GOSPEL-COMPULSION; OR, MINISTERIAL POWER AND AUTHORITY.
This sermon was preached at the ordination of Mr. John Hunter, to the pastoral office in the united congregations of Morbottle and Stitchel, by appointment of the Associate Presbytery, on the 17th October, 1739, being set apart for, and observed as a day of fasting and prayer at Gateshaw. The first edition of the sermon acquaints us that it was published at the earnest desire and repeated entreaty of a great many hearers. To which is subjoined an appendix, directed more especially to the united societies in and about the foresaid Morbottle and Stitchel, upon account of the much-lamented death of the above Reverend Mr. John Hunter, who deceased January 7th, 1740, not having been four complete months ordained minister.
“Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Luke 14:23.
GOSPEL-COMPULSION; OR, MINISTERIAL POWER AND AUTHORITY.
This sermon was preached at the ordination of Mr. John Hunter, to the pastoral office in the united congregations of Morbottle and Stitchel, by appointment of the Associate Presbytery, on the 17th October, 1739, being set apart for, and observed as a day of fasting and prayer at Gateshaw. The first edition of the sermon acquaints us that it was published at the earnest desire and repeated entreaty of a great many hearers. To which is subjoined an appendix, directed more especially to the united societies in and about the foresaid Morbottle and Stitchel, upon account of the much-lamented death of the above Reverend Mr. John Hunter, who deceased January 7th, 1740, not having been four complete months ordained minister.
“Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Luke 14:23.
My friends, though the work of sequestrating some to the Ministerial Office, be ordinary in the Church of Christ, yet the occasion and circumstances of this work today, among our hands, is extraordinary in many respects, in so much that there was scarce ever a parallel it hath had in Scotland. But, as extraordinary cases require extraordinary services; so, it is matter of lamentation, that the defections and corruptions of the times should make it not only highly expedient, but absolutely necessary, for the relief of Christ’s scattered sheep, and oppressed heritage, through the violent measures of church judicatories.1 But my business at present is to give a hint at the nature of that ministerial work to which one is to be set apart here: and the text I have read lays before us a sum of their work, as it relates to the sinners with whom they have to do: their orders are, “Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
These words are part of a parable, wherein the free grace of God, in Christ, is represented by a rich man making a great supper; that is, the rich and bountiful Lord providing all the treasures and blessings of the new covenant, and inviting all poor, indigent sinners, to whom the gospel comes, to come and share of these blessings of everlasting life and happiness, to be had in Christ Jesus.
The entertainment that this kind offer gets is various; some reject it, and others embrace it. The rejectors make trifling excuses, preferring their ground, their oxen, their wives; that is, their worldly possessions and sensual enjoyments, to all the blessings of the everlasting gospel
Hereupon care is taken to furnish his table; Go, says he, to his servants, pick up the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind; by whom might be meant the despised, outcast Gentiles, who were taken in, when the Jews, who slighted Christ, were rejected of him.
But though many of this sort came in and embraced the offer, yet the servant is brought in telling his Lord, saying, “It is done as thou hast commanded; and yet there is room.” Ministers are to give account to Christ, relating to their ministerial commission: 1. Of the execution of it; “It is done as thou hast commanded.” 2. Of the success thereof; “Yet there is room:” intimating that though several were come in, yet there was entertainment for many more.
Upon this a new warrant is given out to the servants, to go to the highways and hedges, since none among the Jews, if it be not some of the despicable sort, the publicans and sinners, the halt and the blind, but none of the Scribes and Pharisees will come in; “Go out into the highways and hedges (i.e. to the open country; pick up the vagrant, the poor straggling Gentiles), and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Where, we may observe the three following particulars.
1. A commission given to ministers,showing what they are to do towards sinners, to whom they minister in sacred things, or to whom they preach the gospel, “Compel them.”
2. The design of this commission, what end they are to have in view and aim at by this compulsion, “Compel them to come in.”
3. The reason assigned for all this work, of compelling them to come in, namely, “that my house may be filled.” As if the Master should say, These whom you have to deal with, will be very shy and backward, and will hardly believe that they shall be welcome therefore, there is a certain kind of compulsion must be used towards them; you must be in earnest, and very importunate with them to come in to me, and share of the provision I have made for them, that by this means the number of my ransomed ones may be completed, the outcasts of Israel may be gathered, my table may be furnished, my church and house may be filled. But I refer the further explication of the words to the prosecution of the following doctrine.
Observation: “The ministers of Christ have a power and warrant to compel sinners to come in to him, that his house may be filled.”
The doctrine being much the same with the text, I need not stand upon the proof of it. You have this matter very elegantly represented; “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars. She hath killed her beasts, she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens, she crieth upon the highest places of the city. Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled,” (Prov. 9:1-5). Ministers have authority from their master, to rebuke, exhort, command, and compel.
We shall endeavor the prosecution of this subject, through divine aid, in the following method:—
I. We shall speak of the ministerial commission and authority, imported in this word, “Compel them.”
II. Of the end and design of it, namely, that they come in; “Compel them to come in.”
III. We shall speak of the reason, viz., “That his house may be filled.”
IV. Make some application of the whole.
I. We are to speak of this ministerial power and authority, imported in this expression, “Compel them.” And here we are to touch at three things: 1. Who are they that have this authority to compel. 2. Whom they have warrant to compel 3. What is the nature and import of this compulsion.
1st, Who are they that have this authority to compel. The context shows, that they are the servants of Christ; “The Lord said unto the servants, Go.” Here is the office of the gospel-minister; he is the servant of Christ and of his church; “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake,” (2 Cor. 4:5). Their station in the church is not as lords of God’s heritage, but servants.
This does not at all detract from their ministerial office, while we consider that Christ came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and serve. If he was the Father’s servant and our servant in his Father’s business, surely it is no small honor to be his servant, and a servant to immortal souls for his sake; only here we see, that the apostles themselves did not pretend to be lordly prelates, nor assume to themselves a domination in the church, as having dominion over their faith, but as helpers of their joy, (2 Cor. 1:24).
Nor can it be constructed a slavery, where it is for Jesus’ sake, to promote the honor and interest of Christ in the church, and to act, not as an inferior, menial servant, but as one clothed with authority, in the Master’s name, to compel.
This office of the minister, as a servant, imports both suitable abilities, and a call to improve them for the Master’s use in his house.
1. It supposes and imports qualifications and abilities, fitting them for the discharge of this work in some measure: “Every scribe that is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old,” (Matt. 13:52). And there is a threefold stock of ability that he should have: 1. A stock of graces; for, if one be not a good Christian, he will never make a good minister. 2. A stock of gifts and learning that he may be able to convince gainsayers, and may be apt to teach. 3. A stock of experiences, that he may teach what he knows himself; that knowing both the terrors and comforts of the Lord, he may persuade men: that also he may be able to say, “I believe, and therefore speak; and what I have heard and seen, and felt, declare I unto you;” otherwise his preaching will be, at best, but like cold milk in a vessel, and not like warm milk from the breast.
2. This office supposes and imports a divine call. It is not sufficient to warrant any man to meddle with the ministerial office, that he hath a competent stock of abilities and qualifications, fitting him for the work: except he hath also a ministerial power conveyed to him, either immediately by God, as it was in the apostles, which was such an extraordinary call, as we are not now to expect; or mediately [adv.; To settle differences], according to the order which God hath established in his church. This ordinary mediate call is twofold, either outward or inward.
(1.) The outward call by the church (including both the judgment of the eldership or presbytery, and the election of the congregation, when the minister is to be fixed to any particular charge). God hath given to his church, or to the lawful courts and judicatories thereof, a ministerial power, whereby, upon trial and knowledge of a man’s abilities for that work, they make manifest that God hath called him; for it is not the church that makes the minister, but God himself, by conferring ministerial qualifications: the church only declares and authorizes for exercise these whom God doth qualify for such purpose. It is God himself who makes any to be able ministers of the New Testament, (2 Cor. 3:6).
(2.) There is the inward call of the Spirit of God, of which I apprehend, that, as it lies in the Lord’s qualifying a man with gifts and graces for that work (for, without these qualifications, God calls none, whatever men do); so it lies also in the Lord’s quickening, inclining, and stirring them up to improve these talents which he hath given for his service in the gospel of Christ; and in their having the testimony of a good conscience, that the motive that presses them is God’s glory, and the edification of the church.
This outward and inward call and commission is declared necessary; “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Here then is the servant, but what the service is will fall in afterwards. Having then showed who they are that have this authority to compel, I come to show,
2ndly, Whom they are warranted to compel, or whom does their office oblige them to deal with, by calling and compelling them to come in? Why, upon the Jews their rejecting of Christ and the gospel, the commission here seems to respect the rustic Gentiles; or all these who are represented to be, as in verses 21 and 23, in the streets and lanes, in the highways and hedges, as to their situation; and to be poor, maimed, halt, and blind, as to their condition. The first and leading part of the ministerial work relates to the bringing in these who are strangers to Christ; and afterwards the feeding and edifying of these that are brought in. But first they are to “compel them to come in:” Them; whom?
1. Aliens that are without doors: Without, it is said, are dogs. But even such dogs as the Gentiles were, may come in when the door is open to them. We are to open the door to these who are aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, (Eph. 2:12). Even those that are without Christ, without hope, and without God in the world; if they were not without, they need not to be called to come in.
2. They are warranted to call in the poor; for, “To the poor the gospel is preached:” both these that are outwardly poor, and in mean outward circumstances in the world; the rich generally contemn the gospel-offer: and also these who are inwardly poor; that is destitute of all spiritual good and excellencies; destitute of grace and righteousness; let them be called in to share of the grace and righteousness that is in Christ.
3. They are warranted to call in the maimed: that is these who want legs or arms, unable to walk and unable to work. The call of the gospel is to be extended to maimed souls, as all naturally are, being by nature without strength, and destitute of all ability to walk, or work spiritually that they may come where they will be furnished with power.
4. They are warranted to bring in the halt; the poor cripple souls, who if they have received any strength to walk, yet cannot go without halting. They are, like their master, to take up in their arms the poor lame sheep, that cannot follow the rest of the flock; for [he], “feeds his flock like a shepherd, and gathers his lambs with his arms,” (Isa. 40:11).
5. They are warranted to bring in the blind; representing how blind souls, that have no eyes to see, but are ignorant of God and Christ, and the way of salvation, are called to come and receive their sight; for Christ is given for a covenant of the people, a light to the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, (Isa. 42:7). And the great design, upon which God sends out a gospel-ministry among people, is to open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, (Acts 26:18).
6. They are warranted to bring in wanderers; these that are in the highways and hedges: as if he should say, The straggling vagrants, yea, the highwayman, the thief, the robber, the debauchee, the wicked and graceless, who are walking in the broad way to hell: for, as God, by the gospel, brings near his righteousness and salvation, even to the stout-hearted and far from righteousness, (Isa. 46:12-13), so Wisdom and her maidens, Christ and his servants that he sends forth, are warranted to stand upon the high places of the city, and to “cry without, to utter their voices in the streets, to cry in the chief places of concourse, in the opening of the gates, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and ye scorners delight in scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn ye at my reproof,” (Prov. 1:20-23) &c. Even the wicked mockers of God and religion, the most wicked and wretched, and abandoned like sinners, are to be dealt with, and compelled to come in.
Thus you see whom they are warranted to compel. But now I come to consider,
3dly, What is the nature and import of this compulsion. Here we may consider, 1. What sort of compulsion it is; and, 2. What power and authority it imports.
[1.] What sort of compulsion it is. I would explain what I take to be the nature of this compulsion, in the following particulars.
1. It is not an outward, but an inward compulsion; it does not mean a dragging of their body, but a drawing their heart and soul to Christ: and when once the heart, or the internal man, is drawn, then it will draw the body to the external part of religion also. But what draws the heart? Why, says the apostle, “With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness;” and this believing, or, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God:” that is, by the preaching of the gospel, the heart is drawn to Christ.
2. It is not magisterial, but a ministerial compulsion. As external compulsion hath no foundation in the text; so the ministers of the gospel, who are thus spoken to, have not, by Christ’s commission, any civil power committed to them. It is not a compelling of men’s consciences, far less a compelling men against their consciences, in matters of religion: as for example, in the business of the sacramental test, you shall be fined, imprisoned, ruined in your estate, if you take not the Lord’s supper: no such compulsion is here intended. Ministers are not lords over God’s heritage. Hence,
3. It is not a carnal, but a spiritual compulsion. It is not by force of arms, but by force of arguments, men are to be compelled; for, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations,” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). It is not by cudgels, but by considerations, that the will can be compelled: when the Lord concurs with these considerations that are spiritual, then they are cogent and compelling to the soul. The very opening to men the riches of divine grace, fitted to their lost and undone state, is, through grace, a compelling of them: for,
4. It is not a natural, but a gracious compulsion. It is not by the power. of natural abilities and freewill, which is the Arminian arms, that men are compelled; but by the power of free grace: therefore, in compelling sinners to come in, we are not to tell them what they can do (for, indeed, they can do nothing spiritually, nothing acceptably; they can do nothing but destroy themselves); but we are to tell them what grace can do, and how all their help lies here; “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help.”
5. It is not a legal, but an evangelical compulsion. It is true, “By the law is the knowledge of sin” and misery. By the command of the law applied, is the knowledge of sin; and by the curse of the law apprehended is the knowledge of misery: and so, by the law we may have the knowledge of the need we have of Christ. The law, therefore, is to be used in a subserviency to the gospel; but the law, though it may compel sinners to come down from their lofty thoughts of their own natural power and ability to help themselves; yet it is only the gospel that will “compel them to come In:” for, the more they see of their sinfulness and misery by the law, the more will they stand at a distance from coming to God; but will run away hopeless from him, until once the grace of God, manifested in the gospel, and the love of Christ constrain, and compel them to come in.” Hence,
6. It is not a rigid, harsh, and unpleasant, but a kindly and affectionate compulsion. It is a drawing with the cords of love, and the bands of a man. Here we may say the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. The minister is to use violence and force; but it is not the force of fire and sword, but the force of love, and the violence of reason, spiritual and scriptural reason. And because man’s reason now is out of reason, therefore,
7. It is not a merely rational and argumentative, but a divine compulsion, in the demonstration of the Spirit, and with power; “My speech, and my preaching was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God,” (1 Cor. 2:4); that it might not be merely rational faith, standing upon a human testimony, or human reasoning, but a divine faith, standing upon a divine testimony, a divine demonstration. Many have no other but a merely rational religion, and a faith grounded only upon rational arguments, by the force of which they are compelled to own and acknowledge this or that gospel-truth; but what comes of that faith, when a better arguer appears on the other side? Down their faith must go, that stands upon such a sandy foundation, as human wisdom and reason. You may get a poor, illiterate man or woman, that never learned philosophy, nor anything of the art of arguing, that will have a better faith, a firmer persuasion of the truth as it is in Jesus, than all these rational believers, and learned Rabies ever could be masters of. Why? because these poor, unlearned, yet true believers, are , taught of God; and the gospel hath come to them, not in word, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and with much assurance.
This, then, is the compulsion that gospel-ministers should aim at, in preaching and teaching, namely, that it be in the demonstration of the Spirit, and with power; but without this, men’s essays and flourishing harangues, whereby they think to compel men with the mere force and strength of their reasoning, will be found but a carnal weapon, not mighty through God, but weak or unavailable: “Not by strength, nor by might, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Let us never expect, that the exterior call in the ministry of the word will avail, without the efficacious operation of the Spirit of God. And, therefore, let us seek to pray in the Spirit, and preach in the Spirit, that through him we may do valiantly, in conquering sinners, and compelling them. Hence,
8. It is not a despicable, lawless, and unwarrantable, but an authoritative compulsion. Go, says the great Master, and compel them. It is in his name and authority, who is the great King in Zion that they are to do it. As they are to deal with sinners with all sincerity and earnestness, so with all authority and boldness: both these are joined together; “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled unto God,” (2 Cor. 5:20). While they present his bowels and compassion, they are also to represent his authority, as ambassadors for him. But this leads to another question on this head.
[2.] What power and authority doth this compulsion, they are warranted to use, import? I think it imports all that power and authority that belongs to them, as the servants and ministers of Christ. I cannot enlarge upon all the particulars here that might be treated; I shall only mention what occurs.
The ministerial power is either that which they have jointly, in conjunction with one another, or that which they can exercise separately, when invested with that sacred office.
1. There is a power they have jointly, in conjunction with one another, and with the other officers, or office-bearers in the church, when judicially met, and constitute as courts of Christ; such as a power of ordaining ministers, which is presbyterial: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery,” (1 Tim. 4:14).—A power of discipline and government, they being such servants as are also rulers, and said to have rule, (Heb. 13:17), according to the commission given unto them, (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). A power, hence resulting, of administering ecclesiastical censures, excommunications, &c. clearing up marches wisely between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Caesar. A power of making laws for the good of the church, agreeable to the law of Christ, and relating to the orderly government of his house, that all things be done decently and in order. They have no power, indeed; or authority to do anything against the truth, but only for it, (2 Cor. 13:8 & 10), and for the edification of the church. When their power is otherwise employed, it is not to be regarded, but to be reckoned void and null; as many pretended acts of judicatories in our days are.2 But this ecclesiastical power of judicatories, and courts of Christ, lawfully constitute, is sufficiently exemplified, (Acts 15 & 16), where, notwithstanding the wrangling of these that deviate to the Independent and Sectarian way, alleging, that the congregation of believers was equally the members of the court with the apostles and elders, because sometimes the brethren are mentioned with them; I think, to me it seems unanswerably evident, that the apostles and elders only were the constituent members of the court, by whose judicial determinations alone the decrees of the court were rendered valid, whosoever else were present there as consenters or approvers. This, to me, I say, is plain, in that (1.) The question that was in hand was referred to none for decision but to the apostles and elders; “They determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question,” (Acts 15:2) (2.) The apostles and elders only are mentioned as these that came together, to consider of that matter, (v. 6). (3.) The apostles and elders only are they by whom the decrees of the court are said to be ordained, (Acts 16:4). But this by the bye.
2. There is a power and authority here also imported, that ministers have, which they can and may exercise separately: such as, not only in general, that of administration of the word and sacraments, (Matt. 28:19); public preaching, praying, and praising, 1 (Tim. 2:1-3; Acts 6:4; Jam. 5:13; Col. 3:16); but also particularly, they have a power declaratory, to declare the whole counsel of God. A power as an instructor, to go and teach all nations. A power hortatory, to exhort, and to give much exhortation, as it is said, (Acts 20:2). A power reprehensory, to reprove, as John did Herod; and to exhort and rebuke with authority, (Titus 2:15). A power refutatory, to refute error and heresy, to confute and convince gainsayers, (Titus 1:9), and skew them their sin. A power mandatory, to command them in name of the Lord, to turn from sin to God, through Christ, by faith; for, “This is his command, that we should believe in the name of his Son;” and this command they are to give forth in his name. Again, they have a power minatory, to threaten the unbelieving and impenitent, saying, “He that believeth not, shall be damned; and, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” They have a power minatory, to warn them to flee from the wrath to come. They have a power consolatory, to comfort the broken hearted, and bind up their wounds. They have a power ligatory, and solutory; that is, of binding and loosing, according to the threatenings or comforts of the word. A power desponsatory; that is, as co-workers with Christ and his Spirit; power of espousing sinners to Christ: “I have espoused you to one Husband,” says the apostle, (2 Cor. 9:5). A power regenatory, and of begetting them by the word, “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” (1 Cor. 4:15). There is a power edificatory they have; to edify the body of Christ, and build them up in the most holy faith. A power adjutory, to help them much, who have believed through grace, and to be helpers of their joy. So much concerning this spiritual compulsion, and the power and authority imported in it, both for beginning and advancing the good work, and how ministers may be said to compel. This is the first general head, the ministerial commission and authority, “Compel them.”
II. The second general head proposed was, To speak of the end and design of this compulsion, namely, “To come in: Compel them to come in.” I shall here only show, what I take to be the import of this coming in, in a few particulars. The general import of coming in, is believing in Christ, who, so many times in Scripture, calls sinners to come to him, “Come to me all ye that are weary; whosoever will, let him come; him that cometh, I will in no wise cast out.” But more particularly, this coming in imports,
1. That sinners are without, otherwise they needed not be called to come in. Now, ministers being called to compel them to come in is a warranting them to show, and to cause them [to] know, they are without doors. And this is the first mean to be used for bringing in souls, to convince them of their estrangement from God; their cursed state while without God, without his image, without his favor, without his fellowship; and that, being without a covering from his wrath, they are exposed to eternal death and damnation: that so they may be compelled to cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” What shall we do to be housed, and sheltered from the wrath of God?
2. To come in, imports, That the door is open; and to compel them to come in, is to cause them to know, that there is an open door of access to God, that the door of faith is open to the Gentiles; the door of faith is opened by the gospel; the door of mercy is open; the door of life and salvation, “Life and immortality being brought to light by the gospel;” and that Christ is the door, (John 10:9). The door of the old covenant of works is a shut door; the door of personal righteousness of ours, the door of Pagan morality, the door of natural endeavors, these are all shut doors; “There is no name under heaven, whereby any can be saved, but the name of Jesus:” but this door is open: “I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture:” Any Man, any person whatsoever. Hence,
3. “Compel them to come in;” it imports a full warrant to come, and a hearty welcome; and that ministers must both warrant and welcome them. They are to warrant sinners to come in, by the command of their Lord and Master: “This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” (1 John 3:23). They are to welcome them by his promise: “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out,” (John 6:37).
4. “Compel them to come in;” it imports, That notwithstanding of the warrant and welcome they have to come in, yet sinners will have a strong aversion and unwillingness to come in; and that therefore the utmost pains must be taken with them to conquer their prejudices, and gain their affections. There must be line upon line, and precept upon precept; call upon call, and one offer upon the back of another, one motive and argument upon the back of another; and all is insufficient to overcome the enmity of sinners against a Saviour, till power come along with the means; yet these are still to be used in dependence upon his blessing, not knowing when, or in what mean, a prosperous gale may blow.
5. “Compel them to come in;” it imports something they are to come in to, which ministers are to inculcate upon them; namely, that they are to come in to himself, who is the door by which, and the house to which they are to come in. Christ is called, “An house of defence,” (Ps. 31:2). Sinners are to be taught, that they must come in to his arms, which are stretched out, even to a disobedient and gainsaying people, (Rom. 10:21). That they must come into his heart and bowels, which yearn toward them, as they did toward Ephraim; “My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord,” (Jer. 31:20). That they must come in to his blood and righteousness, and come in to his grace and fullness.
6. “Compel them to come in,” imports something they are to come in for, as well as what they are to come in to: and so they are to be taught the errand, as well as the object of faith. Christ is the object, and salvation is the first errand of faith. It as a receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation: they are to come in for a feast at his table: and surely salvation is a good feast for a lost soul. They that are aliens, and without, are to come in for acquaintance with God in Christ; for, “This is life eternal, to know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.” They that are poor are to come in for riches, even durable riches and righteousness. They that are maimed are to come in for the supply of all their defects, that, “Out of his fullness, they may receive grace for grace.” They that are halt are to come in for healing and strength that his grace may be sufficient for them, and his strength may be made perfect in their weakness: “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart.” They that are blind are to come in for light and sight; for, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” They that are straggling in the highways and hedges are to come in for rest and satisfaction in him, which they are in vain seeking among their lusts, and in the broad ways that lead to death and hell.
In a word, sinners are to be compelled to come in for life and happiness; for pardon of sin, for peace and reconciliation with God, and for all the privileges of the sons of God; to come and hear, that their souls may live; to come and see the salvation of God; to come and handle the word of life; to come and taste that the Lord is gracious; to come and smell the sweet savor of the Rose of Sharon, that perfumes heaven and earth, and puts away the stinking savor of sin and corruption. And, in short, they must be taught, that they may come in, and that they must come in, and share with him in his grace here and glory hereafter. “Compel them to come in.”
7. It imports, That he is before them, ready to help them in, and to take them in. It is not compel them to go in, but to come in. We are not to require them to go where he is not, but to come in where he is, and where they shall have his presence, aid, and assistance. Christ’s invitations to sinners by the gospel are not go, but come; come to me, and come with me; “Come to me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden; Come with me from Lebanon;” importing the strongest encouragement, and anticipating all objections drawn from weakness and inability, saying, I cannot come: why? there is no fear if you come. If I were commanding you to go without me, you might be afraid; but when I desire you to come to me, and come with me, and come in, you may be sure I am at the door of the house, ready to take your hand and help you in: Hence it is said, “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him,” (Heb. 7:35): by him; that is, not only by him as the way, but also by him as the leader, to take your hand. “Compel them to come in.”
8. It imports, That he would be joined to them, and would have them joined to him; and that it is the most intimate union to him, and communion with him, he would have them brought into. “Compel them to come in;” it is not only to him by an outside profession, but to come into him by faith. Though the people of the old world had come to the ark, and taken hold of the outside of it, they would have been washed away with the waters of the deluge; none were safe but these that came in. Our safety lies in coming in: and ministers must not rest till they get sinners brought in, so as to be joined to the Lord Jesus, and married to him. We are to compel them, saying, “All things are ready, come to the marriage,” (Matt. 24:4), and thereupon to the marriage-supper; “Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb,” (Rev. 19:9). Ministers are warranted to court a bride for their Master, and to compel sinners, by all means, to come in to him, and join hands with him, and join hearts with him. So much for the import of this phrase, “Compel them to come in.”
III. The third general head proposed was, To speak of the reason here given for this work, viz., “That my house may be filled.” This metaphorical expression, in a suitableness to the parable, supposes that Christ hath a house, and that his house must be filled. I might here consider, 1. What is his house? 2. What is the import of filling his house? 3. How full his house should be. 4. Why his house must be filled.
1st, What is his house? By his house we may understand his church and people, whether the church visible or invisible. In several respects they are called his house where he dwells and resides; symbolically, by the external symbols of his presence in the church visible, (Ps. 132:13-14); and graciously and spiritually in the church invisible on earth; therefore called the habitation of God through the Spirit, (Eph. 2:22), and a spiritual house, (1 Pet. 2:5). This house, in scripture, comes under several names and designations. It is his pleasure house; for, “The Lord takes pleasure in his people;” there he delights to dwell. It is his treasure-house: his people are his treasure and his portion; he gives out of his treasure there. It is his magazine-house; being built for an armory, where hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men: and there he lays up his magazines for military provision, the whole armor of God, which we are called to put on. It is his banqueting-house, where he feeds and feasts his people; “He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.” It is his hospital-house, where he hath cures for all maladies, and all sorts of diseased persons, the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind. It is his washing-house, where he hath a laver for cleansing of polluted souls, and a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. It is his house of prayer, and his house of praise, where he is worshipped and adored. It is his own house, and his father’s house; “Shall my Father’s house become a den of thieves?” The church of Christ is God’s house, he founded it; “The Lord hath founded Zion.” It is Christ’s house, for he is the foundation of it; and, “Other foundations can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” He is the builder, and the bearer of all the charges of the building, and of all the honor of it “He shall build the temple of the Lord, and shall bear the glory.” Thus much for a hint at what the house is.
2dly, What is imported in filling his house? “That my house may be filled;” that is,
1. That the elect may be gathered in; “Compel them to come in,” that the election may obtain, as indeed it shall obtain: for, “All that the Father hath given me, shall come to me; and him that cometh, I will in no wise cast out.”
2. “That my house may be filled;” that is, that my saints may be gathered together, these “who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice,” (Ps. 50:5). And that they may gather themselves together before the decree bring forth, before the day of the Lord’s anger come, that they may seek righteousness, and seek meekness, since in this way it may be, they shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger. This is the call of God to his people, in such days of threatened judgments as these are, wherein we live.
3. “That my house may be filled;” that is, that the church visible may be sorted and settled, united and cemented in one visible profession of the faith, after they have been scattered and divided by wolves in sheep’s clothing, or by erroneous and cruel shepherds, that rule with force and with cruelty. The Lord is calling his people, at this day, to fill his house, by gathering under his standard, who gathers the outcasts of Israel into one, that the church visible may appear by their visible profession of, and adherence to the truth and cause of God, in opposition to all that are making a visible defection from it; and so, instead of being a true, visible reforming church, are visible opposers of any endeavors that some are making towards Reformation.
4. “That my house my be filled;” that is, that the church triumphant may, in due time be completed, and all the mansions of glory may be filled up; for, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; and I go to prepare a place for you;” and you must prepare for it, and must, in my name, endeavor to prepare all, that are to be heirs of glory, for these heavenly mansions: and therefore, “Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled;” first here below, and then above, that being once brought in, they may be brought up stairs, to the place where I am, to be forever with the Lord.
3dly, How full should his house be? Why, he would have every corner, every seat, every chamber, and every story of his house filled.
1. Every corner of his house should be filled, there being all kinds of supply for all kinds of sinners; and, if I may so express it, a corner for every kind, an apartment for every sort of sinners. As all kind of creatures had a place, a corner, or apartment in the ark; so all sorts of mankind sinners, Gentiles as well as Jews, have a place or corner for them in his house, according to Peter’s vision of a sheet, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air, (Acts 10:12), representing sinners of all sorts upon earth, from all winds and airth [all directions], east, west, north, and south, from whence his house is to be filled, (Isa. 43:5-6). He would have every corner of his house filled from every quarter of the habitable earth; and, we hope, the time cometh when, according to his promise, “The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters do the sea:” and that His dominion shall extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. “Look to me, all the ends of the earth, and be saved,” (Isa. 45:22).
2. Every seat of his house should be filled; “Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled:” that as there may be no empty corners, so there may be no empty seat. There are seats in his house for everyone, according to their rank, order, and station. A proper seat for the pastor, than whom, indeed, there is no higher officer in the church. A proper seat for other officers, such as elders and deacons. And though the ministerial office is a seat and station in the house of Christ, superior to that of the people, yet there is no superiority in one pastor over another by divine appointment, but a comely parity and equality as to office, whatever difference there may be, as to gifts. And whatever preeminence the minister hath, it is not a magisterial dominion, but a preeminence of administration, and of pastoral instruction and inspection. Now, that every seat of his house may be filled, his servants are to “compel them to come in,” and take their seats; these who are fit for the ministerial station, to come in and take their place; these that are qualified for being elders and deacons, to come in, and take their places and posts in his house. David chooseth to be a door-keeper in the house of God, rather than to dwell in tents of wickedness, or to sit upon a throne of iniquity.
3. Every chamber of his house must be filled. We read of the chambers of the king, “The King hath brought me into his chambers,” (Song 1:4); and all the Lord’s people are called to come in to the several chambers of his house, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers,” (Isa. 26:20-21). Here we shall tell you four sorts of chambers in his house he will have filled.
(1.) There are chambers of distinction he wants to be filled, so as we may not be mixed with, nor conform to the world; “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, (2 Cor. 6:17) &c.; come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her plagues,” (Rev. 18:4). In a day of general defection we ought to side ourselves, by coming out from the corrupt part of a church, and testify against them: this is the way how saints in scripture have overcome their enemies; “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony,” (Rev. 12:11). This is the way we are to distinguish ourselves for the Lord, in declining times.
(2.) There are chambers of defense in his house, which he would have filled, where we may be safe in the worst and most threatening times; “The name of the Lord is a strong tower;” a strong chamber of strength, (Prov. 18:10). Every perfection of God is a chamber of defense; “Trust ye in the Lord for ever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” (Isa. 26:4). Every office of Christ, promise of the covenant is a chamber.
(3.) There are chambers of devotion in his house, he would have filled; “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly,” (Matt 6:6). There are chambers of public worship and devotion; societies meeting for spiritual edification; chambers of family worship and devotion, every family apart; and chambers of secret devotion, every person apart, like doves in the valleys, mourning every one for his own sins, as well as the sins of the land in general: he would have all those chambers filled. And indeed, every chamber of your house should be a chamber of devotion; and so far as it is so, it is a part of the house of God. Let every convenient apartment be a praying place, for “Their hearts shall live that seek God.”
(4.) There are chambers of action and business he would have filled. Christ’s house is not only a house of prayer, but a workhouse, wherein we are to do some things for God in our day and generation, “Why stand ye here all the day idle? Go, work today in my vineyard,” (Matt. 20:6; 21:28). The Lord calls his people not only to pray, and cry to him, but also to action and diligence. When Israel were in great danger at the side of the Red Sea, and their enemies behind pursuing them, God says to Moses, “Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak to the people that they go forward.” We are not only to cry, but to go forward to our work and service in our several stations as magistrates, ministers, or people; everyone to the work and duty of their station, that they may glorify God therein.
4. As every corner, every seat, every chamber, so every story of his house must be filled. There are two stories of his house, the lower story upon earth, and the upper story in heaven; and he will have both filled: both the church militant and the church triumphant. They are but two stories of the same house; and hence all believers, that are said to be come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, (Heb. 12:22), are said also to be come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly, and church of the firstborn, that are written in heaven; to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. Why, who are come to this house? Even all believers in Christ, who are said, in the following verse, to be come to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. That every story of his house, therefore, may be filled, sinners must be compelled to come in.
In a word, he will have his house so full, that there may be no empty room. There is access for sinners as long as the servants have occasion to say, So many are already come in, and yet there is room. There is room for all the innumerable number mentioned, out of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, (Rev. 7:9). O that sinners would come in! Let there be no empty corner, no empty seat, no empty chamber, no empty story of his house; for he would have all filled.
4thly, Why, or what reason, must his house be filled? I offer only these two reasons.
1. The more full his house is, the more advantageous to the guests. Happy they that throng in to him, and fill his house. The fuller it is, the more useful and helpful they are to one another: when they are converted, they strengthen their brethren. The more full it is, the more pleasant and heart-some it is, while joining together in prayer and praise: they are also the more encouraging to one another, as iron sharpeneth iron; and the more encouraging, even to these that are without, to come in; for then they are ready to say, “We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.” The fuller, the safer, and free from hurt; for an empty house goes to ruin. It is the greatest curse, when it is said, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate and empty;” but it is a great blessing when the house is full; full of guests, and full of provision for them: and truly in his house there is bread enough and to spare.
2. The fuller the house is, the more glory redounds to the master of the house. The more God’s house is filled, the more and the greater revenues of praise will be paid to him by the inhabitants of it; for, “Blessed are they that dwell in his house, they will be still praising him,” (Ps. 84:4). He will then have his house filled, that he may have many to sing forth the praise of his grace and mercy, power and pity, to all eternity. So much for the third general head, viz., the reason assigned for the work. That his house may be filled.
IV. We come now to the fourth thing proposed, viz., To offer some Inferences for the application. Is it so, that the ministers of Christ have a power and warrant to compel sinners to come in to him, that his house may be filled? Hence see then,
1. That the ministers of Christ, who are sent of him, are clothed with authority: they are, as it were, the mouth of Christ, (2 Thess. 2:8). They are the stars in his righthand, and coworkers with him. They are Christ’s ambassadors; and as God sends Christ, so Christ sends them. They have the keys of the kingdom of heaven put into their hands. And the greatness of their ministerial power is evident from the great charge given to them, “Gird up thy loins, and arise and speak unto them all that I command thee. Be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them: for behold I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah,” (Jer. 1:17-18) &c. The power and authority committed to them is, that of the Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Cor. 5:4). The greatness of their power is evident from the great challenge they get for not executing their office, and using their authority against seducers and erroneous teachers, (Rev. 2:14 & 20). It is evident also from the great glory they are to have from God, who faithfully execute the ministerial trust; “They shall receive a crown of righteousness, which fadeth not away,” (1 Pet. 5:2-4). People ought therefore to regard their authority; for Christ hath said, “He that despiseth you, despiseth me.”
2. Hence see the due limits and boundaries of church power and authority. It is to be used for the good and edification of the body of Christ, and for compelling sinners to come in. Church power is unlawfully used, when it compels men to go out, and not to come in. It is the greatest rebellion against a king, when his arms and artillery are employed against himself and his family; so it is the greatest rebellion against the king of Zion, when a church makes use of the power and authority he hath given her, even against himself, and his children, his cause and interest. Ministers and judicatories have no power to do anything against the truth, or against the edification of God’s children. See where it is said; “Our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction,” (2 Cor. 10:8; see also 2 Cor. 13:8, 10). The church power that is exercised against the truth and for the destruction of the people of God, or the ruin of their souls and spiritual privileges3 is to be declared void and null, and by no means to be acknowledged.
3. Hence see the efficacy of the word and ordinances of God, when duly administered in his name; “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” (Matt. 18:18). Notice the power and efficacy thereof from (Matt. 28:18-20). Great is the power of the word of God, and of a gospel ministry in the hand of the Spirit. It hath a power of illumination and direction, a power of conviction and conversion, a power of humiliation and consolation; “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes,” (Ps. 19:7-8). It is dangerous to despise the word; for, it is the power of God unto salvation.
4. Hence see the enmity of the world against Christ, that they must be compelled to come in to him; and consequently what hard work that of a gospel minister is. If he be faithful to his trust, he cannot but meet with opposition from earth and hell. Ministers must lay their account with the contradiction of sinners against themselves, and of being everywhere opposed, everywhere spoken against. If they be faithful they must be reckoned men of contention to the whole earth; troublers of Israel; and such as turn the world upside down. If their testimony be faithful and honest, it must torment them that dwell upon the earth; and the earth will seek to torment them again, and to kill the witnesses: but they must seek the ruin of Satan’s kingdom, and the repairing of Zion’s desolations; and the maintaining and defending the truth, however men and devils rage.
5. Hence we may learn how culpable they are that straiten the door and hamper the call of the gospel, instead of compelling sinners to come in. The erroneous and legal teachers drive men in to themselves, instead of bringing them in to Christ. They say, in effect, there is no room for such and such sinners in Christ’s house; no room for you that are not humble and penitent, and so and so qualified; no room for the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind, the vagrant sinner. How contrary is that strain of preaching to the design of the gospel, which is to compel those very sinners to come in, whom the legal strain of doctrine would keep out and exclude?
6. Hence see the nature of faith; it is a coming in as we are; poor, maimed, halt, blind, and naked as we are, without tarrying and waiting, for better qualifications, which we shall never have till we come in to Christ for them. Faith is expressed in scripture according to our natural situation; because we are naturally high in our own esteem, therefore it is expressed by a coming down; “Come down, and sit in the dust, Come down, Zaccheus; salvation is come to thy house,” (Isa. 47:1). Because we are naturally low, and earthly in our affections; therefore it is sometimes expressed by a coming up; “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness leaning on her Beloved?” (Song 8:5). Because we are naturally far from God; therefore it is sometimes expressed by a coming nigh; “He shall be sanctified in them that come nigh to him.” Because we are naturally engaged in departing and backsliding from God; therefore it is called a coming back and returning; “Return, ye backsliding children.” Because we are within, as to fellowship with the world; therefore it is called a coming out; “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” And because we are without, as to fellowship with God in Christ; ....therefore it is called a coming in: “Compel them to come in.” Again,
7. Hence see that the church is Christ’s house: “That my house may be filled.” My House; he is the Lord of the house. The law of the house is Christ’s law; and therefore must not be violated. The ordinances of the house are Christ’s ordinances; and therefore must not be abused. The servants of the house are Christ’s servants: and therefore must not become the servants of men, or men pleasers in any way that is displeasing to Christ. They are not the servants of Christ, when they become the servants of kings, to read and proclaim their acts and laws, that disagree with the acts and laws of Heaven:4 they are not the servants of Christ, if they become the servants of patrons and great men, to the oppressing of Christ’s little ones in his house and family. The servants of the house must be Christ’s servants; the children of the house are Christ’s children: and therefore must not be robbed of their spiritual privileges. The courts of the house are Christ’s courts; and therefore must not be employed against him, so as to establish iniquity by a law, otherwise they can have no fellowship with him; nor ought we to have fellowship with them. The government of the house is Christ’s appointment, as Lord of the house; and therefore must not be invaded or inverted, despised or disparaged. Some cry up the doctrine, and cry down the government of Christ’s house; but there is a doctrine of the word concerning the government of the church: and therefore, if they had a due respect unto the whole doctrine of Christ’s house, they would show respect to the government of his house also. Presbyterial church government, as founded on the word of God, is a part of Scotland’s covenanted Reformation: and unless these that have professed themselves to be Presbyterians can now prove that presbytery is sinful and unlawful, and disagreeable to the word of God, they must acknowledge that our National Covenants are binding in this matter, as well as in other doctrines: and, indeed, if a covenant with God, in things lawful, be not binding, then no covenant ever was.
8. Hence see what a heavy and lamentable matter it is, when Christ’s house is empty. What a pity is it, that his house should be empty, who is such a kind and liberal Lord that be loves not to have an empty house? Nothing is more displeasing and dishonoring to him, than to see his house empty of incomers, and few thronging in to it. He looks upon his house as a desolate house, when it is empty of corners, that come in by the door; and full of thieves and robbers that come not in by the door, but climb up some other way. Hence it is one of the heaviest dooms he passes against a church, when he leaves it empty and desolate, because of their unbelief, in not coming in to him at his call; “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children, &c., but ye would not Behold, your house is left unto you desolate,” (Matt. 23:37). Heavy is the case of a church when it is left empty of sound professors, empty of faithful ministers, empty of pure ordinances, empty of precious influences; such emptiness and desolation is a heavy doom; and when it is left in the hands of robbers, that rob Christ of his honor, and the royalties of his crown and dignity, and rob his people of their rights and privileges; then his house comes to be alienated from him, as it were to them, so as to be no more his house, but theirs; “Behold your house is left to you desolate.” Woe to that church that is given up of Christ, and left into the hands of enemies and robbers! What will they do with the doctrine, discipline, and government of the church, but rob on and raze on to the foundation?
9. Hence see that it is matter of praise, and thankfulness, and a great mercy in declining times, when there is any to come in and fill his house, that it be not altogether left empty. It is a mercy if there is a remnant that keeps up the name of his house, and favor the dust of Zion; (Ps. 102:13-14). “Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah.” Some cry out, O division, division; such and such men are for nothing but schism and division. But when defection becomes general, then division becomes a necessary duty, and a great mercy; otherwise all would run down into the gulf of defection together, making peace and pretensions to brotherly love, a grave for burying all zeal for God, and his truths and interests. If Christ’s householders have not salt in themselves, as he commands, (Mark 9:50), how can they have peace one with another, unless it be a peace without the salt of truth, like the peace of a dunghill, where every particle doth but corrupt another? Peace without truth being but a confederacy against heaven; suspect their honesty who cry out, O the schism and division of the day but never a word of the corruptions and defections thereof. Who are the Schismatics and dividers in Scotland? These that adhere to the covenanted reformation thereof, founded on the word of God, or these that are razing a covenanted work of reformation to the ground?5 Suppose a company walking on a road by the side of a ditch, most of them fall into the ditch, and then cry to their fellows, If ye come not here, and join with us, we will charge you with schism and division; how ridiculous would that accusation be! Surely, these may be said to go out of the house, who go out of the way of the house, out of the order, rule and government of the house: but these may be said, properly, to come into the house, and abide in it, who abide by the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the house: and I say, in declining times, it is a mercy there are any to come in and fill his house, and to abide in it, and keep possession of it, by zealously testifying and contending for the faith, when others are going out by the door of defection and apostasy; and, perhaps, Christ hath some disciples among them, to whom he is saying, “Will ye also go away?” May the Lord awaken all the virgins that are asleep in our day.
10. Hence see the duty both of ministers and people. The duty of ministers, and their work: their work is not only driving work, while they preach the law as a schoolmaster to lead to Christ; but it is also drawing work, while they preach the gospel of Christ, who was lifted up to draw men to him by his love and grace. Their work is winning work, seeking to win souls to Christ, compelling them to come. And their work is filling work, that their Master’s house may be filled; that every corner, every seat, every chamber, every story of his house may be filled. As long as the gospel is preached, his house is a filling; and as long as there is room in his house, there is work for the minister; his work is never over, so long as his Master’s house is empty; “Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
Further, their duty is, as the context points out,
(1.) To go out, (v. 21), into the wide world, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” (Mark 16:15). And, as they must go out to the world, so they must go out of the world, and out of themselves.
(2.) To go out quickly, (v. 21); to lose no time, for sinners are in hazard of perishing eternally: and we must hasten to pull them as brands out of the burning; “Now is the accepted time;” now is the Spirit promised.
(3.) To let them know we are in earnest for our Master; and endeavor not to tickle their fancy, but to touch their heart; to compel them by importunity, and take no refusal.
(4.) However many have come in, we are to tell them, That yet there is room for more; and, that Christ’s heart is open, and his riches inexhaustible; and, that in his house there is bread enough, and to spare.
(5.) The zeal of his house must eat us up; for our concern must be, that his house be filled; the number of the elect must be completed, and the rest left inexcusable; All that the Father hath given him shall come to him; yea, these he must bring, and they shall hear his voice. Let this encourage us, when many believe not. Yet,
(6.) We must show them the danger of refusing, and making excuses; (v. 21). The Master of the house was angry: we must tell them what a terrible thing it is to offend Christ; and, that they must kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and they perish; grace despised, is grace forfeited, like Esau’s birthright.
(7.) Ministers must remember the accounts they are to give; here the servant gives account, “Lord, it is done as thou commandedst, and yet there is room,” (v. 22). Ministers must give account of the success of their ministry: they must give account of what they do, and how it prospers: they must do it now at a throne of grace; if they see the travail of their soul, they must go to God with their thanks; and if they labor in vain, they must go to God with their complaints. They must give account hereafter also, at the judgment-seat of Christ, they will be brought as witnesses against these that persist, and perish in their unbelief, to prove that they were fairly invited; and as witnesses for these that, through grace, accept of the call; “Behold I, and the children which the Lord hath given me.” The apostle urges this, as a reason why people should give ear to the word sent to them by his servants; “For they watch for your souls, as these that must give account,” (Heb. 13:17).
(8.) Ministers must be as he-goats before the flock, by a good example, and “compel them to come in;” to come, not to go in without us: but to go in, so as we go in with them, or go in before them. Ministers little need to be as the carpenters that built the ark for others, and yet were drowned themselves; that preach the gospel to others, and yet themselves to be castaways: people have eyes to see what we do, and how we walk, as well as ears to hear what we say, and how we speak.
Again, hence see the duty of people that hear the gospel. Have Ministers authority to compel you to come in, that our Lord’s house may be filled? Then, O Sirs, be persuaded to come in; come in to our Lord Jesus; and if you have any objection, any aversion or unwillingness, O! suffer yourselves to be compelled. Do not resist the ministerial compulsion that God is pleased to make use of; surely willing souls are welcome, when these that are unwilling must be compelled. If God hath made you willing, it is well; the day of power hath made you so: if you be presently willing, peremptorily willing, pleasantly willing, and universally willing; presently willing, without offering to delay; peremptorily willing, saying, I must have him, or I perish; pleasantly willing, content joyfully to sell your all for the pearl of great price; and universally willing, willing to have Christ in all his offices; to be a Saviour to save you from sin, as well as to save you from hell: I say, if you be made willing, and can be active in coming, the willing soul is the welcome soul. But if you find difficulties and objections, and cannot be active; then, oh! yield yourself passive, if you cannot be so active as to come in without compulsion, then yield yourself passive; that is, willing to be compelled and drawn in: do not resist the Holy Ghost, and his drawing motions and influences; do not resist the call of the gospel; but lay yourself open to be compelled, that is, to be convinced, to be converted, to be turned, to be persuaded, to be exhorted, to be entreated to come in, that our Lord’s house may be filled.
O! come in, poor sinner; let me compel you to come in to Jesus Christ, who is ready to welcome you into his house and heart, both at once. Come in; how? O come in believing; and, if you cannot believe, come in looking to the Author of faith, saying, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Come in repenting of all your former sins: and, if you cannot repent, come looking to Christ, as exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins. Come in praying: and if you cannot pray, come to him looking for the Spirit of grace and supplication promised in the gospel. Come in running; and if you cannot run, seek that he may draw you, saying, with the spouse, “Draw me, we will run after thee.”
By what arguments shall I compel you to come in? There are some awful arguments I might make use of.
1. Consider, enemies are coming in upon you like a flood, and what will become of you, if you come not in to Christ? The floods will drown you, if you get not into the ark: a flood of errors is coming in, which is like to drown your soul in perdition: a flood of defection and corruption is coming in, and is come in already; and you will be carried away in the flood, if you come not in to Jesus: a flood of wrath is coming in; Oh! consider the circumstances of the day we live in; God is in arms against Britain and Ireland, for breach of covenant and perjury; though Scotland and England had walls reaching up to the heavens, and navies covering the ocean, and though France and Spain were both sleeping; yet God hath a controversy, which he will plead; for he says, “Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” (Jer. 5:29).
But, though God had no controversy with the church and land in general, yet he hath somewhat against thee in particular: O man, woman, that has never yet closed with Christ and come to him; you are under condemnation by the law, as long as ye have not believed the gospel. May I compel you by the curse of the law you are under, to cry out, “Oh! “what shall I do to be saved?” If you saw your need of Christ, and the everlasting wrath you lie open to, while you are out of Christ, you would cry out more than a dying man ever did for a physician, or a drowning man for a boat. What are you content to lie, and die under that everlasting wrath of the everlasting God? “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we would persuade men,” to come into Christ! Alas! “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” But,
2. I would rather compel you by the blessings of the gospel: and, O that God himself would draw you, with the cords of love and of grace!
Consider therefore, O sinner that the call is unto you; “To you is the word of this salvation sent.” We are required to go out and bring in; of this chapter where the text lies, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind,” (v. 21); go out, and “Preach the gospel to every creature.” And now, in providence, we are come out, as far as this place, to compel you to enter in. You that are poor come in and be enriched. You that are maimed come in and be supplied. You that are halt come in and be restored. You that are blind come in and be enlightened. You that are wandering in the highways, and running in the broad way to hell, come in and be saved both from sin and wrath. You that never came to Christ before, O come in now; whatever you have been formerly; whatever atrocious crimes you have been guilty of; yet all bygones shall be bygones, if you come in this day; from this day will he bless you: if you come in this hour, from this hour will he bless you: and O may this be the happy hour when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. You that fancy ye have come in to Christ formerly, and yet may be deceiving yourselves, and debarring yourselves from believing, by the notion you are believers already; O come, and make it sure work; come and take a better grip of Christ, a faster grip than ever, such as death itself shall not loose. You that are young, come in and get grace to remember your Creator, and grace to be early seekers of him who says, “I love them that love me, and they that seek me early shall find me.” You that are old, come in to Jesus, and get your gray hairs crowned with righteousness, that when death comes, you may be among the blessed dead that die in the Lord. You that come here only to gaze upon strangers, O come in, and ye shall get a view of the King in his beauty. You that came here to satisfy your curiosity, come in, and ye shall get satisfaction to your souls, and food to your heart, and not to your fancy only. You that came here for some trifling reason, like Saul going to seek his Father’s asses, some carnal beastly errand or other, O come in, and ye shall get a kingdom before you go; for, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” You that came here to mock and to scorn, O come in to Jesus, who says, “How long ye simple ones will ye love simplicity, and scorners delight in scorning? Turn ye at my reproof; and I will pour out my spirit unto you; I will make known my words unto you.” You that come here under the heavy load of the guilt of sin, O come in and get pardoning grace: God’s indemnity is offered unto you; “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thine iniquity for mine own name’s sake.” You that came here under the power of sin and the pollution of it, O come in and get sanctifying and purifying grace; for here is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. You that came here, and know not for what you came, O come in to Jesus, and ye shall know wherefore he brought you here in his providence; ye shall know, whatever your designs were that God had a design of mercy in it to you. You that came here only to see a minister ordained in these extraordinary circumstances of the church, O come in; we would compel you to come in to Christ, and ye shall see a greater sight, and a more extraordinary ordination; ye shall see Christ ordained of the Father to be a Minister and a Saviour unto you; a Prophet, Priest, and King for you; for, “Him hath God the Father sealed.” You that came here only to get a minister amongst you, O come in, come in, and get the best minister first, our Master, to be your minister. Take Christ first, and then Paul and Apollos are yours, ye shall then have the minister, and God’s blessing with him.
Consider again, for compelling you to come in, that every door of his house is open to you to come in, that his house may be filled; “I am the door,” says Christ; and in this everlasting gospel, this door is opened, and there is no impediment to hinder your entrance. All impediments on God’s part are actually removed; the law is fulfilled, justice is satisfied, wrath appeased, death vanquished by this Jesus: and all impediments on your part, are virtually removed; faith, and all grace, and glory is purchased; “All things are ready, come to the marriage.” The door is open, come in, and take him by the hand of faith, give your assent and consent to the bargain: here the door of grace and mercy is opened: the door of hope is opened to you in the valley of Achor: the door of life is opened to you that are dead sinners; O come in, that you may have life: the door of pardon is opened to you that are guilty sinners; the door of peace is opened to you that are rebels; Christ hath received gifts for men, even for the rebellious; the door of sanctification is opened to you that are polluted sinners: “The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin;” and he is made of God to you sanctification; the door of faith is opened to you, faithless sinner; Christ is the author of faith, as well as the object of it; O come in and get grace to believe: the door of repentance is open to you impenitent, hard-hearted sinner; Christ is exalted to give repentance: the door of salvation is open to you, lost sinner; Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost; the door of consolation is opened to you dejected sinner; come in to him who is the consolation of Israel: the door is opened to you that do not think, and cannot think it is opened to you; “My thoughts are not your thoughts, saith the Lord; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts, and my ways than your ways.”
Our Master’s house is like the New Jerusalem, that hath three gates to every airth [direction of the wind]. “On the east three gates, on the west three gates, on the south three gates, and on the north three gates,” (Rev. 21:13); and all the gates of his house are open. Where dwell you, man, woman? In Scotland, or in England? In the east, or in the west? In the north or in the south? O come in, come in: for the gates are open to you; “I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west: I will say to the north, Give up: and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth,” (Isa. 43:5). If you, or any of you, go away thinking or saying, that there was not a word said to you, I take all the four quarters of heaven, east, west, north, and south, to witness, that you are called to come in.
This is the first offer that ever the present speaker made of Christ to the most part of you, and it is like it may be the last. It is the first sight that ever we all had of one another, and it is like we shall never hear or see one another again, till it be before the awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he comes in the clouds of heaven: and, in the view of that awful day of judgment, I would now compel you to come in to him, who will then say to the wicked, “Depart from me, ye cursed;” but now is on a throne of grace, saying, Come to me, ye cursed sinners, and get a blessing. O Sirs, let me compel you, by the awful authority of the great God, and by the blood and bowels of the Lord Jesus Christ, to come in to him for all the ends I have mentioned.
Consider how empty his house is, and what room there is in it and how few are coming in; and shall his house be left empty for you? Every corner of his house stands empty, every seat of his house, every chamber of his house, every story of his house stands empty for your part, though you be called to come in, that his house may be filled: Oh! “Tell it not in Gath, nor publish it in the streets of Askelon.”
Will you tell me what displeases you at Christ? Is his person contemptible who is Immanuel, God-man, God with us? Is his purchase contemptible? Is his grace and glory, and a happy eternity nothing to you, and unworthy of your regard? Yet a little while, and time shall be no more; and, if time be gone before you come in, in vain will you cry, Oh! call time again. What a terrible sting will that reflection give you, Alas I had once a fair call to come in to Christ, but I slighted it I had convictions of sin, but I crucified them! I had warm desires to come to Christ, but I quenched them, by returning to my lusts, and sinful diversions! Oh! what madness possesses me, that I did not accept of Christ as well as others; that I refused Christ, and choose perishing vanities?
Consider, and be compelled to come in, by the greatness of the grace of that God, whose orders we are executing, when we endeavor, in his name, to compel you to come in. The word of a God is a compelling word. The poor man that speaks to you cannot compel you; but the God that speaks by him can. And, if you can hear this word, not as the word of men, or of the poor worm that is speaking to you, but as it is indeed the word of God; if you can believe that God is speaking to you, then the word will work effectually in you that so believe. O Sirs, could you believe that this Almighty Speaker is present, speaking to you, you would hear a sound of omnipotent power in his word going through your heart.
What! is the power of the spirit to be expected to go along with the word, in this day of clouds and darkness, in this day of shaking and commotion? Yea, he can make the clouds his chariots, for riding in to your heart. He hath said, He will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come. And, even in the midst of these shaking times, he is coming to you in this kind offer of himself; and shall we not hope he is coming to some in the power of his Spirit? For, the gracious offer of the gospel is the channel wherein the powerful influences of the Spirit run. Oh! shall any heart here resist the grace and kindness of Christ, saying, “Come in.” He doth not say, Go in without me, but come in to me; importing, if you would gladly come, and want my help, there is my helping hand.
May the Lord himself effectually persuade you, and “Compel you to come in, that his house may be filled.”
Directed more especially to the United Societies in and about Morbottle and Stitelsel, upon occasion of the much lamented Death of the Reverend Mr. John Hunter, lately ordained Minister among them; and at whose Ordination the foregoing Sermon was preached.
My Dear Friends,
This awful dispensation of providence, in the speedy removal of this worthy pastor, cannot but be most afflicting to all the Lord’s people through the land, that ever enjoyed the benefit of hearing the joyful sound of the glorious gospel out of his pleasant edifying lips; but more especially to you, that had the prospect of enjoying the advantage of his fixed ministry among you, and who are so quickly bereaved of such a blessing. To you the stroke must be very heavy and smarting.
He was indeed a burning and shining light that burnt so fast, and shone so bright, it is the less to be wondered at that he did not burn and shine long. The precious oil that was in this lamp, being once lighted, by a license to preach, burnt so intensely, that the lamp itself behooved to waste: for, beside the appointments that were laid upon him, after his license, and before his ordination amongst you, which appointments he might have accomplished more easily, considering his great abilities; besides these, I say, his heart was so much set upon the great work of feeding Christ’s lambs, that he could not refuse the constant solicitations of poor starving souls, crying for more and more of the bread and water of life from him, in the several corners of the land where he went; insomuch that, as I am informed, he would have preached upwards of thirty times in the space of fourteen days. And though what was the gain of others, may be supposed to be your loss, that this bright candle was so far burnt and wasted, in this manner, before it was set up amongst you; yet you also shared as liberally as others, of that circumambient blessing, so as to enjoy more of it before than since his ordination: however, you ought to adore that holy providence, that made such a bright star to shine among you, though but a little. He that hath the stars in his right hand may give or take them when he pleases.
It was, no doubt, a great loss to the generation that such a gracious person, endued with such great and useful gifts, as he was, should have lived so long in such a retired and obscure way: and, as this was mostly owing to the corruptions of the times, with which his zealous soul could never mingle itself, and against which he always, in his station, testified: so, having once joined himself with the Associate Presbytery, and having been once licensed by them to preach the gospel, it may be matter of conviction to the corrupt age, by which such excellent talents were so long smothered, that, whenever they came to be occupied, they were universally taking and edifying, insomuch that he became the darling of the little flock, the followers of the Lamb. His preaching and praying gift was reckoned, by many, to come nearest, of any we have heard of, to that of the great and eminent Mr. Samuel Rutherford, being so full of homely, similes and metaphors, tending to convey the truth with such pleasure and evidence into the hearts of hearers, that few or none who heard him once, but were fond to hear him again. These things considered, together with his holy, humble, and meek conversation, his great learning, profound judgment, aptness to teach, and ability to convince gainsayers, with other great and excellent endowments, wherewith he was blessed of God, contribute, no doubt, to heighten your grief, that have lost such an eminent, well-qualified pastor, and that in such a sudden manner, which screws up the trial to a very great height, in the holy, wise, and adorable providence of God.
It is more than probable there will be various commentaries upon, and interpretations people will make of this trying, and afflictive providence, according to their various sentiments concerning the public differences of the times. Many are apt, too soon, too rashly and hastily, to explain the works of the Lord, which yet remain inexplicable, till the vision, which is for an appointed time, speak out the mystery, and explain the mind and design of God therein: “What I do, thou knowest not now,” says Christ;” but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Meantime, till the mind of the Lord more fully appear, let all murmuring and mutinous thoughts be silenced by these two following considerations:
1st, Consider the sovereignty of God and his absolute dominion over you, and all his creatures, as the potter hath over the clay. It is the Lord that giveth, and the Lord that taketh; and therefore we are to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” It is the Lord who can do us no wrong, and who hath undeservedly done us much good; “Let him do to us what seemeth good in his sight.” Let not too much thoughtfulness about your affliction and loss, divert you from a humble inquiry at this sovereign Lord, what he aims at by this dispensation? What he would have you to learn out of it? What he reproves and contends with you for? What he would have amended in you? What he would have you weaned from, and mortified to? You may humbly ask him, What he would have you to do? And what he means by this hard beginning; that you, who were first provided in this manner, should be first laid desolate. That the Lord should seem to give you, in his providence, a deliverance from the bondage and oppression of church judicatories, and yet, on a sudden, withdraw the deliverance, and increase your grief. You may think can such a case be exemplified in Scripture? While many, through the land, are of the mind that the Associate Presbytery are raised up of the Lord, in his holy providence, to give some relief to his oppressed people in Scotland: now, here is one instance in the entry of their ordaining work. Some relief was thought to have been given, but behold it is blown up; we are in as great straits as ever, and our grief is doubled. God hath not smiled upon the means of deliverance that have come this way.
My dear friends, if you search your Bible, you will see how God may, by such sovereign steps as this, is even carrying on his great work of delivering. Moses was sent to deliver Israel out of their Egyptian bondage, (Ex. 3:7-10); but, behold, instead of present deliverance, on a sudden, their hopes are dashed, their bondage is increased, and they come crying to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The Lord look upon you, and judge, &c. Ye have put a sword in their hands to slay us.” Wherefore Moses returned to the Lord, saying, “Wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that thou hast sent me? Thou host not delivered thy people at all,” (Ex. 5:21-23). Yet how gloriously God delivered in the issue, the sacred history shows. Now, after this one instance is adduced, let none, in their commenting upon the providence that hath befallen you, conclude, that your case is desperate, and that the work, which the Lord wrought among you, in beginning your deliverance, was not of God, because your hopeful prospect was so suddenly dashed. Nay, what if, from such instances as that I have mentioned, it look more like the way of our sovereign God, in delivering his people from their thralldom.
2dly, Consider the infinite wisdom of God, that knows much better what is good for you, than you yourselves do. He knows what to be most needful for you, that you may judge to be most hurtful and dreadful; to this purpose you may put a remark upon the words of Christ to his disciples, where, having spoken of his leaving them, upon hearing of which, sorrow had filled their heart, he says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away,” (John 16:7). What (might the shallow wisdom of the disciples say) can that be true, that it is good and expedient for us, that our great Lord and Master go away from us? This is a thing that hath the most dreadful aspect. What will become of us if he leaves us? It seems utterly impossible to us, that this can be for our good and advantage. Nay, but says he, who is truth itself, and who is the wisdom of God, “I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away.” Now, could the loss of the great Master’s presence be made up? and could his departure be needful and expedient for them and us? And will you think it strange, if he be saying to you, with respect to a servant, however eminent; It is expedient for you that he should be taken away? God can do no needless thing: even what he does is awful, yet still it is needful. Whenever we are in heaviness, through any or many trials, it is always and only if need be, (1 Pet. 1:6). And if ye, at present, are in heaviness, through this awful blow of his hand, you may be sure it was needful: though you cannot see it, infinite wisdom knows the necessity and expediency thereof. And, if you stand in need of what you are trusted with, in all its sad and sorrowful circumstances, which must be the case, since God, that cannot lie, hath said it, surely you ought to submit to his pleasure, which hath your profit inseparably joined with it, (Heb. 12:10). Nor have you reason to complain of God’s ordering that for you, whereof you stand in need, even the quick removal of such a precious and desirable pastor: for, if you did but exceed in over-valuing or doting too much upon him, and in reckoning yourselves happy in having him, as Micah did in another case, (Judges 17:13). It was needful, that by his being taken away, you should be made to see that your good and happiness lay elsewhere, and be brought to a blessed necessity of crying more ardently than ever, with the tear of godly sorrow in the eye of faith, to our glorious Lord and Master, Christ, that he himself may come and fill up the room that he hath made void. And, indeed, it is a great vacuity that he, “In whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead,” cannot fill. A few moments of his gracious presence, and a few drops of his special love, is sufficient to fill up the greatest void that is made by the removal of the choicest and most desirable of all earthly comforts. “And happy they, as one says, who, when they lose any near friend, or dear idol they are fond of, are helped of God to make Jesus Christ succeed to it as its heir, by taking that loss as a summons to transfer and settle their whole love to him, as the object incomparably worthy of it; he being altogether lovely, and infinitely more amiable and fairer than the sons of men.” Say not, There is no sorrow like our sorrow, no trial like ours; and if it had been anything but this, we could have borne it; for your heavenly Father sees that this, even this very cup, with all its bitter ingredients, was fit to be given you to drink; and that this, this very trial, in all its heavy circumstances, was necessary for you, even the sudden death of a lately settled minister among you; might not the Lord see it needful for you, thus to correct you for your former iniquities? And needful that, after so many sweet sermons he had preached to you, before and after his ordination, you should have this one very bitter sermon, to help you, through grace, the better to digest the former. Might he not see it needful for you, that, before his departure, he should be brought into a pastoral relation with you, that not only his widow and fatherless children, being thus entitled to a share of your kind and generous concern, you might have occasion to show it, so far as that may be requisite; but also, that you, in particular, might have the special benefit of a louder sermon by his death, than ever you heard from him in his life. And if this last and loudest sermon be blessed and sanctified to you, for awakening you to seek the Lord more earnestly, and for compelling you to come in to him more speedily, then it will be sweetly verified in your experience, that it was expedient for you, that he should be taken away.
When you so earnestly entreated the publishing of the foregoing Ordination Sermon, I suppose you little expected, that it would need to be subscribed, as it were, with a Funeral Sermon: but, since holy providence hath made this addition to that exercise not unsuitable, I hope it shall not, though in this rude and unexpected address to you, be unacceptable, notwithstanding the occasion be mournful; as I would therefore presume, that the preceding considerations shall not be reckoned unseasonable, and hope they will be duly pondered by you; so I shall conclude this discourse to you with some advices suitable, I think, to the present occasion.
I. Think not strange that your minister should die, and be so quickly called away. As the prophets do not live forever, (Zech. 1:5); so they may live but a very short while: for some may be called to work but one hour in God’s vineyard, and yet be rewarded equally with those that have wrought the whole day, (Matt. 21:12). Some may think, that, if any could be exeemed [to release or exempt] from death and a dark grave, it should be they who are the lights of the world; that, if any should escape the house of silence, it should be they who are to convey the joyful sound of the gospel to the ears of men; but yet they must die, as well as others, and may be called off very quickly, especially in two cases.
1. When their work is done, that God hath allotted to them in this world. Some ministers live longer than others, because God hath appointed them more work than others. Some live a shorter time, because either God hath appointed them less work, or enables them to dispatch a great work in a short time.
2. When desolating judgments are hastily advancing towards the place, or land, wherein they live, even as Noah, that famous preacher of righteousness, entered into the ark but a few days before the old world was destroyed by a deluge. Such righteous men are often taken away from the evil to come, though few observe and lay it to heart; even though terrible judgments may be at the door.
As these are two sovereign reasons, so I shall mention two sinful causes, that may hasten the death of faithful ministers. Though their days are determined by that God, in whose hands all our times are; yet men may be instrumental in shortening their life, either by undervaluing, or overvaluing of them.
(1.) By undervaluing them; slighting and contemning their person, their gifts, their message. If we do not prize our mercies when we enjoy them, God may make us know the worth of them by the want of them. Much contempt was poured upon your pastor, now dead in Christ, by many of this generation: therefore God hath said, “They are not worthy of him; they shall not enjoy him long.”
(2.) By overvaluing them; people may shorten their days, when they give that honor to them which only belongs to their great and glorious Master, who will not give his glory to another. If people fall down and worship these bright and glittering stars, no wonder if the Father of lights removes them away. If, in any respect, they be advanced to God’s throne, he will quickly lay them in the dust. It is true, gospel-ministers, that have the divine mission and message, ought to be highly esteemed for their work’s sake, and there can be no sin in honoring these whom God honors; or in loving these very dearly, whom God makes the happy instruments of our conversion, or spiritual edification: but yet, if these instruments get more of our heart than is due to them, or any share of the room that Christ only should have, then he may justly hasten them out of our way. How far, as I said above, any might have exceeded in doting too much upon your eminent pastor, I know not, unless it was evidenced by the great following of people that he had flocking to him, which yet I dare not wholly condemn in them, lest I should reproach our blessed Master, who never reproved the multitude for flocking to him, even when they thronged him and pressed him, (Luke 8:45); except when they followed him only for the loaves, or the bread that perisheth, (John 6:26-27). Nor did ever John the Baptist or any of the apostles challenge the multitudes for thronging to them. But if any were guilty of immoderate doting upon this short-lived pastor of yours, they may acknowledge the Lord to be righteous, when they robbed him of his honor, that he robbed them of their idol. The best of ministers are but mortal men: though the rich treasures of spiritual gifts and graces are poured into these vessels, they are but earthen ones, and will soon be broken by the blow of God’s hand. These gourds may be very delightful to us, and we may find great refreshment in sitting under their shadow; yet the worm of death will make them to wither. And we do not well to be exceeding or excessively glad of them, while they grow; nor do we well to be angry when they wither.
II. Endeavour to make a right improvement of this awful providence: in order to which I shall recommend a six-fold study, with relation to your minister’s death.
1. Study to be sensible of the hand of God in this providence. Be not insensible of the stroke: though you must not murmur at it, yet you ought to mourn for it, and for your sins that provoke the Lord to take such laborers out of his vineyard. Insensibleness of God’s hand is interpreted by the Spirit of God a despising of it, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,” (Heb. 12:5). Yea, it is accounted a high provocation, “I have smitten them, and they have not grieved,” (Jer. 5:3). It argues stubbornness in a child not to cry when his father whips him. When God chastens by the loss of a dear friend, it is very smarting; but when he does it by the death of a dear minister, a soul-friend, it is yet more heavy and grievous.
2. Study to profit by what is past. Hath God taken away your minister? Endeavor to recollect and retain these excellent truths that were delivered by him, while he was with you. Call these blessed sentences to mind, as far as possible, in order to feed upon them, as the prophet says, “Thy words were found of me and I did eat them; and they were to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart,” (Jer. 15:16). So far as you can remember them, and reduce them to practice, so far will you profit by them. The voice delivering these truths to you was a passing voice; but the word delivered is an abiding word. Though he is dead, the word of the Lord liveth, and abideth forever. These counsels that he gave you from the word of God, are binding upon you, though he is bound with the chains of death.
3. Study to know Christ, as the only minister who lives forever, and that can make up your loss. It is he who says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death,” (Rev. 1:18). It is he, (Rev. 2:1), who holds the seven stars in his right hand, and who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: and it is he who, when he ascended on high, led captivity captive, and received gifts for men, and gave gifts to them, (Ps. 68:18, compared with Eph. 4:8, 11-12). These gifts and gifted persons, and his powerful presence with them, for the benefit of his church and people, he hath promised to the end of the world, (Matt. 28:18-20). This living Jesus can make up your loss, by raising up others. When Moses died, the Lord sent Joshua to lead Israel into the land of Canaan. When Elijah is gone to heaven, he that hath the residue of the Spirit with him can make a double portion thereof to rest upon Elisha. When God hath work to do, he will never want instruments. He can perfect praise out of the month of babes and sucklings; and therefore,
4. Study to employ this glorious Lord Jesus, both to provide another pastor or pastors, for you, and to bless the provision he shall make for your saving good. When God calls any laborers out of his vineyard then supplicate the throne of grace, and cry mightily to the Lord of the harvest, that he would thrust out more laborers into it, that there may be a succession of faithful ministers, who may rightly divide the word, and faithfully break the bread of life to you, and to your posterity, when your places shall know you no more. Endeavor also to depend upon our exalted King of Zion, for his blessing upon, and continuing of the provision he may make for you; and for grace to make a due improvement of all the spiritual waterings he shall allow you, whether more transient or fixed. And since he is now teaching us, that what we call a fixed ministry is, at best, but transient; as these that are ministers should hence learn to be diligent in bringing in as much glory and honor to their Master’s name, as they can, while they live; for when they die, they can do more, but give an account of the stewardship; though, alas! many that enter upon the work of the ministry, little consider that awful account they have to give unto the Judge of all the earth, when they depart hence, (Ezek. 33:7-8; 2 Tim. 4:1-2). So you, that are the people, should hence learn how much it concerns you to endeavor, through grace, to get as much good as you can, from gospel-ministers, while they live: for, when once they are entered within the gloomy shades of death, they can be no further beneficial to you, by their warnings, entreaties, counsels, comforts, or prayers. As death stops the ear of the hearer, so it lays the tongue of the speaker. The offers they make of Christ, and salvation through him, should be speedily embraced; for you know not how soon the feet of those who bring these glad tidings, may go down to the grave, and you be left only to lament and bewail your mis-improvement of them. Yea, as ministers must die, and appear before the divine bar, to give an account of their ministry; so you must also appear there, to give an account of your proficiency: and therefore,
5. Study to improve your minister’s death, as a mean of preparation for your own; that so you may extract meat out of this eater, and gain out of this loss; which you would do, if this mournful death should subserve the good purpose of stirring you up to consider your latter end, so as to be restless till you be ready for it, by a readiness both of state and frame. By a readiness of state, I mean, a being brought out of a state of nature into a state of grace, or a getting into Christ, and being found in him. By a readiness of frame, I mean, a habitual walking in Christ, and living by faith upon him, both for righteousness and strength. In this case, as the death of your minister was his gain, while he hath exchanged the cross for the crown, the pulpit for the throne, a militant for a triumphant state; so his death now, and your own death afterwards, will also be your gain. You will go but the same way that the most eminent servants of God have gone, and must go to the glorious society of Jesus, and of all his holy prophets and apostles, that are made perfect in holiness, and shall eternally reign with him. Could they, who are rejoicing above, speak to you who are mourning below, they would say to you, as Christ said to the woman that followed him to the cross, “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves;” weep not for us, who are happily come to our journey’s end, but weep for yourselves, who are travelling yet through a waste and howling wilderness; weep not for us, who have arrived at the happy haven of rest, for, “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord; they rest from their labour;” but weep for yourselves, who are yet tossed to and fro upon a tempestuous sea, and are still laboring and toiling; weep not for us, who stand upon the mount of triumph, and have obtained a complete victory in Christ Jesus over all our enemies; but weep for yourselves, who are still on a field of battle, wrestling not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers: but yet a little while, and ye who are prepared, as I have said, for your own change, and who have reaped spiritual profit and gain, by your minister’s doctrine and death; yet a little while and you shall meet with him again, never to be separated from him, and enjoy his society in another manner, and in a more glorious place, where you, who joined with him in worship here, shall join with him in a triumphant song of praise, “To him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever;” and where you will see the great minister of the sanctuary, our Lord Jeans Christ, sitting on his majestic throne; and all the others ministers of Jesus, like so many bright stars surrounding the Sun of righteousness for evermore. And, that you may be the more prepared for that happy state, to which your minister is, by death, removed, I add another advice.
6. Study to imitate your departed minister in all these things that were good and commendable in him. It is true, the best of ministers, even these that are gone, have had their failings and imperfections; Moses and Elias were men subject to like passions as we are. The most eminent saints are to be followed by us no further than they followed Christ; but when they are gone, all their failings should be buried with them, and their excellencies should be kept alive in our memory, in order to our imitation of them. And, indeed, there were several things of this nature, very evident in your late pastor, wherein you would do well to follow his example; such as,
(1.) His blameless and circumspect walk, wherein he endeavored (though sinless perfection is unattainable in a mortal state) to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. Such was his caution herein, that his greatest enemies had nothing against him, except only in the matter of God, as it is said, (Dan. 6:5).
(2.) His meekness and humility. He never appeared to be of a proud and lofty temper, notwithstanding of his eminent gifts, and the great popular applause he had, which he seemed rather to be ashamed of, than to affect; but like his Master whom he served, was meek and lowly, stooping and condescending to all men, and passing by these injuries, he received from any of them.
(3.) His laborious concern for the spiritual profit of immortal souls. Such was his love to the souls of men that he loved to spend and be spent for them; having little pity upon his own body, in comparison of the pity he chewed to their souls. And hence it may be said of him, especially after his mouth was opened to preach the gospel that he was not weary in well-doing, but went about doing good. He not only wasted his bodily strength in this spiritual work, but when his flesh and heart seemed to fail, and his body so weak, that he could hardly bear to stand in a pulpit or tent, yet his affections were so much engaged in his work, that he was very unwilling to leave it.
(4.) His love to the saints. He especially embraced these, in the arms of his love upon earth, with whom he thought he should join in singing the song of the Lamb in heaven. His love of benevolence extended unto all, as appears in the foresaid concern he had for the salvation of sinners; but his complacence was with the saints, the excellent ones of the earth, in them was his delight.
(5.) His readiness to suffer for his Master, and for the gospel’s sake, and his willingness to take up his cross, and follow Christ, in the thorny road of tribulation, persecution, contempt, and reproach for the name of Christ, of which sometimes he had his share, even in some of the idle public prints; which yet he never resented, but generously disregarded, as one that rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus, whom he preached.
(6.) His zeal for his Master’s honor, cause, and interest, which made him to witness, even in his private station, before ever he entered upon the public ministry, against the corruptions and defections of the times; and induced him to come out to the field of battle, and join himself with the Associate Presbytery, as a society which he judged to be contending for the faith of the gospel, for the liberties of God’s people in Scotland, and for a covenanted work of Reformation, which he saw the judicatories, by their proceedings, were razing. Thus he appeared, we may say, and died in the wars; and herein also he ought to be imitated by all these that desire to come forth to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty, (Judges 5:23). This likewise should be matter of encouragement to you that were under his actual ministry before his death. I read of Xenophon, who having a crown upon his head, the news came to him that his child was dead, and he presently puts off his crown in token of sorrow; but then inquiring how he died, answer was made, that he died in the wars; then he called for his crown again: even so, your dear minister is dead; and therefore you have cast perhaps the crown of joy off your heads, and are under discouragement; but if you consider how he died, in the spiritual. wars, and is now a conqueror, you may put on your crown of joy again, and study to take courage, and to follow his example, in fighting the good fight of faith against all inward and outward enemies, which he did to the last, and then died in the faith he preached, witnessing a good confession to the end of his life. Though the particulars of his death have not, as yet, so fully reached me, yet I am informed, that among his dying words, some dropped from him to this purpose—“I have had many adversaries, both within and without, to wrestle against; but now mine head is lifted up above all mine enemies; and I would not change my lot for the heaviest crown of gold.”
In a word, as your minister commended his Master, Christ Jesus, to you; and set life and death before you; so now, his Master path set your minister’s life and death before you, that by all these means, you may be “compelled to come in, that his house may be filled.”
Though such as have enjoyed a nearer, and longer intimacy with your worthy minister, who is now with the Lord, may perhaps find the account I have given of his character, to be but lame and defective, and might readily be in case to make a more full representation of these glorious virtues that adorned him, and ought to be imitated by you; yet, I hope, what is here, according to knowledge, laid before you, will be the more acceptable to, and regarded by you, that it is not without some special unforeseen providence, that be who was particularly employed, first in licensing, and then in ordaining him, should also, after all, be brought under a providential necessity of doing this last office to his memory: wherein I shall not reckon my poor labor vain, if it do any justice to his character, or service to your souls.
Epitaph of the Reverend Mr. John Hunter
Late Minister of the Gospel at Gateshall
This mighty Hunter well employed,
Between the distant poles,
His mortal body soon destroyed
To save immortal souls.
1 Mr. Hunter was the first probationer licensed by the Associate Presbytery; and his settlement in this new-erected congregation, the first of its kind that had taken place among them. Click here to return to reading.
2 It is probable that our author here, among other Acts, hath his eye upon the Acts of Assembly, 1720, 1722, condemning the “Marrow of Modern Divinity;” the Act 1730, against recording Protestations; the Act 1732, concerning Patronage; the Act 1783, restricting ministerial freedom and faithfulness, the different Acts of the respective judicatories, viz. Synod, Assembly, and Commission, against the Associate Brethren. Click here to return to reading.
3 Alluding to the opposition made to a testimony for truth, and the encroachments made upon the rights of the Lord’s people, to choose their own pastors. Click here to return to reading.
4 Alluding to the affair of Captain John Porteous, formerly laid open. For further information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Porteous_(soldier)
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5 The witnesses for the truth have usually, in all periods of the church, been treated with the greatest contumely and reproach, by the enemies to Reformation. Whenever the corruptions, defections, and tyrannical measures of a church came to such a height, that the bond of union could no longer be kept, in a consistency with truth, the opposers of these deviations have been calumniated as Separatists and Schismatics. The Associate Brethren, when making a stand for truth, against the torrent of defection, got their own share of this obloquy. The charge of Schism, as laid against them, would soon evanish, if the nature thereof were duly considered “Schism, in the Scripture sense of the word, says a late grave and judicious divine, is when the members of a particular organic church put a difference amongst their faithful ministers and teachers, who are holding the same testimony of the Lord Jesus. In this sense the apostle used the word several times in his first epistle to the Corinthians, (1:10; 11:18). There were divisions, differences, and janglings amongst the members of that church, who still remained joined together in external church-communion, or in the same church-order, discipline, and worship. The apostle gives a particular instance of these divisions and janglings, 1 Cor. i. 12, iii 4, One said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollo. There was a siding amongst them about their ministers and teachers, who held the same testimony of Jesus,” [Mr. Wilson’s Defence of the Reformation Principles, p. 198, 199]. The worthy and pious Mr. Rutherford says, “When the greatest part of a church maketh defection from the truth, the lesser part, remaining sound, the greatest part is the church of Separatists. Though the main and greatest part, in the actual exercise of discipline, be the church; yet, in the case of right discipline, the best, though fewest, is the church,” [Divine Right of Presbytery, p. 266]. To the same purpose the reader, if he pleases, may consult the learned and judicious Dr. Owen’s Humble Testimony, [Prof. p. 7. Treatise on Schism, p. 265]. And the celebrated Mr. Forrester, [Rect. Instr. dial. III. p. 7]. Also, Claud’s Defence of the Reformation, part III p. 17, 18. And the famous Mr. Shields, in his preface to Mr. Renwick’s life. Click here to return to reading.
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