by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Tuesday Morning, July 23rd 1850
In our two preceding discourses on the last Lord's-day we have been taking considerable pains to define the Church of the living God; and such is the perversion, the misuse, I had almost said the abuse, of that name Church in the present day, that I think the ministers of Jesus Christ cannot be too explicit, no, nor too frequent, in their opening and unfolding among their hearers who and what is really the Church of God. We took the liberty of saying on Lord's-day, that the devil has a very large church, and therefore we want to define the difference between the devil's church and the Church of God, that we may know to which we belong. The whole phalanx of Pharisees, and formalists, and hypocrites, are on his black majesty's side, and belong to his dominions. If we look into the whole extent of the Papal hierarchy, what can we find but the devil's church? And if we look throughout a vast portion of what passes for Protestantism, what do we discover better? I wish to pass these by, only naming, that there are such things in existence, and to a vast extent, in order to come at once to the point we have been dwelling upon in our two preceding discourses, the Church of God. You will recollect, in old Elijah's time, the devil's church was a very large one, for he had four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and only poor old Elijah dared to come forth and show his face on the Lord's side, and thought he was the only one left. However, he was the only one that dared to come forth boldly. I suppose he was the only Antinomian among them. And, on another occasion, Micaiah, a solitary individual, comes forth to confront the devil's church, and all the devil's prophets; and the Lord stood by him. In our Lord's time, I understand from His own lips, that it was only a little flock that belonged to His Church. Again, I find Him stating, that "broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leadeth to destruction; and many there be that go in thereat," (Matt. 7:13) and thousands of religionists too; but "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Then the whole tenor of Scripture marks this solemn fact, that the Church of God is but as a handful of corn on a mountain's top, but a solitary individual or two in the face of hundreds and thousands of Baal's prophets, but a little flock in the midst of a host of goats, and only here and there a traveller that finds the narrow way and the strait gate. Does it not become us, then, diligently, closely, and personally to inquire, do I belong to the Church of God?
Now we have shown what that Church consists of, though we shall enlarge upon it a little more this morning. We have seen that it is but one "the general assembly and Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven;" (Heb. 12:23) and we maintain that all whose names were written in heaven, and who make it manifest by a life of godliness on earth, ought to be one in heart, one in spirit, one in affection, one in communion. There are not two or three sorts of communion in heaven, and God Almighty designs that there shall not be two upon earth. "One fold, under one shepherd." The apostle, looking at the vast importance of the growth and prosperity of the Church of God in the chapter before me, sets forth the character and office of a bishop as one that is appointed, qualified, and ordained of God to take care, that is the phrase of my text, to take care of the Church of God. Woe be to the Church of God, if she was not better taken care of than she is by many of the bishops, or by all of them put together! It is her mercy that God takes care of her. Still He uses His bishops, His sent servants, His ministers, for the express purpose of taking care of the Church of God. And before I enter immediately on my subject, do allow me to descant a little on what the apostle says here of the office of a bishop; for they were a very different class of beings to those who go by the name of "lord bishops" in these days; for as we see, by the opening of the description, they were working bishops. "This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." I beg of you to mark here, that this is recorded by inspiration. Paul is speaking as he was moved by the Holy Ghost, and he sets forth a bishop as a working man and a steadfast man, not one who contents himself with preaching a single sermon in a twelvemonth, peradventure, and that when he is well feed for it; he is instant in season and out of season; he is one who watches every opportunity, and employs all the strength and energy God gives him to proclaim the glorious gospel of the blessed God. I would not give a farthing for all the revenues of all the bishops in England if they would not let me preach Christ's gospel. Let me preach that, revenue or no revenue from mortals. Moreover, the apostle says, that bishops must be blameless. Oh! Beloved, whatever we may say of the glorious doctrine of God's eternal grace, if their sanctifying influence has not reached the heart, and is not manifest in the life, the man is not fit for a bishop, no, nor yet to be called a Christian. He must be "blameless." I conceive the apostle's meaning to be, that he must stand before God blameless and harmless in Christ, and that he must appear before men blameless and harmless in his walk and conversation. He "must be blameless, the husband of one wife." Well, then, celibacy was not enjoined in those days; it came from the devil. "The husband of one wife" aye, and the father of children too, for he was to "know well how to rule his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity." And having spoken of these and other qualifications, which you can read at your leisure, the apostle sums up with a parenthesis, in which the language of my text is found, "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?"
I pray you to mark, then, that there is a sense, and that a very important one, in which the care of the Church of God is committed to God's sent servants, here called bishops, and do not overlook the fact, that there are no other bishops mentioned in the New Testament (I hope you will not forget this), but the pastors of Churches. They, and they only, are the bishops. I know there were evangelists, who took no care of any special flock, who travelled hither and thither, preached Christ's gospel, and went their way, and there was an end of their labours in the place; but those who were ordained bishops, chiefly by the apostles, and afterwards by one another, were the pastors of Christian Churches, whose business it was to watch over the flock, and to feed the Church of God which He had purchased with His own blood, to go in and out before them circumspectly, and to make it the very business of their lives to promote the real interests of the precious souls committed to their charge. Would to God that we had more such bishops.
But now, having lengthened my exordium more than I intended, I will invite your attention at once to two prominent features in my text. The first is, the sacred charge, the Church of God; and the second is, the official business of her pastors, to take care of her, and not to be interfered with either, as directed by the Lord our God.
I. Observe, in the first place, the sacred charge committed (subordinately, mind), to God's appointed bishops, or shepherds, or pastors. Do observe that the great shepherd and bishop of souls takes the whole charge and care of them under responsibility, so that none of them can be lost, takes them into His own hands, and claims the prerogative of appointing the under shepherds, or under bishops, to the work which God intends them to perform. Then look, I pray you, for a few moments here, at the charge itself, it is so valuable; and, in addition to what we have said in our two preceding discourses, you must bear with me, if I begin where God begins, in describing His Church, and insist that they are individuals chosen of God the Father. If we do not begin here, we have no foundation, no origin, no first cause. If we do not begin here, we are like launching a ship to sea without rudder, or compass, or pilot, or ballast; a wreck is inevitable. Ah, but say you, the doctrine of election is so offensive, it has become so obsolete, that preachers are counted out of date that insist on it now. Thank God I am out of date. Thank God I mean to be as old-fashioned as I can in this particular, and must not be allowed, God preventing me, to go through one sermon without insisting on the one fundamental doctrine of personal election. "Chosen in Christ Jesus and called." Now, if you pause for a moment on the Holy Ghost's confirmation of this fundamental doctrine in the second chapter of the second epistle to the Thessalonians, you will read, "We are bound to thank God always for you." Now mark, I pray you, that in several other instances, the apostle says, "We thank God always on your behalf." But here he puts it in a strong phrase, "We are bound to do it." Here is so glorious a principle, so fundamental a doctrine, which we are about to lay before you, that we are bound to thank God for it! What is it for? Why, brethren, beloved, "We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, because God hath from the beginning chosen you." (2 Thess. 2:13) Here is matter of thankfullness. Well, verily, we will thank God that He has called us, that He has justified us, that He has invited us, that He has received us, and that He has bestowed every spiritual blessing upon us. But let us begin right. We will thank God that He has chosen us for it all, individually, personally, in Christ Jesus. What a pitiful subterfuge it is for poor free-willers to run into, just to shuffle the subject, because their proud hearts will not bow down to it. And therefore, they talk about a general election, an election of nations, an election of a distinct people, an election under conditions and the like, I would close my Bible tomorrow if I could receive such notions as these. No, I know that the election of grace is a paternal act of God's sovereign love; "chosen of God the Father." And see how the apostle goes on in the passage I have just been citing. "Because God hath from the beginning chosen you" (long before you chose Him), "chosen you to salvation." What for salvation? Is it possible then, that any soul can miss of what God has chosen him to, of what God has appointed him to? I am sure I would not allow, with regard to any person that I had chosen for any office or work, or particular feature of conduct in life, say my children or servants, or any one else, that my choice should be altered if I could help it. If I had not power to carry out what I had proposed, and by the persons I had intended, it would fail. Now, I will allow, that if Jehovah has not power to carry out His designs, then His Church will fall to the ground, and all mankind will inevitably perish. But only admit God to be God, only admit Him to be the self-existent, glorious, immutable, "I AM;" and then if He has chosen my soul to salvation, I am as sure of salvation as if I were in heaven; and neither sin, nor the devil, nor the world, nor the flesh, can possibly rob me of it.
Follow the phrase a step further, for it is so beautiful, I cannot quit it just yet. He hath "chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit." We must not forget that. If you would know whether God has called you, beloved, just ask whether He has chosen you to sanctification. And do not make a mistake by imagining, as some men do, through the muddled state of their brains, that sanctification is an improving and mending of old Adam nature. I do not believe a word of it. I think I have known something of sanctification for the last forty years, and yet I find old Adam as vile and as turbulent as ever, and therefore, if I am to make him any better, I must give up the work entirely. What then is sanctification? The imparting of a holy principle, the setting apart of the soul for God, a giving of victorious grace to the soul, to subdue old Adam, and conquer and keep him under. Now I can read in my precious book of God of old Adam nature being mortified, and crucified, and put off, and kept under, and the like; but not one syllable can I find in all the New Testament that holds out the most distant idea of making old Adam nature any better, nor have I ever met with the mortals who with their pretensions to what they call progressive sanctification, in whom old Adam nature is not as bad as it is in me; if they come to probe it to the bottom, sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the soul, and sets that soul apart for God, obtaining a glorious victory over old, vile, corrupt propensities, so that, though they may rage, they shall not, they cannot reign, for the very motto upon the banner of Christian experience is, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14)
Just mark the other phrase in this verse, with regard to the individual choice. They are chosen "to the belief of the truth." You know people say that I am so very censorious, and I mean to be so to the last, God helping me, they say I am so censorious as to cut off people's religion because they do not believe as I do. No, no, because they do not believe what God has set forth in His truth, for God's choice is not only to salvation and that through sanctification, but it is to the belief of the truth: and if there are any here who are rejecters of God's truth, who will not believe God's truth, never say a word about your being chosen of God, never boast of your election. I know there are filthy beings who boast of their election, while they are living in sin. They are not of my family. I am sure they are not of the Church of God, at least, not manifestly. We have nothing to do with them, but to leave them to God. I know that the Lord's family pant after holiness, and are taught of God to receive and believe the truth as it is in Jesus.
But I must hasten. This Church of the living God, this solemn charge of which we shall presently have to speak, as under the official care of God's ministers, is married to Christ, and consequently, redeemed by Him. I pray you mark, she is not married to Christ, because she is redeemed; but she is redeemed, because she is married. "I am married unto you," was the proclamation of Jehovah, long before the Redeemer came upon earth. The betrothings of His love run back into eternity. Jesus and His Church were ever seen as one. "Thy maker," saith the prophet to the Church of the living God, "thy Maker is thy Husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name; the God of the whole earth shall He be called." Now, suppose I were to descend for a moment to the silly notion (for absolutely silly it is) about a pile of bricks and mortar being called a church, or a national hierarchy being called a church, then I must believe that the Son of God was married to bricks and mortar, I must believe that the Son of God was married to national laws, however absurd and contradictory. I cannot see these things in my Bible. But when I look at the living Church, individually chosen, really chosen unto salvation, brought under the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, positively believing the truth of God, and receiving it in their inmost souls, as applied by power Divine, I have a Church that is married to Christ, and being married to Christ, according to His betrothing love, according to His ancient settlements given to Him by the Father, espoused in covenant transactions, under solemn responsibility, and consequently redeemed by Him. "Feed the flock of God, which He hath purchased (or redeemed) with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) Now, suppose here, for a moment, if I were to allow myself to touch upon that monstrous heresy that is known by the name of universal redemption. Well, then, there would be universal marriage. Christ redeemed none but those to whom He was married; and if I were to admit, for a moment, that Christ redeemed all the world alike, I must come to this awful conclusion, that He redeemed many that He knew would go to hell, and never meant to deliver them. How monstrous is such a doctrine! Away with it to Rome, it is a disgrace to a Protestant country altogether. No; my glorious Lord God, the Son incarnate, redeemed His living Church that the Father gave Him, and that was chosen in Him, before the foundation of the world, for the express purpose of being redeemed by Him in the fullness of time. Oh, how precious is she in her Redeemer's sight! His choice, His precious one, His jewel, graven upon the palms of His hands and upon His heart! How precious must she be in His sight, when the heavens could not contain Him, because she was in thraldom, and He must quit the bosom of His Father, where He had lain from all eternity, to assume her nature, to redeem her from all iniquity. Oh, how precious! He knows all her names, and He is always pleading her cause. Moreover, she is so precious to Him, that the purchase-money could not be too high for her, even His own precious blood. Therefore, says the apostle, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold." (1 Pet. 1:18) They were not price high enough. They could not pay the vast amount. "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot." Only look at the declaration of the word "precious" three times. The Church precious to Christ, so that He died for her, precious blood shed for the Church, because nothing was too much to give for her, Christ precious to His Church, for "to you who believe, He is precious." (1 Pet. 2:7)
Go on just to mark, that she is possessed by Him. She is so dear to Him, that He has taken possession, and will take possession, of all the election of grace. What a mercy that He will not allow an individual of the Father's choice, nor of His own purchase, to run wild, nor to be committed to any other care. He dwells in their hearts, the hope of glory takes possession of them as His own, searches and seeks them out, opens the way of access to their hearts and souls for Himself, nay, breaks open the door, and enters, stronger than the strong man armed. All glory to His name, that He is fulfilling the promise for Himself, and the Father, and the Holy Ghost. "I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Cor. 6:16) We cannot say this of the devil's church, we cannot say this of formalists, we cannot say this of nominal Christianity. I want your minds fixed on the one point, that the Church of the living God is of heavenly origin, of high birth, or holy distinction, precious in the sight of Christ, and taken possession of by Himself and for Himself.
Again, this Church of the living God, this sacred charge I am dwelling on, and I hope it will stir the hearts of all my brethren in the ministry, especially when we come to the other particular, when we look at the vast importance of the Church they have to take care of, this Church is organized in fellowship. Now here, I pray you, mark the vast importance of the word "Church" being used in the plural in Scripture, because all "the general assembly and Church of the First-born," of whom we spake on Lord's-day evening, could not, by possibility, now assemble in one place, could not, by possibility, be within the care, and compass, and watchfulness, and preaching of one pastor, or bishop; and therefore we read, in New Testament language, continually of the Churches in Judea, the Churches in Macedonia, and the Churches in Asia. Now, if you just look at them, and cast your eye over the map for a moment, you will see that none of them were national, none of them provincial; for there was not a nation or a ruler under heaven that would sanction even the name of Christianity during the apostles' days; and therefore there could be no national Church in those days. We might trace this a long while after the apostles' days, but I do not wish to detain you here. Still, if people lay claim to apostolical succession, so will I, and I go back to the apostles' days, and insist that Churches are spoken of as existing in Judea (how many is not specified, but there were Churches; Judea was a little province, perhaps half the size of England, and yet there were many little Churches in it), and that each Church had its minister, its pastor, its angel, or its bishop. Then, if you glance at the Churches in Asia, you are not to look all over Asia for them; no, nor yet all over Asia Minor; but you will find them all clustered in the little tiny province of Lydia, as if they were within a stone's cast of each other; clearly and positively proving that for the purpose of organizing the Churches of God in fellowship, they must be clustered in groups, they must be assembled in companies, they must be associated distinctly, and yet the whole of them forming but one "general assembly and Church of the First-born." As in times of old, under the Mosaic economy, there were twelve tribes, yet they made but one Israel. In each tribe there were distinct families, and yet all the families were reckoned to make up the one tribe; and all the tribes, with all their families, were requisite to make up the one Israel. So now, we have distinct Churches, organized, associated bodies of Christians. Let me be explicit upon this point, for I want to get the minds of my hearers, and the public at large (if God will), away from the silly notion of universality in religion, clustering together in parishes and nations, and all the world, good and bad, profane and spiritual, godly and ungodly; and then they give them a very pretty name upon most platforms, and talk of the one family of man. I cannot understand such language, it is not in my Bible. I must come, therefore, to the point, that the Churches of the living God, all of which are requisite to make up the one redeemed Church of the Most High, are organized and distinct bodies, associated in affection, seeking each other's welfare, praying with and for each other, bearing one another's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ, considering each other as members of the same body, and as bound by every tie and every argument to assist and help each other both in things spiritual and in things temporal, to the utmost of the power which God has given them. It is a beautiful phrase which the apostle employs relative to this organization in fellowship, when he calls it "being knit together in love." It is a fine idea. "Being knit together in love." Why, beloved, if you look at knitting work, or even netting work, which you please, especially the old-fashioned sort, it is all hooked and linked together stitch by stitch, there is no separation, it is all in one. You may count some thousands of stitches, but they are all linked together. Moreover, if you break one stitch, a thousand to one if it does not turn to the breaking or removing of some twenty or thirty, perhaps a hundred. Now the Churches of Jesus Christ, wherever organized, should be one; and if one stitch be broken, if there creeps in one root of bitterness, you cannot tell how many stitches may be broken, you cannot tell how many may become disaffected, one after another, like a sickly sheep that poisons all the rest of the flock. My hearers, I want you to be (as blessed be God, we have been these thirty-one years) knit together more firmly; and when you go to your closet, look to your knitting, and see that there is no thread likely to break; and if you see what the knitting folks call a "stitch fallen," likely to be broken, "take it up." I think that is the term used, restore it, recover it. "If any one of you be overtaken in a fault," says the apostle, "restore such an one in the spirit of meekness," (Gal. 6:1) that ye may be firmly linked together in one spirit. What a lovely sight, to see a Church of this description, where Jesus is presiding!
We pass on just to mark, that the Churches are not only thus to be organized for mutual edification and comfort, but they are positively to consider themselves parts of each other; just as it is written, "We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, and every one members one of another." (Eph. 5:30; Rom. 12:5) So that I ought to feel, whenever I meet with a Christian, "This is part of myself, because it is part of my covenant Head; this is part of myself, because it is part of the mystical body of which we spake on Lord's-day morning at large." So that, looking on believers thus, there cannot but grow up a mutual affection (for love always begets love) among the followers of the Lamb. Stand aloof as much as you can from the world. We do not want their love, it is actually a curse and a snare to us; for "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;" (1 John 2:15) but to "love one another with a pure heart fervently," is the leading mark of our official organization as a Church of the living God.
II. I have hastened over these things as fast as I could. I cannot dwell any further upon them, but must invite your attention at once to the official business of Christian pastors. And here I must be a little delicate. I do not wish to offend my ministerial brethren present, and therefore they will allow me to preach to myself for once. I pass by the number of evangelists who are appointed to preach God's truth, but who are not qualified to be pastors of churches. It is to the latter I wish particularly to speak. If I were to take a little liberty here (and you will allow me a little liberty in my old age), I should first of all insist, that Christ's pastors who take care of the Church committed to their charge, are, in the first place, to take care of their food, that they shall have nothing to eat but what is pure and wholesome. Now surely, any father, any mother, any housekeeper, any guardian, any friend, would do that for any one they had to take care of. It is the province of God's sent servants to cater for the family committed to their charge; therefore they are to be good stewards, bringing out of the treasury things new and old to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His blood. Now believe me, beloved, our flocks are not likely to thrive, if we keep back any part of the truth of God. It is upon the truth in its fullness and clearness that the Church of God must feed. Do not take the low contemptible slang of what is called experience; the raking up of the kennel of old Adam for the children to feed upon. If they take it, it will poison them. No, you must feed the flock of God with the truth of electing love, the truth of eternal union, the truth of justification, the truth of sanctification, the truth of adoption, the truth of glorification, all infallible. If you spread these things on the table, every hungry soul will take as much of it as possible; will do as some of my hearers do, open their eyes and mouth as if they would devour it all. I like to see them, because I think they are feeding, and feeding on the high mountains of Israel. Moreover, you must not only give them the pure truth of God in their fullness, but you must take care where you feed them. "On the high mountains of Israel shall the pastures be," (Isa. 49:9) saith the Holy Ghost by the prophet. It must therefore follow, that if you feed the flock of God upon low ground, which some people call the safest ground, you may expect them to sicken and reject their food, and have the cramp or some other noxious disease, they will not be healthy, and grow, and be strong. But if you lead them to the high mountains of Israel, the high principles of the gospel, the high purpose and fixed decrees and ancient settlements of covenant love, and there give them the truths of the gospel I have been naming, depend upon it the sheep will be fat and flourishing; depend upon it the flock of God will grow and thrive thereby. The first feature of care which you and I are to take, is to feed the people of God with food convenient, food nourishing, food pure and wholesome, food such as the glorious Master of the house provides. It costs me sometimes no little anxiety, when I am shut up for hours in my sacred little consecrated corner of my tent, to know how to dish up the provision. I am under no anxiety about the provision; I have got it all before me; I have ate and drank something of every portion of it; I know its savour, I know its strengthening effects, and I will not have any other for myself: but the manner of dishing it up (if you will allow the expression) is sometimes a matter of no little anxiety. I say there is such a case, and such a case; such a babe, and such a cripple, and such a dwarf, and such as are sickly and weak, and such as are faint, and so on, what sort of provision must I get for them? This affords the servants of the living God plenty of work. They must go and dig deeply into the precious things of God. I have no notion of that off-hand scampish sort of thing "Oh I never trust myself to study; I say what God gives me at the time." I rather think you say what the devil gives you, if this be your plan. David said he would not offer to God of what cost him nothing; and I well know that those pastors whom God employs to take care of the Church of God, spend many a sleepless hour, and many a day of close investigation and search and research into the precious truths of God, and many a fervent cry for help, that they may be able to bring forth things new and old out of God's treasury for His people. Nor can they be fed well without. Therefore I beseech my brethren in the ministry, and most of them I suppose are somewhat younger than myself, such an one as Paul the aged. I beseech them not to think lightly of the precious privilege of studying the word of God.
There is another feature of the care of the Church of God, which ought to be engraven on our hearts as Christian pastors, and that is, whom we admit to partake of the food. Now I have never allowed myself knowingly to admit any to participate in the privileges of Church fellowship but those that I have believed to be the children of God. I do not want any of the mixed multitude to come and eat with us. I am quite aware that we are not discerners of spirits. I am quite aware that we may be deceived; and I have been in some instances to my great grief by those who have put on the sheep's clothing, by those who have been ravening wolves underneath. That is their fault, not mine. I have taken every possible pains, and I hope my brethren present who are pastors do the same, to inquire and examine whether they are partakers of life Divine, whether they are recipients of the Holy Ghost, whether they are regenerated by the mighty power of the Third Person of the glorious Trinity, and whether in consequence of their regeneration, they are daily experiencing the renewing of the Holy Ghost. These are the persons I want to associate with. I do not want any dead carcass linked with the Church of the living God. But riches nor poverty, youth nor age, stand not in the way. I am glad to welcome all whom I believe to be partakers of the Holy Ghost. If they tell me they belong to this or that denomination, I sometimes say, "I wish your denomination were demolished and destroyed; I do not want to hear a word about it. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Is His blood sprinkled on your conscience? Are you a partaker of life Divine? And if so, are you daily and hourly looking out for the renewings of the Holy Ghost?" Now, beloved, when my mind and conscience are convinced that an applicant for fellowship is of that description, I no more dare cut off the right hand; and I hesitate not to affirm, that those who refuse a child of God from meeting at the table of the Lord, really believing him to be a child of God, offer the grossest insult to Christ, and are guilty of marring and mangling the members of His mystical body. "The glorious assembly and Church of the first-born," is the Church I belong to; and if I am isolated with only a little circle of it, while I administer God's ordinances, it shall be according to God's direction; and if I find men eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ by faith, I dare not, I will not, I cannot deny them the emblems.
But pass on to mark, that in the care which God's servants have to take of the Church committed to their charge, they have to nourish three descriptions of character, or three classes of the family specified in Scripture, as babes, young men, and fathers. Now you men of God have I hope many babes, just born for God, hardly able to speak. They dare not say father even, but they are alive; and you have every reason to believe they are born, and they desire some sincere milk, mind you, "the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Pet. 2:2) Do not skim it, do not take the cream off, but give it to them pure, sincere, unadulterated. I know in our day there are some squeamish persons, like modern doctors and nurses, who say that milk is too rich a thing for babes in our days. It did not use to be when I was a babe. However they may think of it in nature, I know it is an absolute robbery to take the cream off the milk of God. I do not want to surfeit them. Let them have all the privileges, all the promises, and all the precepts of God's word set before them in a milk form, that is to say, in the most simple, and plain, and suitable manner that can be for the weak capacities of young Christians just born of God.
Then there are young men. Sometimes they are rather obstreperous, and not infrequently they begin to think themselves fathers before they are so. You young men, I pray you do not do that; do not run too fast. What do you say? Are you going to feed us with strong meat? Yes; "strong meat belongeth to those that are of riper age;" savoury, such as your souls love. The paschal Lamb, the precious fullness of Christ, set forth in His official relationships and covenant character, and official responsibility; and they feed upon this and grow. We set before them the bread of life, which cometh down from heaven, and it must be the incorruptible manna of God. We set before them the old stores of covenant love, the rich provision which God has made and purposed for the family of God; and when we have done we say, "Eat, O friends, and drink abundantly, O beloved, for Jehovah has made a feast of fat things, of fat things full of marrow, and wines on the lees well refined," (Isa. 25:6) on purpose for these young men, that they may grow in grace.
Then again, there are fathers in the family of God. And these are to be treated as such. They are to be looked up to with a sacred awe. "Thou shalt reverence the old man," was an Old Testament precept. And "ye younger," are commanded in New Testament language, to "be in subjection to the elder." Moreover, when the stewards of God's mysteries have to supply these mothers in Israel, I should advise them never to let the table be spread without some of the choicest old wine that can be set before them, and it must be that which was pressed from the very Person of Christ in His sufferings upon the wine-press on Mount Calvary, where it is said "He trod the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with Him." (Isa. 63:3)
Just go on to mark, that we may expect a thriving church, a thriving body, a thriving family, If we admit none but children to feed, and feed them with a variety that shall suit all classes of the family. Then may I and my brethren in the ministry class ourselves amongst the very persons whom Jehovah promises to give unto His Church. "I will give them pastors after mine own heart, that shall fill my people with knowledge and understanding." (Jer. 3:15)
One thought more, and I will close. This care taken of the Church must be with all tenderness, but with all firmness, and under the consciousness of responsibility. "Well, say you, "you give us three ideas in one." I meant it for brevity's sake. It must be with all tenderness. We must be gentle, as the apostle says, "even as a nurse cherisheth her children; and because we were desirous of your welfare, we were ready to impart unto you our own souls, because ye were dear to our souls." How few pastors, how few bishops in these days can, in the sight of God, put forth such expressions as this! But where this is not the case, there is not likely to be much prosperity. Oh, it is one of the greatest joys of my soul, under all the circumstances of my lengthened pastorate among you; it is next to my interest in Christ and my communion with God, that I know I live in the hearts of my flock; and I have had tender proofs of this in my fortnight's deep affliction and distress, when I thought I should see your faces no more in the flesh. Such testimonies and proofs of your affection have, if possible, more than ever won my heart, and made me willing to live and die with you, be my time long or short. If a pastor dwells in the hearts of his flock, and his flock dwell in his heart, they go together to the throne, they go together to the closet, they go together to the house of prayer, they go together in all the appointed means of grace, and they will, at last, sing together to all eternity.
But we are not only to use tenderness, "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves," towards the lambs, the weaklings, the little ones; but we must use all firmness. I believe that the failure of prosperity in very many Churches is to be attributed to the want of firmness in the Christian pastor. And whenever a Christian pastor, for want of firmness, deals with that unscriptural, ungodly practice of what is called the Church-meeting system, his prosperity is at an end; he cannot take care of the Church of God. He has committed the charge to republicans, to a quarrelling and contentious mob, instead of taking care of it himself. A most gross perversion of the discipline of the New Testament; and sure I am in multitudes of instances (and not a few have come under my own notice) in which pastors have been martyred and died, reeking under the distractions of Church-meeting uproars, in which busybodies have been ten times more proud, because they could take the lead among them, and the Churches of Christ have been distracted, and disturbed, and divided thereby. And yet such a monstrous system is to prevail among many of the followers of the Lamb to the present day! It never shall here as long as I live, God granting me power to take care of the Church of God.
Moreover, if we would take care of the Church of God, it must be by keeping our hearts and thoughts fixed on our responsibility. I am not responsible for the salvation of your souls, that is Christ's responsibility, but I am responsible for my faithfulness to you. I am not responsible for your repentance, But I am responsible for my preaching it to you. I am not responsible for your faith, but I am responsible for telling you what it is. I am not responsible for your walk and life, but I am responsible for, and I charge upon you the absolute importance of, declaring the doctrines of God the Saviour in all things. Responsibility lies upon the minister of God, to be "instant in season, and out of season, rebuking, exhorting, and instructing, unto all long-suffering and patience." (2 Tim. 4:2)
I beseech you, beloved, as you and I must soon give an account of the commission given to us, and the manner in which we have used it, to look well to this description of our official business, to take care of the Church of God. And after all the care and prayer that we can exercise, let us fall back upon our principles. It is Jesus after all that shall take care that His Church shall not be lost, nor a single member of it perish; and perhaps one of the best features of our care is, that of committing our churches continually to Him, conveying their wants, and sorrows, and trials, and all their existing circumstances to the footstool of Divine mercies, and leaving them there for God Himself to take care of.
May He command a blessing upon these few hints, and His name shall have all the glory. Amen.