The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

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“The office of the Christian ministry”

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NPG D4124; John Collett Ryland published by Carington Bowles, after  John RussellIn 1781, John Collett Ryland (father of John Ryland Jr.) republished a book by Cotton Mather called Manuductio ad Ministerium: Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry. Mather originally published the work in 1726. Ryland came across it in Bristol in the mid-1740s, and esteemed it highly ever since. Ryland provided a foreword for his new edition, which is reproduced below. Mather’s work is instructive; Ryland’s foreword is thrilling. In it, he emphasises both the privilege of the work, and the work involved in the privilege.

To the gentlemen and other several Christians, in London and the country, who have the cause of Christ, and the honour of the Christian ministry at heart.

The office of the Christian ministry, rightly understood, is the most honourable and important, that any man in the whole world can ever sustain; and it will be one of the wonders and employments of eternity, to consider the reasons, why the wisdom and goodness of God assigned this office to imperfect and guilty man!

It is an office and character that are deeply interested in the highest concerns of God’s perfections and glory. It is an employment that obliges a man to the closest attention, to find out the true mind of God in the holy scriptures. It is a work in which we are called, to instruct the minds of men in the noblest knowledge, and teach them to adore and love God. The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher, are, to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colours, and proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices, and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men into a state of everlasting friendship with him.

It is an office and work, the grand design of which is to turn the sons and daughters of Adam, from darkness to light, from guilt to pardon, from corruption to holiness, and from ruin to eternal happiness. It is an employment that, when finished with wisdom and faithfulness, will be crowned with higher honours than were ever bestowed on the best kings, the most renowned heroes, the most celebrated philosophers.

It is a work which an angel might wish for, as an honour to his character; yea, an office which every angel in heaven might covet to be employed in for a thousand years to come.

It is such an honourable, important, and useful office, that if a man be put into it by God, and made faithful and successful through life, he may look down with disdain upon a crown, and shed a tear of pity on the brightest monarch on earth.

It is a work, that, when a man is called to it by the providence of God, should be entered upon with fear and trembling. It should be approached with a mixture of terror and joy, of awful reverence, and holy pleasure. No man should dare to rush into it, uncalled by God, or unqualified by the gifts and graces of the holy Spirit.

There are requisite to this office, an enlightened mind, a renewed heart, very tender affections; a fervent love to the souls of men; a fixed attention to, and delight in, the holy scriptures, and a peculiar love to Christ; an ability to speak in proper instructive words; a firmness of mind, to resist all opposition; and the utmost care to preserve a good moral character in the church and the world.

To all the above qualifications, it is necessary and of great importance, that young men, before they enter upon the full work of it, should have a very considerable length of time to be separated from all the business and cares of the world, and in a great measure from the conversation and company of most christians too; in order to acquire a habit of thinking closely; to exercise themselves in contemplation and prayer; to converse much with God, and their own hearts; to study the sacred scriptures in the original languages, with the utmost diligence and attention; and, especially, to improve by them in a way of devotional exercise.

For want of this useful and necessary preparation, many young men, of promising gifts, have been pushed too soon into public and stated work; and what has been the consequence? The churches know the consequence; but the young persons themselves have most severely felt the fruits of these hasty proceedings; they have to their cost and pungent sorrow, felt the loss to the end of life.

On the other hand, there may be an extreme likewise; not in the length of time allotted for their preparatory studies, but in the misapplication of that time; or wasting too much of it in studies, that have no tendency to form a solid and judicious minister of the gospel.

Certainly every thing should be made subservient to divinity; and the best hours of every day, from the first moment to the last, should be employed in gaining, by close attention and prayer, a masterly knowledge of all the great doctrines of the gospel, and the richest methods of improving them in a practical and devotional manner. And if this be done to purpose; be assured, sirs, there will be no time for trifling, in the space of four, five, or six years. This is the highest work, and the noblest employment of a young student; and if he has the strong, the capacious mind of an Owen, a Charnock, or a Witsius, he will find full work for it, not only in the course of his studies, but all the days of his life.

The scarcity of serious and evangelical ministers of every denomination, has been long complained of. If the Lord should remove a few of our aged and useful fathers, their loss will be most severely felt. The places of good and useful servants of God, are not soon filled up; an able minister of the New Testament, is not formed in a day or a year; no, not in seven or ten years: happy is that young man, who arrives to any degree of maturity, and strength of mind, in the compass of twenty years! I am sure it is worth twenty years study to be able to state clearly, and defend and improve practically, the truths of our holy religion. I dare affirm, that I have the concurring sentiments of all those, who are best able to judge in this matter.

If these things are true, then how careful and zealous ought we to be, to encourage and assist young men in our churches, who appear to be endued, not only with grace, but gifts for the ministry; or shall we sit still and say, “The Lord Jesus will provide, (by a miracle,) for all the wants of his people and churches, and there is no need to use any means at all?” But, my friends, does he do so in providence for your bodies and families? Did he give you all your wealth, and trade, and spacious houses, by a miracle?

Does he act thus in his dispensations of grace, in order to your growth in knowledge, and holiness, and the comforts of religion? Are you not obliged to use diligently all the means of grace, and constantly too, in order to have the comforts of grace?

Now ought serious christians to use time and pains to grow in knowledge and grace; and have not ministers, who are to preach the great truths of God every week to many thousands of immortal souls; have they not need of all profitable assistance from heaven and earth? And can we have the heart to refuse them any encouragement in our power, especially in their preparations for this glorious work? No; my honoured friends, and gentlemen, let us no longer lie in a state of indifference and disunion; but let us all, to a man, join our hearts, our purses, and our prayers, in this dearest and best of all causes; and, instead of starting frivolous objections, to diminish or Coll the generous dispositions of any, let us rather fan the fire into a brighter flame, and love those persons best, who are the most able and ready to promote so good a work!

And now, my dear and honoured friends, are these things so? Is the design of the christian ministry the greatest and noblest that God ever decreed, to put into the heart of man? Is it the end of the christian preacher’s office, to bring millions of immortal souls out of the ruins of the fall, into the riches of eternity; to recover souls from sin to holiness, from rebellion to obedience; from filthiness to purity; from the most horrid deformity, to the perfection of beauty; from guiltiness, to full justification by a divine and infinite righteousness; from misery to happiness; from the curse of God, to eternal blessings; from the deepest disgrace, to the highest honour; from extreme poverty, to unbounded riches; from slavery to the devil, to liberty in Christ; from the spirit and temper of a wicked world, to the spirit and dignity of the sons of God; from the ravages of moral death, to the pleasures of eternal life; from the darkness of hell, to the light of heaven; from violent enmity, to the most intense love of God; from the attachment of the passions to lust, to the full flow of affections to Christ, as the supreme beauty and good; from bearing the image of the great apostate spirit, to resemble God in a brighter manner than the angels in heaven?

Are these the sublime ends of the christian ministry? And is this to the continual and noble work of every true christian preacher?

Then, my dear friends, what encouragements should you give toward the regular education of pious and sensible young men, for his noble and divine office!

Permit me, my honoured friends, to proceed a little farther, to awaken your attention, and to rouse your generous zeal to encourage all serious and sensible young men who appear fit to be ministers of the gospel. Let me propose the following queries to your serious consideration.

Is not a wise christian minister the greatest character under heaven? If we compare him with all other characters in life, will not his shine brighter on the comparison, as much as the sun in the expanse of heaven, outshines a poor glow-worm in a ditch? If you compare him with a physician in a hospital, a counsellor in his chambers, an advocate at the bar, a merchant in his commerce, a judge on his seat, an ambassador in the court of kings, a banker amidst his treasures, a general at the head of an army, a representative of his country, a lord in parliament, or a monarch on his throne—yea, to go higher still, compare him with the stars of heaven, or an angel in glory; and a gospel minister will shine brighter on the comparison, and appear far above all the offices and characters in the whole world.

The greatest men that ever lived, were preachers of the gospel; witness Enoch, the seventh from Adam; witness Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Paul; and let me dare so far to magnify the office, as to affirm, that if kings did but know and feel the dignity, importance, usefulness, and ends of the christian ministry, they would descend from their thrones, to ascend the pulpit, as a throne of much greater glory.

What preparation then, does this office deserve and demand; and how serious, how attentive, how active, and unweariedly diligent, ought every student to be, who desires and designs to employ himself in this glorious work to the end of his life! With what ardour and gratitude should he seize every help and guide, to his highest end! With what eagerness and delight should he embrace every means, and every friend, who is wise enough, and able to help him forwards in the grand design of preaching the glorious gospel!

My dear young friends, let me now address you. Do not your hearts burn with celestial fire, to be employed in the noblest work under heaven? Yea, let me not be thought extravagant, if I affirm that it is such a manner of serving and glorifying God, as cannot be practiced, even in heaven itself. It is such a work as, in some respects exceeds the work of heaven. There are no sinners to be converted there; no devils to be resisted; no conflicts with internal corruption; no living by faith on an invisible God and Saviour; no scorn to encounter; no persecutions and cruel mocking to be borne; but here we have them all; so that we have such graces to be exercised, and such difficulties to be encountered, as will never be found in heaven to eternity.

Amongst all the various books which have been written for the use of students of divinity, and christian preachers, I know of none equal to the Manuductio of Dr. Cotton Mather, especially if you consider the smallness of the treatise, and the peculiar pertinency and pungency of the thoughts contained in it.

I have been intimately acquainted with this excellent little book, for thirty-six years past; I first met with it in the study of my dear and honoured friend and father, the Rev. Mr. Hugh Evans, of Bristol, when I boarded at his house, in the years 1744, 1745, 1746. The book has been of exceeding great use to me ever since. I am sorry I did not publish it sooner, for the benefit of the risen generation of gospel ministers. It is with great satisfaction and delight, that I have done it now. Sensible, inquisitive, and pious young students, lie very near my heart. I feel a strong parental affection for them. I earnestly pray that they may rise to superior eminence in every part of their glorious employment. I shall rejoice to see them actuated with a noble and divine ambition to excel their predecessors, in wisdom, dignity, zeal, and diligence; and to see them glorify Christ, and allure a vast number of immortal souls into a vital union with the supreme truth, goodness, and beauty, and thus be for ever happy in his glorious presence, and infinite love.

To my own dear son, I do peculiarly present this treatise, with my additional notes and observations; and through his hands, I devote it to the service of modest, pious students, of all denominations. I leave it as a monument and proof of my tenderest affection to the churches of Christ, who are deeply interested in its contents; and shall rejoice to find that wise and religious gentlemen of property, are stirred up to do their very utmost towards encouraging a learner and evangelical education of worthy young men, who shall be ministers of the glorious gospel, when our heads are laid in the dust, and our souls adoring the Son of God, in the realms of light and glory.

John [Collett] Ryland

Northampton,
October 7, 1781

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 27 April 2020 at 03:00

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