Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
Dear Brother, in Christ,
I wish thee abundant success in thy labours; and approve much of thy proceedings. It was the holy resolution of the apostle Paul, not to build on another man's foundation, or rejoice, as some in our days do, in another man's line of things, made ready to their hands. Paul's holy ambition led him to strive to preach where Christ Jesus had not been named, that he might see the Spirit communicated, and truth established by his own instrumentality. He was for ploughing as well as sowing; and as a wise master builder, be was fond of laying the foundation; and others were as fond of building hay, straw, and stubble thereon; but that work was done at their peril. Aim more at being a father, than a nurse; Paul says, "though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, Yet have ye not many fathers; I have begotten you.
I have observed some who are very fond of breaking through all bounds into another man's labours; and with a party spirit, and a fiery zeal, will draw a wonderful train after them, both bad and good; and if they can chain them up in a bigoted spirit, and get them to hate the poor pastor that at first begat them, then they say, we have established a church. This Paul calls zealously affecting them, but not well, Gal. iv. 17; and if the father of this runaway flock exclaims against those thievish measures, as Paul did, when he called them deceitful workers, then these scattering gentlemen call it, being persecuted for righteousness' sake. However, Peter is of another way of thinking: he calls it, being buffeted for their faults; and tells them to take it patiently; hinting thereby, that they justly deserve it. I have often thought, that if such ministers were to go into a barren soil, and cultivate their own land, they would cut a very poor figure in the ministry. However, they rather choose to get amongst a simple flock with warm hearts, as they think such are easily deceived by a false zeal; and he that is fond of warming his hands at another man's fire, gives one room to suspect he is one of Solomon's sluggards, who will not plough up a barren soil, by reason of the cold; therefore he shall beg in harvest, and have nothing: nothing but other men's labours to boast of. I have watched some poor simple souls, who have been thus led away; and all their work appeared to be condemning those as disorderly who were more righteous than themselves; boasting of their order, prejudiced against others, bitter against those who stood fast in liberty, and enjoyed the love of Christ, yea, some whom God hath called by me, who were as dear to me as my own life, I have beheld with many tears, being grieved to see the Saviour's blessed image so defaced on them; indeed they seemed to have no more features than an oyster. This taught me to understand Paul's meaning by the following passage: "But I fear lest by any means, [mark any means] as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." Indeed poor souls, thus led into prejudice, stripped of simplicity, taught the art of scorning, and prohibited hearing and communing with the warm-hearted sound ministers of Christ, are as much priestridden as a deluded Papist going pilgrimage, or walking bare-footed, doing penance. Christ's yoke is easy, and his burden light; but all other yokes are made of iron: however, the yoke of priestcraft, as well as others, will be destroyed by such as enjoy God's anointing. If God's grace reign and rule in the heart, there will be good order in the affections, and such cannot walk disorderly before men; but if the heart be not changed by grace, let them appear in as much order as they will, or talk ever so much about it, they are but refined pharisees at best; and such are said to dwell nigher the gates of hell than either publicans or harlots.
As to their doubting of your being sent of God, it is nothing; if God has sent thee, he will bless thee; and let his hand be known toward thee, and his indignation toward them that hate thee for his sake. Dissenting churches have sent out many into God's vineyard, whom God never owned, but hath discovered them, and sent them back into the world again from whence they came.
If God gives you clearly to see your interest in the everlasting covenant, and gives you a door of utterance to speak soundly and boldly, and goes before you in providence to open a door for you, sends many sinners to hear you, and opens their heart to receive the glad tidings, and you can see sinners renewed in mind, and performed in life by your ministry, these are full proofs of your being sent of God; and you may say, as Paul did, I am a Preacher not of man, nor by man. I have chosen you, and ordained you, says the Saviour; and as a free agent, he often shews his absolute prerogative now a days, in the same way: but such as God sends are often stigmatized with the name of irregulars, as if the God of all order dealt in nothing but irregularities However, it is better to be a minister of the Spirit under that name, than to be a regular minister, destitute of grace and divine commission. Do nothing without consulting Christ; wear no yoke but his; have no master but him; covet earnestly his approbation, rejoice in no testimony but his, watch his hand all the day long; if God appears on thy side, thou hast no cause to fear; what can flesh and blood do unto thee? Stand fast in Christ Jesus, and you will be as an iron pillar, and a brazen wall; but if you are looking for a man's testimony only, you will be nothing but a reed shaken with the wind. I can truly sympathize with you; for I have had enough of this false fire cast amongst my sheaves, which I sowed in tears, and reaped in joy, Psalm cxxvi. 5. But this be sure of, that all those persons who communicate a narrow contracted spirit to a flock, or fix prejudice on the minds of simple souls, who divide the affections of a society, and scatter discord among them, are seedsmen of Satan; for God hates that man, and holds him in abomination, "that soweth discord among brethren." If you watch those dividers and scatterers, you will see their joy counterfeited, their love feigned, their matter borrowed, and their way in God's fold to be by hypocrisy, craftiness, and the cunning art of the devil. It is not coming in by the door, but climbing up like a thief or robber. If God giveth thee a discerning eye, thou wilt see a fallen countenance, which is a certain indication of a guilty conscience, through all the mask of their feigned love; but if you stand fast in Christ Jesus, your face will shine, and God will appear the health of your countenance, Psalm xlii. 11 ; and that with the power which attends the word will establish you as a minister of Christ in the consciences of those discerning Christians who hear you, 2 Cor. iv. 2. The light troop that followeth him shews what spirit the leader is of it has been a grief to my very soul when I have seen a person, whom I had great reason to believe was a hypocrite, fond of me; alas, said I, surely I am of the world; for this worldling loves me! but soon God has turned his heart to hate me and to deal subtilely with my soul. I bless God for the world's hatred, and I bless God for a saint's love. Be not astonished at his gifts; a musician can play at any time, if he has but the use of his hands; and a minister, with a gift only, is compared to an instrument without life giving sound; he can play when be pleases, if he has but the use of his tongue. However, Paul knew what it was to want a door of utterance; yea, and what it was to go bound in the Spirit; and Ezekiel knew what it was to be dumb before a whole audience, and what it was to have his mouth open to him that escaped; and if this man is never burdened with the cross, if never bound in spirit, if never on the mount, if always alike, he has no chances; therefore he fears not God: he only stands in the testimony of men, feeds on human applause, and is furnished for the pulpit by commentators I have nothing to say against the sound writings of good men, but you must get your divinity from Christ, as those good men did; or else you must confess at last, with the prophet's son, "Alas, master, it was borrowed!" I have heard some preach sound discourses, which I have admired; and when I have been in conversation with them, it appeared plain that they never had experienced any thing they said: "the kingdom of God is not in word but in power." Leave off that way of gadding from house to house; you will get as dry as a stick; be in prayer and in study day and night: he savours most of Christ in the pulpit who lives the nearest to him in private. If the love of the Father, the grace of the Saviour, and the testimony of the Spirit be in you, you will be sound in the Trinity, without puzzling your head with school notions, some of which are not sound: if you err in the fountain, every stream will run corrupt. What God reveals in his word, stand in; and where God has fixed you, there stand fast, and give place to none; and see that you do not disgrace in life, what you recommend in word: and when you see-sheepstealers, for erroneous men are called wolves in sheep's clothing, breaking over God's hedges, do not act the part of a dumb dog, Isaiah, Ivi. 10; but bark, and bite too; for God makes as sharp-threshing instruments, having teeth, Isaiah, xli. 15: as flails, we must keep beating; and as we have teeth we must use them; but only with the wolves and the foxes, who come to steal the lambs. Grace be with thee.