The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 1 - INTRODUCTORY

CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY.

"God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Hun should not perish, but have everlasting life."-JOHN iii:16.
Just as an infant's hand "can grasp the acorn which holds the giant oak" within it, so the youngest child who can lisp "the Nicodemus sermon" may with truth be said to know the gospel, and yet in every word of it there is a depth and mystery of meaning which God alone can fathom. Tell me what it means to perish, and enable me to grasp the thought of a life that is eternal. Measure for me the abyss of man's wickedness and guilt during all the ages of his black and hateful history, that I may realise in some degree what that world is which God has loved; and then, pausing for a moment in wonder at the thought that such a world could be loved at all, hasten on to speak of love that gave the Son. And when you have enabled me to know this love, which cannot be known, for it passes knowledge, press on still and tell me of the sacrifice by which it has measured and proved itself - His Son, His Only-begotten Son. Make me to know, in the fulness of knowledge, Him who declared that 'the Father alone could know Him.' And when you have achieved all this, I turn again to the words of Christ, and I read that it was GOD who so loved the world, and I crave to know Who and What God is. I can rise to the thought of love, perhaps even to an evil world, and the conception of love giving up an only son is not beyond me; but when I come to know that it was GOD who loved, that GOD was the giver, and God's Son the gift, I stand as a wondering worshipper in the presence of the Infinite, and confess that such knowledge is too high for me.
At the very threshold, therefore, I charge my reader to think becomingly of the gospel, remembering that it is the gospel of God. And His gospel is like Himself. The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, and yet He owns the humble heart as a fitting borne. So also, in its simplicity and plainness, the good news is within the reach of the youngest and most ignorant, aye, and even of the lowest and the worst, for such may hear and believe and live; but in its depth and fulness it is known to God alone, for it is a revelation of Himself. Hence it is that the old song of the redeemed on earth will be a new song throughout eternity; for every advance we make in the knowledge of God will shed new light on the message we received in our.sins and sorrows here.
But not only has the gospel a depth and dignity and glory all its own because it is in a special sense a revelation of God, it has also a distinctive greatness and solemnity by virtue of its peculiar mission, and of the issues involved in the proclamation of it. It is divinely called "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." The power of God! no words can add force to this, and words that detract from it are impious. The mighty power which made the worlds and alone can raise the dead, such is its power to the sinner who believes. Let the preacher remember this; and while he humbly consecrates to God every talent he possesses, let him never attempt by unworthy means to add attractiveness to such a message.
And what solemn issues are depending while it is being proclaimed! For the preaching of the gospel must ever tend to life, or else to death, in those who hear. How terrible then to be guilty of levity in such a ministry In the iron days of Rome, public triumphs were sometimes accorded to victorious generals in acknowledgment of brilliant services. Clad in gold and purple, his feet bedecked with pearls, and a golden crown upon his brow, the victor entered the city of the Empire in a chariot of ivory and gold. Triumphal music mingled with the rapturous shouts that greeted him, and the air was filled with the sweet perfume of flowers and spices scattered on his path. Waggons passed on before, filled with the spoils and trophies of his victories. The senate and the priesthood attended in his honour. In front of his chariot the doomed captives marched in chains, while behind him followed the company of those who had been set at liberty or ransomed. All Rome kept holiday, and joined with one accord to swell the triumph of the conqueror.
It is to such a scene that St. Paul alludes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians when speaking of the gospel; for its ministry, whatever the results in those who hear, is Christ's triumph none the less. "Thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savour of His knowledge in every place."' We are a savour of life to the ransomed throng, and of death to the doomed and fettered captives. But whether our ministry swell the glad company of the redeemed, or add to the condemnation of those that perish, we are none the less, in the one as in the other, a sweet savour of Christ unto God.
Can any amount of education or of training make men "sufficient" for such a ministry as this?
Who," the apostle demands, "is sufficient for these things?" And the answer is not doubtful, "Our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant." And how? The halo that encircled Moses' face at Sinai betokened the glory of his ministry. But that ministry, glorious though it was, had no glory in comparison with the ministry now entrusted to men. What then shall we expect in him whom God has made "sufficient" as a minister of the new covenant? We turn to behold a poor creature, troubled on every side, perplexed and persecuted and cast down, in bodily presence weak, in speech contemptible, held in repute as so much filth and scum, and in him we find the man whom God deemed fit for a ministry so glorious and so great. And the secret of his fitness was in this, that the knowledge of the glory of God lit up his heart, and was reflected back with a heavenlier light than that which dazzled Israel's gaze.
In Ex. 34: 33, the A.V. suggests a false meaning, by inserting till, instead of when. Moses spoke to the people with unveiled face, but when he ceased speaking he put on a veil that they might not see the glory fading; they were not to know that the glory of the old covenant was transitory.
Such was the great apostle, and such his fitness. And can any one suppose that mental training and moral culture can avail if this "sufficiency" be wanting; or that if men lack both culture and training they are in a better case! But this was not all. With natural advantages that were entirely exceptional, and in spiritual attainments unsurpassed, pre-eminent among ministers of Christ in his labours and sufferings, and as to his office "not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles," for, in proof of his apostleship, he could appeal not only to his unexampled life, but to "signs and wonders and mighty deeds" which he had wrought; yet., when "in the foolish confidence of boasting" he ransacked his history for a crowning proof of his sufficiency" as a minister of Christ, he turned away from all these things to tell how, crushed doubtless, and sick at heart, he was once bundled out of Damascus in a basket to escape the Roman garrison that held the city to apprehend him. Or if he goes on to tell of being caught up to the highest heaven, and of hearing there unspeakable words impossible for man to utter, he may glory indeed in such a Paul, for this was for him a brief foretaste of the day when the redeemed shall bear the image of the heavenly. But if he must boast of the servant and apostle here, he will point to the Damascus flight and the "thorn in the flesh," "Satan's messenger to buffet him."
Would that every one who claims to preach the gospel, whether arrayed in silk and lawn, or clad in corduroy and frieze, would ponder this paradox of the ministry of Paul. Let us picture to ourselves this mighty apostle, this greater and more glorious than Moses, smuggled out through a window in a buck-basket! and then let us search out the meaning of this mystery, that he appeals to this his shame as the crowning boast of his whole life's labours. The answer in words is not far to seek, but which of us has grasped its meaning? "Most gladly will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's, sake ; for when I am weak, then am I strong."' What God wants in those whom He will put in trust with the gospel, is not that they shall be polished and educated gentlemen, much less that they shall be coarse and ignorant boors; not that they shall be skilled in dogmatic theology, much less that they shall be unlearned in doctrine; not that they shall be brilliant and eloquent, much less that they shall be ungifted and dull. All He seeks is a fitting instrument upon whom the power of Christ can rest, an empty earthen vessel that He can fill with His priceless treasure. The man, whoever he may be, whether on the highest round of the social ladder, or the lowest, who can say with Paul,
"Most gladly will I glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me,"
and say it with unfeigned lips, and from a heart that has been taught it in the school of God, has gained the secret of this competency for the ministry of reconciliation.
Apart from this fitness, the highest and the greatest are but "clouds without water," while with it the lowest and the least may become "competent ministers of the new covenant."
'The ministry of the Gospel is the special subject of these pages but the same fitness is essential to the ministry of the Church. The Apostle Paul was called to the double ministry (" The gospel . . whereof I Paul am made a minister; . . . the church, whereof I am made a minister,"- Col. I. 23-25). Both these ministries are, no doubt, included in the title, "ministers of God" (2 Cor. vi. 4), or "ministers of Christ "(2 Car. xi. 23).
The ministers are specially named, along with the elders or bishops, in the address of the Epistle to the Philippians (Phil. i. i); and the characteristics which were to be sought for in any who claimed that position are specified in i Tim. iii. 2-.13. The word minister is derived from the Latin; deacon from the Greek. Etymologically, and in their origin, the words are synonyms. But deacon has in English acquired a meaning of its own; and its retention in the Revised Version is a flagrant violation of the avowed principles on which the revision was conducted. It is hard to believe, moreover, that it was not committed intentionally, to perpetuate the popular error of supposing that the deacon was a subordinate office-bearer in the Church. That it is an error is sufficiently clear from the fact that the Apostle Paul so describes himself seven times.
The word diakonos occurs thirty times in the New Testament. In the Gospels it is used eight times, where It means a servant in the ordinary sense, save only in John xii. 26. The other places where it is used are the following passages in the Epistles of Paul Rom. xlii. ~ XV. 8; xvi. i; iCor. iii. 5; 2COr. iii. 6; vi. 4; Xi. 15, 23; Gal. ii, i~ Eph. iii. 7 ; vi. 2! ; Phil. 1. 1 ; Cal. i. 7, 23, 25; iv.7; x Thess. iii. 2; i Tim. iii. 8,12; and iv. 6, where Timothy is called a "deacon." The word is never applied to Stephen and his fellows (Acts vi.), with whom it is popularly associated. Diakonia is used in Acts vi. i (ministration), and also in ver. 4 (ministry). It occurs thirty-four times in the New Testa-ment; once in its ordinary acceptation of "serving" (Luke x. 40), and generally as equivalent to "ministry ' (e.g. 2 Tim. iv. 5, ii).