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THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER SHOULD GIVE
2 CORINTHIANS, 6: 3. Giving no offence in any thing, that the
ministry be not blamed.
This passage has reference to Christian instructors. By describing the character of Paul and his companions, it shows what ought to be the deportment of their successors in the ministry.
Whether we understand the apostle to say: Give no just cause of offence in any thing ; or, Give no occasion of stumbling to any one, the duty enjoined will be the same. In either case, the thing forbidden is the doing of any thing, condemned by morality, discretion, or prudence. In both these ways, it is criminal to excite displeasure, or occasion stumbling. Ministers are responsible for that blame, which, in this manner, attaches itself to their profession.
The most unexceptionable discharge of ministerial duty, may, in regard to some persons excite displeasure, or afford occasion of disobedience and unbelief. The ancient Jews were displeased at the fidelity of their prophets. Their descendants were offended at the ministry of Messiah. Even those, who had followed him for a while, turned back and walked no more with him. To give offence cannot, therefore, in all cases, be pro
. hibited. It is to be condemned then only, when it implies deportment, that is immoral, or indiscreet.
The great principles of Christianity are not to be suppressed, because a plain exhibition of them may, by human perverseness
be misunderstood, or misapplied. Yet it must be the desire of a good minister, not to excite opposition to the gospel, but to procure for it a cordial reception. His success in this respect will, under God, depend in no small degree, on the manner in which official duties are performed. Few persons are ignorant that the manner in which an action is done, has great influence on the result. Even a favor may be so conferred, as to excite pain and disgust, rather than emotions of happiness, or a sense of obligation.
In proportion to the extent of consequences, resulting from any action, is the importance of its being performed in the best manner. If it is essential to the piety and salvation of men, that the doctrines of Christianity should be admitted, and its precepts obeyed; it is strikingly apparent, that whatever has a natural tendency to prevent such admission or obedience should be studiously avoided.
To enumerate some of the ways, in which this unhappy issue may be effected, is intended in the ensuing discourse. A thorough discussion of the subject will not be attempted. That would require much longer time, than can be allowed on the present occasion. A few particulars only will be specified. These will be ranged in three divisions. They will relate to preaching ; to private deportment; and to the manner in which persons are to be treated, who are supposed to maintain unsound opinions.
In regard to preaching
1. A Christian minister should give no offence, by appearing indifferent to the object of bis ministry.
The disapprobation, excited by such appearance, will be extensive. It will be entertained by the serious part of his congregation, and by many who have no claims to such a character. The latter cannot fail to perceive, that preachers of Christianity hold an office of peculiar responsibility ; with a just estimation of which neither indolence, indifference nor levity can be reconciled. But obvious inconsistency of character incurs universal
No man, it will be readily acknowledged, should
preach the Christian religion, who does not believe it. But the minister, who does believe it, perceives, that his own immortal interests, and those of his people, are connected, under God, with the manner, in which his official duties are discharged. He comes to his hearers with no trivial message. The embassy, in which he is engaged, is designed to accomplish no ordinary object. He is to negotiate peace between God and creatures, who are in a state of moral insurrection. Asserting the claims of God to the obedience of man, he is to beseech them, in Christ's stead, to acknowledge their allegiance, and to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. If levity, or indifference is, at all times, unbecoming a man, conscious of being employed in services, which involve the public interest, it would be peculiarly so at those times, when he is actually engaged in such services. Indifference, in the preacher, diffuses a spirit of slumber over a whole audience. Unquestionably, on many occasions, hearers form a very erroneous estimate of the comparative zeal and fervor of different preachers. There may be a kind of religious zeal, where there is no piety; and there may be little emotion discovered, where there is uniform concern for the honor of God, and the salvation of men. Still a preacher should cautiously avoid whatever may be construed, by his audience, into a want of seriousness, and Christian sensibility. To avoid this appearance, it is by no means necessary, however, that a preacher should forever breathe a tempestuous atmosphere. When the wind is high, and the storm beats with severity, the traveller holds his cloak the faster ; whereas the more equable and penetrating heat of the sun may induce him to throw it aside.
2. A Christian minister should give no offence by exhibiting an air of self-importance, or of undue confidence.
It has become customary to apply to ordinary ministers, many expressions, which were originally used in reference to the apostles. I do not mention this practice by way of indiscriminate condemnation. There are, in the two cases, many points of resemblance. The object of the ministry is, doubtless, the same in every age of the Christian church; and the virtues of the first preachers of Christianity may, with propriety, be exhibited, to excite imitation. But surely no man of Christian huinility, or even of ordinary modesty, will forget, that in one essential point, circumstances, in the two cases, are materially different. When an apostle spake to a Jewish or Gentile assernbly, it was an inspired man, endued with miraculous powers, addressing himself to those who were uninspired. When we address our hearers, the speaker and his audience are equally destitute of apostolic gifts and inspiration. If you say, that to make amends for the want of immediate inspiration, we have the writings of those on whom it was bestowed, I answer, that this is a privilege, which, through the rich bounty of God, our hearers share in common with us. The Scriptures are, indeed, infallible. But so are not they, by whom the Scriptures are explained. As the interfering and opposite edicts of the Romish church are sufficient to silence her claims to infallible knowledge; so, perhaps, a diversity of opinions among Protestants, has been permitted, to preyent them from making the same arrogant pre. tensions. The ordinary ministers of Christ, as from the nature of their employment, they are more conversant with the Scriptures and the principles of theology, than men usually are in other professions, may justly claim to have their opinions treated respectfully. Still these opinions are to be received as certainly true, no further, than they correspond with the dictates of reason, or the language of revelation. Were we to proceed further than this, we might be justly charged with a design to exercise dominion over the faith of our hearers. Good effects are not likely to be produced by a discourse, when the author leaves on his audience this impression, that be thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think, and has been laboring less for their spiritual instruction, than for his own reputation. We preach not ourselves, said the apostle, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.
But are not religious instructors, at the present day, you may ask, to teach with authority? Truly they are. But, if there are two things in nature, different from each other, it is teaching with authority and teaching with self-confidence. St. Paul directs Titus to “ reprove and rebuke with all authority.” He said likewise to Timothy: Let no one despise thy youth. The latter expression leads us to understand the former. How was Timothy to prevent men from despising his youth? Not by magisterial airs and high pretensions; but by exhibiting in his deportment, that prudence and Christian gravity, which always command esteem. What was implied in that authority, with which Titus was directed to reprove and rebuke? Not harshness of expression nor tones of assurance. But that, which is acquired by Christian demeanor,—by humility and uprightness, -by a life, evidently devoted to the great object of the Christian ministry ;-together with the evident propriety of the reproof itself, and the solemnity of manner, in which it was administered. Reproof, thus communicated, will never want authority, even though the person who gives it should use no severity of accent, and should manifest the very moderate estimation, in which he holds both his talents and piety. Nothing tends so much to diffuse an interesting mildness over all the public labors of a Christian pastor, as a conviction, that he owes to divine benevolence whatever difference there is between himself and the most stupid of his congregation. This idea is expressed by St. Paul, in a strain of wonderful tenderness : We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and bating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we have done ; but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.