RPM, Volume 13, Number 7, February 13 to February 19, 2011

The Ministry of the Gospel

By Joseph Philpot

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The FOUNDATION of the gospel ministry
  • The NATURE and CHARACTER of the gospel ministry
  • The ENDS for which the gospel ministry was established
  • The CALL and QUALIFICATIONS for the gospel ministry
  • The promised BLESSINGS which accompany of the gospel ministry
  • The TRIALS, EXERCISES, COMFORTS and ENCOURAGEMENTS of the gospel ministry

The promised BLESSINGS which accompany of the gospel ministry

These, as we have before observed, are much included in the ends for which the ministry was instituted, and to the examination of which we have already devoted so large a space. Still, as they are so rich individually, and so abundant collectively, we shall so far give a little further consideration to them as may enable us to examine, in the light of Scripture and experience, a few of the most signal and prominent.

But before we do this, we may remark that three points call for our special attention as connected with this part of our subject.

  • 1. The Foundation on which all the promised blessings rest.
  • 2. The Fountain out of which they all flow.
  • 3. The Nature of the blessings themselves, as brought with a divine power into the heart.

1. The FOUNDATION on which all the promised blessings rest. The Foundation of the blessings communicated by the ministry of the gospel, as well, indeed, as of every other, is the good pleasure of God, who works all things after the counsel of his own will, that they might be to the praise of the glory of his grace. (Eph. 1:6, 9, 11.) This is an immutable and immovable foundation; and it would be well for us who are engaged in the ministry not only to be well instructed and fully established in the persuasion of the firmness of this basis, but from time to time to refresh our souls and gather up new strength for the work by fixing our eyes and hearts more frequently and believingly on its stability and breadth. When we can see and feel that our gospel, not only in its contents, tenor, and spirit is in harmony with the word of truth, but that in preaching it we are doing the will of God from the heart, it is surprising what a source of strength is thence opened to carry us on amid all our trials and discouragements from without and within. Paul could say of himself and his brethren in the ministry, "We are laborers together with God." How encouraging it is to believe that God himself is with us in the work; and, while to realize this solemn truth may well make us tremble at our own deficiencies, yet, at the same time, what singleness of eye, and what strength of heart it is calculated to communicate in giving us some inward persuasion that God and we are working together by the same means and to the same end. And yet though so highly honored as to be laborers together with God, yet is the work wholly his. It was this conviction which made the Apostle add, "You are God's husbandry; you are God's building." (1 Cor. 3:9.)

The labors, cares, and trials of the ministry are so great that the true servants of God need all the strength, help, and encouragement which they can obtain; and what can afford them more than to believe that they are doing the will of God, and thus instrumentally laboring with him in preaching his word? This will deliver them from many fears, and, above all, from the fear of man, which brings a snare. This will afford a quiet resting place for their weary souls, and often weary bodies, when on lying down at night they have the testimony of a good conscience that, according to the ability which God has given them, they have preached his word in faithfulness and affection. There is no truth more certain or more practical, both in individual and ministerial experience, than that to fall back upon ourselves is to fall back on weakness, and to fall back upon the Lord is to fall back on strength. The work of the ministry demands also much patience and quiet endurance. As laborers, we are to be like "the husbandman who waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rain." (James 5:7.) How much of the fruit of our labors is hidden from us—wisely hidden, lest we should be puffed up with pride. How continual the labor, how vexing the opposition, how scanty the crop, how slow its growth. What need, then, we have of patience, that is, endurance, as the word literally means, that after we have done the will of God we may receive the promise.

2. The FOUNTAIN on which all the promised blessings rest. Nor is the Fountain less full than the Foundation is sure. What a treasury of grace there is in the Lord Jesus Christ! What an ample supply for all our need. The testimony of the Holy Spirit is that "God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 1:3.) Every blessing, therefore, which the gospel contains, holds forth, and communicates we are already blessed with in him. All are lodged in his glorious Person, as he sits enthroned on high at the right hand of the Father. When, therefore, he sends any blessings down through the gospel, it is but the communication of them out of his all-glorious, his ever-flowing, overflowing fullness. How full, then, the Fountain, and how precious should be the gospel, which is the appointed means of communicating these blessings to the poor and needy family of God.

3. The NATURE of the blessings themselves. Must these not be equal to so firm a Foundation and so overflowing a Fountain?

1. The first all will agree in pronouncing to be effectual calling. How clearly and how gloriously was this manifested on that memorable day when the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost called three thousand under one sermon! How active, living, and powerful was the word of God that day, when sharper than any two-edged sword, it pierced so many hearts and consciences as with one simultaneous stroke. It was as if the gracious Lord would not only manifest his risen power by sending down such a shower of blessings, but would thereby give a first-fruits as a sample of the harvest which was to be reaped by his laboring servants. Peter, therefore, said, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." (Acts 2:39.)

Though the Lord, therefore, does not confine himself to means, and can and does call some by his grace without the preached gospel, by applying his word privately to their heart, yet both Scripture and experience agree in testifying that the public ministry of the gospel is the more usual way. Thus the commission given to Paul was—"But rise, and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto you; delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send you, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in me." (Acts 26:16-18.) How he executed that commission, and the blessing with which the Lord attended it, we well know from the Acts of the Apostles, and the epistles which he addressed to the churches.

When the Lord sent forth his disciples just before his ascension to teach or make disciples among all nations, (margin,) baptizing them when thus made in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he most graciously added, "And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Here, then, is at once our commission to go forth, and the blessing attached to it. We are to go forth, as Paul did, "testifying repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ." And if we go forth in his Spirit, determined not to know anything among men, but Jesus Christ and him crucified, we shall find, each according to the blessing given to his labors, that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom, knows not God, yet it pleases him, by the foolishness of our preaching, (as men esteem it,) to save them that believe.

2. The next blessing admits of as little doubt or controversy as the first. It is the deliverance proclaimed by the gospel, and revealed and sealed by it on the hearts of the family of God.

What was the commission of the Lord himself when, as the anointed prophet of God, he preached the gospel? "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord's favor has come, and with it, the day of God's anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the Lord has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory." (Isa. 61:1-3.) The "good news," or the gospel, which he preached were to the poor—those whose hearts were meekened and softened, and thus made poor in spirit. (Matt. 5:3; Luke 4:18.) The brokenhearted, the captives, the bound, the mourners in Zion, sitting in ashes and bowed down with the spirit of heaviness—these were the characters to whom the Lord himself proclaimed liberty, and to whom he himself, through his own word, as made spirit and life to their souls, gave beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning. This, then, is our message, and this the blessing promised to attend it. Our word is not only to be a quickening, calling, regenerating, piercing, wounding word, whereby the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and live; but a delivering, healing, comforting word to those of the family of God whose hearts are broken by the law, bruised by the guilt and weight of sin, shut up in heaviness and bondage through unbelief, doubt, and fear, harassed by temptations, plagued by Satan and the dreadful evils of a heart laid bare by the two-edged sword of the word, and naked and bleeding before a just, righteous, and holy God. These are the poor to whom the gospel is preached, the flock of slaughter that wait upon the prophets, and know that it is the word of the Lord when it drops from their mouth with a divine liberating power into their hearts. (Luke 6:22; Zech. 11:7-11.) This is the sweetest part of the ministry of the gospel, and one of the surest testimonies of a minister's being sent of God. (We remember hearing our dear friend the late Mr. Warburton say in conversation that he believed men might be awakened under ministers of the letter, but that none were blessed and delivered except under God's own sent servants.)

To be the honored instrument of bringing pardon and peace to a poor burdened, distressed soul, to pour oil and wine into a bleeding conscience, to dispel the doubts and fears which gather so thickly over a heart troubled by sin, and thus be a means of setting at happy liberty some dear child of God—what a sweet consolation and blessed, encouragement is this to a servant of Christ, and what a confirmation to him that the Lord is with him in the work! What union, too, what love and affection it creates in the hearer thus favored and blessed to the servant of God through whom so great and often unexpected a blessing has come; and with what firmness he can testify that it was the word of the Lord, for nothing short of that could have loosed his bonds, as well as that he through whom it came is a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in his mouth is truth. (1 Kings 17:24.)

3. And now what shall we say is a third blessing? What but the gracious renewals and revivals of the Lord's presence and power which KEEPS ALIVE his work upon the soul? There are few of the Lord's living family who have not to learn feelingly and experimentally what havoc sin has wrought in them, and what a thorough wreck and ruin they are through the Adam fall and their own personal transgressions. They thus learn that as no man can give spiritual life, so no man can keep alive his own soul. When, then, they are not favored with the Lord's presence and power, they sink into carnality and death. The fear of the Lord still abides in their soul, and is still a fountain of life that they do not depart from him; but the more active graces of the Spirit, as faith, hope, and love, seem dormant or torpid, and, being cold and feeble in their operations, take little out and bring little in. From this coldness and deadness of spirit, as sensibly and painfully experienced by them, spring bondage, doubt, fear, misgivings, and exercises, as to the reality of the work of grace in their hearts.

"If I am the Lord's, if he has communicated divine life to my soul, if he has manifested himself to me and blessed me—why am I thus?" asks the tried child of God. Now, if help be delayed long, he begins to fret and fume, complain and rebel—especially if he see others favored and himself passed by. But this spirit of rebellion causes the Lord still more to hide his face, and this makes the load heavier, and the case seemingly more dark and desperate. Having lost his best Friend in the sensible light of his countenance and the power of his presence, sin begins to work with renewed strength; Satan, always on the watch to tempt or to accuse, allure or terrify, comes in with his baits or his charges, and under one or the other, the poor wandering sheep often falls.

Now how suitable for a case like this is an experimental ministry—the ministry of a man well taught and exercised in his own soul, who can trace out the path from—himself having walked in it; and how often the Lord is pleased to bless to those who thus sit in darkness and the shadow of death, his precious gospel in the mouth of a servant of his, who can thus speak a word in season to him that is weary. Burdened souls come up to the house of prayer, scarcely able to look up under the weight of their trials and temptations, scarcely daring to hope there can be anything for them, fearing rather that all they shall hear shall be to their condemnation.

Now, what can the general ministry of the day do for such poor tried tempted souls, of whom there are many among the living family of God? Can a free-will ministry do anything for them—or a dry doctrinal one—or a light, trifling, jesting one—or a mere superficial one, just skimming over the surface of truth in the letter, but never diving into the experience of its power? All such ministries weary and disgust them, and are felt to be lighter than vanity. But let a gracious, experienced man of God speak out of a feeling, believing, exercised heart, what life and power often attend his word. And how sometimes the Lord will be pleased to speak a word to their hearts, through his servant, which breaks their bonds asunder, and brings them up out of all their fears, once more to bless and praise his holy name.

What a blessing to the living family of God is a gracious, faithful, and experimental ministry, and yet how scarce! How few seem able to take up the stumbling-blocks that lie in the way, to trace out the work of grace in the soul, especially in its wilderness and more advanced stages, and to bring forward strong meat for men, as well as milk for babes. How few seem to feel for and sympathize with that portion of the family of God who know the plague of the heart, the trials and temptations of the wilderness, the thorough helplessness and inability of the creature; and that none but the Lord himself, in the manifestations of his grace, can do them any good. "Feed my sheep; feed my lambs," was the Lord's injunction to Peter; and thus he bids his servants now feed all the flock, both the tender lambs—and the stronger and sturdier sheep.

4. As the servant of Christ is a minister of the word, he will, as the Lord gives him ability, bring out of the word all that is needful for the GUIDANCE of a flock committed to his charge. This, therefore, we may mention as a fourth blessing of the ministry of the gospel. A shepherd has to go before, not behind his flock, to lead and guide them; not to be led and guided by them. But how can he do this unless he himself be taught and led by the Spirit and be well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven? The Holy Spirit makes him an overseer over the flock to feed, or, as the word literally means, to shepherd the Church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28.)

To do this well and properly, sometimes instruction will be needed. There is not a case or state, character or condition for which there is not some provision of this kind in the word of truth. How often is instruction needed, not only in the literal, but especially in the spiritual and experimental meaning of the Scriptures; and as the servant of God is enabled to open up this spiritual and experimental meaning, it will often cast a sweet and blessed light on the path in which his children are walking. Sometimes this word of instruction will discover to them secret snares, in which they have become unwarily entangled—or lay bare a temptation, on the edge of which they now find they are walking. Sometimes it will clear up a knotty and intricate path in providence, or throw light on some Scripture that meets their case. Sometimes, it will show them how they should act in a season of perplexity; sometimes it will strengthen their will to do what is right, and give power to make sacrifices, renounce bosom idols, and confirm a weak and wavering resolution to walk in the path of which God and conscience approve.

Sometimes the ministry of the word will sharply cut and keenly reprove, and will so lay bare the secrets of the heart, that the poor child of God will feel scarcely able to look up before God and man. The word thus handled is, indeed, "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," and lays it naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12, 13.) It is a great mistake to think that the ministry of the gospel is only to give comfort. There are states of soul, as there are states of body, when cordials would be poison. "Comfort us, comfort us, whatever be our state and case;" cry some to their ministers. "However worldly, carnal, covetous, and careless we have been through the week; however up to our neck in business; and with nothing in our heart, mouth, or hands to distinguish us from all around us, we expect the minister to preach comfort to us on the Lord's day. This is what we pay him to do, and we expect him therefore to preach to us our full security in Christ, and to assure us that all will be well with our souls, whatever we may think, say, or do."

These we may call religious dram-drinkers, who look for their Sunday drink—their drop of comfort before they go out of the chapel, as regularly as the man who steps into a gin-palace for his morning glass. Keen cutting reproofs, sharp rebukes, stern denunciations of all ungodliness, and no quarter given to sin, carnality, and worldliness, in any shape or form—such men have no relish for. "It is legal, it is legal," they cry, "to insist so much on the precept, and to cut so continually at all disobedience and inconsistency. We want to have Christ gloriously exalted—and to hear of nothing but covenant engagements, fixed decrees, the certainty of salvation to the elect—and that come what will we are safe for eternity." But we will not dwell further on these points, or show how such men would willingly make even what they call a glorious Christ—a minister of sin, and under great swelling words hide their shame. We will only say, better were it for a man to break stones on the road—than stand up in a pulpit to deceive souls and be unfaithful alike to God and man. The more solemn the office, the greater the responsibility; the higher the post, the deeper the fall. Enough, then, enough of this. Time and space both admonish us that we should hasten to our fifth and last point.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

Subscribe to RPM

RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.