Letters on Ministerial Qualifications
William Huntington (1745-1813)TO MR. C. G., PILGRIM-STREET, NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE.
I received yours, and am glad to hear of the mercy of God revealed in you, through Christ Jesus. For my part, I wish there were more preachers of Jesus than there are: and as God has given you the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of your sins, you are far beyond one half of the preachers that are sent out in our days, who seem to be entire strangers to it; therefore very improper persons to sympathize with burdened sinners, describe the pardon of sin, with the peace that attends it, or enforce it either with consistency or authority. Such are ministers sent of men; and where God sends one, these send a dozen. If a man be pardoned, like Isaiah, he can preach forgiveness. The pardoned sinner has received the atonement; God has revealed his Son in him; and if a door be opened in a way of providence, he may bear his name among the Gentiles; and let him watch the hand of God, to see if he makes known the savour of his name in any place by his instrumentality. Pardon is always attended with peace; they go together. If the Saviour says, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee," he adds, "Go in peace:" and what is a minister of Jesus, but an Ambassador of Peace? Where the Lord applies a pardon, he reveals an everlasting righteousness: pardon and justification always attend each other; and the preacher that is a justified man, like Noab, like him he is a preacher of righteousness. Pardon is followed with the comforts of the Holy Ghost, which you seem to have the experience of; and if you endeavour to comfort others with the same comfort with which you are comforted of God, you are a minister of the Spirit, not of the letter. With respect to the approbation or disapprobation of men, it is not always to be depended upon. The omniscient God has reserved infallibility to himself; to him you must stand or fall. Study to shew yourself approved of God. It is his testimony and approbation that must both fortify you and fix you. Churches have sent out hundreds that God never sent, nor owned. But a man pardoned and justified of God is a true witness for God, whether men approve or disapprove. It is not enough to be chosen and approved of by a church; a man must make his own calling and election sure to salvation and to the ministry: and it is God's choice and approbation of the man, that shall establish him and keep him standing, when his friends may change their voice, and cry, "Away with him." The majority of a church often look more at gifts than grace; and speak as they are affected or disaffected to the person, without having respect to his acquaintance with the power of godliness; which alone can qualify a man to preach the kingdom of God; which is not in word, but in power, in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. The minority part of a church have often the most of Christ, and are the most discerning and experimental members; yet are frequently styled troublers and opposers of the majority. Therefore I advise thee to commit thy way to the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established. God is infinitely wise, and gives wisdom to those that ask; nor is there any partiality with him.
If the discerning Christians among you can find no fault of your experience or doctrine, God has made you manifest in their conscience. Let them, therefore, neither puff thee up, nor drive thee back. I know not what Christians you have got about Newcastle with respect to discernment; but we have flying troops of professors in London consisting of some thousands; who look no father than "lo here, or lo there;" and as soon as this "lo" is heard, they are all waved and moved as the trees of the wood are moved, Isaiah, vii. 2, with every wind of doctrine.
Trying them that say they are apostles, and proving them liars if they are not, is much out of fashion in our days. Insomuch, that mimics, apes, and mere impostors are often cried up in public pulpits, as wonders from the Lord of Hosts. If a man will but assume the robe, read the prayers, cry up human learning, call experimental Christians enthusiasts, and the doctrines of the gospel Antinomianism; he is the man, and is as sure of a pulpit, and of an audience, as the Pope himself would be. Not long since one of this stamp, who was minded to have stroke at a certain coalheaver, observed "There are some who, say, God has no need of human learning; and I answer," said the mimic, "God has no need of their ignorance." But as God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound such wise men as he, and bring their wisdom to nothing, he certainly has need of those foolish things, in order to do it. If God reveals Zion's King, coming on an ass to Jerusalem, the Saviour hath need of that ass for that purpose. But he stands in no need of liars to preach his truth, nor of hypocrites to handle his covenant; nor of that wisdom that is from beneath, to preach his wisdom in a mystery. These are said to run unsent of him; it is the devil that gives them their authority, and none but his children would receive it at such hands. Hence God calls them ministers of Satan, 2 Cor. xi. 14, 15. "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of." "Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide." It is good for thee to draw near to God. The closer thou livest to him in private, the more savoury wilt thou be in public; he that walks with God, knows much of his secrets; and will find the Lord stand with him, and strengthen him in times of trouble. But if private communion be neglected, if things get out of course between God and you, you may prate away in a pulpit, but you will be as dewless, lifeless, and unsavoury, as a lecturer upon anatomy. The power of religion is all of the Lord; and thy faith must have to do with him, if thou get virtue out of him: it is sweet preaching when we are favoured with times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. You will make your call to the work clear by the success that attends it, and by the trials that you will meet with.
When you meet with oppositions on every hand, temptations to leave the work, darkness, bound up in spirit, every thought scattered, the Bible sealed, unbelief prevalent, ashamed of Christ and the cross, wishing you had never meddled with the ministry, determined never more to interfere, if God will but pardon your presumption, then it will be known who sent you. When a man goes forward in such a storm as this, it is plain a divine power holds him up, and leads him on: he does not preach to please himself, nor to gain applause; for the more he labours the more he is tried: this is the Lord's instructing a man with a strong hand: and it serves to give him a deep sight into his own heart, and the hearts of others; it weans him from an arm of flesh, hides pride from his eyes, and makes him sick of applause; he shuns company, and loves privacy, esteeming his lonely hours the best, where he can wait upon his God, and make his complaints to him. When trials come upon preachers because of the word, many are offended, and in time of temptation fall away, because they have no root in themselves; they were not rooted in Christ or united to him by the Spirit of love in themselves; they stood and were upheld by the approbation and applause of men; and being carried on by their applause instead of the Spirit's testimony, they find neither defence nor support in times of trouble; and therefore must fall. If the devil, worldlings, and hypocrites serve thee as they have served me, ever since I have been in the ministry, thou mayest wish thou never wast born; but thou wilt find but little to lift thee up. A few of these trials will be sufficient to make manifest whether God hath sent thee, or whether thou hast run of thine own head. When I came first to London, I had great numbers of these human props, who would drag me through fire and water, which was no small mortification and grief to me. I always walked safest when I had no hand to watch, no hand to feel for, nor to lean on, but that of God: I liked best to follow him, and move as he led the way; then I knew that I walked surely; but those that have no eye there will be like the sons of Zeruiah, too hard for the believer, 2 Sam. iii. 28; at least I found it so. However, when God led me to cut at the form of godliness, without the power; to insist upon the pardon of sin, regeneration by the Holy Ghost, justification by faith in an imputed righteousness, prayer, and all other parts of devotion in the Spirit, and in the truth of the gospel; and to enforce and insist upon an application of the doctrine of eternal election; my friends were like skittles, they fell off five or six at a time; which served to discover to me the various foundations that they built their hopes upon; and their withdrawing made room for their betters to approach; for, after their departure, I perceived that publicans and sinners drew near to hear me; and as many of these as God drove into the net stuck close to the fisher. And God soon discovered to me the difference between the life of these and the life of my former pillars, which encouraged me to be steadfast in the doctrines that God had applied to my soul, as I not only heard an account of their experience, but saw it manifested in their life and conduct; and such as these I found to be my bosom friends: they encouraged me in faithfullness, were ornaments of my ministry, felt for me in the work, and were able to judge when their visits were seasonable, and to take a hint without affront, when they were not. I call these the excellent of the earth, my best friends, and in whom, except Christ, is all my delight. Blessed be God, I have not a few of these, and with these I hope to live and die, to spend and be spent. As for many of my former columns, they could not keep their outward garments clean, much less keep up communion with God, and be of service to me. I have ever found that inexperienced, unenlightened, uninformed people, have soon got sick of my ministry; they know nothing of the power, therefore can never know the worth of my doctrine, nor of me as a preacher; and when such have cleaved to me, their affection and kindness have rather been a stumbling block and a grief to me, than a matter of comfort. And I would ever wish for wisdom to deal with such, as the Saviour did with some, who are said to believe; "but Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and knew what was in man." I have dropped these hints as a caution: if you get any instruction or comfort from the same, you know where to ascribe the glory. I shall add no more, only subscribe myself,
Your affectionate friend and servant,
In the Lord Jesus Christ,
W. H. William Huntington