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"And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”—EPHESIANS iv. 11, 12.
THESE word reveal the origin, and declare the object, of the Christian Ministry. Apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers, and if there be any other order of actual and accepted ministers, are all and all alike, Christ's bequest to the world. He gave them. Coming from him they come on his errand, and are here to do his work. What is that work? It is a question for ministers. It is a question for the churches. Nay, it is a question for all who enjoy the services of the ministry,-What is the precise and definite work, assigned by our Sovereign Lord, to his heralds and ministers? My text you perceive answers his question. It tells us that the ascended Saviour has sent to his church, the ministry in its several orders, or divisions, that they may perfect his saints. That then is the prescribed work of the Christian Ministry.
And here I have my theme for this occasion. I propose to discourse to you, my brethren, upon the prescribed proper work of the Christian Ministry. I shall set forth that work, as it is authoritatively defined, and exactly described in my text, representing it, as a work to be performed within the church and upon the saints, a work namely of perfecting the people of God. It must be acknowledged, however, here at the outset of our inquiries, that at first view, the definition given in the text seems to be incomplete and partial. The apostle has apparently omit41.061
ted, at least, two essential departments of the minister's appointed work. It is undoubtedly of great importance that God's people detained in his earthly churches, should be instructed and edified. But is it not equally desirable, that general intelligence should be promoted, and social order secured, and public virtue enforced? And is it not plainly part of the appointed work of the ministry to suggest and set forward all needed reforms, to instruct rulers, to assist in laying down the platforms of parties, to be present in caucus meetings and congresses, to name presidents, and superintend generally the business and the morals of the world? Do not all these public interests need supervision? Are they not all in the empire and under the authority of Christ the Lord, and so responsible to his appointed ministers?
And yet in this seemingly careful statement of the inspired apostle, touching the proper business of the ministry in this world, no mention is made of any of these duties. Is there a serious omission then in our text?
But again: the apostle has said nothing in this text, of the work of the ministry among the unregenerate outside the church. It is certainly of the utmost consequence to the well-being of society and the progress of religion, that sinners should be instructed and brought to repentance. It has always been considered an important part of a minister's duty to seek in all possible ways, and by the most earnest and persevering endeavors, the conversion of his impenitent hearers. And yet in this inspired account of the work assigned to the ministry, nothing is said of labor among the ungodly.
What shall we say to these things? Is the text defective? Has the apostle set down only a part of the minister's work? Or have we been mistaken, falsely imagining that the ministers of religion had in charge the public morals and the souls of the unregenerate?
The answer to these questions is not difficult or doubtful. It can not be claimed for a moment by any candid reader of the New Testament that questions of public virtue and general well being have been by authority of Christ, ruled out of the mind and the care of his ministers. They owe it to their Master, and owe it to their office, to labor diligently and zealously, to advance intelligence, and develop virtue, and promote just legislation among all orders of the people. Nor can it be questioned, that it is also part of the minister's appointed and indispensable work, to seek the conversion and salvation of the impenitent. The question is not at all a question of doing or neglecting. It is only a question of doing in one way, or in another and less successful way. For example admit that the minister of Christ is appointed to supervise and improve the public morals. It will still be matter of careful consideration,-By what kind of en
deavors, and what kind of work, he can best accomplish what he desires? If it be conceded, as it doubtless will be, that no instrumentality is so efficient and so sure, for this object, as is a good example, and if it be confessed furthermore, that the saints of God exhibit in their daily walk a good example, just in proportion as they are edified in grace and perfected in godliness; then the way, the precise and particular way, for a minister to promote public virtue is by obeying the text, and edifying and perfecting the saints. The history of all the centuries informs us that one good man is worth more to che community and to the world, than volumes of sermons. If this be so, and nobody doubts it, it decides the question concerning the course to be taken by Christ's ministers. Let them do their utmost to furnish and send forth into all the walks and relationships of society, saints, that are not only converted but also exemplary and eminent. The next, therefore, includes, though it does not name this important work.
But again it is unquestionably the duty of every minister of Christ to seek the conversion of the impenitent. The only question to be asked on this point is, as before,-In what way? Every one answers,-In the most certain and the most successful way. The conversion of sinners is a matter of such infinite moment to all persons and parties, that no congregation and no community and no man can afford to have it attempted, and especially by the minister of Christ, in any but the best way. What is that best way? There are certain facts, derived from long experience, which will assist us in answering this question. Let us attend to them, and that with a becoming patience and care and candor.
First then It is a fact proved by the experiment of ages, that the ministry which fails to edify and perfect the people of God, fails also, and in every instance, in its attempts to convert sinners. Look the world over, and it was never known that a minister of Christ was successful among the ungodly, who was either negligent or impotent in his work among the saints. It would seem from this single fact that the power of the ministry over impenitent men, is in some way dependent on its success among the people of God. But let us advance a step; and say secondly,
It is another fact equally well attested, that whenever the ministry has been successful in its prescribed and specific work of perfecting the saints, it has succeeded also in gathering and converting sinners.
History has another law which we must not fail to study in this connection. In the progress of the ages, great numbers of persons, of all ranks, races and conditions have been converted and brought into the church. Now it is a most interesting and instructive inquiry,-By what agency, that is, by what personal agency, and human endeavor, have these impenitent souls been con
verted? We all believe that whoever is truly converted is born of the Holy Spirit, and of divine truth. And we are inquiring now, not for the efficient author, or the inspired instrument of regeneration, but for the human agency through which this work has been effected in former times. If those who have been brought into the kingdom of Christ thus far, have been awakened and led to the Saviour mainly by ministers and sermons, that fact ought to be discovered and published. For it reveals to the people of God, that the converting instrumentality of the church is hid in the pulpit. If, on the contrary, it be a fact that a large majority of all the converts of all past ages, have been brought to Christ by the labors and prayers and pious examples of other orders of christians, that fact ought to be ascertained and published. For it declares that God's people, and not his ministers, are the appointed and chief instrumentality for the conversion of the wicked. Now what is the truth on this question? Take the members of any one of your churches, the present or the previous members, and inquire into the origin of their religious history, and I venture the assertion, that seven-tenths of them were brought to inquiry and repentance neither by ministers, nor by sermons, but by the personal influence and faithful endeavors of private christians. Doubtless ministers and sermons contributed something to the final result. But the direct and decisive instrumentality, was that of private christians. And if we pass to other sections of christendom, and go back to former ages, the same law has prevailed in all countries and under all dispensations, since there was a church in the world. More than seventenths of all the converts who have ever entered the fold of the Redeemer, have been led to the Saviour, not by sermons, but by private endeavors made by individual christians. In this great and glorious work of gathering for Christ, parents have ever had the chief honor and the greatest success.
My brethren, here is an array of well attested and impressive facts. We cannot deny them. We cannot ignore them. They stand before us bearing a lesson and a meaning. What are we to infer from these decisive experiments, and these unquestioned results? Nobody it seems to me, can hesitate as to the inference. These facts inform us, that the church, not the ministry, the church is God's great converting instrumentality in this world.
But we have not done yet with the experiments and the lessons of the past. More than seven-tenths of all the converts who have come into the church, thus far, have been led to Christ by the endeavors and the prayers of private christians. That is one fact. Another is, that whenever this work of converting the ungodly, has been transferred to the ministry, whether by the negligence of the people, or the usurpation of the preacher, it has uniformly declined and failed. It is God's purpose and command that his people shall bring sinners to his Son. And therefore so
soon as private christians lay off their responsibilities, and suspend the work of calling impenitent ones to Christ, impenitent men cease coming to Christ. But all experience declares, once more, what it needs no experience to understand and believe, that private christians are qualified and disposed to engage in this good work, just in the proportion in which they are perfected and sanctified. Parents, Sabbath School teachers, and others in other relations, uniformly undertake this work, and succeed in it, according to the measure of their piety and spirituality and faith.
With these facts in view, what shall a minister of Christ do, who desires the conversion of impenitent men, and wishes to do just what shall be most wise and most effectual for that end? Of course he will preach the Word, declaring to men the whole counsel of God. Whatever truth or duty is sent to sinners in the inspired message, he will deliver, and deliver to the right persons. That is to say, he will divide the Word, and give to every hearer his portion. But while he preaches to saints and sinners alike, on what will he rely for his chief success among the impenitent. Why plainly, not on sermons and exhortations addressed to the ungodly, but on the example and the influence of the people of God. And to make that example most impressive and that influence most potent, he will give himself earnestly and daily to the work set down in my text, edifying the body of Christ and perfecting his saints.
The apostle does not abridge the functions, and contract the field of the ministry, then, by the terms of our text. For whatever it is proper for a christian pastor to do, or to attempt to do, in his official calling, whether it be to reconstruct governments, or reform rulers, or improve the public morals, or convert impenitent men, he can do successfully and safely only through the instrumentality of a sanctified and symmetric church. When therefore the inspired apostle bids the ministry to seek first of all and chiefly, the perfection of Christ's servants and saints, he comprehends in that one work, and that by its certain and predestined issues, all the offices and all the ends of the ministry.
Our way is now open to the subject in hand. The great and leading work assigned to the Christian Ministry in this world, is the work of edifying and perfecting the saints.
This is the doctrine of our text. This is the theme of our sermon.
Perfecting the saints obviously means, improving and perfecting their christian character. And a christian's character may be improved or perfected in two ways; first as respects its symmetry, and secondly as respects its measure. By the first process, absent graces are supplied and dwarfed affections developed, and the character that was before deformed, is rounded and finished. By the second process all the graces are developed together to greater strength and ripeness. This is the work to be