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SELF REJECTED AND CHRIST EXALTED.
BY JOHN HUNT.
2 Cor. iv. 5.—For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus
We readily admit, my brethren, the mighty influence of example. Its advantages are not confined to place, nor controlled by circumstances. It speaks the language of every nation under heaven, and in a style so familiar that the meanest capacity easily comprehends it. Thousands, who never learnt the alphabet of their native tongue, can with the utmost facility read “the living epistles of Christ,” which are “ written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” Of these epistles, Christ is the entire subject; and every disciple of his should aim to be a perfect copy, a fac-simile of the Great Original.
Example is not less beneficial to the Christian minister than to the private individual. And here we are glad to watch the movements of inspired men. In the contemplation of their history we observe the holy zeal which should mark our ministerial careerthe devout affection which should diffuse its sacred glow over all our official engagements—the sublime and glorious subject which should be the theme of every public address—the great end to which we should direct every energy, and bend every step. And say, my brethren, has the contemplation no influence? While we look at their example, do we not catch their spirit, and become fired with a holy ambition that, like theirs, “ the end of our conversation may
be Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever ?”
Were it the practice under the gospel, as it was under the Jewish dispensation, for the ministers of religion to wear a frontlet, bearing
an appropriate inscription, I should be anxious it might be this— “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” All the world would then see at once,
I. What we do not preach ; and
The illustration of these particulars embraces the whole plan of our present subject. O that, by the mighty energy of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of Christ crucified may become, by our ministry, “ Christ the wisdom of God, and Christ the power of God!”
Though we arrogate not to ourselves the proud distinction of successors to the apostles, we wish, at least, to be their imitators : and, referring to their language, we beg your attention,
I. To what we do not preach. “We preach not ourselves."
1. This practice is prevalent in the Christian world; and ought to be exposed and censured.
Men preach themselves, when they preach only to promote their own interest. The most important offices are too frequently filled by persons the most unsuitable; and their various duties discharged from motives, the developement of which would entail indelible disgrace on those whom they govern. This is never more glaringly the case, than when sacred offices are made subservient to temporal emolument, and the acquisition of worldly property. “Put me into one of the priests' offices that I may eat a piece of bread," is a request, the record of which is intended to shew that the most severe judgments had fallen upon the house of Eli, and that his posterity were reduced to a state of mind the most abject and wretched. And have we no similar instances in the Christian church? Whatever be the denomination to which a man is attached,—whatever the place in which he officiates,-and, even though his creed may be orthodox,--if a living be his object, if to get money be his aim, he is but sacrificing to his own net, and burning incense to his own drag : he falls under the guilt and condemnation of preaching himself.
Men preach themselves, who preach only to display their own talents. In the Christian ministry there are temptations of an intellectual kind, as well as those which hold out a prospect of pecuniary reward. In many cases these are by far the most dangerous. To ourselves there may be an appearance of disinterested zeal,
when we are conscious that emolument is not our aim. be ready to say to the man who would offer us such a compensation, “ Thy money perish with thee;" and yet we may preach ourselves.
When God bestows upon any individual a mind of more than ordinary compass,—whose piercing glance penetrates, with almost infinite ease, the mighty difficulties which obscure the subject of investigation to the apprehension of common intellect,—within whose ample range are collected the vast treasures of the mental world,-in whose gigantic grasp, as in that of a Horsley, the mightiest subjects seem but as the playthings of infancy ;-and when to these are added a facility of expression and a happiness of gesture, which constitute the orator, so that, as another Apollos, he is an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures,-he may find, in the applause of listening multitudes, the gratification which thousands and tens of thousands of gold and silver could not bestow. Standing on the pinnacle of popularity, he is in danger, even though he understand the gospel, of concealing behind the preacher, the glorious object of his ministry, or of bringing Him forward only as it may serve to fix the eyes of the astonished multitude with greater ecstasy on himself. This is so to brandish the pole, as to render the brasen serpent almost invisible ; or so to charm the ears with the sound of the silver trumpets, as that the people forget the blessings of the Jubilee they are intended to proclaim. Such talents are a blessing : but, when thus perverted, it is the blessing turned into a curse. man preaches himself, not Christ Jesus the Lord.
Men preach themselves when the object is merely to maintain and defend some particular system, regardless of the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls. The flaming zeal of bigotry often scatters its unhallowed fires where the lambent flame of holy love has never been enkindled : but, while it throws a dim and uncertain light over the traveller's path, it leaves him to wander ; or, like the deceitful meteor, allures him into devious ways, on which the sure and radiant light of pure and heavenly truth never shines. Such a spirit is almost inseparable from exclusive establishments, and is engendered by the odium consequently cast upon the proscribed sects. But, alas ! it is a native plant, and finds in every bosom a soil congenial to its nature, and favourable to its most luxuriant growth.
With too many, some human system, some creed at best of doubtful authority, is made the text-book by which the sacred volume itself must be explained. But surely, my brethren, if, having adopted a creed, I am determined to promulgate and defend
it without regard to, or even at the expense of, Divine truth, I fall most evidently under the censure implied in our text.
Such a practice resembles that of taking the feeblest taper to examine the splendour of the sun : and is far more stupid than bringing the puerile themes of the veriest novitiate in science, by which to try the received and established systems of Newton or of Locke.
We have our partialities; and while imperfection remains one of the attributes of human nature, it cannot be otherwise.
So far as these are connected only with the non-essentials of Christianity they may be harmless. Whether I am more attached to Episcopacy, or Presbyterianism, or Independency, is a matter of less moment since the mere form of church government can never affect the salvation of the soul. To attach so much to any system under heaven, is to imitate the worst of all the absurdities of Antichrist, and to claim infallibility for yourselves. There is no salvation but with us," is the bugbear of superstition, the offspring of bigotry, the war-hoop of the demon Persecution. It may be necessary and harmless that we should be known by different names : but surely these should never be written where that of Christ only ought to appear. They should be thrown into the shade, and occupy only the back-ground; while we advance, “determined to know nothing amongst men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” But this preaching of self is never more insidiously done than by those who are constantly preaching what they choose to call their experience ; and whose addresses are little more than the constant ringing of changes upon their own feelings. Do not, my brethren, misunderstand me. I would not utter a syllable against experimental preaching, properly so called. If I had a dangerous journey to perform, I had a thousand times rather take for my guide a man accustomed to the way, though he knew not a syllable of the science of geography, than the man who can delineate the world upon paper, but who never made an actual survey of the earth, or never set his foot upon the way over which I had to pass. He who cannot preach experimentally had better never preach at all. But the disgusting cant of some men about themselves, can leave no doubt, in any impartial mind, as to their motive and their object--to depreciate others; and, under a pretence of greater spirituality or greater zeal than their brethren, their aim is not so much to preach Christ as themselves ; not so much to exhibit the Saviour as to set up self as the idol for the admiration of the gaping multitude. “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.”
My brethren, our plain and obvious duty is to preach the gospel : with that gospel our own experience should correspond; and then,
without constantly proclaiming it upon the house-tops, the people will perceive, from the holy unction resting upon our ministry, that we speak of the things which we have tasted, and handled, and felt, of the good word of eternal life. But,
2. This practice of preaching self is not apostolical; and should be avoided and detested.
A very slight acquaintance with the history of the apostles will be sufficient to convince us that they did not preach themselves. Was emolument their object ? “Silver and gold,” said they, have none.” And when upon a certain occasion it was offered, the reply to him who would have given it was, “ Thy money perish with thee.” Did they seek the applause of men? They were content to be “ esteemed as the filth of the earth, and as the off-scouring of all things.” Were they ambitious to display their own talents ? came to you,” said Paul, “ not with excellency of speech, or with enticing words of man's wisdom.” Had they a system of their own to establish, any human institutions to contend for? No ;—“ We determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The practice which we have endeavoured to expose and censure never polluted their ministerial career. Surely, then, we should detest and avoid it. If we must have a succession to the apostles, how is it to be preserved ? Not by sleeves of lawn and mitred heads, not by the laying on of " careless," or even holy hands,
“On sculls that cannot teach, and will not learn ;"
but by men filled with an apostolic spirit, imbued with apostolic zeal, spending themselves in apostolic labours, and proclaiming with apostolic integrity, “ We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” But,
3. This practice is ruinous ; and ought to be condemned and execrated.
It is, indeed, to defeat the very design of the gospel ; and entails ruin, eternal ruin, on those who adopt and persist in it. And is it not ruinous to souls? How many, perishing in their iniquities, will gnash with their teeth upon the men, and torment, with eternal_reproaches, those, to whose faithless ministry they will then ascribe their damnation! What a scene will present itself in the day of judgment! If any, in that day, will cry with deeper anguish, it will be the men, who, in the garb of the sanctuary, have preached, but preached themselves. I see them stand before the Judge : but who can describe their anguish while He pronounces, Verily you have had your reward :”—you
first object, and were each inducted into a good living ; you grew fat on the milk, and were