Affectionate Concern of a Minister for the Salvation of His Hearers
“We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”—1 Thess. 2:7, 8.
My dear brother, you have requested me to address you on your appointment to the important office of pastor over this people; and I know of nothing more impressive on the subject of the Christian ministry than this whole chapter, both as to what a minister should not be, and as to what he should be. Not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile, nor as pleasing men; but gentle, affectionate, laborious, disinterested, holy. Let us, however, confine ourselves to the words we have selected as a text, in which the apostle compares his own ministrations and those of his colleagues to the gentle solicitude of a nurse, whose concern is to impart warmth and strength to her children. “So we, being affectionately desirous,” &c. Three things here require your attention: the feeling of a true minister of Christ towards the people of his charge—the subject-matter of his ministry—and the manner in which he must dispense it.
I. The feeling of a true minister of Christ towards the people of his charge. This is an affectionate concern after their salvation, one of the most important qualifications for the ministry. True, it is not the only one. There are gifts, both natural and acquired, which are necessary, since, without them, we cannot be said to be “apt to teach.” But this qualification is that without which the greatest gifts, natural and acquired, are nothing as to real usefulness. Genius may amuse, but “love edifieth.” A strong mind and a brilliant imagination may excite their admiration, but this will attract the hearts of the people. Look at the men who have been the most honoured; and you will find that they are not the brightest geniuses, but the humble and affectionate.
Look at the example of Paul. Observe how he felt towards his poor, unbelieving countrymen, who sought his life: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved.” Even his zeal for the conversion of the Gentiles bore an aspect towards his brethren after the flesh: “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office; if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” He speaks as a humane seaman would in a wreck; who, when he found he could not save all, would do what he could, plunging into the sea and saving at least some of them. Here, my brother, is an example for your imitation, towards the unbelieving part of your hearers.
See also how he felt toward those Christians who had sinned.—Witness his Epistles to the Corinthians. How anxious he was to reclaim them! how dissatisfied with any thing short of their restoration! looking upon them as lost children, 2 Cor. 2; 13:2.
Look at the example of John towards the rising generation.—“I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in the truth.”—And look at the example of our apostle, in connexion with the text, towards all to whom he wrote. He could not be satisfied with any reward short of their eternal salvation. All other hope, all other joy connected with them, he considered as of small account; and he looked forward to them as constituting the brightest jewels in his future crown.
Most of all, look at the example of your Lord and Saviour.—How did the kindness and love of God our Saviour appear! What did he not forego, and do, and suffer! May the love of Christ constrain you!
II. Consider the subject-matter of his ministry:—“The gospel of God.”
1. It is a blessed errand to go on. Good news to a lost world. Angels were visited with wrath, but men with the cup of salvation. There is a pleasure in being an almoner, even of earthly blessings: but you have the unsearchable riches of Christ to impart; you are the herald of peace, and pardon, and reconciliation. How a man, bearing such tidings from an earthly sovereign, would be hailed by a number of convicts!
2. But what is the gospel? It is not merely the privilege of believers; for then it would not be for every creature. It is a declaration of what Christ has done and suffered, and of the effects; exhibiting a way in which God can be “just and the justifier of the ungodly.” It is not merely to convince of sin, but also to point to the remedy.
3. Make a point, then, of distinctly and habitually preaching the gospel. Do not suppose your people are so good, and so well informed, as not to need this. Visit the sick, and you will be astonishsd how little they know, compared with what it might reasonably be expected they should know. Many sermons are ingenious essays; but if they bear not on this great object, they are not the gospel. Woe unto you if you preach not the gospel! Do not suppose I have any particular suspicion that you will not. But I feel the importance of the exhortation, “Preach the gospel.” Study the gospel—what it implies, what it includes, and what consequences it involves. I have heard complaints of some of our young ministers, that though they are not heteredox, yet they are not evangelical; that though they do not propagate error, yet the grand, essential, distinguishing truths of the gospel do not form the prevailing theme of their discourses.
I love a sermon well laden with Christian doctrine. I love to find young ministers well learned in the Scriptures. Then their preaching will not be dry, but good news and glad tidings. Complaints have been made of some preaching as too doctrinal; and a preference has been manifested for experimental and practical preaching; but that doctrinal preaching which I would recommend should include both. The doctrines of the Scriptures, Scripturally stated, are calculated to interest the heart, and to produce genuine evangelical obedience. You need not fear that you shall be limited. You may take a wide range. There is a great variety of subjects which may be introduced; as—the purity and spirituality of the law, the evil of sin, the wrath of God against it, and many others: but then all these naturally lead to an explicit declaration of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”
III. Consider the manner in which a minister should dispense the gospel:—“Willingly;” and so as, while imparting the gospel, to impart their own souls with it. Some have supposed that it is the matter, and not the manner of preaching, that God blesses. But I see no ground for this distinction. I allow that the matter is of the first importance; but the manner is not of small account. For example: the apostle prays that he might make the gospel manifest, “as he ought to speak,” Col. 4:4. And this relates to manner, not to matter. You may preach even the gospel dryly. It must be preached faithfully, firmly, earnestly, affectionately. The apostle so spoke that many believed. Manner is a means of conveying truth. A cold manner disgraces important truth. “Willingly.”—Where the ministration of the word is connected with external honours and great temporal advantage, there is no test of this; but where it is attended with self-denial, there is.… “Our own souls.”—This is expressive of the deep interest the apostles and their colleagues took in the gospel, and their earnest desire that their hearers should embrace it. Hence we speak of pouring out our souls in prayer. How would you feel in throwing out a rope to a drowning man, or in lighting a fire in a wilderness to attract the attention of one who was dear to you, and who was lost? How did Aaron feel during the plague, when he stood between the dead and the living? O my brother, enter into these feelings. Realize them. Let them inspire you with holy, affectionate zeal. Souls are perishing around you; and though you cannot “make an atonement for the people’s sins,” yet you can publish one, made by our great High Priest; and, receiving and exhibiting this atonement, you may hope to save yourself and them that hear you.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 508–510). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.