The Christian in Complete armour (445)

The minister is to declare the gospel with boldness.

           The manner how the gos­pel minister is to perform his work—‘that I may open my mouth boldly.’  We must inquire:—First. What this boldness is the apostle desires prayers for. Second. Wherein the minister is to express the bold­ness in preaching the gospel.  Third. What kind of boldness it is that he must show.  Fourth. Some helps to procure boldness.

           First. What this boldness is the apostle desires prayers for:

           1. To speak all that he hath in command from God to deliver. Thus Paul kept nothing back of God’s counsel, Acts 20:27.  He ‘concealed not the words of the holy One,’ as Job’s phrase is.

           2. To speak with liberty and freedom of spirit—without fear or bondage to any, be they many or mighty.  Now this is seen, (1.)By speaking openly, and not in corners; the trick of heretics and false teachers, who ‘privily bring in their damnable heresies.’  It is said Christ ‘spake them openly’ Mark 8:32.  (2.) By speaking plainly.  It shows some fear in the heart, when our words are dark and shady—that the preachers’ judgment or opinion cannot easily be spelled from his words or they are ambiguous.  The minister is to speak truth freely and plainly.  This was the apostle’s boldness, ‘Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech,’ —‘we use great boldness;’ so in II Cor. 3:12.

           Second. Wherein the minister is to show this boldness in preaching the gospel.

           1. In asserting the truths of the gospel.  He is not to smother truth for the face or fear of any.  Ministers are called witnesses.  A witness is to speak what he knows, though it be in open court before the greatest of men.  Paul had a free tongue to speak the truth, even in prison, though he was in bonds, yet he tells us ‘the word of God is not bound,’ II Tim. 2:9.  Some truths will go down easily; to preach these re­quires no boldness.  The worst in the congregation will give the preacher thanks for his pains upon some subject; but there are displeasing truths, truths that cross the opinion, may be, of some in the assembly; to preach these requires a free and bold spirit.  When Christ was to preach before the Pharisees, he was not afraid to preach against their errors.  Had some wary preacher been to have stood in his place, he would have pitched upon such a subject as should not have offended their tender ears.  There are truths that ex­pose the preacher to scorn and derision, yet not to be concealed.  Paul preached the resurrection, though some in the assembly mocked him for his pains. There are truths that sometimes may expose the minister to danger—truths that carry the cross at their back.  Such was that truth that Isaiah delivered con­cerning the rejection of the Jews.  ‘But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not,’ Rom. 10:20.  This was like to enrage his country­men, and bring their fists about his ears.  We read of a ‘word of patience’ which we are to keep, Rev. 3.10.  Such a word as the preacher had need have good store of patience that delivers it, and Christians that pro­fess it, because it may bring them into trouble, and draw the persecutor’s sword against them.  This is not always the same.  The word of patience in the apos­tle’s time was truths levelled against Judaism and heathenism; under the Arian emperors, it was the deity of Christ; in Luther’s time the doctrine of justi­fication, and others asserted by him against the Romish church.

           2. Boldness in reproving sin, and denouncing judgment against impenitent sinners.  They are com­manded ‘to lift up their voice like a trumpet, and tell Jerusalem her sins.’ ‘Preach the word,’ saith Paul; ‘be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke with all long-suffering.’  He must reprove, and con­tinue therein while they continue to sin.  The dog ceaseth not to bark so long as the thief is in the yard. A minister without this boldness is like a smooth file, a knife without an edge, a sentinel that is afraid to let off his gun when he should alarm the city upon a danger approaching.  Nothing more unworthy to see a people bold to sin and the minister afraid to reprove.  It is said of Tacitus that he took the same liberty to write the emperor’s lives that they took in leading them.  So should the minister in reproving sin, be they who they will.  Not the beggar’s sin, and spare the gentleman’s; not the profane, and skip over the professor’s sin.  It was all one to Christ; whoever sinned should hear of it.  The scribes and Pharisees, them he paid to purpose; neither connives he at his own disciples, but rebukes them sharply.  ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ saith he to Peter; ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ to his own mother for her unseasonable importunity.

           Third. What kind of boldness must the min­ister’s be.

           1. A convincing boldness.  ‘How forcible are right words?’ saith Job; and how feeble are empty words, though shot with a thundering voice?  Great words in reproving an error or sin, but weak argu­ments, produce laughter oftener than tears.  Festus thought it ‘unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him,’ Acts 25:27.  Much more unreasonable is it in the pulpit to condemn an error and not prove it so; a practice and not convince of the evil of it.  The apostle saith of some, ‘Their mouths must be stopped,’ Titus 1:11.  They are convincing arguments that must stop the mouth.  Empty reproofs will soon open the mouths of those that are reproved, wider, than shut them.  The Spirit of God reproves by convincing, ‘And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin,’ John 16:8, he will convince; and so should the minister.  This is to preach in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit.

           2. A wise boldness.  The minister is to reprove the sins of all, but to personate none.  Paul, being to preach before a lascivious and unrighteous prince, touched him to the quick, but did not name him in his sermon.  Felix’s conscience would save Paul that labour; he ‘trembled,’ though Paul did not say he meant him.

           3. A meek boldness.  ‘The words of wise men are heard in quiet,’ Eccl. 9:17.  Let the reproof be as sharp as thou wilt, but thy spirit must be meek.  Passion raiseth the blood of him that is reproved, but com­passion turns his bowels.  The oil in which the nail is dipped makes it drive the easier, which other­wise have riven the board.  We must not denounce wrath in wrath, lest sinners think we wish their misery; but rather with such tenderness, that they may see it is no pleasing work to us to rake in their wounds, but do it, that we might not by a cruel silence and foolish pity be accessory to their ruin, which we cordially desire to prevent.  Jeremiah sounds the alarm of judgment, and tells them of a dismal calamity approaching; yet at the same time appeals to God, and clears himself of all cruelty towards them: ‘I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee,’ Jer. 17:16.  As if he had said, I have delivered my mes­sage in denouncing judgment (for I durst do no other), but it was with a merciful heart; I threatened ruin, but wished for peace.  Thus Daniel, he dealt plainly and roundly with the king, but ushers in his hard message with an affectionate ex­pression of his love and loyalty to him: ‘My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies,’ Dan. 4:19.

           4. A humble boldness; such a boldness as is raised from a confidence in God, not from ourselves, or our own parts and ability, courage or stoutness. Paul is bold, and yet can tremble and be in fear; bold, in confidence of his God: ‘We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much con­tention,’ I Thess. 2:2; but full of fear in the sense of his own weakness: ‘I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling,’ I Cor. 2:3.

           5. A zealous boldness.  Our reproofs of sin must come from a warm heart.  Paul’s spirit was stirred within him when he saw the city given to idolatry. Jeremiah tells us ‘the word of God was as fire in his bones;’ it broke out of his mouth as the flame out of a furnace.  The word is a hammer, but it breaks not the flinty heart when lightly laid on.  King James said of a minister in his time, he preached as if death was at his back.  Ministers should set forth judgment as if it were at the sinner’s back, ready to take hold of him. Cold reproofs or threatenings, they are like the rum­blings of thunder afar off, which affright not as a clap over our head doth.  I told you the minister’s boldness must be meek and merciful, but not to prejudice zeal.  The physician may sweeten his pill to make his patient to swallow it better; but not to such a degree as will weaken the force of its operation.

           Fourth.  We promised to propound some helps to procure this boldness.

           1. A holy fear of God.  We fear man so much be­cause we fear God so little.  One fear cures another as one fire draws out another.  When your finger is burned you hold it to the fire; when man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to meditate on the wrath of God.  This is the plaster God lays to Jer­emiah’s wrists to cure his anguish distemper of man’s fear. ‘Be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them,’ Jer. 1:17.  If we must be broken in pieces—so is the original—better man do it than God.  What man breaks in pieces God can make whole again.  ‘He that loseth his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it,’ Mark 8:35.  But if God break us in pieces, it is beyond the skill of man to gather the sherds, and remake what God hath marred.

           2. Castle thyself within the power and promise of God for thy assistance and protection.  He that is a coward in the open field grows valiant and fearless when got within strong walls and bulwarks.  Jeremiah was even laying down is arms, and fleeing from the face of those dangers which his ministry to a rebel­lious and enraged people exposed him.  Hear what course he had in his thoughts to take, because the word of the Lord was made a reproach to him, and a derision daily: ‘Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name,’ Jer. 20:9. Now what kept him from this cowardly flight?  ‘But the Lord is with me as a mighty terrible one,’ ver. 11.  Now he takes heart, and goes on with his work un­dauntedly.  Our eye, alas! is on our danger, but not on the invisible walls and bulwarks which God hath promised to set about us.  The prophet’s servant, that saw the enemy’s army approaching, was in a panic fright; but the prophet, that saw the heavenly host for his lifeguard about him, cared not a rush for them all. If God be not able to protect thee, why dost thou go on his errand at all?  If thou believest he is, why art thou afraid to deliver it when he is able to deliver thee?

           3. Keep a clear conscience.  He cannot be a bold reprover that is not a conscientious liver.  Such a one must speak softly for fear of waking his own guilty conscience.  He is like one that shoots in a rusty foul piece, his reproofs recoil upon himself.  Unholiness in the preacher’s life either will stop his mouth from reproving, or the people’s ears from receiving what he saith.  O how harsh a sound does such a cracked bell make in the ears of its auditors!  Every one desires, if he must be smitten, that it may be by the hand of ‘the righteous,’ Psalm 141:5.  Good counsel from a wicked man is spoiled by his stinking breath that delivers it. Our Saviour was fain to bid them hear the Pharisees, because their persons were a scandal to their doc­trine, Matt. 23:2, 3.  Even those that are good are too prone to turn their back off the ordinance for the scandal of him that officiates.  This is their weakness and sin; but woe be to them at whose wickedness they stumble upon this temptation.  It shows the man hath a very good stomach, that can eat his dinner out of a slovenly cook’s hands; and a very sound judgment and quick appetite to the word, that can fall to and make a hearty meal of it without any squeamish scru­pulosity or prejudice from the miscarriages of the preacher.

           4. Consider that which thou most fearest is best prevented by thy freedom and holy boldness in thy ministry.  Is it danger to thy life thou fearest?  No such way to secure it as by being faithful to him that hath the sole dispose of it.  In whose hands thinkest thou are thy times?  Surely in God’s. Then it is thy best policy to keep him thy friend; for, ‘when thy ways please him, he can make thy enemies to be at peace with thee.’  Man-pleasing is both endless and needless.  If thou wouldst, thou couldst not please all; and if thou couldst, there is no need, so thou pleasest one that can turn all their hearts or bind their hands. They speed best that dare be faithful.  Jonah was afraid of his work.  O he durst not go to such a great city with so sad a message!  To tell them they should be destroyed was to set them awork to destroy him that brought the news.  But how near was he losing his life by running away to save it?  Jeremiah seemed the only man like to lose his life by his bold preach­ing, yet had fairer quarter at last than the smooth preachers of the times.  However, it is better to die honourably than live shamefully.  Is it thy name thou art tender of?  If thou art free and bold, the word thou deliverest will be a reproach and daily derision to thee, as once to Jeremiah.  Thou mayest, indeed, be mocked by some, but thou wilt be reverenced by more; yea, even they that wag their heads at thee carry that in their conscience which will make them fear thee.  They are the flattering preachers—who are ‘partial in the law’—that become ‘base’ among the people, Mal. 2:9.

           5. Consider, if thou art not now bold for Christ in thy ministry, thou canst not be bold before Christ at his judgment-bar.  He that is afraid to speak for Christ will certainly be ashamed to look on his face then.  ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,’  II Cor. 5:10.  Now what use doth Paul make of this solemn meditation?  ‘Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,’ ver. 11. It is no wisdom to provoke the judge by flat­tering the prisoner.  A serious thought of that day, as we are going to preach, would make us shut all base fear out of the pulpit.  It is a very small thing to be judged by man now for our boldness, but dismal to be condemned by Christ for our cowardice.  This is man’s judgment-day, as Paul calls it, I Cor. 4:3.  Every one dares tax the preacher, and pass his sentence up­on him, if he please not his itching ear; but Christ will have his judgment-day also, to judge them that now take upon them to judge others, and his sentence will easily reverse theirs.  Yea, even those that now condemn thy freedom thy freedom to reprove would be the first to accuse thee for thy sinful silence.  The wicked servant, who likes the remissness of his mas­ter’s government—whereby he may play his ungodly pranks without control—cries out of him at the gal­lows, and is oft heard there to lay both his sin, and sad catastrophe of his life to which it brings him, at his master’s door; saying, ‘If he had reproved me, the magistrate had not condemned me; if he had done his duty, the hangman had not now been to do his office.’ Thus may some at the last day accuse their cowardly ministers, and say, ‘If they had told them their danger, they had not run into it; if they had been bold to reprove their sin, they had not been so impudent to live in the practice of it, which now hath brought them to everlasting shame and misery.’

           6. Consider how bold Christ was in his ministry. His very enemies were forced to give him this testi­mony, ‘We know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly,’ Luke 20:21.  He spared not the proudest of them, but to their head reproved them, and denounced the judgment of God against them.  When in the midst of his enemies, he was not daunted with their high looks or furious threats, but owned that very truth which they made his capital crime, Matt. 27:11; John 18:37.  Hence Paul saith of him that ‘before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confes­sion,’ I Tim. 6:13; and useth this as the most powerful argument to conjure Timothy to be faithful in his ministry.  What greater incentive to valour can the soldier have, than to see his general before him stand with undaunted courage where the bullets fly thick­est?  Such valiant captains do not use to breed white-livered soldiers.  It is impossible we should be das­tardly if instructed by him and acted with his spirit. When the high-priest and elders ‘saw the boldness of Peter and John’—who were convented before them —they soon knew where they had got this heroic resolved spirit; for it is said, ‘they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus,’ Acts 4:13.

           7. Pray and beg prayers, for this holy boldness. Thus did the apostles come by it.  Their natural bold­ness was not the product of any natural greatness of spirit they had above others.  You see what stout soldiers they were in themselves by their poor-spirited behaviour at Christ’s attachment, when they all ran away in a fright, and left him to shift for himself.  No; this boldness was the child of prayer; it was not bred in them, but granted from heaven unto them at their humble suit. See them praying hard for it: ‘Now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,’ Acts 4:29.  Mark, they do not pray against suf­fering, but for ‘boldness’ to preach, whatever it may cost them.  They desire not to be excused the battle, but to be armed with courage to stand in it.  They had rather be lift above the fear of suffering, than have an immunity from suffering.  Let God but give them boldness to do their duty, and stand to their tackling, and they have enough.  Now see how soon God sets his fiat to their prayers: ‘And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness,’ ver. 31.  There is the grace they desired, dropped into their bosom, in a farther measure than ever they had it.  If the soldier hath a desire to fight for his prince, no doubt he may have arms for asking.  If this be thy sincere request, God will not deny it.  See them also sending others to God upon this errand for them, Col. 4:3, and here in the text.  Certainly people cannot de­sire that of God for their minister which both he and they need more.  It is a difficult duty to them, but necessary for you.  He cannot be a faithful minister that dares not deliver all his message. He that fears his people’s faces is the man that is most like to murder their souls; so that you pray for yourselves, while you endeavour to pray down this gift upon your minister.

The Christian in Complete Armour (442)

The minister’s duty to make known the gospel.

           Wherein lies the work of a gospel minister—‘to make known the mystery of the gospel.’ You have had the sublime nature of the gos­pel set forth: it is a mystery.  Here the minister’s work is laid out; he is with all possible clearness and perspicuity to open this mystery and expose it to the view of the people.  Mark, ‘the gospel’ is his subject, and ‘to make it known’ is his duty.  So runs the min­ister’s commission for his office, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,’ Mark 16:15.  We hear people sometimes saying, The preacher is beside his text; but he is never beside his errand so long as it is the gospel he makes known. Whatever is his text, this is to be his design. His commission is to make known the gospel; to deliver that therefore which is not reductive to this is beside his instructions.  Nothing but the preaching of the gospel can reach the end for which the gospel min­istry was appointed, and that is the salvation of souls, ‘After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,’ I Cor. 1:21.  The great book of the creation had lain long enough open before the world’s eyes, yet could they never come to the saving knowledge of God, by all that divine wisdom which is written with the finger of God in every page thereof.  Therefore it pleased God to send his servants, that by preaching the gospel, poor souls might believe on Christ, and believing might be saved. No doctrine but the gospel can save a soul; nor the gospel itself, except it be made known.

The gospel alone can save a soul, and this only when known.

           First.  No doctrine but the gospel can save a soul.  The gospel alone is the means where­by you can be taught how to save your souls from hell and bring them to heaven.  But what do I speak of these?  It is not God’s own law—the moral, I mean—that is now able to save you.  God would never have been at such a vast expense—in the bloodshed of his Son—to erect another law, viz. the law of faith, if that would have served for this purpose; Gal. 2:21, ‘for if righteousness come’—yea, or could come—‘by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.’

           Question.  Why then do ministers preach the law?

           Answer.  They preach it as they should, they preach it in subserviency to the gospel, not in opposition.  He that knows how to distinguish well be­tween the law and the gospel, let him bless God, and know that he then deserves the name of a divine.  We must preach it as a rule, not as a covenant, of life. Holiness, as to the matter and substance of it, is the same that ever it was.  The gospel destroys not the law in this sense, but adds a strong enforcement to all its commands.

           Again, we may and must preach the law as the necessary means to drive souls out of themselves to Christ in the gospel.  The gospel is the net with which we should catch souls and draw them out of their sinning sinking state.  But how shall we ever get them to come into it?  Truly never.  Except we first beat them with the law’s clubs—threatenings, I mean—sin­ners lie in their lusts, as fish in the mud, out of which there is no getting them but by laying hard upon their consciences with the threatenings of the law.  ‘Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound,’ Rom. 5:20; that is, in the con­science by con­viction, not in life by commission and practice.  The law shows both what is sin, and also what sin is.  I mean it tells when we commit a sin, and what a hateful and dangerous thing we do in committing of it—how we alarm God, and bring him with all his strength into the field against us.  Now this is neces­sary to prepare a way for the sinner’s entertaining the gospel.  The needle must enter before the thread with which the cloth is sewed.  The sharp point of the law must prick the conscience before the creature can by the promises of the gospel be drawn to Christ.  The field is not fit for the seed to be cast into it till the plough hath broken it up.  Nor is the soul prepared to receive the mercy of the gospel till bro­ken with the terrors of the law.

           Second.  The gospel itself saves not, except it be made known.  ‘If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost,’ II Cor. 4:3.  Where God sends no light, he intends no love.  In bodily sickness a physician may make a cure, though his patient knows not what the medicine is that he useth.  But the soul must know its remedy before he can have any healing benefit from it.  John is sent ‘to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,’ Luke 1:77.  No knowledge, no remission.  Christ must be lift up on the pole of the gospel, as well as on the tree of the cross, that by an eye of faith we may look on him, and so be healed, John 3:14.  ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved,’ Isaiah. 45:22.  A man that sees may lead another that is bodily blind to the place he would go.  But he that would go to heaven must have an eye in his own head to see his way, or else he will never come there.  ‘The just shall live by his faith,’ Hab. 2:4, not by another’s.  A proxy faith is bootless.  Now saving faith is a grace that sees her object; it is ‘the evidence of things not seen,’ Heb. 11:1; that is, which are not seen by sense.  ‘I know,’ saith Paul, ‘whom I have believed,’ II Tim. 1:12.  Therefore faith is oft set out by knowledge: ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,’ John 17:3.  Now, how can they know Christ and life eternal, till the gospel be made known, which bringeth him and life by him to light? II Tim. 1:10.  And by whom shall the gospel be made known if not by the ministers of it?  Thus far the apostle drives it: ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?’ Rom. 10:14. So that this great work lies at the minister’s door.  He is to ‘make known the mystery of the gospel.’

           Objection.  But what need now of preaching? this was the work of those that were to plant a church.  Now the church is planted and the gospel made known, this labour may be spared.

           Answer.  The ministry of the gospel was not in­tended only to plant a church, but to carry on its growth also.  What Paul plants, Apollos comes after and waters with his ministry, I Cor. 3:6.  When the foundation is laid, must not the house be built?  And this Christ gave ministers to his church for, ‘For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,’ Eph. 4:12.  The scaffold is not taken down till the building be finished, but rather to raised higher and higher as the fabric goes up.  Thus Paul went on in his ministry from lower points to higher, from foundation to su­perstructory truths, Heb 6:1.  A famous church was planted at Thessalonica, but there was something ‘lacking in their faith,’ which Paul longed to come and carry on to further perfection I Thess. 3:10.  Surely they that think there is so little need of preaching, forget that the gospel is a mystery—such a mystery as can never be fully taught by the minister or learned by the people; neither do they consider how many engineers Satan hath at work continually to undermine the gos­pel, both as it is a mystery of faith and godliness also. Hath not he his seedsmen that are always scattering corrupt doctrine?  Surely then the faithful minister had need obviate their designs by making known the truth, that his people may not want an antidote to fortify them against their poison.  Are their not corruptions in the bosoms of the best, and daily temptations from Satan and the world to draw these forth, whereby they are always in danger, and oft sadly foiled?  In a word, is not grace planted in a cold soil, that needs cherishing from a gospel ministry?  Do we not see, that what is got in one Sabbath by the preaching of the word, is, if not lost, yet much im­paired, by the next?  Truly our hearts are like lean ground, that needs ever and anon a shower or else the corn on it withers and changeth its hue.  O what barren heaths would the most flourishing churches soon prove if these clouds did not drop upon them! The Christians to whom Peter wrote were of a high form, no novices, but well grounded and rooted in the faith; yet this did not spare the apostle his further pains: ‘I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth,’ II Peter 1:12.

The Christian in Complete armour (441)

Exhortation to study the mystery of the gospel.

           Study to know this mystery: 1. Consider the Author of this mystery.  2. The subject-matter of it.

           1. Consider the Author of the mys­tery of the gospel.  That book must needs be worth the reading which hath God for the author; that mys­tery deserves our knowledge which is the product of his infinite wisdom and love.  There is a divine glory sitting upon the face of all God’s works.  It is impos­sible so excellent an artist should put his hand to an ignoble work.  ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all,’ Psalm. 104:24.  But there is not the same glory to be seen in all his works. Our apostle tells us ‘there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon; one star differs from another in glory.’  Now, among all the works of God that of man’s redemption may well pass for the master-piece.  The world itself was set up to be a stage for the acting of this piece of providence, where­in ‘the manifold wisdom of God,’ is so curiously wrought, that angels themselves pry into it, and are wrapped up into an admiration of it, Eph. 3:10; I Peter 1:12.  God’s works deserve our study, and those most wherein he hath drawn the clearest portraiture of himself.  The gospel mystery therefore, above all other, should be searched into by us, being the only glass in which the glory of God is with open face to be seen.

           2. Consider the subject-matter of the gospel—Christ, and the way of salvation through him. What poor and low ends have all worldly mysteries! one to make us rich, another to make us great and honourable in the world, but none to make us holy here or happy hereafter;—this is learned only from the knowledge of Christ, who is revealed in the gos­pel, and nowhere else.  No doubt Solomon’s natural history, in which he treated ‘of all trees from the cedar to the hyssop, of all beasts, fowls, and creeping things,’ was a rare piece in its kind; yet one leaf of the gospel is infinitely more worth to us than all that large volume would have been;—so much more precious, by how much the knowledge of God in Christ is better than the knowledge of beasts and birds. Paul was a bred scholar; he wanted not that learning which commends men to the world, yet counts all dung and dog’s meat in comparison of ‘the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ his Lord,’ Phil. 3:8.  Well might he call it dog’s meat; for a man may feed all his lifetime on human learning, and die, in Scrip­ture sense, a dog at last. We read that those, Acts 19, were no sooner converted but they burned their books of curious arts.  Neither were they losers by it; for they had got acquaintance with one book that was worth them all.

           Of all creatures in this visible world, light is the most glorious; of all light, the light of the sun without compare excels the rest.  Were this eye of the world put out, the earth would be a grave, in which we should be buried alive.  What were the Egyptians while under the plague of darkness but like so many dead men? they had friends, but could not see them; estates abroad in the fields, but could not enjoy them. Now what is the sun to the sensible world, that is Christ in the gospel to the intellectual world of souls. Without this ‘light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ,’ what can the soul do or enjoy aright?  Man’s soul is of high, yea royal extraction, for God is ‘the Father of spirits;’ but this child meets his heavenly Father in the dark, and knows him not: ‘He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not,’ John 1:10.  And as it is of high birth, so intended for a high end, to glorify and enjoy God its Maker.  Now, for want of the knowl­edge of Christ it can do neither, but debaseth itself to the drudgery of sin and sensual embraces of the creature instead of God, for whom it was at first made; like the son of some great prince, who, not knowing his royal descent, casts himself away in mar­riage on some beggar’s daughter.  O how should we prize and study this mystery therefore that brings us to the true knowledge of God, and the way how we may recover our interest in him and happiness with him!  Man’s primitive happiness consisted in God’s love to him and his likeness to God.  The gospel dis­covers a way how man may be restored to both.  The first it doth, as it is a mystery of faith, by revealing Christ and his atonement for our reconciliation with God; the latter, as it is a mystery of godliness, and the instrument with Christ useth in the hand of his Spirit to create man anew, and as it were the tool to re-engrave the image of God upon him with.

           Question.  But how may we be led into the sav­ing knowledge of this mystery?

           (1.) Think not how to obtain it by the strength of thy reason or natural parts.  It is not learned as other secrets in nature or human arts, of which those that have the most piercing wit and strongest brain soon­est get the mastery.  None have been more mistaken, or erred more foully in their apprehensions about gospel truths, than the greatest scholars, sons of reason, and men admired for their parts and learning; the cause whereof may be partly their pride and self-confidence, which God ever was and will be an enemy to; and also because the mysteries of the gospel do not suit and jump with the principles of carnal reason and wisdom.  Whence it comes to pass that the wiser part of the world, as they are counted, have com­monly rejected the grand principles of evangelical faith as absurd and irrational.  Tell a wise Arian that Christ is God and man in one person, and he laughs at it, as they did at Paul when he mentioned the resurrection of the body, Acts 17:32, be­cause the key of his understanding fits not the wards of this lock.  When a merit‑monger hears of being justified by faith, and not by works, it will not go down with him. It seems as ridiculous to him that a man should be justified by the righteousness which another fulfills, as for a man to live by the meat another eats, and be warm with the clothes another wears.  Tell him, when he hath lived never so holily, he must renounce his own work, and be beholden to another’s merit; you shall as soon persuade him to sell his estate, to get his living by begging at another’s door.  These are ‘hard sayings,’ at which they take offence, and go away, or labour to pervert the simplicity of gospel revelation to their own sense.  Resolve therefore to come, when thou readest the gospel, not to dispute with thy Maker, but to believe what he reveals to be his mind. Call not divine mysteries to give an account to thy shallow understanding.  What is this but to try a prince at a subject’s bar?  When thou hast laid aside the pride of thy reason, then thou art fit to be admit­ted a scholar in Christ’s school, and not till then.

           Objection.  But must we cease to be men when we become Christians?

           Answer.  No; we cease not to be men, but to be proud men, when we lay aside the confidence of our own understanding to acquiesce in the wisdom and truth of God.  An implicit faith is absurd and irra­tional when a man requires it of us, who may deceive or be deceived in what he saith.  But when God speaks, it is all the reason in the world we should believe what he saith to be true, though we cannot comprehend what he saith; for we know he who is infinite wisdom cannot himself be deceived, and he who is truth and faithfulness will not deceive us.

           (2.) Thou must become a disciple to Christ. Men do not teach strangers that pass by their door, or that come into their shops the mystery of their trade and profession; but their servants, and such as are willing to be bound apprentices to them.  Neither doth Christ promise to reveal the mysteries of the gospel to any but those that will give up their names to be his servants and disciples: ‘Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables,’ Mark 4:11.  When once thou hast subscribed to the covenant of the gospel, thy indenture is sealed, Christ is now thy master he takes thee for one of his family and charge, and so will look to thy breeding and education; but for those on whose hearts and affections he hath no hold, they come may be to the ordinance, but, when the sermon is done, return to their old master again.  Sin is still their trade, and Satan their lord; is it like that Christ should teach them his trade?  The mystery of iniquity and of godli­ness are contrary; the one cannot be learned till the other be unlearned.

           (3.) If thou wouldst learn this mystery to any purpose, content not thyself with a head knowledge of it.  The gospel hath respect both to the head and heart—understanding and will.  To the un­derstanding it is a mystery of faith; to the heart and life it is a mystery of godliness.  Now these two must not be severed: ‘Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience,’ I Tim. 3:9.  Here is both the manna, and a golden pot to keep it in—truth laid up in a pure conscience.  Knowledge may make thee a scholar, but not a saint; orthodox, but not gracious. What if thou wert able to write a commentary on all the Bible, and from the Scripture couldst confute all the errors and heresies which were at any time broached and vented against the truth; what would this avail thee, when thy own lusts confute, yea confound, thyself?  ‘If I understand all myster­ies,…and have not charity, I am nothing,’ I Cor. 13:2. He that increaseth knowledge, and doth not get grace with his knowledge, increaseth sorrow to himself, yea, eternal sorrow.  It would be an ease to gospel sinners in hell if they could rase the remembrance of the gos­pel out of their memories, and forget that they ever knew such truths.  In thy knowledge therefore of gos­pel mysteries, labour for these two things especially:

           (a) To see thy propriety in them.  Herein lies the pith and marrow of gospel knowledge.  When thou findest what Christ hath done and suffered for poor sinners, rest not till thou canst say with Paul ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me,’ Gal. 2:20.  When thou readest any precious promise, thou shouldst ask thy own soul, as the eunuch did Philip concerning that place of Isaiah, ‘Is it spoken to me, or of some other?’  Am I the pardoned person?  Am I one in Christ Jesus, to whom there is no condemnation?  How impatient were those two prisoners till Joseph had opened their dream, that they might know what should befall them!  The Scripture will resolve you whether your head shall be lift up to the gibbet in hell, or to the king’s court in heaven.  Now in reading or hearing it preached, this is it thou shouldst listen after and inquire to know—where it lays thee out thy portion, whether in the promise or in the threatening. There is a sweet feast the gospel speaks of, but am I one of Christ’s guests that shall sit at it?  There are mansions prepared in heaven, but can I find one taken up for me there?

           (b) Labour to find the power and efficacy of gospel truths upon thee.  When our first parents had eaten that unhappy fruit which gave them and all mankind in them their bane, it is said then ‘they knew that they were naked;’ doubtless they knew it before their fall, but now they knew it with shame; they knew it, and sought for clothes to cover them, of which they found no want before.  I only allude to the place.  Many know what sin is, but it is not a soul-feeling knowledge: they know they are naked, but are not ashamed for their nakedness; they see no need of Christ’s righteousness to cover it, and of his grace to cure it.  Many know Christ died, and for what he died; but Christ’s death is a dead truth to them, it doth not procure the death of their lusts that were the death of him.  They know he is risen, but they lie still themselves rotting in the grave of their corruptions. They know Christ is ascended to heaven, but this draws not their souls after him.  A philosopher, being asked what he had got by philosophy, answered, ‘It hath taught me to contemn what others adore, and to bear what others cannot endure.’  If one should ask, What have you got by knowing the mystery of the gospel?  Truly you can give no account worthy of your acquaintance with it, except you can say, I have learned to believe what flesh and blood could never believe have taught me, and to do what I never could, till I had acquaintance with its heavenly truths.  This is to know ‘the truth as it is in Jesus,’ Eph. 4:21.  Had a sick man drunk some potion—which if it works will save his life, if not, will certainly be his death—O how troubled would he be while [until] he sees some operation it hath upon him! what means would he not use to set it awork!  If gospel truths work not effectually on thee for thy renovation and sanctifi­cation, thou art a lost man; they will undoubtedly be ‘a savour of death’ to thee.  O how can you then rest till you find them transforming your hearts and as­similating your lives to their heavenly nature!  Thus Paul endeavoured to know the power of Christ’s resurrection quickening him to a holy life here, without which he could not attain to a joyful resurrection hereafter, Phil. 3:10, 11.  The gospel is a glass, but not like that in which we see our bodily face.  This only shows what our feature is, and leaves it as it was; but that changeth the very complexion of the soul ‘from glory to glory,’ II Cor. 3:18.

The Christian in Complete Armour (439)

Why the gospel and its professors are so slighted, misunderstood, and persecuted.

         Basically because of the antithesis, the emnity God made between Satan and the woman and between his seed and her seed we have this hatred. Antipathy and ignorance give us the reason why the gospel is so slighted and re­jected by the wicked world.  The cause is, the bles­sings of the gospel are a mystery, and presented in such a way that carnal hearts do not apprhend them, and there­fore care not for them.  The gospel contains spiritual riches and honours which the carnal man does not comprehend and despises. The gospel opens a mine of unsearchable riches, but in a mystery; it shows them a way how to be ‘rich in faith,’ ‘rich to God,’ rich for another world, while poor in this.  Our Saviour went about to teach the young man in the gospel the way to be rich—not by purchasing more land, but by selling what he had; but he would not follow his counsel.  The gospel presents pleasures and delights—but, alas! they please not their carnal coarse palate, because they are pleasures in a mystery, pleasures in mourning for sin, and mortifying of sin, not pleasures in satisfying them; pleasures in communion with Christ  not with a knot of good fellows over a beer in a pub! Pleasures to the eye and palate of faith, not of sense; to feed their souls, not pamper and fat their bellies.  In a word, the gospel makes discovery of high and choice notions.  Surely now those who are the more sober part of the world, bookish men, and in love with good literature, whose souls crave intel­lectual food, and prize a lecture more than a feast, these will be highly pleased with the truths the gospel brings to light, being such rare mysteries that they can find in no other book.  Yet, alas! we see that the gos­pel doth as little please this sort and rank of men as any other.  Had it been filled with flowers of rhetoric, chemical experiments, philosophical notions, or max­ims of policy, O how greedily would they have em­braced it!  But it is wisdom in a mystery.  ‘We speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought,’ I Cor. 2:6.

           Again, we here have the reason why the gospel and its professors are not only slighted, but hated and persecuted.  For the gospel, it is a mystery, which the world knows not; and therefore opposed by it.  Ignorance is the mother of persecu­tion: ‘Father, for­give them, they know not what they do!’  The greatest enemies the gospel ever had were not the sensual and open profane—though these bad enough—but the superstitious and ignorantly devout, these have been they who have shown most fierceness and fury against the gospel.  Paul tells of the ‘devout’ persons that cruelly persecuted him, Acts 13:50.  None more hot against the truth than Paul himself, who was a strict Pharisee, but bloody enemy against the truth.  What reason then have we to pray for the increase of gospel light!  The more the gospel is known, the more kindly will it be entertained.

           Again, the professors of the gospel, why are they so hated and maligned, but because they partake of the mysterious nature of the gospel, and therefore their worth is not known?  They are high-born, but in a mystery; you cannot see their birth by their outward breeding—the arms they bear, revenues they have to live on, by which the world judges the greatness of persons and families.  No, their outside is mean, while their inside is glorious; and the world values them by what they know and see of their external port, and not by their inward graces.  They pass, as a prince in disguise of some poor man’s clothes, through the world, and their entertainment is accord­ingly.  Had Christ put on his robes of glory and ma­jesty when he came into the world, surely he had not gone out of it with so shameful and cruel a death; the world would have trembled at his footstool, which we see some of them did when but a beam of his deity looked forth upon them.  Did saints walk on earth in those robes which they shall wear in heaven, then they would be feared and admired by those who now scorn and despise them.  But, as God should not have had his design in Christ’s first coming had he so ap­peared, so neither would he in his saints, did the world know them, as one day they shall; therefore he is pleased to let them lie hid under the mean cover­ings of poverty and other infirmities, that so he may exercise their suffering graces, and also accomplish his wrath upon the wicked for theirs against them.

           The gospel as a mystery shows us the reason why carnal men do so bungle when they meddle with matters of religion.  Let them speak of gospel truths —what ignorance do they show!  Even as a countryman chops logic, and speaks of the liberal arts, so they of heavenly matters.  Do we not see that those who in worldly affairs will give you a wise and solid answer, in the truths of the gospel they speak like children and babes?  Yea, even those that have some brain-knowledge of the Scriptures, how dry and unsavoury is their discourse of spiritual things!  They are like a parable in a fool’s mouth.  So, when they engage in any duty of religion.  Put them to pray, hear the word, or meditate upon what they have heard; you had as good give a workman’s tools to him that was never of the trade.  They know not how to handle them; they go ungainsomely about the work, and cut all into chips.  Every trade hath its mystery, and religion above all callings, when none but those that are instructed in knowledge know how to manage.

The Christian in Complete Armour (438)

Paul’s request as a minister of Christ for the prayers of believers (final part).

‘That I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.’

           The purpose Paul desires their prayers for utterance to be granted him is expressed in these words—‘that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel;’  Note first the sublime nature of the gospel—it is ‘a mystery.’  Second. Wherein lies the work of a gospel minister—‘to make known the mystery of the gospel.’  Third. The manner how he is to perform this work —‘that I may open my mouth boldly.’

What is meant by a ‘mystery,’ and in what respects the gospel is one.

          It means to teach any secret be­longing to religion. It means any secret, natural, civil, or religious, which lies out of the road of vulgar under­standings.  In Scripture it is generally used for reli­gious secrets; and it is taken both in an evil sense and in a good.

Sometimes it is used in an evil sense. ‘The mystery of iniquity doth already work,’ II Thess. 2:7; whereby is meant the secret rising antichristian dominion, whereof some foundations were laid even in the apostle’s days.  Error is but a day younger than truth.  When the gospel began first to be preached by Christ and his apostles, error presently put forth her hand to take it by the heel and supplant it.  The whole system of antichristianism is a mystery of pol­icy and impiety.  Mystery is written upon the whore of Babylon’s forehead, Rev. 17:2.

           Second.  In a good sense.  Sometimes for some particular branch of evangelical truth.  Thus the rejec­tion of the Jews and calling of the Gentiles is called a ‘mystery,’ Rom. 11:25; the wonderful change of those that shall be upon the earth at the end of the world, I Cor. 15:51; the incarnation, resurrection, and ascen­sion of Christ, I Tim. 3:16; with others.  Sometimes it is used for the whole body of the gospel; as to the doctrine of it, called a ‘mystery of faith,’ I Tim. 3:9; as to the purity of its precepts and rules for a holy life, a ‘mystery of godliness;’ as to the author, subject, and end of it, called ‘the mystery of Christ,’ Eph. 3:4—it was revealed by him, treats of him, and leads souls to him; and lastly, in regard of the blessed reward it promiseth to all that sincerely embrace it, called ‘the mystery of the kingdom of God,’ Mark 4:11.  This gospel is the glorious mystery we are now to speak of; and we will show in what respect it is a mystery, or why so called by the Spirit of God.

Why or in what respects the gospel is a mystery.

           First.  Because it is known only by divine revela­tion.  Such a secret it is that the wit of man could never have found out.  There are many secrets in na­ture, which, with much plodding and study, have at last been discovered, as the medicinal virtue of plants and the like; but the gospel is a secret, and contains in it such mysteries as were be­yond the reach of all genius, as Calvin saith.  What man or angel could have thought of such a way for reconciling God and man as in the gospel is laid out? How impossible was it for them to have conjectured what purposes of love were locked up in the heart of God towards fallen man, till himself did open the cabinet of his own counsel?  Or had God given them some hint of a purpose he had for man’s recovery, could they ever have so much as thought of such a way as the gospel brings to light?  Surely as none but God could lay the plot, so none but himself could make it known.  The gospel therefore is called ‘a revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,’ Rom. 16:25.

           Second. Because the gospel when revealed, its truths exceed the grasp of human understanding. They are the eye of our reason as the sun is to the eye of our body, exceeding excellency, as dazzles and overpowers the most pier­cing apprehension.  They disdain to be discussed and tried by human reason.  That there are three subsis­tences in the Godhead, and but one divine essence, we believe, because there revealed.  But he that shall fly too near this light, as thinking to comprehend this mysterious truth in his narrow reason, will soon find himself lost in his bold enterprise.  God and man, united in Christ’s person, is undeniably demonstrable from the gospel.  But, alas! the cordage of our under­standing is too short to fathom this great deep. ‘With­out controversy,’ saith the apostle, ‘great is the mys­tery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,’ I Tim. 3:16.  It is a truth without controversy, —it is confessed of all, yet such a mystery as is not fordable by our short-legged under­standing.  That there is no name but the name of Jesus by which we can be saved is the grand notion of the gospel; but how many mysteries are wrapped up in this one truth?  Who that should have seen the babe Jesus when he lay in the manger, and afterward meanly bred under a carpenter, and at last executed for a malefactor, could have imagined, as one saith, that upon such weak hinges should move such a glor­ious design for man’s salvation?  But who dares think it unreasonable to believe that upon God’s report to be true, which we cannot make out by our own under­standing?  Some things we apprehend by reason that cannot be known by sense—as that the sun is bigger than the earth; some things by sense, which cannot be found out by reason.  That the lodestone attracts iron, and not gold, our eye beholds; but why it should, there our reason is dunced and posed.  Now if in nature we question not the truth of these, though sense be at a loss in one and reason in the other, shall we in religion doubt of that to be true which drops from God’s own mouth and pen, because it exceeds our weak understanding?  Wouldst thou see a reason, saith Augustine, for all that God saith? look into thy own understanding, and thou wilt find a reason why thou seest not a reason.

           Third.  It is a mystery in regard of few to whom it is revealed.  Secrets are whispered into the ears of a few, and not exposed to all.  ‘Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God,’ Mark 4:11.  Who were those ‘you,’ but a few dis­ciples who believed on his name?  The greater part of the world were ever strangers to this mystery.  Before Christ’s time it was impaled within a little spot of ground of the Jewish nation.  Since it came abroad into the Gentile world, and hath been travelling above these sixteen hundred years hither and thither, how few at this day are acquainted with it!  Indeed, where its glorious light shines long, many get a literal no­tional knowledge of it—it were strange that men should walk long in the sun and not have their faces a little tanned with it; but the spiritual and saving knowledge of this mystery is revealed but to few, for the number of saints is not great compared with the reprobate world.

           Fourth. It is a mystery in regard of the sort of men to whom it is chiefly impartedsuch as are, in reason, most unlikely to dive into any great mysteries; those who are despised by the wise world, and the great states of it, as poor and base.  ‘Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,’ I Cor. 1:26, 27.  If we have a secret to reveal, we do not choose weak and shallow heads to impart it unto; but here is a mystery which babes understand and wise men are ignorant of: ‘I thank thee, O Father,…because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’  The people who were so scorned by the proud Pharisees, as those who knew not the law, John 7:49, to them was the gospel revealed, while these doctors of the chair were left in ignorance.  It is revealed to the poor many times, and hid from kings and princes.  Christ passeth often by palaces to visit the poor cottage.  Herod could get nothing from Christ—who out of curiosity so long desired to see him, Luke 23:8; whereas the poor woman of Samaria with a pitcher in her hand, Christ vouchsafeth her a sermon, and opens to her the saving truths of the gospel.  Pilate missed of Christ on the bench, while the poor thief finds him, and heaven with him, on the cross.  Devout women are passed by and left to perish with their blind zeal, while harlots and publicans are converted by him.

           Fifth. It is a mystery in regard of the kind of knowledge the saints themselves have of it.

  1. Their knowledge is but in part and imperfect.  God hath been unfolding this ever since the first promise was made to Adam, opening it still every age wider than other; but the world shall sooner be at an end than this mystery will be fully known. Indeed, as a river—which may be breaks forth at first from the small orifice of a little spring—does widens its channel and grows broader as it approacheth nearer the sea; so the knowledge of this mystery doth spread every age more than other, and still will, as the world draws nearer and nearer to the sea of eternity, into which it must at last fall.  The gospel appeared but a little spring in Adam’s time, whose whole Bible was bound up in a single promise; this increased to a rivulet enlarged itself into a river in the days of the prophets; but when Christ came in the flesh then knowledge flowed in amain.  The least in the gospel state is said to be greater than the greatest before Christ.  So that, in comparison of the darker times of the law, the knowledge Christians now have is great, but compared with the knowledge they shall have in heaven, it is little, and but peep of day.
  2. It is mysterious and dark.  Gospel truths are not known in their native glory and beauty, but in shadows.  We are said indeed ‘with open face’ to ‘be­hold the glory of God,’ but still it is ‘as in a glass.’ Now, you know the glass presents us with the image, not with the face itself.  We do not see them as in­deed they are, but as our weak eyes can bear the knowledge of them.  Indeed this glass of the gospel is clearer than that of the law was; we see truths through a thinner veil; baptism is clearer than circumcision, the Lord’s supper than the passover; in a word, the New Testament than the Old; yet there is nothing of heaven revealed in the gospel but it is translated into our earthly language, because we are unable while here below to understand its original.  Who knows, or can conceive, what the joys of heaven are, so as to speak of them in their own idiom and propriety?  But, a feast we know, what a kingdom is we under­stand; with riches and treasures we are well acquain­ted.  Now, heaven is set out by these things, which in this world bear the greatest price in men’s thoughts. In heaven is a feast, yet without meat; riches, without money; a kingdom, without robes, sceptre, and crown, because infinitely above these.  Hence it is said, ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be,’ I John 3:2.  Our apprehensions of these things are manly compared with those under the law, but childish compared with the knowledge which glorified saints have.  Therefore, as Paul saith ‘he putteth childish things away,’ when he grew up into further knowledge of the gospel; so he tells us of an imperfect knowl­edge, which yet he had, ‘that must be done away, when that which is perfect is come,’ I Cor. 13:10, 11.

           Sixth. The gospel is a mystery in regard of the contrary operation it hath upon the hearts of men. The eyes of some it opens, others it blinds; and who so blind as those whose eyes are put out with light? Some when they hear the gospel are ‘pricked in their hearts;’ they can hardly stay till the preacher hath done his sermon, but cry out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’  Others are hardened by it, and their con­sciences seared into a greater stupidity.  At Paul’s sermon, Acts 17:32, ‘some mocked;’ others were af­fected so with his discourse that they desired to ‘hear it again.’  What a mysterious doctrine is this, that sets one a laughing, another a weeping!—that is the savour of life to some, and of death to others!

           Seventh. The gospel is a mystery in regard of those rare and strange effects it hath upon the godly; and that both in respect of their judgments and prac­tice.  As the gospel is ‘a mystery of faith,’ so it enables them to believe strange mysteries—to believe that which they understand not, and hope for that which they do not see.  It enables them to believe three to be one, and one to be three; a trinity of Persons in the Deity, and a unity of essence; a Father not older than his Son, a Son not inferior to his Father; a Holy Spirit proceeding from both, yet equal to both.  It teaches them to believe that Christ was born in time, and that he was from everlasting; that he was com­prehended within the virgin’s womb, and yet the heaven of heavens not able to contain him; to be the son of Mary, and yet her maker that was his mother; to be born without sin, and yet justly to have died for sin.  They believe that God was just in punishing Christ though innocent, and in justifying penitent believers who are sinners; they believe themselves to be great sinners, and yet that God sees them in Christ ‘without spot or wrinkle.’

           Again, as the gospel is a ‘mystery of godliness,’ it enables Christians to do as strange things as they be­lieve—to live by another’s Spirit, to act from another’s strength, to live to another’s will, and aim at another’s glory.  They live by the Spirit of Christ, act with his strength, are determined by his will, and aim at his glory.  It makes them so meek and gentle that a child may lead them to anything that is good, yet so stout that fire and faggot shall not fright them into a sin.  They can love their enemies, and yet, for Christ’s sake, can hate father and mother.  It makes them diligent in their worldly calling, yet enables them to contemn the riches they have got by God’s blessing on their labour; they are taught by it that all things are theirs, yet they dare not take a penny, a pin, from the wicked of the world by force and rapine. It makes them so humble as to ‘prefer every one in honour’ above themselves, yet so to value their own condition that the poorest among them would not change his estate with the greatest monarch of the world.  It makes them thank God for health, and for sickness also; to rejoice when exalted, and as much when made low; they can pray for life, and at the same time desire to die.  Is not that doctrine a mys­tery which fills the Christian’s life with so many riddles!

The Christian in Complete armour (437)

Utterance (part 2)

  Do ministers depend thus on God for utterance?  This speaks to you , my brethren in the Lord’s work.  Do nothing for which God may stop your mouths when you come into the pulpit.

  1. Take heed of any sin in your bosoms.  ‘What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?’ Ps. 50:16, the conscience of your sin will not suffer you to speak.  O it is sad when the preacher meets his own sin in his subject, and pronounceth sentence against himself while he reads his text!  If thou wouldst have God assist thee, be zealous and repent.  When the trumpet is washed, then the Holy Spirit, thou mayest hope, will again breathe through it.
  2. Beware thou comest not in the confidence of thy own preparation God hath declared himself against this kind of pride: ‘By strength shall no man prevail,’ I Sam. 2:9.  A little bread with God’s blessing may make a meal for multitude, and great provision may soon shrink to nothing if God help not in the breaking of it.  It is not thy sermon in thy head, or notes in thy book, will enable thee to preach except God open thy mouth.  Acknowledge therefore God in all thy ways, and ‘lean not to thy own understanding.’  The swelling of the heart as well as of the wall goes before a fall.

           To the people.  Take heed you do not stop your ministers’ mouths.  This you may do,

  1.  By admiring their gifts and applauding their persons; especially when this is accompanied with un­thankfulness to God that gives them; when you ap­plaud the man, but do not bless God for him.  Princes have an evil eye upon those subjects that are over-popular.  God will not let his creatures stand in his light, nor have his honour suffer by the reputation of his instrument.
  2. You may provoke God to withdraw his assis­tance by expecting the benefit from man and not from God; as if it were nothing but to take up your cloak and Bible, and you are sure to get good by such a one’s ministry.  This is like them in James, that say, ‘We will go into such a city, and get gain;’ as if it were no more to hear with profit than to go to the tap and draw wine or beer in your own cellar!
  3. You may provoke God to withdraw his assis­tance by rebelling against the light of truth that shines forth upon you in his ministry.  God sometimes stops the minister’s mouth because the people shut their hearts.  Why should the cock run to have the water spilt upon the ground?  Christ himself did ‘not many mighty works’—‘he could not,’ saith Mark—in his own country, ‘because of their unbelief.’ It is just God should take away the ministry, or stop the minister’s mouth, when they despise his counsel, and the word becomes a reproach to them.  I am sure it is a sad dump to the minister’s spirit, that preacheth long to a gainsaying people, and no good omen to them.  The mother’s milk goes away sometimes before the child’s death. God binds up the spirit of his messengers in judg­ment: ‘I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house,’ Eze. 3:26.

The Christian in Complete Armour (436)


But we come to a more particu­lar inquiry into these words, what the apostle means by ‘utterance,’ which he desires may be given him.  A parallel place to this we have, Col. 4:3, 4.  Three things we may conceive the apostle drives at in this his request.

           First. By ‘utterance’ may be meant liberty to preach the gospel;—that his mouth might not be stopped by the persecutor, who had him already his prisoner.  Now he desires they would pray for him, that he might not be quite taken off his work: where,

  1. Observe what a grievous affliction it is to a faithful minister to be denied liberty to preach the gospel.  So long as Paul might preach, though in a chain, he is not much troubled; the word is free, though he be bound.  But, to have his mouth stopped, to see poor souls ready to perish for want of that bread which he hath to give out, and yet may not be allowed this liberty, goes to his heart.  ‘O pray,’ saith he, ‘that utterance may be given.’  If he may not preach, neither should he live; for upon this account alone he desired life—the furtherance of their faith, Phil. 1:25.
  2. The liberty of the gospel, and of the ministers to deliver it, are in an especial manner to be prayed for.

           (1.) Because this is strongly opposed and ma­ligned by Satan and his instruments.  Wherever God opens a door for his gospel there Satan raiseth his batteries.  ‘For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries,’ I Cor. 16:9. No sooner doth God open his shop-windows, but the devil is at work to shut them again, or hinder the free-trade of his gospel.  Other men’s servants can work peaceably in their master’s shop, but as for God’s servants, every one hath a stone to throw in at them as they pass by.  When Paul began to preach at Thes­salonica, the city was presently in an uproar and cry, ‘These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also,’ Acts 17:6.  Indeed they said true; let the gospel have but liberty and it will ‘turn the world upside down.’  It will make a change, but a happy one.  This the devil knows, and therefore dreads its approach.

           (2.) Because it is the choicest mercy that God can bless a nation with.  Happy are the people that are in such a case.  It is the gospel of the kingdom; it lifts a people up to heaven. We could better spare the sun out of its orb than the preaching of the gospel out of the church.  Souls might find the way to heaven, though the sun did not lend them its light; but without the light of truth they cannot take one right step to­wards it.  Work, saith Christ, ‘while ye have the light,’ John 12:36.  Salvation-work cannot be done by the candle‑light of a natural understanding, but by the daylight of gospel revelation; this sun must rise before man can go forth to this labour.

           (3.) It is God’s power to preserve the liberty of his gospel and messengers, in spite of the devil and his instruments.  Therefore, indeed, Paul sends them not to court to beg his liberty, but to heaven.  God had Nero closer prisoner than he had Paul.  ‘Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it,’ Rev. 3:8.  At Ephesus were many adversaries we heard, yet the door was kept open.  Christ carries the keys of the church-door at his girdle: ‘He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth,’ Rev. 3:7, ‘the key of the house of David,’ so Isaiah 22:22.  The church is Christ’s house, and the mas­ter sure will keep the key of his own door.

           (4.) Prayer hath a mighty power with God to preserve or restore liberty to his gospel and messen­gers.  It hath fetched home his servants from banish­ment, it hath brought them out of their dungeon. The prison could not hold Peter when the church was at prayer for him.  It hath had a mighty influence into the church’s affairs when at the lowest ebb.  It was a sad world to the church in Nero’s time, when Paul set the saints a praying for kings and those that were in authority; which prayers, though they were not ans­wered in Nero, yet I doubt not but afterwards they were in Constantine and other Christian princes, under whose royal wing the church of Christ was cherished and protected.

           (5.) Pray for their liberty, because, when the gospel goes away, it goes not alone, but carries away your other mercies along with it.  The hangings that are taken down when the prince removes his court. Where the minister hath not liberty to preach the truth, the people will not long have liberty to profess it.  When it went ill with James the apostle, it went not well with the church at Jerusalem, Acts 12:1, 2, nor can that place look long to enjoy its outward peace. When God removes his gospel, it is to make way for worse company to come, even all his sore plagues and judgements, Jer. 6:8.

           Second.  When the apostle desires ‘utterance’ to be given him, he may mean that he may have a word given him to preach ac­cording to that which Christ promiseth, ‘It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak,’ Matt. 10:19.  From which we may note:

  1. That ministers have no ability of their own for their work.  O how long may they sit tumbling their books over, and beating their brains, till God comes to their help; and then, as Jacob’s venison, it is brought to their hand!  If God drop not down his assistance, we write with a pen that hath no ink.  If any in the world need walk pendantly upon God more than others, the minister is he.
  2. Observe that those who are most eminent for gifts and grace have meanest thoughts of themselves, and are acquainted most with their own insufficiency. Paul himself is not ashamed to let Christians know that if God brings it not into him he cannot deal out to them; he cannot speak a word to them till he re­ceives it from God: ‘Not that we are suffi­cient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament,’ II Cor. 3:5, 6.  He is the able minister whom God enables.
  3. Observe, the meanest Christian may, by his faithful prayers, help to make the minister’s sermon for him.  ‘Pray,’ saith the apostle, ‘that utterance may be given unto me;’ that I may have from God what I should deliver to others.  O what a useful instrument is a praying Christian! he may not only help his own minister, but others even all the world over.  Paul was now at Rome, and sends for prayers as far as to the saints at Ephesus.

           Third.  By ‘utterance’ he may mean a faculty of speech—a readiness and facility to deliver to others what he hath been enabled to conceive in his own mind of the will of God.  Many eminent servants of God have been very sensible of, and much dis­couraged for, their hesitant speech and de­livery.  Now this may proceed from a  natural cause, or supernatural.

  1. From a natural cause.  As,

           (1.) From a defect in the instruments of speech; which some think was the cause of Moses’ complaint, ‘I am not eloquent,…but I am slow of speech,’ Ex. 4:10.  And this discouraged him from being sent on God’s errand.  But God can compensate the hesitancy of the tongue with the divine power of the matter delivered.  This Moses, who was so ‘slow of speech,’ yet was ‘mighty in words,’ Acts 7:22, able to make Pharaoh’s stout heart to tremble, though he might stammer in the delivery of it.  God promised indeed to be ‘with his mouth;’ yet, it is probable, he did not cure his natural infirmity, for we find him complaining after­wards of it.  Such natural imperfections, therefore, should neither discourage the minister nor prejudice the people; but rather make him more careful that the matter be weighty he delivers, and them that their attention be more close and united.

           (2.) From a weak memory.  He that reads in a bad print, where many letters are defaced, cannot read fast and smooth, but will oft be stopped to study what is next.  Memory is an inward table or book, out of which the minister reads his sermon unseen.  If the notions or meditations we have to deliver be not fairly imprinted on our memory, no wonder that the tongue is oft at a stand, except we should speak to no purpose.  If the hopper be stopped, the mill cannot grind; or if the pipe that feeds the cistern be obstruc­ted, it will be seen at the cock.  When God hath assis­ted in the study, we need him to strengthen our memory in the pulpit.

           (3.) From fear.  If the heart faint, it is no wonder the tongue falters.  This, it is like, was at the bottom of Jeremiah’s excuse: ‘Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child,’ Jer. 1:6.  That is, I want the courage and spirit of a man to wrestle with these oppositions that will certainly meet me in the work. That this was his infirmity appears by the method God takes for the cure: ‘Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee,…be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee,’ ver. 7, 8.

  1. From a supernatural cause; where none of these defects are, but the minister stands best fur­nished and in greatest readiness for his work.  Yet, let but God turn the cock, and there is a stop put to the whole work.  Not only ‘the preparations of the heart,’ but ‘the answer of the tongue,’ both are ‘of the Lord,’ Prov. 16:1.  God keeps the key of the mouth as well as of the heart; not a word can get out, but sticks in the teeth while [i.e. until] God opens the doors of the lips to give it a free egress.  He opened the mouth of the ass, and stopped the mouth of that wicked prophet its master.  Hear him confessing as much to Balak: ‘Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak,’ Num. 22:38.  Never man de­sired more to be speaking than he; that which should have got him his hire, the wages of unrighteousness, for he loved it dearly.  But God had tongue-tied him. Nay, even holy men, when they would speak the truth, and that for God, cannot deliver themselves of what they have conceived in their inward meditations. Hence David’s prayer: ‘Open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.’  Ezekiel he would ‘make his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth;’ he should not reprove them though he would, Eze. 3:26.

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Paul’s request, as a minister of Christ, for the prayers of believers.

           The apostle’s request to the church of Ephesus—‘that utterance may be given unto me.’

Note: The spirituality of his desire.  He sets them not a praying for carnal things, the world’s honour or riches; no, we hear him not so much as mention his necessities and outward wants, which he, being now a prisoner, it is like, was no great stranger to; but they are spiritual wants he most groans under.  He desires the charity of their prayers more than of their purse.

The public concern of that he begs prayers for—‘that utterance may be given me.’ This is not a personal privilege, that would redound only on his own private advantage, but which renders him useful to others—that which may fit him for his public employment in the church; from which we may gather this note.

What the minister of Christ chiefly desires believers’ prayers for.

       A faithful minister’s heart runs more on his work than on himself.  That which he chiefly de­sires is how he may best discharge his ministerial trust.  No doubt Paul spake out of the abundance of his heart.  That comes out first of which his heart was most full, and for which his thoughts were most soli­citous; as if he had said, If you will take me into your prayers, let this be your request, ‘That utterance may be given me.’  Wherever, almost, you find him begging prayers, he forgets not this: ‘Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course,’ II Thess. 3:1; ‘Praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ,’ Col. 4:3.  Admirable are the expressions whereby this holy man declares how deeply his heart was engaged in the work of the Lord.  He tells them that his very soul and spirit was set upon it: ‘Whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son,’ Rom. 1:9.  Never did any more long for preferment in the church, than he to preach the gospel to the church.  ‘I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift,’ ver. 11.  He professeth himself a debtor to all sorts of men; he hath a heart and tongue to preach to all that have an ear to hear: ‘I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise,’ ver. 14.  Yea, he was ‘ready to preach the gospel’ ver. 15, where he should stand in the mouth of death and danger.  This so took up his thoughts, that for it he threw all his worldly concernments at his heels.  As for the world’s riches, he bypasses them: ‘I seek not yours, but you,’ II Cor. 12:14. He had a nobler merchandise in his eye.  He had rather preach them into Christ, than their money into his purse.  And for their respect and love, though it was due debt to him, yet he lays it aside, and on he will go with his work, though they give him no thanks for his pains: ‘I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.’  His duty he will do to them, and leaves them to look to theirs to him.  The nurse draws forth her breast to the child, though froward, because she looks for her reward, not from the child, but its parent.  God will reward the faithful minister, though his people will not thank him for his labour.

           In a word, his very life was not valued by him when it stood in competition with his work: ‘But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus,’ Acts 20:24.  And not without great reason is it that ministers should prefer their duty above all temporal respects.  They are servants to God; and a servant must look to his work, whatever becomes of himself.  Abraham’s servant would not eat till he had done his message; and when it sped, neither would he stay then to lose time, but posts back again with all expedition to his master, Gen. 24:33.  He said well who was employed to relieve the city of Rome with corn, who, when the master of the ship would have had him stay for fair weather, answered, ‘It is necessary that we sail, not that we live.’  It is necessary the minister should fulfil his ministry, not that he should be rich, not that he should be in reputation.  The incompar­able value of souls is such as should make hazard our whole temporal stake to promote their eternal salva­tion.  He that wins souls is wise, though he lose his own life in the work.

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Ministers of the gospel have a special claim on the prayers of believers.

            From this request of the apostle we may note that the ministers of the gospel are, in an especial manner, to be remembered in the saints’ prayers; and that, because they come about God’s work and deliver his er­rand.  Not to pray for them will be interpreted you wish not well to the business they have in hand for him.  They do not only come from God, but with Christ.  ‘We then, as workers together with him, be­seech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain,’ II Cor. 6:1.  Christ and the minister go into the pulpit together.  A greater than man is there; master and servant are both at work.

           Again, the blessing of the minister’s labour is from God; not the hand that sets the plant or sows the seed, but God’s blessing, gives the increase, I Cor. 3:6.   God carries the key by his girdle that alone can open hearts, and prayer is the key to open his.  When Christ intended to send forth his disciples to preach the gospel, he sets them solemnly to prayer, Matt. 9:38.  Many are the promises which he hath given to the ministers of the gospel for their protection—that he will keep these stars in his right hand, or else they had been on the ground and stamped under foot long ere this—for their assistance and success in the work: ‘I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say,’ Ex. 4:12.  ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all na­tions…I am with you alway, unto the end of the world,’ Matt. 28:19, 20. Wherefore are these promises, but to be shot back again in prayers to God that gave them?

       In regard of the ministers themselves. There is not a greater object of pity and prayer in the whole world than the faithful ministers of Christ; if you consider,

  1. The importance of their work.  It is temple work, and that is weighty; which made Paul, that had the broadest shoul­ders of all his brethren, cry out, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’  ‘I am doing a great work,’ said Nehemiah, Neh. 6:3.  But what was that to his?  No work more hazardous to carry in than this.  It is sad enough to drop to hell from under the pulpit—to hear the gospel, and yet to perish; but O how dismal to fall out of it thither for unfaithfulness to the work!  The consideration of this made Paul so bestir him; ‘knowing the terror of the Lord we per­suade men.’
  2. It is a laborious work.  ‘Know them which labour among you…and admonish you,’ I Thess. 5:12; those who la­bour in the word and doctrine, which la­bour to weariness.  He that preaches as he should, shall find it a work, and not play.  Not a work of an hour while speaking in the pulpit, but a load that lies heavy on his shoulders all the week long; a labour that spends the vitals, and consumes the oil which should feed the lamp of nature; such a labour, in a word, as makes old age and youth oft meet together.  The Jews took Christ to be about fifty years old when he was little above thirty, John 8:57.  I find some give this reason of it, because Christ had so macerated his body with labour in preaching, fasting, and watching, that it aged his very countenance and made him look older than he was.  Other callings are, many of them,  but as exer­cise to nature; they blow off the ashes from its coal, and help to discharge nature of those superfluities which oppress it.  Who eats his bread more heartily, and sleeps more sweetly, than the ploughman?  But the minister’s work debilitates nature.  It is hard for him to eat and work too.  Like the candle, he wastes while he shines.  Whatever work is thought harder than other, we have it borrowed to set forth the min­ister’s labour.  They are called soldiers, watchmen, husbandmen, yea, their work is set out by the pangs of a woman in travail.  Some of them indeed have easier labours than other—those who find more success of their ministry than their brethren; but who can tell the throes that their souls feel who all the time of their ministry go in travail and bring forth dead children at last?
  3. It is opposed work by hell and earth.

           (1.) It is opposed by hell.  The devil never liked temple work; he that was at Joshua’s right hand to resist him, is at the minister’s elbow to disturb him, and that both in study and pulpit also.  ‘I would have come,’ saith Paul, ‘but Satan hindered.’  Who can tell all the devices that Satan hath to take the minister off or hinder him in his work?  One while he discourag­eth him, that he is ready with Jonah to run away with his charge; another while he is blowing of him up with pride.  Even Paul himself hath a thorn given him in his flesh to keep pride out of his heart.  Sometimes he roils him with passion, and leavens his zeal into sourness and unmercifulness.  This the disciples were tainted with, when they called for fire to come down from heaven upon those that stood in their way. Sometimes he chills their zeal, and intimidates their spirits into cowardice and self‑pity.  Thus Peter fa­voured himself when he denied his Master; and when at another time he dissembled with the Jews, to curry their favour.

           (2.) It is opposed by the wicked world.  ‘To be a minister,’ said Luther, ‘is nothing else but to derive the world’s wrath and fury upon himself.’  How are they loaden with reproaches!  This dirt lies so thick nowhere as on the minister’s coat.  What odious names did the best of men, the apostles themselves, go under?  And it were well they would only smite them with the tongue; but you shall find in all ages persecutors have thirsted most after their blood.  The persecution in the Acts begins with the cutting off of James’ head.  Such a happiness the Jews had when Christ was taken out of the way by their murderous hands. They slew him to preserve themselves from the Ro­mans destroying their city, but brought them with irreparable ruin by this very means upon their own head.

  1. That which adds weight to all the former is, that the men who are to bear this heavy burden, and to conflict with all these difficulties and dangers, are those who have no stronger shoulders than others; for they are men subject to the like infirmities with their brethren.  Now, will not all this melt you into com­passion towards them, and your compassion send you to prayer for them?  Shall they stand in the face of death and danger, where Satan’s bullets, and man’s also, fly so thick, and you not be at the pains to raise a breast‑work before them for their defence by your prayers?

      Love to your­selves will plead to pray for them.

  1. Consider their ministry is an office set up on purpose for your sakes.  It was never intended for the exalting of a few men above their brethren, but for the service of your faith.  The gifts that Christ hath given to men, Eph. 4—that is, their office and abilities to discharge it—are both for the edifying of the body of Christ, and will you not pray for those that from one end of the year to the other are at work for you?  If you had but a child or servant sent abroad about your worldly business, would you not send a prayer after him?  Thus did good Jacob, when his children went on his errand to Egypt: ‘God Almighty give you mercy before this man.’  Will you not do thus much for your poor minister, and pray God Almighty go with him, when in his study to prepare, and when in the pulpit to deliver what he hath prepared for our souls?
  2. The ministers’ miscarriage is dangerous to the people; therefore pray for them, lest you be led into temptation by their falls.  The sins of teachers are the teachers of sin.  If the nurse be sick, the child is in danger to suck the disease from her that lies at her breast.  If the minister be tainted with an error, it is strange if many of his people should not catch the infection; when, if he be loose and scandalous in his life, he is like a common well or fountain, corrupted and muddied, at which all the town draw their water. The devil aimed at more than Peter when he desired leave to try a fall with him.  ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat,’ Luke 22:31.  He knew his fall was like to strike up the heels of many others.  The minister’s practice makes a greater sound than his doctrine. They who forget his sermon, will remember his ex­ample to quote it for their apology and defence when time serves.  Peter withdraws, and ‘other Jews dissembled with him,’ Gal. 2:12, 13.  Truly, friends, your ministers are but men, and of no stronger than yourselves—men subject to the like passions.  He among them that presumes he shall not slide into an error, or fall into a sin, is bolder than any promise in the word gives him leave.  They need your prayers as much as any, and those most that fear their danger least.
  3. By praying for the minister you take the most hopeful way to profit by his ministry.  Such a soul as this may come in expectation to have a portion laid on his trencher; his meal is spoke for; and such guests as send to heaven before they come to an ordinance are most likely to have the best entertainment.  He that hears a sermon, and hath not prayed for the minister, and the success of his labours, sits down to his meat before he hath craved a blessing; he plays the thief to his own soul, while he robs the minister of the assistance his prayers might have brought him in from heaven.  Pinch the nurse, and you starve the child. The less the minister is prayed for, the less, it is to be feared, will the people profit by him.
  4. By praying for the minister you do not only render the word he preacheth more effectual to your­selves, but you also interest yourselves in the good his ministry does to others.  As there is a way of partak­ing in others’ sins, so in others’ holy services.  He that strengthens the hands of a sinner any way in his wicked practices, makes his sin his own, and shall partake with him in the wages due to the work when the day of reckoning comes.  So he that strengthens the minister’s hand in his holy work, whether by prayer, countenance, or relief of his necessities, becomes a partaker with him in his service, and shall not be left out in the reward, Matt. 10:40.  We read there of ‘a prophet’s reward’ given to private Chris­tians; they who communicate with the minister in his labour, by any subserviency to it, shall share in the reward.

The Christian in Complete Armour (433)

The Duty of every Christian in complete Armour to pray for Ministers of Christ.

‘And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds’ (Eph. 6:19, 20).

The apostle having laid out this duty of prayer in its full compass, taking all saints within its circum­ference, he comes now to apply the general rule, and claims a share in it himself—‘and for me.’  When he bids them pray ‘for all saints,’ he surely cannot be shut out of their prayers who is not the least in the number.  In the words there are four branches.  FIRST. Here is an exhortation, or Paul’s request for himself, and in him for all ministers of the gospel—‘and for me.’  SECOND. The matter of his request—‘that utterance may be given unto me.’  Not that he would confine and determine them in their prayers to this request alone; but he propounds it as a principal head to be insisted on by them on his behalf.  THIRD. The end why he desires this—‘that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.’  FOURTH. A double argument to back and enforce this request—‘for which I am an ambassador in bonds’—First. Taken from his office.  Second. From his present afflicted state.

‘And for me.’    Here is an exhortation, or Paul’s request for himself, and in him for all ministers of the gospel—‘and for me.’  First. We may note here that people are to be taught the duty they owe to their minister as well as to others.  Second. It is not only our duty to pray for others, but also to desire the prayers of others for ourselves.  Third. We may note that the ministers of the gospel are, in an especial manner, to be remembered in the saints’ prayers.

First.  We may note here that people are to be taught the duty they owe to their minister as well as to others; though indeed no duty is harder for the minister to press or for the people to hear—for him to preach with humility and wisdom, or for them to receive without prejudice.

Second. It is not only our duty to pray for others, but also to desire the prayers of others for our­selves If a Paul turns beggar, and desires the remem­brance of others for him, who then needs it not?  This hath been the constant practice of the saints.  Sometimes they call in the help of their brethren upon special occasions to pray with them.  Thus Daniel, ch. 2:18, when required to interpret the king’s dream, makes use of ‘Hananiah, Mishael,’ and ‘Azariah, his companions.’  ‘Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to these that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concern­ing this secret.’  Daniel would not give an answer to the king till he had got an answer from God.  To prayer therefore he goes.  No doubt he forgot not his errand in his closet when at his solitary devotions; but withal he calls in help to join in social prayer with him.  He sends for them to his house; where, it is probable, they prayed together, for the mutual quick­ening of their affections and strengthening of their petition by this their united force.  Wherefore, he ac­knowledgeth the mercy as an answer to their con­current prayers: ‘I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee,’ ver. 23.  This justifies the saints’ practice when, in any great strait of temp­tation or affliction, they get some other of the faithful to give a lift with them at this duty.  Sometimes we have them desiring their brethren’s prayers for them when they cannot conveniently have it with them. Our apostle in many of his epistles desires the saints to carry his name with them to the throne of grace, Rom. 15:30; II Cor. 1;10, 11; Col. 4:3; Php. 1:19.  And not without great reason, for,

First. God hath made it a debt which one saint owes to another to carry their names to a throne of grace.

Second.  Many are the gracious promises that are made to such prayers of the faithful one for another.  ‘If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them,’ I John 5:16.  But you will say, How can the prayer of one obtain the forgiveness for another? I answer, None is forgiven for the faith of another; this must be personal; but the believing fervent prayer of one is an excellent means to obtain the grace of repentance and faith for another, whereby he may come to be forgiven.  So, ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed,’ James 5:16.  Now, in not desiring our breth­ren’s help in this kind, we make no use of these promises—the proper end of which is to encourage us to call in the auxiliary aid of others—as if such pas­sages of Scripture might have been well spared for any need we have of them.  Should you see a piece of ground never sown nor fed, you might well say the ground is barren or the owner a bad husband; either the promise is empty and useless, or we that do not improve it are worse husbands for our souls.  But we cannot say so of the promise, if we consider the great fruit and advantage which the saints in all ages have reaped from it.  Did not Daniel get the knowledge of a great secret as a return of his companions’ prayers with him?  Did not Job’s friends escape a great judg­ment that hung over their heads at his intercession? What a miraculous deliverance had Peter at the prayers of a few saints gathered together on his be­half!  Bring not therefore an evil report upon this promise, seeing such sweet clusters as these are to be shown that have been gathered from it.

Third.  If we desire not others to carry our name to a throne of grace, we are guilty of quenching the Spirit of prayer; which may be done in ourselves and others also.

  1. By this we may quench it in ourselves.  Partly, because we neglect a duty.  We are bid to ‘confess our sins one to another,’ and for what end but to have the benefit of mutual prayers?  The same Spirit which stirs thee up to pray for thyself will excite thee in many cases to set others at prayer for thee; which, if thou dost not, thou overlayest his motions, and so committest a sin.  Again, thou quenchest the Spirit of prayer in thyself by depriving thyself of that assistance which thou mightest receive in thy own prayers through theirs; for the Spirit conveys his quickening grace to us in the use of instruments and means.  He that doth not hear the word preached quenches his Spirit, because God useth this as bellows to blow up and enkindle the saint’s grace.  So, he that desires not the prayers of others quencheth the Spirit of prayer in himself, because the exercise of their grace in prayer for thee may fetch down more grace to be poured in unto thee.
  2. Thou mayest be accessory to the quenching of the Spirit in others, because thou hinderest the acting of those graces in them which would have been drawn forth in prayer for thee hadst thou acquainted them with thy condition.  Fire is quenched by subtracting fuel as well as by throwing on water.  By opening thy wants or desires to thy brethren thou feedest Spirit of prayer in them, as they have new matter administered to work upon; by acquainting them with the merciful providences of God to thee, thou prickest a song of praise for them.  How many groans and sighs should God in prayer have had from thy neighbour-saints hadst thou not bit in thy temptations and afflictions from their knowledge!  What peals of joy and thank­fulness would they have rung hadst thou not con­cealed thy mercies from them!

Fourth.  We are to desire others to pray for us, to express the humble sense we have of our own weakness, and the need we have of others’ help. Humble souls are fearful of their own strength.  They that have little, desire partners with them in their trade; but when they conceit their own private stock to be sufficient, then they can trade by themselves. ‘Now are ye full, now are ye rich; ye have reigned as kings without us,’ saith Paul of the self-conceited Cor­inthians.  The time was you thought you had need of Paul’s preaching to you and praying for you, but now ye reign without us!  O how many are there, when time was, could beg prayers of every Christian they met! Nothing but wants and complaints could be heard from them, which made them beg help from all they knew to pray their corruptions down and their graces up.  But now they have left the beggar’s trade, and reign in an imaginary kingdom of their self-conceited sufficiency.  Certainly, as it shows want of charity not to pray for others, so no want of pride not to desire prayers from others.

Fifth.  We are to desire others to pray for us, that we may prevent Satan’s designs against us.  He knows very well what an advantage he hath upon the Christian when severed from his company; wherefore he labours to hinder the addition of the prayers of brethren that would help him.

Sixth. The love we owe to our brethren requires that we should desire others to pray for us.  Desiring their prayers carries a threefold expression of love to them.

  1. By this we acknowledge the grace of God in our brethren, or else it is supposed we would not em­ploy them in such a work.  He that desires a friend to present a petition to the king on his behalf, shows he believes him to be in favour, and one that hath some interest in the prince.  Now, what more honourable testimony can we give to another than to own him as a child of God, one whose prayers are welcome to heaven?  We are bid to ‘prefer every one his brother in honour.’  Now no one way can we do this more than by making use of their help at the throne of grace to be our remembrancers to the Lord.
  2. By this we do our utmost to interest our brethren in the mercy we desire them to pray for.
  3. By this we confirm them in a confidence of our readiness to pray for them.  What consists good neighbourhood in but a readiness to reciprocate kind­nesses one to another?—when that is at the service of one neighbour which is in the house of another?  Now, who will be bold or free with his neighbour to take a kindness from him that is not willing to receive the like?  Be ye strange to your friend, and you teach him to be so to yourself.  Nothing endears Christians more in love than an open heart one to another.