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alone can enlighten him, that he may see the snares on both sides of the narrow path in which he is required to walk, and cautiously to avoid them.
IV. There are, again, many dangers arising to ministers in the present times, from the state of the discipline of their flocks. It is evident that something is wanted in the church, as respects discipline; not so much as to ministers with their ecclesiastical superiors, which is in a considerable measure, though still inadequately, provided for, but as respects the people with their pastors and one another. Of this discipline, there is systematically nothing among us. There is nothing, except a communion of spirit, to unite the pious persons in a parish as the flock of Christ; and little as a body to distinguish them from the world, except their co-operation in support of the religious institutions of the day, the engagements connected with which, however useful or edifying, are not sufficient to establish amongst the people the stable profession of true godliness. Ministers are too apt to think that all is going on well with the cause of God and the souls intrusted to their care, when Evangelical truths are known and approved, and religious societies are actively supported. But much more is wanted; especially something that may bring pastors into close spiritual contact with their flocks, and the members of them with one another. The want of some such system of discipline is an avowed and frequently real cause of dissent from the Church of England. It is objected that there is nothing to compact the people of God together; no means, even such as the Church of Rome uses, to separate the devout and penitent from the careless and mere nominal Christian; no way in which the spiritual members of the church of Christ are gathered out from the general body of the professed members of the Church of England; and no form and con
sistency given them, which, discreetly managed, would essentially promote the permanency of real godliness among them.
It is not easy to prescribe a form of private discipline for the ministers of our church; and to the modes adopted by many who dissent from her, there are numerous and wellfounded objections. It would therefore surely be of great benefit to the ministers of the present day, if some of their most experienced and pious brethren would take this subject into their serious consideration, and make known their views. There is need, so to speak, of a more highly cultivated and fertile spiritual garden, into which, by wellarranged and prudent discipline, we may transplant the choice plants out of the general nursery; that a visible and exemplary distinction may be made between the national and the spiritual church,—and then the former may be seen in fresh beauty and vigour, and be continually increased by new accessions of the latter.
Every minister will probably confess, that, if it should please God at this moment to try and sift his people, he should fear greatly for the fate of many who are now most forward in the ranks of zealous profession; who have a name that they live, and have gained smiles and approbation by their religious exertions. Such persons apparently refreshed by the softly falling showers of spiritual truth, and sheltered be. neath the shade of ease, patronage, and prosperity, have put forth green leaves and luxuriant blossoms; but the depth and firm tenure of their roots has never been tried by the storms of affliction, or the wasting drought of neglect and contempt. Now, without some mode of ascertaining, so far as is practicable by prudent human means, the real state of his people, a minister may be ensnared into forming a wrong estimate of their spiritual condition by the various shewy exertions which many may have been induced
to make; and thus be busily engaged in erecting a specious superstructure when he should have been carefully laying a firm foundation; and the want of the latter will be made evident when it is too late, to his indescribable grief, from the sudden fall of the former by means of some unexpected shock. If Satan can ensnare a minister into thinking that all is going on right with the cause of God and the souls of his people, because his doctrines are understood and approved, because religious books are eagerly sought after and read, and because religious institutions are actively encouraged and liberally supported, he has placed in his way an effectual barrier to real usefulness in his ministry and vital godliness among his hearers. It is time, then, to consider how most effectually to avoid the snares arising from these causes, to endeavour to discover some mode of sounding the depth of professors of religion, that ministers may know how more effectually to suit the various exercises of their sacred calling to the particular conditions and attainments of the individual members of their spiritual charges, dispensing to each his peculiar portion with wisdom, knowledge, and affection.
V. The numerous periodical religious publications of the present day, valuable as some of them are, incidentally throw a snare in the way of the minister of the Gospel. They are, in a great measure, the means by which religious knowledge is obtained, and they afford a dangerous facility in its acquisition. The system of the Gospel may now be gathered out of a magazine or even a newspaper; and a minister may preach the leading doctrines of Divine truth, who is almost, if not an entire stranger to standard volumes of sound divinity, and to the best divines of the church. This may even be effected with no small degree of credit and popularity; and the requisite knowledge may
be obtained by one who is little acquainted with Scripture, from the religious pamphlets and other slight publications of the day, and from mixing among religious persons. It is evident, however, that such preaching, though not unsound, will be meagre and too frequently unfruitful. Hence it probably arises, that some popular preachers preach with little unction, and are but little instrumental in the conversion of sinners: the people hear with admiration the language of the discourse, and assent to its doctrines, but, if hitherto careless or ignorant, they are not pricked to the heart; they are not aroused and instructed; nor is the true believer comforted and established. produce these last and only solid effects of preaching, the minister must converse much with God in the prayerful study of his word : he must never advance above or beyond that book: it must be increasingly his guide and counsellor, even to grey hairs. A deep acquaintance with the Bible, where the means of learning are possessed, will give a depth and power to his divinity which cannot be acquired elsewhere. There are many superficial divines, because enough of divinity to pass currently on with is so easily acquired. He that would find the Pearl of great price must dive into deep waters, and that often, before he can obtain his prize: it is not to be found in the shallow streams, out of which too many draw in these days a cheap and easy reputation, with which they rest contented.
It is not intended by these remarks to depreciate the value of the religious publications alluded to, and the extensive circulation of which is assuredly a sign of an increasing interest in the spread of the knowledge of Divine truth, but merely to point out the snares arising from an indiscreet use of them by the ministers of Christ. If they are content with such a narrow range, instead of expatiating in the infinite field
afforded by the word of God, they cannot gather the imumerable sweets which every where abound in it. All the truths of God, comprehended in the unfathomable depth of Divine revelation, cannot be supposed to have been presented to their hearers by any, or indeed by all that ever preached the Gospel; but the unsearchable and inexhaustible riches that are in the Scriptures should urge all ministers to labour more diligently, that, so far as in them lies, nothing may be wanting to the spiritual edification of their hearers. Let them remember the arduous duties which are before them:-they are to instruct the ignorant, to awaken the careless, to strengthen the weak, to reclaim the backslider, to edify the pious, to comfort the mourner, to undeceive the deluded, to guide the inquirer; rightly to divide the word of God, so that none may rest under soothing flattery in sin, nor the Christian despond amidst the difficulties of his pilgrimage. Can such objects be effected by men of shallow attainments and information culled second-hand from a magazine? No, they must be obtained by prayer and fasting, by deep humility, extensive spiritual knowledge, and a thorough renunciation of the world; by attendance to reading and meditation on these things, and by studying not for effect or popularity, but in order to win souls; preach ing "not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves," in the full est sense of the expression, "the servants" of his people "for Jesus sake."
VI. The present extensive credit of a religious profession brings with it many snares to the Christian minister. Although the true believer is now as much as at any former time, the object of the ridicule of the world, and of the contempt of those who know not God; yet there is, amongst a great and increasing multitude, a considerable degree of credit attached to those who profess religion. Hence ministers whose natural
powers and attainments enable CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 332.
them to make an attractive display of their religious knowledge and experience, are sure to meet with much adulation and attention, from a considerable portion of mankind; and great are the snares which arise to them from this peculiar and increasing feature of the present day. This probably is one cause of the want of that vast body of valuable matter and spiritual unetion in their writings, which breathed through every page of the talented productions of the soundest divines in past times. When religion was in general disrepute, and was sure to excite hatred and opposition, its professors had no comfort from without, and therefore were obliged to draw all their consolations from the deep resources of the life of faith which they lived in Christ: they were dependent entirely upon their own internal experience of the solid supports of the grace of God; and thus they became fully acquainted with the power of vital religion, and with the real and supporting nature of the joy unspeakable and full of glory which results from having Christ within us, the hope and anchor of the Christian's soul, and which the world can neither give nor take away. There was a daily need deeply felt by them of the renewal of the strength of the inward man by continual waiting upon God, when, in every position in which the outward man was presented to the world, it was only to experience buffetings and scorn. It is not so now: flattered and admired by numbers, the Christian minister is in danger of being soothed by their caresses, and of experiencing a dangerous self-complacency; and even using the religion of that Saviour who is emphatically "not of this world," as a means for obtaining the applause of his fellow-creatures, and a stepping stone to worldly influence and advancement. External apparent religious consistency is too often aimed at, at the expense of devotion of soul; the pride of the human heart is excited, and this credit is often purchased at any price, 3 Q
however great. He that is looking for preferment from the world, is seldom ready unreservedly to follow Christ, and to do all for Christ; he cannot serve God without reserve. What the divines of former days would have called "self-seeking" and self-sparing," must be the result of the present ease and credit of professors of religion, together with a want of that entire devotion of spirit which was so eminent in the characters of the Reformers of our church. The faithful minister will not, however, judge harshly of others; but will frequently reflect with fear and humble contrition upon his own weakness, and confess that he has often felt the effects of these dangerous allurements, and betake himself to earnest supplication at the Throne of Grace, for strength and wisdom effectually to withstand them.
VII. The present spirit of inquiry into the meaning of prophecy has also, valuable and interesting as are such pursuits, been found pregnant with snares to many ministers. While all essential Divine truths are, by such as are led by the Spirit of truth, at once admitted without controversy, too many who suppose that they take the Bible for their guide are misled by their own imaginations; and upon no subject more than in the mysterious speculations into which some have entered upon the subject of prophecy. If we are right in judging from past experience, it seems probable that the predictions of Scripture are not intended to be fully understood till made known by their fulfilment, and then they gloriously display the infinite wonders of the foreknowledge and predestination of the Divine Mind, and serve greatly to confirm our faith. To presume to prophesy upon prosphecy, is dangerous ground; but when predictions are fulfilled, and their accomplishment is made known to us, how clear and lucid do they appear. But there is a danger that those who have been misled in their wild
speculations on revelation, should be found, in the disappointment of their vain and groundless expectations, to give up revelation altogether. It is also to be feared that some should have their attention diverted from the great doctrine of Christ crucified to Christ personally reigning, and overlook the important truth before alluded to, that the Gospel is the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and that this spirit was given to Christ without measure, that from Him as an exuberant fountain his influences might flow in fertilizing streams through every part of his church. Ministers, as well as Christians in general, cannot sink too low in humility, nor rise too high in heavenly mindedness; but they may soon be lost in the wilderness of unprofitable speculations. If we are wise, according to what God has revealed, we shall be profitably wise; but if we would be wise beyond this, we must pay the penalty of our folly.
Great, however, as is the snare of indulging in ingenious and fanciful speculations upon prophecy, there is a fear lest, by means of the reaction consequent on a conviction of the danger of this failing of too many in the present day, we should fall into the opposite danger of neglecting the subject altogether. Prophecy may be profitably used as a species of chart by which the discreet Christian may ascertain the real position of the church in its great voyage. We have chronological predictions of a plain and distinct nature, which, wisely considered, point out to us in a wonderful manner, and with a valuable tendency to confirm the believer's faith, the present point at which the Christian world has arrived. these things the Christian minister not only needs knowledge but wisdom, derived from Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
VIII. Lastly, it may be remarked that, in the present age of liberty and freedom of thought, there are
Family Sermons.-No. CCLVIII. On 1 Cor. xiii. 11.
many snares arising to ministers from the political spirit of the day. It cannot be right for the Christian minister to be indifferent to what is passing in the world, or to the welfare of his country, but it must be very dangerous for him to embark in political speculations beyond the interests of religion. It undoubtedly becomes every minister, as well as every Christian, to remember that he ought to look at what is taking place around him, and to cherish a warm patriotic affection for his own nation; but to enter into politics in the spirit of party, and with an inclination to temporize in such matters, must be extremely detrimental to real spirituality, if it does not, as is most likely to be the case, entirely destroy it.
These appear to be some of the chief dangers arising to ministers of the Gospel, from the nature of the present times, and which Satan makes use of to give effect to his great and too-successful device, which is to draw us away from communion with God; from that inward religion, that living closely to him with the heart, that walking with him, which is the soul of piety. In all ages of the church, there have been two classes of pious persons among those who have been distinguished for their piety; the busy and, active, and the meditative and spiritual; and unhappily these two, although there have certainly been some exceptions, have seldom been united in one. The present times are favourable to the former in one sense, but dangerous to them in another, because peculiarly unsuited to the junction of the latter character with them. By this a duty is clearly pointed out; the cultivation of spirituality of character. This cannot be effected without our taking a decisive course for ourselves, with the Bible for our guide, resolving in the strength of the Lord, whatever others may do, that we will serve the Lord with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and
strength; that we will, like Enoch, seek to walk with God. This must be done by all Christian ministers and people, in humility and selfabasement before God, watching against pride, that root of bitterness which has planted itself deeply and firmly in the heart, winding its fibres round its very core, clinging to the cross and arm of Christ, being much in prayer, and frequent in renewing acts of repentance before God, remembering that the strength of the church is in her praying, watching S. members.
FAMILY SERMONS.-No. CCLVIII *.
1 COR. xiii. 11.- When I was a
IN the beautiful passage from which
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; beareth all things, believeth all thing, hopeth all things, endureth all things." He then ascribes to it immortality, and shews that this beautiful and fragrant flower, having blossomed and flourished for a season in the noxious climate of this world below, is transplanted to the paradise of God, there to shed its heavenly perfumes through an eternal spring! When
From the Rev. F. Close's Sermons, reviewed in our present Number. 3Q 2