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ministers are constituted and churches formed: it is to dispense spiritual illumination to a benighted world; it is that they may shine with knowledge and holiness. As far as they answer this purpose, they are useful and important; in proportion as they lose sight of it, they forfeit every just claim to esteem, and sink into insignificance and contempt. It is their duty to " hold forth the word of life."* The light they are appointed to dispense is the pure doctrine of Christ, exhibited by an open profession, and sustained and recommended by the virtues of a holy life. When churches depart from the essential truths of christianity, they become incapable of answering the end of their institution. They are no longer useful lights, but delusive meteors; which, instead of guiding souls to heaven, mislead and betray them to destruction.
False teachers are compared by Jude to wandering stars," in opposition to those mentioned in the text, who are supposed to continue in their station, and afford a regular and steady light. In representing Christ's ministers under the metaphor of stars, it is not improbable there may be an allusion to Daniel: "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."+
The appellation of "the bright and morning star" is assumed by our Saviour himself; and as Philip. ii. 16. † Jude 13. Dan. xii. 3.
ministers, though at an immeasurable distance, are yet nearest him in the official rank in the church, so ought they most to resemble him in the distinguishing features of the christian character. The church is represented as having on her head "a crown of twelve stars," " which denote the twelve apostles. John saw seven of these stars and lamps: which may either refer to the precise number of the churches to whom Christ sends distinct epistles; or, as seems more likely, the number is adopted as a mystical number, agreeable to the arrangement of this book, which consists of seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, and contains a distinct [intimation] of the seven spirits that are before the throne. There is contained an allusion to the golden candlestick in the temple, which consisted of seven branches. "The eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.”+
Let us proceed to consider
I. What is meant by our Lord's holding the stars, his ministers, in his hand.
His holding the stars in his hand implies the appointing them to the work of the ministry. His qualifying them for the successful discharge of it, and his absolute [disposal and direction] of them, and all their concerns.
1. It implies that it is he who appoints them to their office. From him, as the sole Head of the Church, they derive their commissions. They † Zech. iv. 10.
* Rev. xii. 1.
are his servants and messengers. He sometimes describes them by appellations peculiar to the Jewish church;-as when he tells the Jews, "Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes ;"*-but more frequently by titles peculiar to the New Testament. "When he ascended up on high, he gave some, apostles; some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers."+ Hence St. Paul gives thanks to Jesus Christ, who had enabled him, " for that he counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry."
2. It is he who imparts the qualifications which are necessary for the effectual discharge of their office: "And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."§ All that love to souls, and that regard to the advancement of the divine honour, which are so essential to a christian minister, proceed from him. Ministerial talents are his gift. The continual supplies of grace, which are requisite in the whole course of the christian ministry, proceed from him: "The supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus:"|| There are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord."
3. They are, with all their concerns, at his absolute disposal. He, by the secret arrangements of his providence, appoints "the bound of their habitation," and allots their respective fields of labour, not unfrequently in a manner entirely *Matt. xxiii. 34. Ephes. iv. 8, 11.
§ 1 Tim. i. 14.
|| Philip. i. 19.
1 Tim. i. 12.
foreign from their expectation; so he assigns them the measure of their success, setting before them, on various occasions, "an open door, which no man can shut."* (Speak of the angel of the church of Philadelphia.)
II. The import of his walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks.
1. It imports an accurate inspection of the state [of every church], both as a society and as individuals. "I know thy works," is a declaration with which he frequently prefaces his admonitory epistles. Nothing in the behaviour of christian churches escapes his notice, whose "eyes are as a flame of fire." He remarks the attention, or inattention, with which his messages are received; he observes who are formal and lukewarm, and who fervent and sincere in their worship; who are diligent in their attendance on the means of grace, and who are glad to avail themselves of trivial excuses for neglecting them. He notices all the different degrees of seriousness which professing christians bring into the divine service. There is not a sigh from the contrite, not a tear of penitential sorrow, or of tender joy, that escapes his notice. "He looks not at outward appearances, but at the heart." He perceives the difference betwixt those churches which have left their "first love," and those who are diligently pressing on to perfection; betwixt those that are indifferent to the extension of his kingdom, and those who are
* Rev. iii. 8.
incessantly labouring and praying for its enlargement; those who decline to the paths of error, and "hold the doctrine which he hates," and those who "hold fast the form of sound words."
2. His walking amongst them implies that his business, so to speak, lies in the management of his churches. It is his "building," his "husbandry."* The interest of his church is peculiarly his interest, in the maintenance of which his presence and grace are especially exerted. He walks amongst the churches as a proprietor in his field.
He superintends the affairs of the world, but always with a view to the enlargement and prosperity of his church. The church is his mystical body, with which he is most intimately and inseparably united. He rules the world by his sceptre, but he gladdens the church by his presence. The former consists only of his subjects, this of his brethren and sisters.
3. His walking amongst them denotes the complacency he takes in them. Something of complacency seems to be implied in this expression, "I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people." +
(Apply the whole.)
* 1 Cor. iii. 9.
† Lev. xxvi. 11, 12.