« PreviousContinue »
Dan. xii. 3. Won souls are a minister's crown, and glory, and joy. Phil. iv. I. 1 Thess. ii. 20. How far is this account above all others that a man can give of his ministry? These things fixed upon the heart, would enliven us in all endeavours to attain this excellent end.
2. For advice about the means, I shall add these few, bea sides what hath been said.
1st, Let ministers, if they would win souls, procure and retain amongst the people a persuasion of their being sent of God; that they are Christ's ministersage 1 Cor. iv. 1. It is not confident asserting of it, nor justifying the lawfulness of our ecclesiastical calling, though there be some use of these things at some times: but it is ability, painfulness, faithfulness, humility, and self-denial, and, in a word, conformity to our Lord Jesus in his ministry, that will constrain people to say, and think, that we are sent of God. Nicodemus comes with this impression of Christ, John iii. 2. A teacher come from God. It is certain, that these thoughts in people further the reception of the gospel ; Gal. iv. 14. re received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
2dly, Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people's love to their persons. And this is best done, by loving of them, and dealing lovingly and patiently with them. There should be no striving with them, especially about worldly things : yea, meekness to them that oppose themselves, 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25, 26. It is of great advantage to have their love. How carefully doth Paul sue for it in several epistles ; and condescend to intreat and make apologies, when indeed he had not wronged them, but they only did imagine he had wronged them! 2 Cor. xi.
3dly, It would further the winning of souls, to deal particularly and personally with them; not always nor altogether in public, Col. i. 28. Acts xx. 20, 21. Great fruit hath constantly followed the conscientious discharge of this duty. The setting of it up in Geneva, did produce incredible fruits of piety, as Calvin reports : when the ministers, and some of the elders, went from house to house, and dealt particularly with the people's consciences. And we are not without many instances of the fruit of this mean in our own time, and in
these nations. Blessed be the Lord for the labourers, and their success.
4thly, Ministers must pray much, if they would be successful. The apostles spent their time this way, Acts vi. 3. Yea, our Lord Jesus preached all day, and continued all night alone in prayer to God. Ministers should be much in prayer. They use to reckon how many hours they spend in reading and study; it were far better both with ourselves and the church of God, if more time were spent in prayer. Luther's spending three hours daily in secret prayer, Bradford's studying on his knees, and other instances of men in our time, are talked of rather than imitated. Ministers should pray much for themselves; for they have corruptions like other men, and have temptations that none but ministers are assaulted with. They should pray for their message. How sweet and easy is it for a minister, (and likely it is to be the more profitable to the people), to bring forth that scripture as food to the souls of his people, that he hath got opened to his own heart by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the exercise of faith and love in prayer ! A minister should pray for a blessing on the word; and he should be much in seeking God particularly for the people. It may be this may be the reason why some ministers of meaner gifts and parts are more successful, than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, so much as because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.
But because the ministry of the word is the main instrument for winning souls, I shall therefore add somewhat more particularly concerning this, and that both as to the matter and manner of preaching.
1. For the subject-matter of gospel-preaching, it is determined by the apostle expressly to be Christ crucified, 1 Cor. ii. 2. Two things ministers have to do about him in preaching him to them that are without. 1. To set him forth to people, Gal. ii. 1.; to paint him in his love, excellency, and ability to save. 2. To offer him unto them freely, fully, without any limitation as to sinners, or their sinful state. And then Christ's laws or will to be published to them that receive him, and are his, for the rule of their walk; and his promises,
for the measure and foundation of all their hopes and expectations; and his grace and fulness, for their supply in every case, till they be brought to heaven. This was the simplicity of the gospel that remained but a little while in the Christian church: for ceremonies amongst the Jews, and sinful mixtures of vain philosophy amongst the Gentiles, Col. ii. did by degrees so corrupt the gospel, that the mystery of iniquity ripened in the production of Antichrist. It was a sad observation of the fourth century, that it became a matter of learning and ingenuity to be a Christian. The meaning was, That too much weight was laid on notions, and matters of opinion ; and less regard had unto the soundness of the heart, and holiness of the life. In the beginning of the reformation from Popery, the worthies whom God raised up in several countries, did excellently in retrieving the simplicity of the gospel from the Popish mixtures. But that good work took a stand quickly, and is on the declining greatly. How little of Jesus Christ is there in some pulpits ! It is seen as to success, that whatever the law doth in alarming sinners, it is still the gospel-voice that is the key that opens the heart to Jesus Christ. Would ministers win souls ? Let them have more of Jesus Christ in their dealing with men, and less of other things that never profit them that are exercised therein.
2. As for the manner of successful preaching, I shall give it in a negative and positive, from these two places : 1 Cor. i. 17. and ii. 1,-4.
First, What this negative disowns, is our inquiry. The words are full : For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: nct with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Again, I came not to you cellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. Again, And my speech, and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom. These are the words of the Holy Ghost concerning a way of preaching that is unprofita
that seems was in use and respect with the Corinthians; and honest Paul was despised by them, for his simple and plain way, different from theirs. I shall only instance in things that this scriptural negative doth check and reprove
way of preaching.
ble: a way
1. The establishing and advancing of divine truth upon the foundation of human reason; as if there were some weakness and insufficiency in those methods and arguments of working on mens consciences, that the Holy Ghost ptescribes. The great foundation of all a minister hath to say, is, Thus saith the Lord; and a grave declaring of the testimony of God in this matter, is ministers duty, 1 Cor. ii. 1. and will have more authority on mens consciences, than many human reasons. There is a rational preaching, (as it is called), wherein men do not satisfy themselves to make use of reason as a tool and instrument, (and then its use is excellent), but will establish it as a judge and dictator in all divine matters and truth; and so in effect turn all their preaching into little better things than the lectures of the philosophers of old; save that the poor Pagans were more sincere in their morals, and serious in delivering their opinions.
Let a minister therefore still think with himself, that a plain scripture-testimony is his main argument; and accordingly let him use it. When he teacheth philosophy, and when he teacheth men the will of God about salvation, he is in distinct provinces, and his management of his work therein should be very different.
2. It is to preach with excellency of speech, and words of man's wisdom, when men think to reach the gospel end on sinners by force of even spiritual reason and persuasion. This corrupt thought riseth in some, from an imagination that moral suasion is all that is needful for converting a sinner : and in some this thought rises on a better account; the light of the glory of God in the gospel shines so brightly in upon their own hearts, that they fall into this conceit, that no man can stand before that light which they can hold forth : Melancthon's mistake at first, till experience made him wiser. Hast thou a clear knowledge of gospel-mysteries, and the word of exhortation is with thee also, so that thou art qualified to urge, beseech, and plead warmly with sinners on Christ's behalf ? Take heed of this snare, lest thou think, that thy wisdom and gists can promote and carry on the gospel-design
3. This malso is checked in the apostle's words, the setting
forth the beauty of the gospel by human art. The truth of the gospel shines best in its bare proposal ; and its beauty, in its simple and naked discovery. We may observe from the church-history, that still as soundness of doctrine, and the power of godliness, decayed in the church, the vanity of an affected way of speaking and of writing of divine things came in. Quotations from the fathers, Latin, and languages, are pitiful ornaments unto preaching, if a man design conversion and soul-edification. And yet more despicable are all playing on words, jinglings, and cadencies, (which things are in all the rules of true eloquence justly exploded); and yet some men reckon much on them. But would any man think his friend in earnest with him, that would accost him in
any affair with such sort of language and gesture ?
Secondly, The positive is, in demonstration of the Spirit, aud of power, 1 Cor. ii. 5.
1. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Holy Ghost was in him, sanctifying him. This is a plain and blessed thing. Happy is the minister that manageth his work so, that if the hearers get not a demonstration of great parts and learning, yet they have a demonstration of the sanctifying Spirit of God in the minister.
2. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Spirit of God was with him, assisting and helping him in his work; even when he was amongst them in much weak11ess, fear, and trembling, ver. 3. Happy is the minister that can preach this way. He must be a depender upon assistance from the Holy Ghost.
3. Paul preached so as a demonstration of the power of the Holy Ghost was given to the hearts of the hearers. The Spirit of God so wrought on them by his power in and by Paul's preaching, (2 Cor. iv. 2. Commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God). This is the principle thing to be aimed at, and it is the proper source of all profitable preaching.
III. To conclude: You that are ministers, suffer a word