“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”—2 Cor. 4:5.
A remark, which I once heard from the lips of that great and good man, the late Mr. Abraham Booth, has often recurred to my recollection. “I fear,” said he, “there will be found a larger proportion of wicked ministers than of any other order of professing Christians!” It did not appear to me at the time, nor has it ever appeared since, that this remark proceeded from a want of charity, but rather from a deep knowledge of the nature of Christianity, and an impartial observation of men and things. It behoves us, not only as professing Christians, but as ministers, to “examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith.” It certainly is possible, after we have preached to others, that we ourselves should be cast away! I believe it is very common for the personal religion of a minister to be taken for granted; and this may prove a temptation to him to take it for granted too. Ministers, being wholly devoted to the service of God, are supposed to have considerable advantages for spiritual improvement. These they certainly have; and if their minds be spiritual, they may be expected to make greater proficiency in the Divine life than their brethren. But it should be remembered, that if they are not spiritual, those things which would otherwise be a help would prove a hinderance. If we study Divine subjects merely as ministers, they will produce no salutary effect. We may converse with the most impressive truths, as soldiers and surgeons do with blood, till they cease to make any impression upon us. We must meditate on these things as Christians, first feeding our own souls upon them, and then imparting that which we have believed and felt to others; or, whatever good we may do to them, we shall receive none ourselves. Unless we mix faith with what we preach, as well as with what we hear, the word will not profit us. It may be on these accounts that ministers, while employed in watching over others, are so solemnly warned against neglecting themselves: “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock,” &c.—“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.”
Preaching the gospel is not the only work of a Christian minister; but it is a very important part of his duty, and that which, if rightly attended to, will be followed by other things. To this, therefore, I shall request your attention.
You cannot have a better model than that which is here held up to you. The example of the apostles and primitive ministers is for our imitation. Three things are here presented to our notice: what they did not preach—what they did preach—and what they considered themselves.
I. What the apostles did not preach:—“We preach not ourselves.” It might be thought that this negative was almost unnecessary; for, except a few gross impostors, who would ever think of holding up themselves as saviours, instead of Christ? “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?” Very true, in this gross sense, few men in the present day will be found to preach themselves. But self may be an object of preaching without being expressly avowed, and even while with the tongue Christ is recommended. And there is little doubt that self is the great end of numbers who engage in the Christian ministry.… For example:—
1. If worldly advantage be our object, we preach ourselves.—It is true there is but little food for this appetite in our congregations. Yet there are cases where it is otherwise. Men have made their fortunes by preaching. And if this have been their object, they have had their reward. If this had not been a possible case, Paul would not have disavowed it as he does:—“Not for a cloak of covetousness, God is witness.”
2. If we make the ministry subservient to a life of ease and indolence, we preach ourselves rather than Christ. We may get but little for our labour, and yet, being fond of a life of sloth, (if a life it can be called,) it may be more agreeable to us than any other pursuit. It is from this disposition that many ministers have got into the habit of spending a large part of every week in gossiping from house to house; not promoting the spiritual good of the people, but merely indulging themselves in idle talk. I might add, it is from this disposition and practice that a large proportion of the scandals among ministers have arisen. Had there been no danger from these quarters, we should not have met with another of Paul’s solemn disavowals:—“Our exhortation was not of uncleanness.” Such a declaration as this was not without meaning. It describes the false teachers of those times, and of all times.
3. If the applause of our hearers be the governing principle of our discourses, we preach ourselves, and not Christ. To be acceptable is necessary to being useful, and an attention to manner with this end in view is very proper; but if the love of fame be our governing principle, our whole ministry will be tainted by it. This subtle poison will penetrate and pervade our exercises, till every one perceives it, and is sickened by it, except ourselves. It will innate our composition in the study, animate our delivery in the pulpit, and condescend to fish for applause when we have retired. It will even induce us to deal in flattering doctrine, dwelling on what are known to be favourite topics, and avoiding those which are otherwise. It is a great matter to be able to join with the apostle in another of his solemn disavowals:—“For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know,—nor of men sought we glory.”
4. If our aim be to make proselytes to ourselves, or to our party, rather than converts to Christ, we shall be found to have preached ourselves, and not him. We certainly have seen much of this species of zeal in our times—“Men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Nor do I refer merely to men who would be thought singularly evangelical, and even inspired of God—who are continually holding up themselves as the favourites of Heaven and the darlings of Providence and denouncing judgments on all who oppose them; and the tenor of whose preaching is to persuade their admirers to consider themselves as the dear children of God, and all who disapprove of them as poor blind creatures, knowing nothing of the gospel. Of them and their followers I can only say, “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” But men who have paid great attention to the Scriptures, and who have preached and written many things on the side of truth, have nevertheless given but too evident proof that the tenor of their labours has been to make proselytes to themselves, or to their party, rather than converts to Christ.
II. What the apostles did preach:—We preach “Christ Jesus the Lord.” This is the grand theme of the Christian ministry. But many have so little of the Christian minister about them, that their sermons have scarcely any thing to do with Christ. They are mere moral harangues. And these, forsooth, would fain be thought exclusively the friends of morality and good works! But they know not what good works are, nor do they go the way to promote them. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”.… Preach Christ, or you had better be any thing than a preacher. The necessity laid on Paul was not barely to preach, but to preach Christ. “Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!”.… Some are employed in depreciating Christ. But do you honour him. Some who talk much about him, yet do not preach him, and by their habitual deportment prove themselves enemies to his cross.… If you preach Christ, you need not fear for want of matter. His person and work are rich in fulness. Every Divine attribute is seen in him. All the types prefigure him. The prophecies point to him. Every truth bears relation to him. The law itself must be so explained and enforced as to lead to him.… Particularly,
1. Exhibit his Divinity and glorious character.—The New Testament dwells much on his being the Son of God—equal with God. It was this that heightened the gift of him, John 3:16. Hence the efficacy of his blood, 1 John 1:7. Hence the condescension of his obedience, and the dignity of his priesthood. Heb. 4:14–16. Hence the greatness of the sin of rejecting him, John 3:18; and of apostacy, Heb. 10:29.
2. Hold up his atonement and mediation as the only ground of a sinner’s hope.—It is the work of a Christian minister to beat off self-righteous hope, which is natural to depraved man, and to direct his hearers to the only hope set before them in the gospel. Be not concerned merely to form the manners of your congregation, but bring them to Christ. That will best form their manners. The apostles had no directions short of this: “Repent, and believe the gospel.” They never employed themselves in lopping off the branches of sin; but laid the axe to the root. Your business with the sins of mankind is, to make use of them to convince your hearers of the corruption of their nature, and their need of a radical cure.
3. Hold up the blessings of his salvation for acceptance, even to the chief of sinners.—“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” The gospel is a feast, and you are to invite guests. You may have many excuses and refusals. But be you concerned to do as your Lord commands. And when you have done your utmost, there will still be room. Dwell on the freeness, and fulness, and all-sufficiency of his grace, and how welcome even the worst of sinners are, who, renouncing all other refuges, flee to him.
4. Preach him as “the Lord,” or Lawgiver, of his church, no less than as a Saviour.—Christ’s offices must not be divided. Taking his yoke, and learning his spirit, are connected with coming to him. Believers are “not without law unto God, but under the law to Christ.”
The preaching of Christ will answer every end of preaching. This is the doctrine which God owns to conversion, to the leading of awakened sinners to peace, and to the comfort of true Christians. If the doctrine of the cross be no comfort to us, it is a sign we have no right to comfort. This doctrine is calculated to quicken the indolent, to draw forth every Christian grace, and to recover the backslider. This is the universal remedy for all the moral diseases of all mankind.… We proceed to notice,
III. In what light the apostles considered themselves:—“Your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Ministers are not the servants of the people in such a sense as implies inferiority, or their having an authority over them. On the contrary, what authority there is is on the other side: “Obey them that have the rule over you.” Nor are ministers the servants of the people in such a sense as to be directed by them what to preach. In these respects one is their Master, even Christ. But ministers are the servants of their people, inasmuch as their whole time and powers require to be devoted to their spiritual advantage—to know them, caution, counsel, reprove, instruct, exhort, admonish, encourage, stimulate, pray, and preach. Study to promote their spiritual interests as individuals, and their prosperity as a people.
Nor should ministers think it too much to lay themselves out in this work. They do it “for Jesus’ sake.” This was the motive addressed to Peter. “Lovest thou me?—Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.”—“Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”.… Let Christ be not only the theme of my remaining ministry, but the exaltation of him and the enlargement of his kingdom the great end of my life! If I forget thee, O my Saviour, let my right hand forget; if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof my mouth!
Excerpt from: “Preaching Christ,” Sermon LXIX, in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 501–504). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.