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ORDINATION OF THE REV. JOHN EMERÝ ÁBBOT
Colossians i. 28: "Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every
man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." In the verses immediately preceding the text, we find the Apostle enlarging with his usual zeal and earnestness on a subject peculiarly dear to him; on the glorious mystery of God, or in other words, on the great purpose of God, which had been kept secret from ages, to make the Gentile world partakers, through faith, of the blessings of the long, promised Messiah.
• Christ, the hope of glory to the Gentiles," was the theme on which Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, delighted to expatiate. Having spoken of Jesus in this character, he immediately adds, “ Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
On the present occasion, which invites us to consider the design and duties of the Christian ministry, I have thought that these words would guide us to many appropriate and useful reflections. They teach us what the Apostle preached: We preach Christ. They teach us the end or object for which he thus preached: “ That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." Following this natural order, I shall first consider what is intended by “preaching Christ.”. I shall then endeavour to illustrate and recommend the end or object for which Christ is to be preached; and I shall conclude with some remarks on the methods by which this end is to be accomplished. In discussing these topics, on which a variety of sentiment is known to exist, I shali necessarily dissent from some of the views which are cherished by particular classes of Christians. But the frank expression of opinion ought not to be construed into any want of affection or esteem for those from whom I differ.
I. What are we to understand by “preaching Christ?” This subject is the more interesting and important, because, I fear, it has often been misunderstood. Many persons imagine, that Christ is never preached, unless his name is continually repeated and his character continually kept in view. . This is an error, and should be exposed. Preaching Christ, then, does not consist in making Christ perpetually the subject of discourse, but in inculcating, on his authority, the religion which he taught. Jesus came to be the light and teacher of the world; and in this sublime and benevolent character he unfolded many truths relating to the Universal Father, to his own character, to the condition, duties, and prospects of mankind, to the perfection and true happiness of the human soul, to a future state of retribution, to the terms of forgiveness, to the means of virtue, and of everlasting life. Now whenever we teach, on the authority of Jesus, any doctrine or precept included in this extensive system, we “|..." Christ.” When, for instance, we inculcate on his authority the duties of forgiving enemies, of denying ourselves, of hungering after righteousness, we “preach Christ” as truly as when we describe his passion on the cross, or the purpose and the importance of his sufferings.
By the word “Christ” in the text and in many other places, we are to understand his religion rather than his person. Among the Jews nothing was more common than to give the name of a religious teacher to the system of truth which he taught. We see this continually exemplified in the New Testament. Thus, it is said of the Jews, “They have Moses and the prophets.” What is meant by this? that they had Moses residing in person among them? Certainly not; but that they had his law, his religion. Jesus says, “I came not to destroy the prophets.” What did he mean? that he had not come to slay or destroy the prophets who had died ages before his birth? Certainly not; he only intended that his doctrines were suited to confirm, not to invalidate, the writings of these holy men. According to the same form of speech, Stephen was accused of blasphemy against Moses, because some of his remarks were construed into a reproach on the law of Moses. These passages are sufficient to show us, that a religion was often called by the name of its teacher; and conformably to this usage, when Paul says, “We preach Christ,” we ought to understand him as affirming, that he preached the whole system of doctrines and duties which Christ taught, whether they related to Jesus himself, or to any other subject.
But there is one passage more decisive on this point than any which I have adduced. In the Acts of the Apostles,” James says, “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the . every Sabbath-day.” Here we find the Apostle declaring, that in every city there were men who preached Moses; and we are told in what this preaching consisted: “Moses is read in the synagogue every Sabbath-day.” No one, acquainted with the ancient services of the synagogue, can suppose, for a moment, that the character and offices of Moses were the themes of the Jewish teachers every Sabbath, and that they preached nothing else. It was their custom to read the books of the law in course, and to offer comments upon obscure or important passages. In many parts of these books the name of Moses is not mentioned. We have whole chapters about the tabernacle, and about the rites of cleansing from the leprosy. But according to James, when those portions were read and explained, Moses was preached; not because his character was the subject, but because the instructions contained in these chapters were a part of the religion which he was appointed to communicate to the children of Israel. The name of the teacher was given to his doctrine. This form of speech was not peculiar to the Jews; all nations have probably adopted it. At the present day, nothing is more common than to hear, that Locke, or Newton, or some other distinguished philosopher, is published, or taught; not that his personal character and history are made public, but his system of doctrines. . In the same way, Christ is preached, published, proclaimed, when his instructions are delivered, although these instructions may relate to other topics beside his own offices and character. o
* Acts xv. 21.
I hope I shall not be misunderstood in the remarks which I have now made. Do not imagine, that I would exclude from the pulpit, discourses on the excellence of Jesus Christ. The truths which relate to Jesus himself, are among the most important which the Gospel reveals. The relations which Jesus Christ sustains to the world, are so important and so tender; the concern which he has expressed in human salvation, so strong and disinterested; the blessings of pardon and immortal life which he brings, so undeserved and unbounded; his character is such a union of moral beauty and grandeur; his example is at once so pure and so persuasive; the events of his life, his miracles, his sufferings, his resurrection and ascension, and his offices of intercessor and judge, are so strengthening to faith, hope, and charity, that his ministers should dwell on his name with affectionate veneration, and should delight to exhibit him to the gratitude, love, imitation, and confidence of mankind.
But whilst the Christian minister is often to insist on the life, the character, the offices, and the benefits of Jesus Christ, let him not imagine that he is preaching Christ only when these are his themes. If he confine himself to these, he will not in the full sense of the word preach Christ; for this is to preach the whole religion of Jesus, and this religion is of vast extent. It regards man in his diversified and evermultiplying relations to his Creator and to his fellow-creatures, to the present state and to all future ages. Its aim is, to instruct and quicken us to cultivate an enlarged virtue; to cultivate our whole intellectual and moral nature. It collects and offers motives to piety from the past and from the future, from heaven and hell, from nature and experience, from human example, and from the imitable excellences of God, from the world without and the world within us. The Gospel of Christ is indeed an inexhaustible treasury of moral and religious truth. Jesus, the first and best of evangelical teachers, did not confine himself to a few topics, but manifested himself to be the wisdom of God by the richness and variety of his instructions. To preach Christ is to unfold, as far as our feeble and narrow powers permit, all the doctrines, duties, and motives, which are recorded in the Gospels and in the writings of his inspired Apostles.
It is not intended by these remarks, that all the instructions of Christ are of equal importance, and that all are to be urged with equal frequency and zeal. Some, undoubtedly, are of greater moment and of more universal application than others. But a minister of a sound and candid mind, .# be very cautious lest he assign so high a rank to a few doctrines, that the rest will sink into comparative insignificance, and almost fade from the minds of his hearers. He will labour to give enlarged and harmonious views of all the principles of Christianity, recollecting that each receives support from the rest, and that no doctrine or precept will exert its proper influence, if swelled into disproportioned importance, or detached from the truths which ought to modify and restrain it. . It has been the object of these remarks, to show, that preaching Christ does not imply that the offices and character of Christ are to be made perpetually the subjects of discourse. Where this idea prevails, it too often happens that the religion of Jesus is very partially preached. A few topics are repeated without end. Many .. and ennobling views of Christianity are seldom or never exhibited. The duties of the Gospel receive but a cursory attention. Religion is thought to consist in a fervid state of mind, produced by the constant contemplation of a few affecting ideas; whilst the only acceptable religion, which consists in living “soberly, righteously, . godly in the world,” seems to be undervalued as quite an inferior attainment. Where this mistake prevails, we too often discover a censorious spirit among hearers, who pronounce with confidence on this and another minister, that they do not preach Christ, because their discourses do not turn on a few topics in relation to the Saviour, which are thought to contain the whole of Christianity. Very often the labours of a pious and ". minister are defeated by this prejudice; nor must he wonder, if he find himself decried as an enemy to the faith, by those whose want of education or capacity confines them to the narrowest views of the Christian system.— May I be permitted, with deference and respect, to beseech Christian ministers not to encourage by example this spirit of censure among private Christians. There is no lesson which we can teach our hearers more easily, than to think contemptuously and to speak bitterly of other classes of Christians, and especially of their teachers. Let us never forget, that we none of us preach Christ in the full import of that phrase. None of us can hope that we give a complete representation of the religion of our Master; that we exhibit every doctring without defect or without excess, in its due proportions, and in its just connexions. We of necessity communicate a portion of our own weakness and darkness to the religion which we dispense. The degree of imperfection indeed differs in different teachers; but none are free from the universal frailty, and none are authorised to take the seat of judgment, and, on the ground of imagined errors, to deny to others, whose lives are as spotless as their own, a conscientious purpose to learn and to teach the whole counsel of God. II. Having thus considered what is intended by preaching Christ, I roceed to consider, secondly, for what end Christ is to be preached. e preach Christ, says the Apostle, “warning every man, and teaching every man, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus;” that is, perfect in the religion of Christ, or a perfect Christian. From this passage we derive a most important sentiment, confirmed by the whole New Testament, that the great design of all the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel, is, to exalt the character, to promote eminent purity of heart and life, to make men perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect. For what end then is Christianity to be preached? The answer is plain. We must preach, not to make fiery partisans, and to swell the number of a sect; not to overwhelm the mind with fear, or to heat it with feverish rapture; not to form men to the decencies of life, to a superficial goodness, which will secure the admiration of mankind. All these effects fall infinitely short of the great end of the Christian ministry. We should preach, that we may make men perfect Christians; perfect, not according to the standard of the world, but according to the law of Christ; perfect in heart and in life, in solitude and in society, in the great and in the common concerns of life. Here is the purpose of Christian preaching. In this, as in a common centre, all the truths of the Gospel meet; to this they all conspire; and no doctrine has an influence on salvation, any farther than it is an aid and excitement to the perfecting of our nature. The Christian minister needs often to be reminded of this great end of his office, the perfection of the human character. He is too apt to rest in low attainments himself, and to be satisfied with low attainments in others. . He ought never to forget the great distinction and glory of the Gospel,-that it is designed to perfect human nature. All the precepts of this divine system are marked by a sublime character. It demands that our piety be fervent, our benevolence unbounded, and our thirst for righteousness strong and insatiable. It enjoins a virtue which does not stop at what is positively prescribed, but which is prodigal of service to God and mankind. The Gospel enjoins inflexible integrity, fearless sincerity, fortitude which despises pain and tramples pleasure under foot in the pursuit of duty, ...} an independence of spirit which no scorn can deter and no example seduce from asserting truth and adhering to the cause which conscience approves. With this spirit of martyrs, this hardness and intrepidity of soldiers of the cross, the Gospel calls us to unite the mildest and meekest virtues; a sympathy which melts over others' woes; a disinterestedness which finds pleasure in toils, and labours for others' good; a humility which loves to bless unseen, and forgets itself in the performance of the noblest deeds. To this perfection of social duty, the Gospel commands us to join a piety which refers every event to the providence of God, and every action to his will; a love which counts no service hard, and a penitence which esteems no judgment severe; a gratitude which offers praise even in adversity; a holy trust unbroken by protracted suffering, and a hope triumphant over death. In one word, it enjoins, that, loving and confiding in Jesus Christ, we make his spotless character, his heavenl life, the model of our own. Such is the sublimity of character whic the Gospel demands, and such the end to which our preaching should ever be directed. I have dwelt on this end of preaching, because it is too often forgotten, and because a stronger conviction of it will give new force and elevation to our instructions. We need to feel more deeply, that we are entrusted with a religion which is designed to ennoble human nature ; which recogmises in man the capacities of all that is good, great, and excellent; and which offers every encouragement and aid to the pursuit of perfection. The Christian minister should often recollect, that man, though propense to evil, has yet powers and faculties which may be exalted and refined to angelic glory; that he is called by the Gospel to prepare for