Wherein the Grace of God appeared towards Paul in his Ministerial Labours.
2 COR. 1. 12.
WE are enumerating the particulars of that grace, which the Apostle doth especially acknowledge in his ministerial course. We proceed therefore, and
First, The faithfulnesse of Paul to his Apostolical trust, fixing his heart*upon that, and using no other meanes, then what are proportionable and com∣mensurate to such a noble end, was wholly of the grace of God towards him. It is re∣quired of Stewards, that they be found faithfull, saith this Apostle, 1 Cor. 4. 2. and with this grace God had honoured him. Insomuch that we do not find in Paul any halting, any carnal compliance, which might contradict the holy end of his Apostolical Office. Those are two noble expressions, 2 Corinth. 10. 8. Our authority the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for destru∣ction. The other is, 2 Cor. 13. 8. For we can doe nothing against the truth, but for the truth. In these Texts we have expressed the end of all ministe∣rial power, it is for edification: And therefore if any through the Word preached be more hardened in their sinnes, and made more obdurate in their evil wayes, this is besides the intention of the Word. As when the Sunne blindeth a mans eyes through the dazelling thereof, this is acciden∣tal; the proper and natural effect, being to illuminate, all spiritual autho∣rity is for edification. And in the other Text, you have the power of grace upon Paul's heart, so affecting of him, that he cannot do any thing against the truth. Neither doctrinally or practically would he indulge to any evil way; but thereby the end of his Ministry should be frustrated. Now this is a special work of Gods grace so to sanctifie, and keep tender our hearts, that we take heed of every thing that may obstruct the happy course of the Gospel: Whereas the Jesuitical party will wander out into many by and extravagant wayes, to accomplish their designes. Jansenius a learned Papist (Jansen. Sanctus Augustinus liber proaemialis, pag. 9.) speaketh of one man, who not daring to do something out of favour to another, which he knew was contrary to the principles of morality; neither affirmed by any Authours; as probable, had this answer from a Jesuited Doctor, Aude, & nos efficiemus probabile, Be bold to do it and we will make it probable. Here we see, their power is many times against the truth. But Paul was so kept by the grace of God, that not only deliberately he did not any thing which might retard the progresse of the Gospel; but also nor so much as by infirmity, Page 438 or any sudden surprizal, as we see Peter did, and therefore Paul did withstand him to the face. This therefore is a blessed worke of Gods grace, when a Minister is kept so faithfully to the end of his Office, that neither in life or doctrine, will he doe any thing, that may be contrary to it.
Secondly, The grace of God extended itself mercifully to Paul, In that he was kept low and humble under all those signal favours and prerogatives that*God hath bestowed upoh him. Was not every thing in Paal almost extraor∣dinary and miraculous, and yet who is kept lower in his own eyes, who is more emptied of himself, looking upon what he had been, more than what he was? So that it was of Gods grace to Paul, to make him acknowledge Gods grace not to trust in himself. And thus it is alwayes in the Church of God; one special work of Gods grace, is to make us sensible of it, to give all to it, to goe out of our selves: and thus Gods fulnesse is most seene in our emptinesse. We see the Jewes went about wholly to establish their own righteousnesse. The Stoick Philosophers, who did so admire vertue, were thereby advancers of themselves: They looked upon virtue as their own work, that they were not beholding to God for it. Therefore Seneca maketh this the cause and foundation of all happinesse, Fidere sibiipsi, to trust in him∣self. And the Pelagian, though Christian, yet his Doctrine driveth whol∣ly to self-advancement. So that though he would acknowledge the necessi∣ty of that prayer, Forgive us our sinnes (yet so as when we had sinned, otherwise they pleaded perfection, and that a man might be without sinne) yet for the ensuing Petition, Lead us not into temptation, &c. They would not understand it of spiritual temptations and occasions to sinne, as if we needed to pray to God for grace to prevent future sinnes, our own will and strength was sufficient for that; but of external miseries, such as not to fall off an horse, or to be killed by a thiefe: These were the temptations onely we prayed against in this Petition. But where the grace of God is effectually work∣ing, there it maketh a man apprehensive of the necessity of it; and that to every action all the day long: and truly this is from God; when the Minister of the Gospel shall go out of all parts, learning and studies whatsoever, ac∣knowledging it's the grace of God alone that inableth him in his work: happily this would make the presence of God more powerfull with us, if we did own his grace more.
Thirdly, The grace of God with Paul in his ministerial imployment, was, *The directing of him in meditations, and guiding of him to such thoughts and words as might most prevaile upon those that heare him. For this we must know, that where Gods presence is with a Minister, there he is directed to preach on such subject matter, rather than other which God will blesse to a most happy and effectual issue. This made Paul say excellently, 2 Cor. 5. 6. Not that we are sufficient to think any thing of our selves, but our sufficiency is of God, who hath made us able Ministers of the New Testament. Here you see Paul acknow∣ledging, that we are not able to think one thought in our ministerial way advan∣tagious for the edification of others without the grace of God. As in pray∣er, we know not what to pray, or how to pray, without the Spirit of God in∣abling: So neither in preaching, we know not what to preach, or how to preach, unlesse the Lord guide us. That is observable, Eccles. 12. 9, 10. Be∣cause the preacher was wise, he taught the people knowledge, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words. By this we see, that there is special wisdome to search out fit matter and fit words, which cannot be obtained without God the fountain of wisdome. So that herein the Minister of God is to exercise him∣self daily in prayer to God, that he would teach him how to preach, and what Page 439 to preach, that he may not sow chaff in stead of wheat, and cockles in stead of barley, that he may be so directed, as to pitch upon those arguments, those ex∣pressions which will be most effectually working upon the souls of those that do hear.
Fourthly, The grace of God was wonderfully manifest in Paul., By the spi∣rit*of self-denial, patience, zeal, and courage which was in him, while ac∣complishing his worke. Indeed Paul is like a pleasant and choice Garden, wherein are so many precious flowers, that we know not which to pluck first. Thus Paul was so eminently bespangled with all the graces of Gods Spirit, that we know not which to commend first. His self-denial was admirable, when he complained, All sought their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ. This argued how much he did abhorre such courses, Phil. 3. 21. when he was so so∣licitous to bring off deluded souls from the false Apostles who reigned over them. It was not his honour or glory that he looked at, if so be they would own Christ and his wayes in truth; let him be rejected, he mattered it not. This he plainly professeth, 2 Cor. 13. 7. I pray God ye do no evil, not that we should be approved, but that you should do that which is honest, though we be ac∣counted as reprobates. It is plain therefore that it was their good, their salva∣tion and glory, not his own that he aimed at. His patience also was no lesse remarkable, when he could quietly go through all the reproaches and calum∣nies that the false Apostles did charge upon him, especially his patience was even miraculous in those sufferings he was exercised with, for the Gospels sake. He that informed others, they had need of patience; how much more had he, being put to so many combates as he was? Yet under all this he fainted not, he forsook not Christ, and his cause; yea he rejoyced in his sufferings, and looked upon them as so many marks of honour. 2 Cor. 11. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. you have a long Catalogue of the manifold bitter trials he was put upon; yet he was gold in this fire, he was wheat in this winnowing; he doth not complain of the cause of Christ he had espoused, as Zipporah to Moses, Thou art a bloody husband; yea in all these things, He is more than a conquerour, as Rom. 8. 37. For the greatest Conquerours do for the most part receive some losse; but these tribula∣tions were so farre from making him a loser, that he was thereby a gainer. The grace of God was wonderfully in Paul, to make him so zealous for the Church∣es of Christ as he was; he learned of Christ himself to have the zeal of the Lords house to eat him up, 2 Cor. 11. 29. Who is offended, and I burn not? There was nothing in the Church of God that fell out, which might be a stum∣bling block to any believer, which might any wayes tend to make such an one fall; but his heart was affected therein, as if it had been his own cause. There∣fore in the fore-mentioned Chapter, 2 Cor. 11, 28. he acknowledgeth the care of all the Churches to be upon him; and this made him so compassionately sympathizing with every member thereof. Thus Paul is like a spiritual Atlas, bearing up the Churches of God; not that he owneth himself in this, any fur∣ther than to acknowledge the grace of God thereby to him. Now this zeal did necessarily imply publick affections, whereby Paul was inlarged in his soul to∣wards the glory of God, and the good of others; which heavenly constitution doth necessarily suppose the grace of God: Man naturally making himself the utmost end of all his actions: and his own self-love, like Phaeaoh's lean kine, doth devour and swallow up all that is before it. Is not that passage of his pub∣lick affection matter of amazement? Rom. 9. 2, 3. where he professeth his great heaviness, and continual sorrow of heart for the Israelites? Yea this did so farre possesse him, that he saith, I could wish my self acoursed from Christ for their sake. Such an high expression, that it hath troubled Interprete•s, how to explain it, and make it lawfull; as if in publick affections, as well as private, that were true, Difficile est amare & sapere, It is hard to love, and to be wise Page 440 also. Now this is a blessed effect of Gods grace upon the hearts of those who preach the Gospel, when they preferre Jerusalem above all their joy; when they preach not to live upon the Gospel, and to be maintained by the Gospel, but rather use these, as steps whereby they may ascend higher. That as the body is for the soul, not the soul for the body; so they make personal ac∣commodations for the publick, not publick for the personal. Lastly, That I may not weary you out, the courage and spiritual fortitude that Paul did upon all occasions demonstrate, doth plainly demonstrate the grace of God towards him. The ministerial Office is compared to a souldiers imployment, 2 Tim. 2. 3, 4. where Timothy is commanded to endure hardnesse as a soul∣dier of Christ: And because he is set apart for this spiritual warfare, there∣fore he must not entangle himself with the affaires of this life; and herein Paul did shew himself an excellent pattern. Was not he an excellent soul∣dier, when Phil. 4. 11, 12. he had learned in whatsoever estate, to be content; he knew how to abound, and how to want, every where, and in all things. He must needs have spiritual fortitude that could thus endure hot and cold. No wonder then if at the close of his life, he hath this comforta∣ble testimony from his conscience, That he had fought a good fight, 2 Tim. 4. 7. This is that which maketh the ministerial work so difficult; we are to conflict with the lusts of men; we are to demolish the Kingdome of Sa∣tan; all our work, if faithfully discharged, breedeth nothing but the ma∣lice and opposition of ungodly men. And that this is wholly the gift of God, appeareth, 2 Tim. 1. 7. God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind; of power, that subdueth all world∣ly fear, and man-pleasing; yet lest this power should make us too harsh and austere, there is love to mollifie and sweeten it. For Dilige & loquere quod vis, said Austin, Love, and then reprove as much as you will. But lest love should make us foolish, and too indulgent, there is added a sound mind, as salt to sea∣son this Sacrifice. These are the qualifications of a Minister; but who giveth these? From whence doth this good and perfect gift come? Even from the Fa∣ther of lights, Jam. 1. 17.
Fifthly, The grace of God proclaimed by Paul, was, In the heavenly*wisdome that he did use in the managing of his Office. For although he disclaimeth fleshly wisdome, yet he attributeth to himself true heavenly wisdome, he considered his auditours, what they were able to beare; he did not put new wine into old bottles; he had serpentine wisdome, though Dove-like innocency. Wisdome and discretion is the eye in the body of all our holy actions. Zeal without knowledge maketh a man like Samson, when his eyes are pulled out; though he pull down the house up∣on the Philistims, yet he himself is also destroyed thereby. 1 Cor. 3. 1, 2. I could not speake unto you, as spiritual, but as carnal. I fed you with milk, and not with meat. Argus was not fuller of eyes, then a Minister is to be of wisdome and circumspection, to know the dispositions, capaci∣ties and temptations of the people to whom he preacheth. But above all the Ministers wisdome is seen in laying a good and sure foundation. This grace of God to him, Paul doth acknowledge, 1 Cor. 3. 10. According to the grace of God given to me, as a wise master-builder I have laid a founda∣tion. For if we be not in justification built upon Christ, and in practice carried beyond morality, yea and religious duties to a principle of regene∣ration within; All other building, though never so glorious, and applaud∣ed in the world, is but like an house built upon the sand, whose fall will be great, when tempests shall arise. It was from this wisdome that Paul said, I became all things to all men, that I might save some, 1 Cor. 9. 22. Not in that sense as the Jesuite is said, to become all things to all men, for Page 441 that is to save one, not to save, but rather destroy others: he did not sin∣fully comply with mens sinnes, but he did prudently accommodate himself to mens weaknesses, not defiling himself thereby, that to he might 〈◊〉 them out of their weaknesses.
Lastly, The grace of God acknowledged by Paul, is, The successe he had*in his ministerial labours. For though Paul was inabled to doe many mi∣racles to cure many diseased bodies▪ yet he could not open the eyes, or change the heart of any one man; whensoever therefore an effectual door was opened to him, in any place; this was Gods work, not Paul's, 1 Cor. 3. For though Paul planted, and Apollo watered, yet it is God that giveth the increase. Alas, it is not for a Minister to thinke his parts, his gifts, his learning, his diligent and zealous preaching shall bring men off from their wicked wayes. For though the Minister is to do his duty, yet his suc∣cesse is of Gods grace onely: And therefore wonder not, if Paul tri∣umph over all the learned and potent enemies of the Gospel, if Paul's contemptiblenesse overcome the Grecians wisdome and excellency; for it's not Paul, but the grace of God with him that doth these wondrous things.
Use of Admonition, to us who are the Ministers of God, as we would have our studies, our labours, our ministerial imployments have successe, to goe out of our parts and studies, and to importune the grace of God more. Thou art apt to thinke such expressions, such moving compassio∣nate exhortations, such quick and penetrating arguments, will make men leave all their sinnes, and follow Christ, but looke up to Gods grace more; and take heed of any thing that may provoke God to with∣withdraw his gracious presence from thy studies and ministeriall la∣bours.
Use 2. Of Instruction. Whence it is that the faithfull Ministry of God hath been upheld in all ages, when the Governours of the world have frowned on them, when endeavours have been to root it out, as a bitter plant not to be endured, when they themselves have been poor and weak, having neither outward greatnesse, or earthly policy to maintaine them; This is wholly from the grace of God. As the Arke was not over∣whelmed in the waters, though it had no Pilot to guide it, because God took care of it.