one wife," no polygamist, 1 Tim. iii. 2. What shall a soldier of Christ do with a troop of wives? Moses had but one wife, and she was trouble enough; but when she stood in the way of God's command, he got rid of her; for if she would not be an help-meet, she ought not to be an hinderance, Exodus, iv. 25, 26; and xviii. 2. He must be one "given to hospitality;" given to it by grace; he must put on, as the beloved of God, bowels of mercy, as the bowels of God have sounded toward him; and feed Christ in his members, if he be hungry; and give him drink, if he be thirsty; and take him in, if he be a stranger: this hospitality convinceth the world that we do not make a gain of godliness, nor trust in uncertain riches. "Not greedy of filthy lu cre." No; for how can he be a preacher of the true God, who is an idolater himself? "Not given to wine." One who is not drunken with wine, or applause; one who thinks soberly and lives soberly.
No chapter in the Bible is so full to the purpose in hand, as the eighth chapter of Leviticus. The consecration of Aaron has been the bar at which I have often arraigned myself. And here observe what God says: "And he [Aaron] shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God;" and now I will shew you how Moses, in God's stead, consecrated Aaron, who, as a minister, was to be a mouth for God. "Take Aaron," Lev. viii. 2; here is his call. "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." Moses washed him, Lev. viii. 6. If Christ wash us not, we have no part with him. But, says Paul, he saved us from our guilt, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing us by the Holy Ghost.
He put on his coat, Lev. viii. 7. We must be clad with zeal, and with the whole armour of God, before we can be called priests clothed with salvation, Psalm cxxxii. 16. Gird him with a girdle, Lev. viii. 7. This girdle was typical of truth, which is to swaddle our minds, that we give not a loose to vanity; to be carnally minded is to be dead; to be earthly minded, or covetous, is to be brutal and idolatrous. A mind corrupted with error is a mind in conjunction with Satan; such carnal minds conceive sin, bring forth iniquity, and increase transgressors among men. We must ever draw the sword of God at such, for we must not suffer a witch to live, Exod. xxii. 18. The Lord preserve my son from these things, and from a loose profession? To be spiritually minded is life and peace; "Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end."
Clothed him with a robe, Lev. viii. 7. We must be clothed with a robe of imputed righteousness: all our righteousness are as filthy rags, and no ambassador of the King of kings must appear at court in rags; no, nor yet take the Saviour's new cloth to patch his old fig-leaved garment: this is to make the rent worse than before, and to be guilty of spiritual theft. God clothes his ministers as he did Isaiah, with the robe of his righteousness; and we must bring forth this robe to every returning prodigal. This righteousness shall justify us, and all them that believe in it. "God saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness." The spirit of Christ in Noah preached imputed righteousness to the antediluvians a hundred and twenty years, whose souls are now in prison, and under the sentence of condemnation, I Pet. iii. 18, 20. A carnal mind is like the spider, turning every mystery into bane; and has no covering but her own web, Isaiah, lix. 5, 6; but we know the leprosy is both in the warp and the woof; therefore wear no garments of linen and woollen together, Lev. xix. 19.
Put an ephod upon him, Lev. viii. 7. The ephod being the outer garment holds forth a holy, innocent life and walk, under the influence of God's Spirit: "Woe to them," says God, "who cover with a covering, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin." In this ephod God was consulted: we must lift up holy hands at the throne of grace. The ephod was bound to him by the girdle. If truth braces our minds, our feet, tongue and hands will be kept within bounds. All external shew of sanctity, without the spirit and word of truth, is only the varnish of a painted sepulchre.
Put the breastplate on him, Lev. viii. 8. The breastplate of faith and love, and the breastplate of righteousness, are recommended by Paul. We must in this world be judged by the law, and be justified by the faith of the gospel, before we can be said to pass from death to life, and have a right to the promise of never coming into condemnation; which we have when we are justified by grace in the court of our own conscience. When we are arraigned by a just God, at the bar of the law written in our hearts, we soon see our sins, and feel the sentence of death due to us on that account; and are brought at length to own it just. Then we begin to hear a still, small voice, found behind us in an act of sovereign grace; God turns our face towards it, and the Holy Ghost enlightens our understandings to see Christ crucified, the end of the law for righteousness, clearly revealed, and freely held forth in an unconditional promise. We see a suitableness in him, and feel our need of him; but the Spirit convinceth us of unbelief; therefore we eagerly catch at him, but cannot bring him in. We see what a lovely, sweet, blessed friend of sinners he is to those who are interested in him; we fix our longing eyes on him, woo him, but he appears coy, and stands at a distance; then the thoughts of our having sinned against him, and fear of missing him, lays our souls on the rack, and we perpetually keep sinking, until the Spirit of God influences the mind with divine confidence. Then again we attempt to feel after him; and finding strength in the hand of faith, catch fast hold of him, crying out, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." The hand of faith holds this Jew by the skirt, and the eye of faith peeps up at his face; and there we see a reconciled God glorified and appeased in the marred visage of a crucified Saviour. But he seeming to hang back, the Spirit of God helps our infirmities, and dictates a petition: "O Lord, forsake me not utterly." At last he yields, saying, "Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me;" and into the heart we bring him, with all that he has and is, crying out, "I had utterly fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." And from that moment we are as sure never to be damned, as we are that there is a God in heaven. And now our eyes prevent the night watches, that we may converse with him in his word, fearing to sleep, lest he steal away unawares; and if at any time we chance to sleep, and in the morning find him gone, we are like Samson when he shook himself, and found that his God was departed, because the tempter comes in his room. This sets us to search the scriptures for armour and artillery; and imputed righteousness we soon find is a breastplate sufficient to repel the force of every condemning sentence. A little of this experience makes a man a sound preacher of imputed righteousness and gospel faith.
"Put in the breastplate urim and thummim," Levit. viii. 8 light and perfection. To consult God by urim, is to go, by the light of the Spirit, to the Father of lights, and fountain of light; and so to pray to him by the Spirit, and with the understanding also. A preacher of the gospel must be turned from darkness to light, before his light can shine before men, or he be called, with any propriety, a burning and a shining light; and thou must have thy candle lighted by a coal from Christ the true altar; no strange fire, no; nor any flame kindled by the devil, who sears the sinner's conscience as with a hot iron; this, and a stony heart, under his influence, cast the sparks of pride into a fleshly mind; vainly blowing it up like a will-o'th'-wisp. Such are the Arminians, wandering stars, now shining here, now there; how is a vessel of mercy to make her port under such wavering planets? However, this I clearly see, the farther they go the darker they get. I know several who are sunk so deep in despondency, that neither sun, moon, nor stars have appeared on their souls for many years together; and no small tempest lies on them; but it is meet that such, who keep hacking the cable of truth, should feel the need of an anchor of hope; and those that wilfully depart from realities, should end in a fable. "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
Thummim signifies perfection. To consult God by thummim is to go to him in a perfect Saviour; viewing one's self complete in Christ, and stripped of all confidence in the flesh: to be like Noah, perfect in his Generation, is to be of the spiritual fraternity of God by regeneration. To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, is to be changed and renewed by the Holy Ghost, and to bear the spiritual image of God the Son; our heavenly Father being spirit only, and not flesh and blood as we are. All perfection in the flesh, which we daily hear of, is an absolute denial of the dreadful fall of man; a giving God the lie in his wory of truth, and a contradiction of the whole cloud of witnesses, It leads us, first, to self-admiration; secondly, to independency of God; thirdly, to self-confidence; and, fourthly, to self-deification. These were the leading steps that Satan took when he left his own habitation; and when truth detected him for trusting in a lie he rebelled, and aimed at divine sovereignty; adding this rebellion to his sin, all holiness and happiness left him; he was arraigned, and charged with folly, Job, iv. 18; cast out of heaven into the bottomless pit; bound with the chains of his sin; and reserved to take a final judgment, with all his angelic associates; and with all that part of the human race, who should credit his suggestions, tread in his steps, and believe and die in his lie, Jude, verse 6; Isaiah, xiv. 12; Job, iv. 18; Heb. ii. 5-8; Prov. v. 22.
By what I have said, we may see who is the author of this wonderful doctrine of sinless perfection Howbeit, let us walk in the Spirit; and mind the things of the Spirit; and he shall change our vile bodies, and fashion them like the glorious body of Christ: then all mortality shall be swallowed up, when he who only hath immortality shall appear; all that die in gospel faith leave their flesh to rest in hope, Psalm xvi. 9. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;" therefore all who are made perfect in the flesh, all who trust in the flesh, glory in the flesh, walk in the flesh, and die in the flesh, shall awake in the image of Satan, Psalm lxxiii. 20; and that to everlasting shame and contempt, Dan. xii. 2. Such doctrines are dishonourable to the divine sanctifying unction from above, who alone anoints, sanctifies, and makes souls meet for heaven. However, if these dead flies, by self-holiness, endeavour to render the Divine Physician's unction unsavoury, it is just in God to let them fly into the devil's web, Eccles. x. 1. But you, my son, have not so learned Christ.
I will send thee the rest of my thoughts in the next letter; fare thee well: may the God of Abraham, before whom I have walked, bless thee with "the precious things of heaven;" even "the precious fruits brought forth by the Sun," of Righteousness; "and for the precious things put forth by the moon," the church; "and for the chief things of the ancient mountains," of eternal election; "and for the precious things of the lasting hills," of glorification; "and for the precious things of the earth, and fullness thereof;" together with the breasts of divine consolation, and the blessings of Zion's fruitful womb; and may "the good will of him that dwelt in the bush" be on the top of the head of him who, by grace, is separated from his fleshly brethren, Deut. xxxiii. 13-16; while I remain thy joyful and affectionate father in Christ Jesus.
W. H. William Huntington