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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
An extract from Professor Hillter's Sermon
From The Baptist Preacher, June, 1847
The minister's work is, however, infinitely more valuable than even the preceding facts would indicate. For there is a hereafter—death is not an eternal sleep; and the range of this great work reaches far beyond the confines of time.
Let us then consider its value, in view of this important truth. The object which the preacher labors to accomplish is the salvation of the soul. No other profession aims so high. The most precious thing which God has created on this earth is the human soul. Though marred and defaced, it still wears the likeness of its author. Its wonderful powers invest it with greatness, and its indestructible nature insures its immortality. Its capacities for happiness and misery, and its exposure to an infinite ruin make it an object of intense interest. All the worlds in the universe are as the small dust of the balance, compared with one immortal soul. They shall perish, but it shall endure; they shall wax old, and as a vesture shall they be changed, but, like its author, its years shall have no end. Yet it is lost.
I cannot pause to tell you how or why. Suffice it to say, that it wanders estranged from God, covered with guilt and shame, with the curse of a holy law resting upon it. In this condition, it is doomed to suffer the penalties of that world, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Yes, remaining unchanged, the soul must go down, with all its noble faculties, into that lake of fire which is the second death, where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and whence the smoke of its torment shall ascend up forever and ever.
The great God could not look on unmoved, and see it consummate its awful destiny. His compassion went out towards the creature of his hands. The soul, which he had formed in the beauty of his own image, he loved too well, to cast of forever from his presence. Therefore, the scheme of redemption was devised to save it. I need not detain you to unfold its principles, for you, my brethren, already know them. It will be sufficient to remind you, that while this scheme embraces the paramount agency of God, in the revelation of his word, in the gift of his Son, and in the operations of his Holy Spirit, it also includes, by his own arrangement, the employment of human instrumentality.
For, by the foolishness of preaching he is pleased to save them that believe. This is his most usual and successful mode of gathering his elect. Preaching is the lamp of gospel light that throws along the dark pathway of the sinner its life-giving beams—revealing to his knowledge, on the one hand, "the terrors of the Lord," and on the other, "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." But preaching is the minister's appropriate work, and to save the soul is his high and holy purpose.
It is not too much to say that this noble object is ever before him. When he reads the word of God, it is there to stimulate his researches; when he seeks his closet, it is there to burden his heart, and to bedew his cheeks; and when he ascends the sacred desk, behold it is here, to remind him of the terms of his commission, and to impress him with the solemnities of the coming judgment. Now, shall the minister who is thus engaged, be compelled to come away from his great work to seek for bread? Shall his spirit be forced back from its hold on the soul's salvation, by the wants of nature and the cares of life?
But let me press this subject a little nearer home. You, my hearers, have a deeper interest in the preacher's work, perhaps, than has yet occurred to you. Are your sins forgiven? Have you been washed in the fountain opened in the house of David for sin and uncleanness? And have you, therefore, a pleasant and sweet hope of heaven? If so, for all these you are indebted, under God, to a preached gospel.
You may tell me, perhaps, that you are an exception—that you received your serious impressions from another instrumentality. Allow me to ask, what other? Was it a tract, or pious book? Was it a prayer meeting or Sabbath school? Was it the family altar, or a parent's counsel? Or was it yet some other means of grace? I answer, no matter what may have been the particular thing to which your impressions may be ascribed; you are still indebted for them to a preached gospel.
It is true, there are other and very useful instrumentalities, but they are all subordinate to that one ordained of God. The minister's work is the source of all the rest. Nay, all others receive from it the vital energy that renders them efficient. Let this be removed, and the religious press would stand still; the colporteur would abandon his employment; the Sabbath school would close its doors; the prayer meeting would be forsaken; and even the sacred flame upon the family altar would by and by expire.
The minister's work is the centre around which these revolve; should it be extinguished, they would be rapt in darkness. Whatever, then, may have been the immediate cause of one's attention to his spiritual interests, let him not overlook his dependence upon the public ministrations of the word. The wayfarer may see, and avoid the serpent in his path by the light of the moon, but this he could not do, if the sun were not to shine.
Hence, if you are able to live in hope, to die without fear, and to commit your body to the dust in the expectation of a glorious resurrection, it is because he has thrown about you the influences of a preached gospel. In this view of the case, how will you value the privileges you have enjoyed? Can you make an adequate return to the good man by whose labors you have been so highly blessed? I put it to your conscience, do you owe him nothing? And looking away from the particular instrument of your conversion, do you owe nothing to that system of means, by which you have been made the recipient of such abundant mercies?
Should not the believer exclaim, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?" Thus we may see, that the minister's work, by the grace of God, has conferred upon each one of us a personal good of infinite value; and yet this is not all we are more than personally concerned in this interesting work. The Christian is not content to be saved alone. The relations of life originate the most tender associations, and the most endearing ties, that wind themselves about his hear', and awaken the deepest sympathies of his soul.
Such is true, for instance, of the pious parent. How intense is that anxiety which he feels for the salvation of his children? How fervent, bow deep is the prayer that he offers unto God on their behalf? Perhaps an ungodly son is, like the prodigal, wasting his substance in riotous living, and running through the various stages of excess to ruin. Perhaps a thoughtless daughter, spell-bound by the seductive charms of the world, may be intent only upon its attractive pleasures, wholly forgetful of her soul and of her God. Let such a parent remember that his "door of hope" for these dear children of his love is to be found within the compass of the preached gospel. This is the means that God most usually employs to answer the prayers of his people.
Hence the practical effect which preaching exerts upon the eternal destiny of those whom we love, invests the minister's work with additional value. All the dear objects of our affections, however near to us by the ties of nature, must be separated from us forever, unless they can be united to us in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. It is to promote this union that the preacher labors. Suppose that he succeeds. Make the case your own, my brethren, suppose that he does restore to your arms as alive from the dead that beloved child for whom you have so long prayed.
Can that soul be valued in dollars and cents? How will the paltry price, paid for the minister's services, compare with the benefit received? Would you not have given your entire fortune to insure the salvation of your child? How then shall we estimate the value of that work, the end, and aim, and effect of which is to save the soul; and how shall we compensate the laborer who is the instrument of conferring upon mankind such unmeasured blessings for time and for eternity? Compensation full and equal you cannot render. It would bankrupt Christendom to attempt to return an equivalent for a single soul.