THE COMFORTS AND ENCOURAGEMENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
From: The Christian Ministry, by Rev. Charles Bridges M.A.
It is of the utmost importance to grasp the whole compass of the Christian ministry. The view of one side only of the prospect (whichever side that may be) must necessarily give an imperfect and inaccurate representation. Painful and habitual experience constrains us to be with our people “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” The opposition of the worldÂ—the inconstancy of the waveringÂ—the inconsistency of the mere professorÂ—the difficulties that beset the inquirer’s pathÂ—our frequent disappointments with the hopefulÂ—combined with the recollection of what we areÂ—what we ought to beÂ—and what we ought to doÂ—all this fearfully acts upon our weakness and depravity. Did we carry on “the warfare at our own charges,” we should “be pressed out of measure, above strength.” But such are “the contradictions meeting in our work,” that, though it is a .sorrow, it is yet “a sorrow full of joy.” “Temptations” indeed “take us, besides such as are common to man.” We have a painful pre-eminence above our fellow Christians in bearing a double share of “the burden and heat of the day.” But if “the sufferings of Christ abound in us, our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” This happy equipoise of conflict and support, of responsibility and privilege, invigorates every effort in the exercise of simple dependence and patient hope.
We must acknowledge that the grounds of support and ;encouragement are fully commensurate with the momentous difficulty of the work. How cheering is the recollection of our office, as the ordinance of Christ, and as the standing proof of His love to His church For will He not honour His own institution, and secure its appointed end, in the glory of His name and the prosperity of His church? Will not He that sent us furnish us for our work? May we not plead His ordinance, as the ground of dependence upon Him for all needful assistance and encouraging acceptance?
How ample also are our sources of encouragement within the compass of our work! Did we depend upon the failing support of human agency, or upon the energy of mere moral suasion we should cry out, prostrate in heartless despondencyÂ— “Who is sufficient for these things?” But the instant recollectionÂ—that “our sufficiency is of God”Â— “lifts up our hearts in the ways” and work of the Lord. Added to thisÂ—the character of our ministrationÂ—as that “of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit,”Â—the cheering joys connected with the ministration of life and righteousnessÂ—together with our own personal interest in its blessingsÂ—all combine to invigorate our faith and expectancy under all apprehended difficulties. therefore, seeing we have this ministry (so far “exceeding in glory” the preceding dispensation) “as we have received mercy, we faint not.” We have the fullest assurance, that “the life-giving Spirit” employs our ministry as the vehicle of conveying His heavenly influence “to open the blind eyes,” and to quicken the spiritually dead. And to have His Divine seal to our work, as the honoured instrument of communicating the life of God, with all its attendant privileges, to the soul of man, cannot but bring with it a reflex delight of the most exalted character.
The spiritual and permanent fruits of our ministry must rank among our highest consolations. The repentance of a single sinner, is an event that causes rejoicing in heaven, (the only recorded instance of heavenly interest connected with our lower world); and therefore may well be conceived to bring no common pleasure to the minister’s heart. Indeed, one such instance is a spring of encouragement even in the sinking contemplation of the mass of ignorance and sin that surrounds us. The subsequent walk also of our people in the faith, hope, and love of the Gospel, forms our ground of unceasing thanksgiving to God, our chief joy, and the very life of our life. “We have no greater joy, than to hear that our children walk in truth.” We turn to them in the expression of parental anxiety and delightÂ—”Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
The interest we possess in the affectionate sympathies of a beloved people is also a subordinate source of comfort and encouragement. Rich indeed, and heart-gladdening is “the consolation in Christ, the comfort of love, the fellowship of the Spirit,” which we enjoy in
communion with a flock, to whom God has owned our labours. In this loveÂ—the most touching love that this world affordsÂ—we find a full compensation for the scorn of an ungodly world, and the secret spring of many an hour of support and enjoyment, by which we are carried forward in our painful course. The Christian and intelligent part of our lock well know, that we are “men of like passions with themselves,” that our path is strewn with snares, and our hearts are often keenly wounded with sorrow and temptation. Christian sympathy engages them to “communicate with our affliction.” A sense of duty and privilege calls forth their exertions, and directs their conduct, so that, as far as possible, all just grounds of complaint or grief may be removed;
and our labours for their sakes, and in their service, made consoling to our own souls. Our debt of obligation to the secret expressions of their love at the throne of grace is reserved among the discoveries of the great day, to add dignity and emphasis to the acknowledgement now made “in part,” and then to be more fully proclaimed; that “we are their rejoicing, even as they also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Another comfort and encouragement in our work, of a more individual character, deserves to be mentionedÂ—its special advantages for the cultivation of personal religion. Such is the deadening influence of secular callings upon the concerns of eternity, that without special exercises of watchfulness and prayer, the Christian cannot maintain his high elevation. Often did the “man after God’s own heart,” when engrossed with the cares of his kingdom, seem to envy the ministers of the sanctuary their peculiar privilege of a nearer approach to their God, and a constant abiding in His work. And what exercised Christian does not mourn over the necessary secularities of his calling, as abridging him of his spiritual enjoyments: and distracting even those seasons, which, by the active habit of self-denial, he is enabled to consecrate to communion with his God? It is so difficult to be employed, without being “entangled, with the affairs of this life;” there are so many weeds of a worldly growth and of a rank luxuriance, “choking the word,” when it has given fair promise of fruit, and is even advancing “to perfection,” that the comparative freedom from these embarrassing hindrances is not among the least of our privileges. Add to thisÂ—while secular occupations have a tendency to divert us from God, this holy employ naturally draws us to Him. In calling us to the search of the rich mines of Scripture, to heavenly contemplation, and spiritual devotedness, it furnishes the appointed means for the salvation of our own souls; so that “he that watereth is watered also himself.” And thusÂ—the devotion of time, the concentration of attention, and the improvement of talents and opportunitiesÂ—when applied in simplicity to that employment, which is the present and eternal rest of the soul, forms and matures the character for a richer supply of heavenly communications, and for more extensive usefulness in the Church of God.
We remark also the confirmation, afforded to our own faith by the daily routine of a spiritual ministration. The palpable display of the blindness and enmity of the natural manÂ—the necessity of a radical change of heart and habitÂ—the means by which this change is effectedÂ—its beneficial influence upon the whole characterÂ—its sustaining efficacy, as manifested in “the patience and faith of the saints”Â—all meet us on every side in our closer and more familiar survey of man; strengthening our own personal faith in the Scriptural revelation, and enabling us to set our seal with stronger confidence, that in our official testimony “we have not followed cunningly-devised fables.”
The certainty of success must not be forgotten as one of the mainsprings of Ministerial support. All the covenanted engagements made to our great Mediator are mainly fulfilled through the instrumentality of the Christian Ministry. This, therefore, secures to usÂ—that “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in our hand,” and quickens us to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
But it is the prospect of eternity, that consummates our hopes and joys. Then indeed will the inspired aphorism be fully illustratedÂ— “He that winneth souls is wise”Â—when “they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Our recompense is measured not “according to” our success, but “our labour,” and as with our blessed Master, vouchsafed even in the failure of our ministration. And though we be only the instruments of the Divine purpose, and the organs of Almighty agencyÂ—yet is it as rich and full, as if the glory of the work were our own. What clearer proof is needed, that the rewards of the Christian dispensation are of “grace and not of debt”Â—the indulgence of free and sovereign mercy, wholly irrespective of man’s desertÂ—which, were its claims insisted upon, instead of exalting him to the favour of God, would cover him with “shame and everlasting contempt”?
Admitting, therefore, that we are called to difficult and costly service; yet have we abundant cause to be satisfied with the sustaining support and consolation provided for every emergency. All indeed may be included in the single promiseÂ— “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” ‘The officers He employs in every age’Â—observes an excellent minister addressing a brotherÂ— ‘are entitled to this treasure, as well as those of the first age.Â—Keep your mind’Â—he addedÂ— ‘believingly attentive to this “always”Â—Lo, I am with you, to qualify and succeed you in whatever work I call you to. “Lo, I am with you” to comfort you by My presence and Spirit, when your hearts are grieved. “Lo, / am with you,” to defend and strengthen
you in trials, though all men forsake you. While He stands with you, here can be no just cause of fear or faintness. You need no other encouragement. This you shall never want, if you continue faithful: and hereupon you may concludeÂ— The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.’
Thus does every view of our office encourage us to increased exertion and devotedness; so that in the midst of many painful exercises of faith and patience, we can “thank God and take courage.” None, who have devoted themselves in simplicity to the work, will hesitate in subscribing to Mr. Scott’s testimonyÂ— ‘With all my discouragements and sinful despondency; in my better moments, I can think of no work worth doing compared with this. Had I a thousand lives, I would willingly spend them in it: and had I as many sons, I should gladly devote them to it.’