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THE QUALIFICATIONS AND ENCOURAGEMENT OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER, ILLUSTRATED BY THE CHARACTER AND SUCCESS OF BARNABAS.
[To the Rev. Robert Fawkner, at his settlement in the Pastoral Office, over the Church at Thorn, in Bedfordshire, Oct. 31, 1787
ACTS XI. 24.
He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added to the Lord.
My dear Brother,
It is a very important work to which you are this day set apart. I feel the difficulty of your situation. You need both counsel and encouragement; I wish I were better able to administer both. In what I may offer, I am persuaded you will allow me to be free; and understand me, not as assuming any authority or superiority over you, but only as saying that to you which I wish to consider as equally addressed to myself.
Out of a variety of topics that might afford a lesson for a Christian minister, my thoughts have turned, on this occasion, upon that
of example. Example has a great influence upon the human mind: examples from scripture especially, wherein characters the most illustrious in their day, for gifts, grace, and usefulness, are drawn with the pencil of inspiration, have an assimilating tendency. Viewing these, under a divine blessing, we form some just conceptions of the nature and importance of our work, are led to reflect upon our own defects, and feel the fire of holy emulation kindling in our bosoms.
The particular example, my brother, which I wish to recommend to your attention is that of Barnabas, that excellent servant of Christ, and companion of the apostle Paul. You will find his character particularly given in the words I have just read.
Were we to examine the life of this great and good man, as related in other parts of scripture, we should find the character here given him abundantly confirmed. He seems to have been one of that great company, who, through the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, submitted to Christ soon after his ascension: and he gave early proof of his love to him, by selling his possessions, and laying the price at the feet of the apostles, for the support of his infant cause. As he loved Christ, so he loved his people. He appears to have possessed much of the tender and affectionate, on account of which he was called Barnabas—a son of consolation. Assiduous in discovering and encouraging the first dawnings of God's work, he was the first person that introduced Saul into the company of the disciples. The next news that we hear of him is in the passage which I have selected. Tidings came to the ears of the church at Jerusalem, of the word of the Lord being prosperous at Antioch, in Syria. The church at Jerusalem was the mother church, and felt a concern for others, like that of a tender mother towards her infant offspring. The young converts at Antioch wanted a nursing father; and who so proper to be sent as Barnabas? He goes; and, far from envying the success of others, who had laboured before him, he was glad to see the grace of God so evidently apappear; and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. As a preacher, he does not seem to have been equal to the apostle Paul; yet so far was he from caring about being eclipsed by Paul's superior abilities, that he went
in search of him, and brought him to Antioch, to assist him in the work of the Lord. It may well be said of such a character, that he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith. O that we had more such ministers in the Church at this day? O that we ourselves were like him! Might we not hope, if that were the case, that, according to God's usual manner of working, more people would be added to the Lord?
There are three things, we see, which are said of Barnabas in a way of commendation: he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith. Thus far he is held up for our example: a fourth is added, concerning the effects which followed: and much people was added unto the Lord. This seems to be held up for our encouragement. Permit me, my dear brother, to request your candid attention, while I attempt to review these great qualities in Barnabas, and by every motive to enforce them upon you
I. He was A GOOD MAN. It were easy to prove the necessity of. a person being a good man, in order to his properly engaging in the work of the ministry: Christ would not commit his sheep but to one that loved him. But on this remark I shall not enlarge, I have no reason to doubt, my brother, but that God has given you an understanding to know him that is true, and a heart to love him in sincerity; I trust, therefore, such an attempt, on this occasion, is needless. Nor does it appear, to me, to be the meaning of the Evangelist. It is not barely meant of Barnabas that he was a regenerate man, though that is implied; but it denotes that he was eminently good. We use the word so, in common conversation. If we would describe one that more than ordinarily shines in piety, meekness, and kindness we know not how to speak of him better than to say, with a degree of emphasis, He is a good man. Af. ter this eminency in goodness, brother, may it be your concern, and mine, daily to aspire!
Perhaps, indeed, we may have sometimes heard this epithet used with a sneer. Persons who take pleasure in treating others with contempt, will frequently, with a kind of proud pity, speak in this manner: Aye, such a one is a good man; leaving it implied, that goodness is but an indifferent qualification, unless it be aocompanied with greatness. But these things ought not to be. The
apostle Paul did not value himself upon those things wherein he differed from other Christians; but upon that which he possessed in common with them-charity, or Christian love. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, 1 am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
My dear brother, value the character of a good man in all the parts of your employment; and, above all, in those things which the world counts great and estimable. More particularly,
1. Value it at home in your family. If you walk not closely with God there, you will be ill able to work for him elsewhere. You have lately become the head of a family. Whatever charge it shall please God, in the course of your life, to place under your care, I trust it will be your concern to recommend Christ and the gospel to them, walk circumspectly before them, constantly worship God with them, offer up secret prayer for them, and exercise a proper authority over them. There is a sort of religious gossipping, which some ministers have indulged to their hurt; loitering about perpetully at the houses of their friends, and taking no delight in their own. Such conduct, in a minister and master of a family, must, of necessity, root out all family order, and, to a great degree, family worship; and, instead of endearing him to his friends, it only exposes him to their just censure. Perhaps they know not how to be so plain as to tell him of it at their own houses; but they will think the more, and speak of it, it is likely, to each other, when he is gone. I trust, my brother, that none of your domestic connexions will have to say, when you are gone, He was loose and careless in his conduct, or sour and churlish in his temper but rather, He was a good man.
2. Value this character in your private retirements. Give yourself up to the word of God, and to prayer. The Apostle charged Timothy, saying, Meditate on these things, give thyself wholly to them; or, be thou in them. But this will never be, with out a considerable share of the good man. Your heart can never be in those things which are foreign to its prevailing temper; and
if your heart is not in your work, it will be a poor lifeless business indeed. We need not fear exhausting the Bible, or dread a scarcity of divine subjects. If our hearts are but kept in unison with the spirit in which the Bible was written, every thing we meet with there will be interesting. The more we read the more interesting it will appear; and the more we know, the more we shall perceive their is to be known. Beware also, brother, of neglecting secret prayer. The fire of devotion will go out, if it be not kept alive by an habitual dealing with Christ. Conversing with men and things may brighten our gifts and parts; but it is conversing with God that must brighten our graces. Whatever ardour we may feel in our public work, if this is wanting, things cannot be right, nor can they, in such a train, come to a good issue.
3. Value it in your public exercises. It is hard going on, in the work of the ministry, without a good degree of spirituality; and yet, considering the present state of human nature, we are in the greatest danger of the contrary. Allow me, brother, to mention two things in particular, each of which are directly opposite to that spirit which I am attempting to recommend. One is, an assumed earnestness, or forced zeal, in the pulpit, which many weak hearers may mistake for the enjoyment of God. But, though we may put on violent emotions; may smite with the hand, and stamp with the foot; if we are destitute of a genuine feeling sense of what we deliver, it will be discerned by judicious hearers, as well as by the Searcher of hearts, and will not fail to create disgust. If, on the contrary, we feel and realize the sentiments we deliver, emotions and actions will be the natural expressions of the heart; and this will give weight to the doctrines, exhortations, or reproofs which we inculcate what we say will come with a kind of divine authority to the consciences, if not to the hearts of the hearers. The other is, being under the influence of low and selfish motives, in the exercise of our work. This is a temptation against which we have especial reason to watch and pray. It is right, my brother, for you to be diligent in your public work; to be instant in season and out of season; to preach the gospel, not only at Thorn, but in the surrounding villages, wherever a door is opened for