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Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament ; net
of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.--2 Cor. iii. 6.
INTRODUCTORY to the passage now proposed for consideration, I will recite the connexion in which it is found, as the best means of preparing your minds for the important and interesting sentiments which it contains.—“Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men : manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God, Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. For if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious ?. For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministra
tion of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious, had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory which excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, who put a vail over his fáce, so that the children could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded : for until this day remaineth the same vail, untaken away in reading the Old Testament: which vail is done away in Christ;” or the New Testament, the Gospel Dispensation.
Having introduced our subject in the apostle's own words, we shall attempt its discussion under the following general divisions :
1. Exhibit some of the characteristics and qualifications of ministers of the New Testament.
11. State the fundamental principles of the doctrine which they preach.
111. Make some remarks illustrative of the natural tendency of this New Testament religion, when correctly inculcated and understandingly embraced.
1. The characteristics and qualifications of christian ministers.-It should in this place be particularly observed, that by “ministers of the New Testament,” we mean those, who are ordinarily called to labor in word and doctrine, as well as those who were commissioned of the Lord, in an extraordinary and supernatural manner. We offer this explanation, that you may know we do not make pretensions to gifts and qualifications,which were peculiarto those who taught in the age of miracles. And even at that time, there were some, we have reason to believe, who were not qualified to be instrumental in miraculous operations upon the human mind. Even for the primitive establishment of Christianity, men were appointed to different offices in the various departments of Christ's government. "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets ; thirdly teachers; after that miracles; then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles ? are all prophets ? are all teachers ? are all workers of miracles? have all the gifts of healing ?” We consider it presumptive and arrogant for christian teachers now to make pretensions to those supernatural endowments, by which apostles, prophets and interpreters, became infallible witnesses to the truth of the doctrine which they proclaimed. To evince the justness of such pretensions, we should be under obligations to attest our doctrine by an efficacious display of miraculous powers. For though it is admitted that some men have been instantaneously converted and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we do not believe it is God's ordinary method of conversion and sanctification. Those copious out-pourings—the sudden and mighty operations of the divine spirit
, of which we have accounts in Scripture, were as really miraculous, as the restoration of a withered hand or the resurrection of the dead. The one was as great a departure from the usual methods of sanctification, as the others were from the established course of nature. Hence we cannot conscientiously pretend to be so much as humbly instrumental, in a. kind of conversion which is really miraculous. The days of miracles being now past, we labor to bring men from darkness to light, and convert them from sin to holiness, by the appointed means of religious instruction and persuasion, or by teaching them to observe all things which Jesus has commanded in the Scriptures. Therefore, we may observe under this division of the subject,
1. That MEEKNESS and HUMILITY are necessary characteristics in a christian minister. The preacher of this description will be religiously and earnestly desirous of rendering himself useful to others, and act from an humble and heart-felt sense of his dependence on God for matter, gifts and graces, in proclaiming the glorious gospel of His Son. He will go forth, “ In meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”
The humble servant of Christ preaches the doctrine which is revealed in the scriptures. “ Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.” That is, we are not qualified to invent or originate such a system of religion as we preach; we only proclaim what God has been pleased to reveal by his spirit. If such profession of dependence on God for a revelation of his will, were becoming in men who were extraordinarily qualified, how extremely arrogant would it be in us, who can claim no such qualifications, not to be satisfied with that revelation, as found in the New Testament. Those who neglect this Volume, and repair to mere human productions, to the writings of great and learned men, who have been at the trouble of inventing schemes of their own, that they may find a Body of divinity, are as unfortunate as the female Seekers were, who, had they succeeded in their attempts, would have found nothing but the dead body of their Lord; and to whom the angel said, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? The Lord is not here, he is risen." But the language of the humble is,“ Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” These words express the feelings and sentiments of the humble heart, renewed by the grace or favor of the
Lord; and I would remind you, that those who are so favored of God as to be called to preach the un searchable riches of Christ, must needs be experimental, sober, devout, prayerful men.
But, do you ask, whether they will not become proud, arrogant and dogmatical, whose labor it is to disseminate the invaluable riches of salvation to a lost and perishing world? Our reply is, Be not hasty in forming an opinion; be patient till you have heard the whole testimony, and then judge ye. You should consider that the man who is properly inducted into this sacred office, will be the more humble and meek, the more he realizes his responsibility to God, for having employed him in dispensing to others, the riches of his mercy. His humbling declaration is, “ I am debtor both to the cultivated and uncultivated, to the wise and to the unwise; so as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to “every creature; for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” And think you, kind friends, that such an one will become proud, dictatorial and illiberat? What! proud of being a debtor to all men; the high and the low, rich and poor, bond and free; in being subject to draughts for the unsearchable riches of Christ, from the penurious and the affluent, the begger and the king? No; but rather, how lowly, how humble must be the man, who realizes that he owes his talents, qualifications, and best services to those for whose final salvation, our glorious Master lived, labored, suffered, died, arose and ascended on high?
2. BENEVOLENCE and zeal are assential characteris.. tics in the ministers of truth. If an apostle hath said of disciples or christians in general, “ By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another,” how important it is that teachers should possess real love or benevolence, Though they speak with tongues of the eloquent,