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spoken of, Job 28, "which cannot be gotten for gold, nor shall silver be weighed for the price thereof; which cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire."
I proceed now to the
II. Thing proposed, viz., to show what is implied in a minister of the gospel's being a burning light.
There are these two things that seem naturally to be understood by this expression, viz., that his heart be filled with much of the holy ardor of a spirit of true piety; and that he be fervent and zealous in his administrations.
1. That his heart be full of much of the holy ardor of a spirit of true piety. We read of the power of godliness. True grace is no dull, inactive, ineffectual principle; it is a powerful thing; there is an exceeding energy in it; and the reason is, that God is in it; it is a divine principle, a participation of the divine nature, and a communication of divine life, of the life of a risen Saviour, who exerts himself in the hearts of the saints, after the power of an endless life. They that have true grace in them, they live; but not by their own life; but Christ lives in them: his Holy Spirit becomes in them a living principle and spring of divine life: the energy and power of which is in Scripture compared to fire. Matt. iii. 11: "I indeed baptize you with water; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." True piety is not a thing remaining only in the head, or consisting in any speculative knowledge or opinions, or outward morality, or forms of religion; it reaches the heart, is chiefly seated there, and burns there. There is a holy ardor in every thing that belongs to true grace: true faith is an ardent thing, and so is true repentance; there is a holy power and ardor in true spiritual comfort and joy; yea, even in true Christian humility, submission and meekness. The reason is, that divine love or charity is the sum of all true grace, which is a holy flame enkindled in the soul: it is by this therefore especially, that a minister of the gospel is a burning light: a minister that is so, has his soul enkindled with the heavenly flame; his heart burns with love to Christ, and fervent desires of the advancement of his kingdom and glory; and also with ardent love to the souls of men, and desires for their salvation.
2. The inward holy ardor of his soul is exercised and manifosted in his being zealous and fervent in his administrations: for he is a burning light; which implies that his spiritual heat and holy ardor is not for himself only, but is communicative, and for the benefit of others: he is ardent, as he is a light, or in the performance of the duties of that office wherein he is set to be a light in the church of Christ. His fervent zeal, which has its foundation and spring in that holy and powerful flame of love to God and man, that is in his heart, appears in the fervency of his prayers to God, for and with his people; and in the earnestness and power with which he preaches the word of God, declares to sinners their misery, and warns them to fly from the wrath to come, and reproves, and testifies against all ungodliness; and the unfeigned earnestness and compassion with which he invites the weary and heavy laden to their Saviour; and the fervent love with which he counsels and comforts the saints; and the holy zeal, courage and steadfastness, with which he maintains the exercise of discipline in the house of God, notwithstanding all the opposition he meets with in that difficult part of the ministerial work; and in the diligence and earnestness with which he attends every duty of his ministerial function, whether public or private.
But I hasten to the
III. Thing proposed in the handling of this subject, viz., to show what is implied in a minister's being a shining light.
There are three things that seem to be naturally signified by it.
1. That he be pure, clear, and full in his doctrine. A minister is set to be a light to men's souls, by teaching, or doctrine: and if he be a shining light in this respect, the light of his doctrine must be bright and full; it must be pure without mixture of darkness: and therefore he must be sound in the faith, not one that is of a reprobate mind; in doctrine he must show uncorruptness; otherwise his light will be darkness: he must not lead his people into errors, but teach them the truth only, guiding their feet into the way of peace, and leading them in the right ways of the Lord.
He must be one that is able to teach, not one that is raw, ignorant, or unlearned, and but little versed in the things that he is to teach others; not a novice, or one that is unskilful in the word of righteousness; he must be one that is well studied in divinity, well acquainted with the written word of God, mighty in the Scriptures, and able to instruct and convince gainsayers.
And in order to be a shining light he must be one that really knows what religion is, one that is truly acquainted with that Saviour and way of salvation, that he is to teach to others, that he may speak the things that he knows, and testify the things that he has seen, and not be a blind leader of the blind he must be one that is acquainted with experimental religion, and not ignorant of the inward operations of the Spirit of God, nor of Satan's devices; able to guide souls under their particular difficulties. Thus he must be a scribe well instructed in things that pertain to the kingdom of God; one that brings forth out of his treasures, things new and old.
And in order to his being a shining light, his doctrine must be full, he must not only be able to teach, but apt to teach, ready to instruct the ignorant, and them that are out of the way, and diligent in teaching, in public and private; and careful and faithful to declare the whole counsel of God, and not keep back any thing that may be profitable to his hearers.
Also his being a shining light implies that his instructions are clear and plain, accommodated to the capacity of his hearers, and tending to convey light to their understandings.
2. Another thing requisite in order to a minister's being a shining light, is that he be discreet in all his administrations. The fervent zeal that thus should animate and actuate him in his administrations should be regulated by discretion: he should not only be knowing, and able to communicate knowledge and formed to do it; but also wise, and know how to conduct himself in the house of God, as a wise builder, and a wise steward. And as he is one that God hath sent forth to labor in his field, and committed the care of his vineyard to, so he should conduct himself there as one whom his God doth instruct to discretion: he should not only be as harmless as a dove, but as wise as a serpent; showing himself a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth; and one that knows how to govern the church of God, and to walk in wisdoin towards those that are without.
3. Another thing implied in a minister's being a shining light, is that he shines in his conversation: if he shines never so much in his doctrine and administrations in the house of God, yet if there be not an answerable brightness in his conversation, it will have a tendency to render all ineffectual. Christ, in Matt. v. 14, 15, 16, says to his disciples (having undoubtedly a special respect to those of them that were to be sent forth to preach the gospel), "Ye are the light of the world :-men do not light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." And how does Christ direct them to give light to others? "Let your light," says he, "so
shine before men, that others seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven." And he tells the same disciples again, John xv. 8," Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." And how should they bring forth fruit? Christ tells them, verse 10," If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love," and verse 14, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you."
God sent his Son into the world to be the light of the world these two ways, viz., by revealing his mind and will to the world, and also by setting the world a perfect example. So ministers are set to be lights, not only as teachers, but as ensamples to the flock, 1 Peter v. 3.
The same things that ministers recommend to their hearers in their doctrine, they should also show them an example of in their practice. Thus the apostle says to Timothy, 1 Tim. iv. 11, " These things command and teach ;" and then adds in the next verse, "Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." So he directs Titus, in his teaching, to recommend sobriety, gravity, temperance, patience, and other virtues, in the beginning of the 2d chapter of Titus. But then adds in the 7th verse, "In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works."
We see in natural bodies, that when heat is raised in them to a high degree, at length they begin to shine: and, as I observed before, a principle of true grace in the soul is like an inward heat, a holy ardor of a heavenly fire enkin dled in the soul: this in ministers of the gospel ought to be to that degree, as to shine forth brightly in all their conversation; and there should as it were be a light about them wherever they go, exhibiting to all that behold them, the amiable, delightful image of the beauty and brightness of their glorious master.
I proceed to the
IV. Thing proposed, which is to show that the excellency of a minister of the gospel consists in his being thus both a burning and a shining light. This is manifest in two things:
1. Herein his ministry is acceptable and amiable in the sight of God and
When light and heat are thus united in a minister of the gospel, it shows that each is genuine, and of a right kind, and that both are divine. Divine light is attended with heat; and so, on the other hand, a truly divine and holy heat and ardor is ever accompanied with light.
It is the glory of the sun that such a bright and glorious light, and such a powerful, refreshing, vivifying heat, are both together diffused from that luminary. When there is light in a minister, consisting in human learning, great speculative knowledge and the wisdom of this world, without a spiritual warmth and ardor in his heart, and a holy zeal in his ministrations, his light is like the light of an ignis fatuus, and some kinds of putrifying carcasses that shine in the dark, though they are of a stinking savor. And if on the other hand a minister has warmth and zeal, without light, his heat has nothing excellent in it, but is rather to be abhorred; being like the heat of the bottomless pit; where, though the fire be great, yet there is no light. To be hot in this manner, and not lightsome, is to be like an angel of darkness. But ministers by having light and heat united in them, will be like the angels of light; which for their light and brightness are called morning stars. Job xxviii. 7, "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." And because of that holy ardor of divine love and zeal with which they burn, they are compared to a flaming fire: Psal. civ. 4, "Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire," and are therefore called seraphims, which is a word
that is derived from a root that signifies to burn. So that by ministers of the gospel being burning and shining lights, the angels of the churches will become like the angels of heaven, and those stars held in the right hand of Christ here. below, will be like those morning stars above, and which is much more, hereby ministers will be like their glorious Lord and Master; who is not only the Master of ministers of the gospel, but is the head and Lord of the glorious angels, whom they adore, and who communicates to them the brightness in which they shine, and the flame with which they burn, and is the glorious luminary and sun of the heavenly world, from whence all the inhabitants of that world have their light and life, and all their glory. In this Sun of righteousness is that light, whose brightness is such that the light of the sun in the firmament in comparison of it is as darkness, yea, black as sackcloth of hair: for he is the infinite brightness of God's glory; and of him it is said, Isai. xxiv. 23, “ Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, before his ancients, gloriously." And accompanying this bright light in him, is the infinitely intense flame of love. There is no love to be compared to his; nor ever was love both to God and man so manifested, as has been in what Christ has done and suffered; for herein was love! Ministers, by being burning and shining lights, become the sons of God, of whom we read that he is light, and that he is love. 1 John i. 5," This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." And chap. iv. 16, "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us: God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him."
Therefore it must needs be that ministers, by being burning and shining lights, are acceptable and amiable in the sight of God, as he delights in his own image and in the image of his Son: and hereby also they will be honorable and amiable in the sight of men, all such as have any sense of that which is truly excellent and beautiful; and it is the way to have their ministry pleasant and delightful to those of this character that sit under it.
2. Herein a minister of the gospel will be likely to answer the ends of his ministry by this means his ministry will not only be amiable, but profitable. If a minister has light without heat, and entertains his auditory with learned discourses, without a savor of the power of godliness, or any appearance of fervency of spirit, and zeal for God and the good of souls, he may gratify itching ears, and fill the heads of his people with empty notions; but it will not be very likely to reach their hearts, or save their souls. And if, on the other hand, he be driven on with a fierce and intemperate zeal, and vehement heat, without light, he will be likely to kindle the like unhallowed flame in his people, and to fire their corrupt passions and affections; but will make them never the better, nor lead them a step towards heaven, but drive them apace the other way.
But if he approves himself in his ministry, as both a burning and a shining light, this will be the way to promote true Christianity amongst his people, and to make them both wise, good, and cause religion to flourish among them in the purity and beauty of it.
When divine light and heat attend each other in ministers of the gospel, their light will be like the beams of the sun, that do not only convey light, but give life; and converts will be likely to spring up under their ministry, as the! grass and plants of the field under the influence of the sun; and the souls of the saints will be likely to grow, and appear beautiful as the lily, and to revive a the corn, and grow as the vine, and their scent to be as the wine of Lebanon; and
their light will be like the light of Christ, which is the light of life, John viii. 12.
If the sun should shine upon the earth, with the same brightness that it doth now, yet if it were without any heat, it would give life to nothing; the world would be a desolate wilderness, with nothing growing in it; the death of every living thing must be the consequence; and the sun's light could be of no service to us, but to cause us to see our own and others' misery, without being able to help ourselves or them. On the other hand, if the sun diffused the same heat that now it does, but the world was destitute at the same time of any light, it would be equally unserviceable: mankind having no light to guide them in their business, in tilling the field, or gathering the produce of the earth, we should be like the Egyptians in the three days' darkness, who saw not one another, nor rose from their places: and thus also death would be the unavoidable consequence. But by light and heat accompanying one another, the whole face of the earth becomes fruitful, and is adorned, and all things are quickened and flourish, and mankind enjoy both life and comfort.
I proceed to the
V. Thing proposed in handling the doctrine, to apply these things to all here present, that Christ has called to the work of the gospel ministry, observing how much it concerns such to endeavor to be burning and shining lights.
Our office and work is most honorable, in that we are set by Christ to be lights or luminaries in the spiritual world. Light is the most glorious thing in the material world, and there are, it may be, no parts of the natural world that have so great an image of the goodness of God, as the lights or luminaries of heaven; and especially the sun, who is constantly communicating his benign influence to enlighten, quicken and refresh the world by his beams; which is probably the reason that the worship of the sun was (as is supposed) the first idolatry that mankind fell into. But so are ministers honored by their great Lord and Master, that they are set to be that to men's souls, that the lights of heaven are to their bodies; and that they might be the instruments and vehicles of God's greatest goodness, and the most precious fruits of his eternal love to them, and means of that life, and refreshment and joy, that are spiritual and eternal, and infinitely more precious than any benefit received by the benign beams of the sun in the firmament. And we shall be likely indeed to be the instruments of those unspeakable benefits to the souls of our fellow creatures, if we have those qualifications, which have been shown to be the true and proper excellency of ministers of the gospel. Herein our glory will answer the honorable station Christ has set us in. And hereby our ministry will be likely to be as beneficial as our office is honorable: we shall be like Christ, and shall shine with his beams; Christ will live in us, and be seen in his life and beauty in our ministry, and in our conversation, and we shall be most likely to be the means of bringing others to him, and of their receiving of his light, and being made partakers of his life, and having his joy fulfilled in them. And this will be the way for us hereafter to be as much advanced and distinguished in our reward, as we are honored in the office and business we are called to here. In this way, those whom Christ has set to be lights in his church, and to be stars in the spiritual world here, shall be lights also in the church triumphant, and shine as stars forever in heaven. Daniel xii. 3, " And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever."
But if we fail of the proper excellency of ministers of the gospel, we shall not be in the sight of God the more worthy or honorable for our high office, but