Of the Ministry of the Word as the Means of Conversion, with the other Ends thereof, &c.
JEREM. 23. 22.
THis Chapter hath two main principal parts; the first is Promissory, the second Comminatory.
The Promissory is of a three-fold benefit. 1. Reduction from Captivi∣tie. 2. Godly and holy Governours, both Civil and Ecclesiastical. 3. The Mission of Christ, who is described in his glorious Office, he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousnesse.
The Comminatory beginneth verse 9. against the false and wicked Prophets, as the fountain of all the wickednesse in Jerusalem. The sins they are accused of, are a prophaning of the holy things of God, Adulteries, and swearings; as also Hy∣pocrisies, which not onely they themselves were guilty of, but infected others al∣so. The wicked lives of Ministers make a great deal of Atheism among people: Page 495 They are like poisoned Fountains or Springs, which do presently conveigh poison to all that drink of them. Now as their sin is decyphered, so their judgment is threatned ver. 15. grief and heavie trouble of mind; for saith God, I will feed them with worm∣wood, and make them drink the water of Gall. They fed the people with Gall in their deceiving Sermons, and God he feeds them with Wormwood. Now my Text doth by way of contrarie aggravate the sad and damnable effects of a corrupt and sinfull Ministry; for whereas verse 14. he had shewed that they did strengthen the hands of wicked doers, so that none did return from his evill wayes. On the contrary, in my Text he declareth the good, and soul-saving effect of it, in case of a godly and conscientious discharge of their Function. So that in the words you have good qualifications supposed: and secondly the godly and blessed successe that will flow from hence.
The good qualifications supposed are two.
First, If they had stood in my Counsell. To understand the full sense of this con∣sider, 1 Kings 22. 19. and Job 1. 6. Where God is described as a Judge sitting up∣on his Throne, and all the Host of heaven standing by him on his right hand, and on his left; so that the meaning is, If those Prophets had not delivered the ima∣gination of their own hearts, but had attended for my commands, had received all from me, as the Angels do; then, &c. And further note, that To stand before one, is an Hebraism, describing the ready posture of servants, to receive any command. Thus Gehezi is said to stand before his Master; and we are forbidden to offend any of those little ones, because their Angels behold alwayes the face of God, Mat. 18. 20.
The second qualification floweth from the former, And cause the people to hear my words. The false Prophets preached their own words of peace to them, whom God cursed; but they must be like the Trumpet, that sends forth no other voice than was breathed into them. Embassadors must keep themselves strictly to the words of their Commission; and Executors to the Will of Testators: for If it be but a mans Testament, no man may add to it, how much more to a Divine?
The next thing supposed, is the good successe, They shall be Fishers of men in∣deed; though while they followed their own ways, they laboured all night and day, and took nothing; yet then Christ will command them to throw in the Net, and they shall catch abundantly. When they thus water and plant, God will give great increase.
Doctr. That the Ministry of God faithfully discharged, according to Gods own*Counsell, is a sure way to turn men from their sins.
To explain this, consider:
First, That God hath firmly and immoveably set Ministers and Pastors, or their Office in the Church, for glorious and supernatural effects. That although God was pleased to make the world, the old Creature, by his own word immediately, using no Angels, or other things as instruments (nay they could not be used instru∣mentally to that infinite work of Creation) yet he is pleased to appoint spirituall Officers in the Church, To be co-workers, as the Apostle saith, with him, 2 Cor. 6. 1. Not that they co-operate with God in the infusing of grace in the soul, (no, that is Gods sole work) but they prepare and dispose the subject in a morall way, by convincing and instructing the Consciences of their hearers. That God hath thus firmly appointed such spirituall Offices is plain, 1 Cor. 12. 28. God hath set some in his Chnrh, set as he hath set the Sun and Stars in the Firmament: and then he reckons up extraordinary and ordinary Offices; and these are called gifts given to men, and the fruits of his Ascention, Ephes. 4. 11. where they are again enumerated: So that by these places, you see a Ministry is a Divine Office, a plant of Gods own planting: and that it is not a temporary, but a perpetual Office appeareth by their end, which is perpetual, Eph. 4. 13. till we all come to a full stature in Christ: And the Apostle in his Epistles to Timothy, laying down the Characters and Qualities of Page 496 such who are to be Ministers, he chargeth those Commandments to be kept impar∣tially till the coming of Christ. 2 Tim. 5. 21.
Secondly, As God hath appointed this Office, so it is the expression of his wonder∣full goodnesse and love to mankind therein. Hence God doth so often tell the Jewes of this his great love to them, that he sent them his Prophets, rising early and war∣ning of them: and in Ephes. 4. they are called the gifts, which Christ gave after his Ascension; and indeed they are greater than any temporall mercies, if men could spiritually judge. The giving of us the heavens and the earth, with all the abundance thereof, is not like to the giving of faithful Ministers to a people. There∣fore God to comfort the people of Israel when they were in great extremities, he tells them, He will give them such Pastors as shall rule after his own heart, Jer. 3. 15. And their eyes shall see their Teachers, though he feed them with the bread of affliction, Isa. 30. 20. Hence are those triumphing expressions to them by the godly; How pleasant are the feet of those who bring the glad tidings of the Gospel? Rom. 10, 15. And how can it be but thought an exceeding great mercy, when God who needeth us not, shall yet send his Embassadors daily to us, to intreat us to be reconciled un∣to him? As if a glorious Emperor should send Messengers to win the affections of a poor despised Beggar to be espoused to him.
Thirdly, The end of this Office is supernaturall, for divine and spirituall effects. And herein it differeth from all earthly imployments, who have onely outward * happinesse and prosperity for their end. Hence it is that they are called Angels; their imployment being sacred and heavenly, like that of the Angels. Now this supernaturall end is reduceable to a fourfold effect.
First, They are appointed for the Conversion, and spirituall change of the hearts and lives of those to whom they are sent. What a wonder was that of Peter, who * Converted three thousand at one time from their former ignorance and wicked∣nesse! Let not the Heathens any more boast of their Orpheus and his Harp, which would make wild Beasts came, and follow him; Here Peter doth farre more by the spiritual Keys of his Ministry: and thus James saith, James 1. We are begot∣ten by his word, and its the Word of Regeneration. Hence they are called Fathers, spiritually begetting Children unto them in the Lord. And if that be true, as it is, which Austin saith, The Conversion of the soul is a greater wonder than any mi∣racle; then where the Ministry hath this Divine effect, its more admirable than to cure blind eyes, or deaf ears, or raise dead men from the grave. Oh then this is a strong and mighty experiment of Gods work in the Ministry, when it doth reach thus into the inward hearts and consciences of men.
Secondly, Another main end is to confirm and strengthen those that are converted; To make them grow more and more, as Ephes. 4. till we come to a full stature in * Christ. Its pride and arrogancy to think thy self so knowing, or so godly, as not to need a Ministry; for suppose thou dost hear no more than what thou knowest, yet how dull are thy affections? how apt to apostatize, and back-slide! and there∣fore the righteous man he needs Ezekiels Watchman as well as the wicked, that he may not turn from his righteousnesse, Ezek. 3. And this is a noble fruit of the Mi∣nistry, to build up, when a foundation is already laid, to be adding cubits to thy sta∣ture, to be always blowing upon thee with this spiritual wind, that thy graces may be flourishing and sweetly fragrant alwaies.
Thirdly, Another effect is to revive and comfort those that are cast down with the sense and burden of their sins. Hence they are said to preach glad-tidings, and this * is called the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to those that need comfort. These are the good Samaritans, that bring precious oil, these apply the Balm of Gilead: And oh that we had more subjects to improve this glorious ef∣fect of the Ministry upon: A wounded conscience for sin, is an unknown thing to men of the world: To feel the Agonies of sinne through Gods displeasure, because of our iniquities, is a Riddle to natural men: but where such are, how welcome are the glad tidings of a Christ untothem!
Page 497 Lastly, To direct in matters of doubt and to advise in cases of Conscience. Hence * they are compared to light, and to guides, that lead the blind, and direct in un∣known and dangerous wayes: and certainly, this is no mean task: Who is suffici∣ent for this very imployment, To determine in perplexed cases of Conscience, what is to be done, and not to sin? Thus Paul determines many cases of Consci∣ence in his Epistles, about eating, and not eating, about presence in Idololatrical Temples, about marriage and single life, 2. Cor. 7. and the meeting of a Synod at Jerusalem, Act. 15. was in one part to advise in matters of conscience. These are the four noble and supernaturall ends, for which God hath appointed this Office; so that we are to attend upon the Ministry, and to expect these divine effects in no o∣ther ordinary way; for Christs promise is to be expected only where his Instituti∣on is.
Fourthly, The wisdome of God is herein observable, That having appointed the*Ministry for such supernaturall effects, he is pleased to use such outward contemptible means. We carry, saith the Apostle, this Treasure in earthen Vessels, 2 Cor. 4. 7. The Vessel is contemptible and unworthy, yet the treasure therein is glorious: That God should work such admirable effects in a way so unlikely to flesh and bloud; this was to confound the world; for when he appointed the twelve Apo∣stles, who did more to change mens hearts, than ever all the Emperors could do to propagate their Empire by the sword; how mean and despicable were they? Thus God hath still appointed, that not the humane eloquence and externall pomp of the world, should be instrumentall to this savoury and spiritual operation; But the plain and simple Explication and Application of Gods Word; which made Paul truly say, That God hath chosen the foolish and weak things of the world, to con∣found the wise and strong, 1 Cor. 1. Hence Rom. 1. Paul again cals it, The foolishnesse of Preaching•; that is, in the eyes of carnall and humane wisedome. The Jews they require a Sign, and the Greeks wisdome, that is, eloquence and acute demon∣strations: But this foolishnesse of Preaching, is the power of God to salvation. Oh then take heed, that vain carnall pride and contempt doe not hinder thee from this spiritual good; as Austin was offended at the simple and plain stile of the Scrip∣ture, he found not such swelling, tuned eloquence, as in humane Authors, which made him say, Dedignabar esse parvulus. Oh know, that unlesse a man become like a little child, he can never with faith and trembling receive this word aright. I wonder not then, if the great wise men of the world do so undervalue this plain way of Gods Word preached; They cannot become like little children.
Fiftly, Consider, That although the Office and Ministry of the Church be thus*ordained and owned by Christ; yet so universall and generall may the ignorance and corruption be of those that are in this Office, that the clean contrary to Gods end is brought about. In stead of Instruction, men are more nourished in Ignorance; in∣stead of Conversion, men more strengthened in their wickednesse; as the false Pro∣phets spake peace, and promised good to those whom God abhorred. Oh this is the most fatall judgement that can befall a people, to have blinde, ignorant, dumb and scandalous Ministers; and although people generally may love to have such, because some eyes cannot abide the light; yet its the heaviest expression of Gods wrath upon a people. This Chapter complaineth that from such false Pro∣phets all evill came to Jerusalem. Even as if the Sun and Moon should be turned into darknesse and bloud; so is it, when those that should be guides, eyes, watch∣men, are clean contrary: onely by the way, when these are called here false Pro∣phets, observe, that they may be called false in two respects, either in regard of their Office, or in regard of their matter; of their Office, and such are false Prophets, or false Ministers, as have no true Call either mediate or immediate from God: So that although a man should preach that which is true and good matter; yet if he have not lawfully entred into this Office, he is a false Prophet. Consider that remarkable place: If there arise a false Prophet, who foretels a thing, and the thing come to passe, I the Lord doe it to try you, Deut. 13. 1, 2, 3. Observe, that a false Prophet may Page 498 tell those things that are true; and God doth thus wisely and justly permit these things, to try people whether they be soundly rooted, or not.
But secondly, a false Prophet or Minister is he, who though he have a true Cal, yet preacheth false and corrupt matter to please sinners: Thus these here are condem∣ned for both: They run, and I sent them not, they were forward, and yet had no Call. Thus they preached peace to obstinate sinners, and incouraged them in their wickednesse. Marvell not at it, if the Sons of Levi sometimes need to be purified, Mal. 3. And the Devils main design is either to overthrow the Ministrie, or cor∣rupt it.
Lastly therefore, if so be that Ministers would find the spiritual effect of their Ministry; and that Gods promise and power might go along with their Office, they are here directed to stand in Gods Counsels, that is, wholly to be inquiring of him, and directed by him: for to convert souls being it self supernatural, the means also must be supernatural, and that can be known only by divine Revelation. What coun∣sel therefore is it, which God giveth them, in the exercise whereof this comfortable effect may be produced? And,
First, That which is to be done before all other things, is to reform their own lives; That the world may say, they believe that to be true which they preach to others. Thus * they are to be an example of all purity, chastity, meeknesse, faith, temperance, hea∣venly-mindednesse. Not but that wicked men will cavill and find spots in the Sun. You see Christ and the Apostles were much traduced, and they walked through good report and bad; but let them approve their works to the Lord, and then they shall have comfort. Thus the Apostle to Timothy; Attend to thy self, and to thy Doctrine, 1 Tim. 4. 13. so shalt thou save others: To himself first, and then his Doctrine; the life of a man preacheth; Aarons Bels hung at his feet. What an uncomely thing is it to see a foul deformed Painter to draw a curious lovely Image? No lesse is it to hear a prophane Minister pressing his people to purity; a dissolute Minister to urge his people to strictnes: and therefore God threatned in Malachy, To make the Priests contemptible, and as Dung, because they had not kept his Word, Mal. 2. 3. This is woful: But when the Ministrie, for their faithfulness and oppo∣sition to the wickednesse in the world, are then as the Apostles were, made the off-scouring of the World; this is glorious.
Secondly, To take Counsell from God, is when they preach true Scripture, sound Doctrine, which is after Godlinesse; for so the Apostle describeth it, which is after*godlinesse: To please your ears, or delight the fancy, is not an acceptable work to God; no more than if a Priest in the old Law in stead of offering a Lamb, or Bul∣lock, shall Sacrifice a Butter-flie, or a Peacock, because of the radiant colour. No, you are to feel it as a two-edged sword, as an hammer; and the neglect of this solid Scripture-Preaching, hath made many Ministers through carnal affectation vent themselves into vapors and meer froth; and the people have been fed with wind, instead of solid food. What hath the Chaff to do with the Wheat? saith the Prophet in this Chapter. As it was said, He had made great Progresse in Rhetorick, to whose Palate Tullies phrase was pleasing, which is not so swelling and affected as some o∣ther: So he is a good judicious hearer, and like to get good by preaching, to whom the Scripture matter appeareth sound, admirable full of Majestie and worth.
Thirdly, As he is thus to preach sound Doctrine, so there are several qualifications which are like whetting, to make this two-edged sword enter the more powerfully. Such are our zeal and tender compassion to mens souls, to cry out with Rebecca, Give me*Children, or else I dye. Our Saviour Christ, when he saw multitudes of people, though they enjoyed the Teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, which had some good use in it, else our Saviour would not have directed the people to hear them; yet its said, His Bowels were moved with compassion towards them, when he saw them, as Sheep without a Shepherd: Zeal makes the spiritual meat hot, and so the fitter for digestion.
2. Boldnesse to reprove sin; Rebuke with all authority. Ieremy must not fear the Page 499 faces of men, lest God confound him before them: That which some in a crafty insnaring manner spake to Christ, Master, we know thou speakest the truth, and art 〈◊〉 accepter of persons, should be applyed to every Officer in the Church. Charge them that be rich in this world, That they be not high minded; We have not received the spirit of fear, but of power. Thus Iohn to Herod, Paul to Felix, Chrysostome to Eudoxius.
3. With labour and diligence, Preach in season, and out of season: All their names and titles imply diligence, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, A Bishop or Over-seer, a Watchman, a Shepherd. VVhat labour did Iacob undergoe in that Office? The Titles they have are not so much of honour as solicitude; those that labour in the word and Doctrine.
4. Consideration of their great account which is to be given not onely for their own sins, but of all others committed to them. The Sacrifice that the Priest was to offer, was greater than that the King was, yea as great as the whole Congregation for all their sins: to shew that their sins as Ministers were of an horri∣ble aggravation; which made Chrysostome wonder, if any in that Office could be saved; and indeed with God this is possible, and not with man.
Lastly, all these must be coupled with earnest prayer to God for a blessing upon his word; for its he that teacheth to profit; he opens eyes, he changeth hearts; he raiseth up the dead. We may lay the staff as Gehezi did, but God giveth life. Christ preached in the day time, and prayed in the night: While thou ragest, fret∣test, and art full of heart-burnings against them; little dost thou think what earnest praiers he puts up to God, that his word may be blessed to thy soul.
Use of Examination: Whether the word preached hath obtained this saving * effect upon your souls, although the Ministers of God have stood in his Counsel. Have they been able to say, we have not ceased to give them daily warning? O Lord, thou knowest our pains, our prayers, our desires; and yet they are trees that bring forth no fruit. Well, God will say to such, Well done, thou good and faithfull Ser∣vant, Thou hast delivered thy soul, their bloud will be required at their own hands. Its the great question' Why Conversion is not so frequent, and ordinary now, as in the Primitive times, yea as at the first reformation out of Poperie? To that we may speak the next day: only know, Gods anger is gone out against men, that he makes them have miscarrying wombs and dry breasts. How few Ministers can say, as Isai∣ah, Behold I and the Children which thou hast given me. We would fain, as Iacobs sonnes were commanded to bring Benjamin with them into his Fathers presence: so gladly when we shall appear before God, would we also bring all our hearers with us, saying, Not one of them committed to my charge is lost: but we have too many sons of perdition.