Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
My Dear Son,
YOURS I received with great delight I approve much of your letter; you seem therein to put away childish things, and appear quite a man in divinity. I shall not answer that letter yet, as I intend to continue my comment on this chapter, which I hope You will not be displeased at. You know we have many ministers, who appear in the pulpit scripture-corrupters; therefore, do not marvel if God turns coalheavers into commentators.
Thummim and Urim, or light and perfection, we proved to be Christ, the true light, and that Saviour who is perfect; so let the Thummim and Urim be with the Father's Holy One, whom he hath proved at Massah, or with temptation; and with whose unparalleled love to sinners. Justice strove at the waters of Meribah, or with whom he disputed and quarrelled, Deut. xxxi. 8, until vindictive Justice had spent his shafts in the Saviour, and retributive Justice appeared in the behalf of sinners. "And he put the mitre on his head," Lev. viii. 9. This mitre was ornamental. The best ornament for a minister is a head stored with instructions from God, Prov. i. 8, 9. That minister, who cordially embraces Christ, our wisdom, in his affections, and extols him with his tongue, shall never know the want of an ornament of grace to his head, Prov. iv. 8, 9. " Even upon his forefront did he put the golden plate." Saving, purifying, and tried faith, which is more precious than gold which perisheth, will case over our foreheads with divine fortitude against every opposition; even as the adamant is harder than a flint, so doth God make his servants' foreheads against the foreheads of the wicked; without this plate we shall be awed by the fear of man, Ezek. iii. 9.
"The Holy Crown." A crown is a head ornament of state worn by sovereign princes. Christ hath made us kings and priests unto God, Rev. i. 6: and as kings we must reign over the flesh, and keep it in subjection; lest, after we have preached reigning grace to others, sin reign over us, 1 Cor. ix. 27. It is requisite also that devils should be subject to us, through Christ's name, Luke, x. 17. It must be soul-distressing work to preach salvation from the tyranny of Satan, while the preacher is led captive by him at his will; but we have some such living contradictions. If Satan reign in us, we must not pretend to pull this cockatrice out of his den; if we put our hand there, he will ask us that old, taunting, insolent question, though coupled with an honest confession, Jesus I know, but who are ye?" Acts, xix, 14, 15. That soul must be weaned from the love of sin, and refreshed with the breasts of divine consolation, that plays on the hole of the asp, Isaiah, xi. 8. A preacher who reigns over the world by faith, can with comfort preach that faith which overcometh it: this world is like fire and water, excellent subjects, but terrible sovereigns. If the Lord crown my son with lovingkindness and tender mercy he will be able to preach sovereign mercy to others; and the love of Christ will constrain him to it; and the seal of God communicated to souls by our preaching faith, is a crown put on our labours, and a soul-satisfying proof of our being ministers of the Spirit; and we may call such sealed souls our joy and crown in the Lord, Phil. iv. 1.
"And Moses took the anointing oil." A type of the Holy Ghost; which is the promise of the Father, received by Jesus without measure, and shed abroad, in a measure, in every believing heart. "And anointed the tabernacle, and all that was therein." This anointing was typical of the oil of gladness, that first anointed Christ to his kingly and priestly office; and all believers who are in him, the true temple of God, and in which God dwells, are anointed with the same oil; yea, every vessel of mercy, from the bowls to the flagons, to sanctify them, Isaiah, xxii. 24.
"And he sprinkled the altar seven times," Lev. viii. 11. This altar was a type of the divinity of Christ, which sanctified the humanity, and stamped infinite dignity on all he did; though he was born of a woman, and born under the law, yet he thought it no robbery to be equal with God the Father, Phil. ii. 6. The humanity being united to the Godhead of Christ, made his obedience sufficient to honour the law, and to be a divine and everlasting righteousness to justify us poor sinners. It was through the eternal Spirit he offered himself to God; and his humanity being offered on the altar of his divinity, his blood was sufficient to appease the wrath of God, and purge us from sin, Heb. ix. 14. The altar was sprinkled seven times with oil, to shew that the seven Spirits of God, or all the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost, were upon Christ, Rev. i. 4; Isaiah, xi. 2. This blessed Jesus was sanctified and sent into the world by God the Father, who anointed God the Son with God the Holy Ghost; and by his own blood Christ sanctified himself, and that for our sakes, that we might be sanctified through the truth: and we must, as ministers, sanctify this Lord God of hosts in our hearts, and let him be our fear, and let him be our dread, Isaiah, viii. 13. We are said to sanctify him, when we preach him as the Holy One of Israel, by the Holy Ghost, and judge him holy in all his ways. We are said to justify him, when we preach him as the only righteousness of every true believer, and judge him righteous in all his sovereign acts of mercy and judgment. And we are said to glorify him by the Spirit when we worship him, acknowledge ourselves indebted to his grace and providence for all that we have and are; as also when we fear him as a sovereign, honour him as the everlasting Father, and love him as a friend; and give all the glory of our salvation to him.
"And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head." Before the apostles were to go forth to teach all nations, they were to be endued with power from on high; they were to wait for the promise of the Father; and on the day of Pentecost our divine mediator poured that sacred unction on them all. "Ye have an unction," says John. "Now he that hath anointed us is God," says Paul; and has the Lord anointed thee, my son? Thou mayest burn with a false zeal, and shine with a false light, but wilt never burn with love to Christ, until this oil burn in thee. Begin not to build till thou hast got materials from heaven; all daubers with untempered mortar, however high imagination may carry the building, will surely leave it ridiculous, as the Babel-builders did, and cause many to mock, saying, "This man began to build, and was not able to finish;" and the reason is, because he began at his own expense. Thou mayest sound an alarm from Sinai, and apparently alarm many by crying fire, and then trump them all to sleep again, as Lot did his sons. "Up, up, get you out, is not sufficient; Lot was led out by the arm of Omnipotence, and we must preach the arm of the Lord. No man can preach the law lawfully till he is made a partaker of the Holy Ghost. The law is spiritual, and what does a carnal man know of a spiritual law? I know it is common among Arminians to say, "Up, and be doing; arise, and shake yourselves from the dust;" as if they were the resurrection and the life, and could command the dead. However, Peter went another way to work; he told sinners, such as he had, he gave them; he lent them his hand of faith, and told them Jesus made them whole; he declared the faith of Jesus gave them their soundness. To cry, "Up, and be doing," to souls twice dead, is setting people to work without victuals or tools; and how such will perform their task every true believer knoweth, because he hath tried his strength, but never found the strength of God's grace made perfect in him till he had spent his own strength, and become nothing but weakness, Deut. xxxii. 36. These gentlemen, when they get into Moses' chair, are little better than Pharaoh's task masters, bind grievous burdens on others, but will not lend a finger to help them up with the load; and I know some of those burden-bearers are ready to cry out with Cain, it is too heavy for me to bear. If the Spirit of God doth not lead a man into truth, he must err; and every time an erroneous man takes a passage from God's book, he is guilty of a breach of God's command; "thou shalt not steal," Jer. xxiii. 30. False preachers multiply curses to themselves; every such preacher, who wilfully perverts any plain text of Scripture, or doctrine in it, to support an error, is cursed for removing his neighbours landmark; and he that makes not Christ the door of entrance, the way also, and the end, brings another curse on his own head, for causing the blind to go out of his way; and all these curses shall come on him who takes away the plain meaning of God's word, if grace prevent not, yea, all the plagues in the book, Rev. xxii. 19.
If my son be anointed with the unction of God the Holy Ghost, he will leave a sweet savour of Christ behind him in every place; therefore be ye filled with the Spirit, and, as the scripture hath said, out of thy belly shall flow rivers of living water. All divinity got by study and kept up by reading commentators, without the Spirit, is a well without water; but, if the Spirit be in thee, he shall be a well of water springing up into eternal life. Thou mayest wade in these holy waters until thy ankle bones receive strength; then thou wilt be able to walk by faith: it makes the lame man leap as an hart, Isaiah, xxxv. 6, 7. It will spring up until it comes to thy knees; then thou wilt not stagger at the promise through unbelief; for it strengthens the weak hands, and confirms the feeble knees. It will spring up to thy loins: when the loins of our mind are strengthened by the Spirit's might, and we are renewed in the spirit of our minds by him, then Christ becomes our meditation day and night; our minds are in heaven, and we are strengthened to bear the cross: and it will spring up into eternity, and carry us into the fountain of living waters from whence it came; and there we may swim in the river of pleasure; but eternity is a river that we can never swim over, Ezek. xlvii. 1-6. And thus the Holy Ghost is called water, because he purifies and refreshes; oil, because he supples, heals, and burns; may God wash and anoint my son more and more, Ezek. xvi. 9.
If this water be in thee, then men of understanding will draw it out, Prov. xviii. 4. If thy heart be established with grace, thou wilt be a good steward of the manifold grace of God, I Pet. iv. 10. If this anointing be upon thee, thou wilt anoint others in the name of the Lord, James, v. 14. If the quickening word and Spirit rest on thy soul, thou wilt hold forth to others the word of life, Phil. ii. 16. If thou art satisfied with the breasts of consolation, thou wilt be a son of consolation, and comfort others with that comfort with which thou art comforted of God, 2 Cor. i. 4. If the Holy Ghost hath made thee free, thou mayest preach liberty to others without being a servant of corruption, 2 Peter, ii. 19. A man must be born again, before he can be a minister of the Spirit; he must have the hidden treasure in his earthen vessel, before he can bring good treasure out of the heart; he must feel the motions of the Spirit, before he can be said to speak as he is moved by the Holy Ghost, 2 Peter, i. 21; he must be a partaker of the fruits, before he can be a keeper of the vineyard, 2 Tim. ii. 6: "Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee under-standing in all things."
Pardon my honest dealing with thee; it is an awful thing to be an instrument without spiritual life, giving uncertain sound. A lamp without oil is the law of Moses; and this, attended with a blind zeal and pharisaic pride, makes a false preacher like him who is transformed into an angel of light. A false dauber, without establishing, cementing grace, will sink the deepest under the greatest of ruins, Luke, vi. 49. A mystical cloud, without rain, only obscures the Sun of Righteousness. A well without water only aggravates the soul's thirst. Believe me, there is a false zeal, Rom. x. 2; a false gift, Prov. xxv. 14; a false light, Luke, xi. 35; a false spirit, Micah, ii. 11 a false minister, 2 Cor. xi. 13; a false flock of professors, 2 Cor. xi. 26; a false Christ, Matt. xxiv. 24; and a false God, 2 Thess. ii. 4. Let not what I have said discourage my son: no; I have complied with thy request as far as I have gone; I have written it just as it came flowing on my mind; it may shake thy confidence, but thou wilt only root the deeper; I know Christ will heal thine ear again, if I have cut it. The sword of the Spirit never gives a mortal or a deadly wound to a living soul.
Thou mayest perhaps see in these letters, as in a glass, many false preachers, when I am dead and gone; but I am persuaded better things of you, though I thus write; and things that accompany salvation. I have never been permitted from the first to entertain a single doubt of thy interest in Christ Jesus; I am exceeding glad to think God has given me a hope of seeing, two of my own sons in the faith appearing in the vineyard of Christ, before I go hence and be no more seen. O! tread in the steps of thy father, my son; go forth in a plain unaffected way. It has vexed my very soul when I have seen poor men, of low rank, in powdered hair, silk breeches, popish robes, long bands, cramp words, affected actions, wanton eyes, and borrowed matter: attended by a company of light, frothy, dressy professors, as void of humbling grace as the devil is of hope. It is such who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women; "led away with divers lusts; ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
I desire thee to go once a week to those poor souls at G. and I will pay thee for thy time when I come down; deny not this my request, and look for no instruction to be effectual but the teaching of the Holy Ghost, I Cor. ii. 13. Gospel ministers, fitted by carnal inventions, are just as useful as the prophet's sons we read of, 2 Kings ii. 16; fifty of whom had got strength enough at the schools to catch the prophet Elijah, if the Holy Ghost should let him slip, or the flaming equipage break down on the airy road. Surely a chariot paved with everlasting love, covered with atoning blood, axletreed with Omnipotence, and conveyed on the wheels of eternal election, is strong enough to carry a soul to Abraham's bosom, without the pliable spring of an arm of flesh. Elisha, the poor ploughman, who was but a few days old in grace, blushed at their carnal offer; and if he were here, we should make him blush again, for we have many strong men. Some are for steadying the ark with pharisaical conformity, lest the rough paths of tribulation shake it too much; and others are holding out the arm of free-will, as if it were omnipotent, to catch it those, who by riding too high in the chariot of unconditional and eternal salvation, are in danger of getting overthrown; howbeit, no such passengers have ever yet been beholden to any of these proud helpers; and I am sure they never will.
And now may the ever-blessed Spirit of all holy unity unite our souls to Christ, and to each other; that he may be to us as the precious ointment on the head, even Aaron's head, which ran down to his beard, and went even to the skirts of his clotting, as the blessed dew of Hermon, which fell on the chosen mountain of Zion; where God commanded the best of blessings, even the spirit of life for evermore, Psalm cxxxii. Amen, and amen, says thy affectionate father in the unalterable bond of everlasting love,