“Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”—Ezra 7:10.
My dear brother, the long and intimate friendship which has subsisted between us will, I hope, render any apology unnecessary for my occupying this situation upon this solemn occasion. I should certainly have felt a pleasure in hearing some senior minister; but with your desire, on the ground of intimate friendship, I feel disposed to comply. I feel a peculiar pleasure in addressing you; for I can speak to you as a friend—a brother—an equal—an acquaintance, with whom I have often taken sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God. You will not, I am sure, misinterpret my freedom, or suppose that I wish to assume any superiority over you, or to dictate to you. You expect me to insist upon the importance of the work in which you are engaged; and for this purpose I have directed my attention to the passage I have read, and would recommend to you the example of Ezra.
Example has a strong tendency to excite us to emulation; and in Ezra the scribe you have the character of an eminent servant of the most high God held up to your admiration and imitation. Ministers in the New Testament are called “scribes, instructed unto the kingdom of heaven;” and in Ezra you have the character of “a ready scribe.” There are four things in his character upon which I shall discourse, and which I would recommend to you.
I. Seek the law, or will, of God.—I need not inform you, my brother, that the law, in the Old Testament especially, is commonly to be understood as synonymous with the Scriptures, the word, or the revealed will of God. The Scriptures were then as commonly called “the law of the Lord” as they are now called “the word of God.” So the term is to be understood here. To “seek the law of the Lord” is the same as to ascertain his mind and will in his sacred word.
You are to “feed the people with knowledge and understanding;” but you cannot do this without understanding yourself. Your lips are to “keep knowledge,” and the people are to “seek the law at your mouth;” but, in order to communicate it to them, you must seek it at the mouth of God.
1. Seek it, my brother.—It will never be found without. It is a mine, in which you will have to dig. And it is a precious mine, which will well repay all your labour.
2. Seek it at the fountain-head.—You feel, I doubt not, a great esteem for many of your brethren now living, and admire the writings of some who are now no more; and you will read their productions with attention and pleasure. But whatever excellence your brethren possess, it is all borrowed; and it is mingled with error. Learn your religion from the Bible. Let that be your decisive rule. Adopt not a body of sentiments, or even a single sentiment, solely on the authority of any man—however great, however respected. Dare to think for yourself. Human compositions are fallible. But the Scriptures were written by men who wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Human writings on religion resemble preaching—they are useful only so far as they illustrate the Scriptures, and induce us to search them for ourselves.
3. Seek the will of God in every part of the Bible.—It is very true that some parts of the Bible are more interesting than others. But “all Scripture is profitable” and necessary. Do not take this part and leave that. Some people foolishly talk of Arminian texts, and Calvinistic texts, as if Scripture were repugnant to itself! That system, whatever it be called, cannot be the right one, that rejects any one part of Scripture whatever.
4. Seek it perseveringly.—Do not reckon yourself so to have found it as to be self-sufficient. Be open to conviction from every quarter. Seek it by reading, by meditation, by prayer, by conversation—by all the means that offer. Do not reject information from an inferior, or even an enemy. In the study of the Scriptures you will always be a learner.
II. Prepare your heart to seek the law of the Lord.—There is a preparation of heart in which we are wholly passive, which is, in the strictest sense, the work of God; and, without this, woe be to any of us that should dare to set up for teachers of his law and gospel!—But there is also a preparation of heart in which we are active; and this is the preparedness intended in the text. In this, even, God is the cause: he actuates; but then we act. Of this preparation we have to speak; and it consists in prayer, and self-examination, and meditation. Your work is a course, and for this you must prepare by “girding up the loins of your mind”—a fight, and you must “put on the whole armour of God.” The work of God should not be entered upon rashly. God frequently brings his servants through a train of instructions and trials, that they may be fitted for it. Moses was forty years at court, and forty years a shepherd. These were his days of preparation. Christ prepared his disciples by his instructions during his life, and previous to their great work they prepared themselves, Acts 1.
Such preparation of heart is not only necessary for your entrance into the pastoral office, but also for your continuance in it. You will find that every exercise requires it. You do not need being, guarded against that erroneous notion of so trusting to the Spirit as to neglect personal preparation for your public labours. But this preparedness is not only requisite for speaking the truth in public, but as well for seeking it in private. Let all your private meditations be mingled with prayer. You will study your Bible to wonderful advantage, if you go to it spiritually-minded. It is this which causes us to see the beauty and to feel the force of many parts of Scripture, to which, in a carnal state of mind, we are blind and stupid. If we go to the study of the Bible wise in our own conceits, and self-sufficient, we shall get no good. When we would be taught from God’s word, we must learn as little children. Again, If we go to the Bible merely, or chiefly, to find something to say to the people, without respect to our own souls, we shall make but poor progress. My brother, study Divine truth as a Christian, and not merely as a minister. Consider your own soul as deeply interested; and dread the thought of cultivating others, while you suffer your own heart to remain uncultivated. If you study Divine truth as a Christain, your being constantly engaged in the study will promote your growth in grace; you will be like “a tree planted by rivers of water;” you will not only bring forth fruit for the people, but your leaf shall not wither, and whatever you do shall prosper. But if merely as a minister, the reverse. I believe it is a fact, that where a minister is wicked, he is the most hardened against conviction of any character.
III. Keep the law.—“Do it.” The apostle Paul, in writing to Timothy, is very particular as to personal religion, in a bishop, or pastor. “Take heed to thyself, and to the doctrine.”—“Keep thyself pure.”—“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Observe, too, the connexion in which this exhortation stands—“Let no man despise thy youth;” plainly intimating that a holy example will render even youth respectable. Your Lord and Master both did and taught the will of God.
1. Dread nothing more than recommending that to your people to which you do not attend yourself.—You may preach with the fervour of an angel; but if your practice, your habitual deportment, be inconsistent, all you do will be in vain.
2. More is expected from you than from others.—A wicked preacher is of all characters the most contemptible. Even the profane despise him.
3. You will attend to practical preaching.—But how can you either exhort or reprove, if your people should ever have it in their power to say, “Physician, heal thyself?”—“Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”
4. Attend not only to such duties as fall under the eye of man, but walk with God—in your family, and in your closet. It will require all your wisdom to bring up your children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;” and if you rule not well in your own house, you cannot expect to maintain a proper influence in the church of God. Beware also of omitting secret devotions. Conversing with men and things may brighten your gifts; but communion with God is necessary to improve your graces.
IV. Teach in Israel the statutes and judgments of God.—It is not for me to dictate to you what doctrines you are to teach, or what precepts you should enforce. But I hope you will evince your sincerity by preaching in the main such things as, in your confession of faith, you have just avowed; not however to the neglect of other points, which could scarcely be expected to be introduced in such a document. The more you are acquainted with the word of God, the more you will find it abounds with truths, reviving truths too, which seldom or never have a place in confessions of faith. But, passing this, allow me to give you a few general hints on the subject of teaching.
1. Let Christ and his apostles be your examples.—Teach as they taught. It would be worth while to read over the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, if it were only to discover their manner of teaching. Dare to avow every truth which they avowed; and address your audience in such language as they addressed to theirs, and that without softening it down, or explaining it away.
2. Give every part of the truth its due proportion.—Preach every truth in the proportion in which it is introduced by God in his word. You will find some people attached to one class of truths, and others to another class; but be you attached to all. If you are habitually dwelling upon one truth, it must be to the neglect of others; and it is at your peril to keep back any part of the counsel of God! If you preach not the great doctrines of the gospel, such as the entire depravity of our nature, the atonement of Christ, the work of the Spirit, &c., the people of God will be famished. If you preach these doctrines, to the neglect of close practical addresses, they will be in danger of a religious surfeit. If you preach doctrinally, some may call you an Antinomian; if you preach practically, others may call you a legalist. But go on, my brother: this is a kind of dirt that won’t stick. Preach the law evangelically, and the gospel practically; and God will bless you, and make you a blessing.
3. Dare to teach unwelcome truths.—The Christian ministry must be exercised with affection and fidelity. Study not to offend any man; yet keep not back important truth, even if it do offend. You must not enter the pulpit to indulge your own temper; but neither are you at liberty to indulge the humour of others. Be more concerned to commend yourself to the consciences of your people than to their good opinion.
4. Give Scriptural proof of what you teach.—Do not imagine that mere assertion will do. Evidence ought to form the body of your discourses. Such expressions as “I say,” uttered in the most magisterial tone, will, after all, prove nothing—except the unwarrantable confidence of the preacher.
5. Consider yourself as standing engaged to teach all that hear you—rich and poor, young and old, godly and ungodly—“warning the wicked, lest his blood be required at your hands.” Seek the salvation of every man’s soul. This was the apostolic method; “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom.” Whether every individual of your congregation will accept your message is another question. Your concern should be, not to intermeddle with what is not revealed, but to “preach the gospel to every creature;” and to pray for all, as Paul did for Agrippa and his court, without distinction: “I would that—all that hear me this day were—altogether such as I am.”
6. Teach privately as well as publicly.—Make your visits among your people subservient to instruction and edification. Take the example of Paul, Acts 20:20. Let a savour of Christ accompany you in your intercourse with your flock. This will greatly contribute to your public usefulness.
My brother, seek the law of God—seek it with a prepared heart—reduce it to practice—and teach it diligently; and you will be, not only, like Ezra, a “ready” scribe; but “a scribe well-instructed in the kingdom of God.”
Excerpt from: “On a Intimate and Practical Acquaintance with Word of God.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 483–486). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.