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Ministers of Love

by Richard Baxter

(from "What Light Must Shine in Our Works?")

The dominion of love in the hearts of Christians, appearing in all the course of their lives, doth much glorify God and their religion.—I mean a common hearty love to all men, and a special love to holy men, according to their various degrees of loveliness. Love is a thing so agreeable to right reason, and to sociable nature, and to the common interest of all mankind, that all men commend it; and they that have it not for others, would have it from others. Who is it that loveth not to be loved? And who is it that loveth not the man that he is convinced loveth him, better than him that hateth him, or regardeth him not? And do you think that the same course, which maketh men hate yourselves, is like to make them love your religion?

Love is the powerful conqueror of the world. By it God conquereth the enmity of man, and reconcileth to himself even malignant sinners; and by it he hath taught us to conquer all the tribulations and persecutions by which the world would separate us from his love; yea, and to be "more than conquerors through Him that loved us," and thereby did kindle in us our reflecting love; (Rom. 8:34-38;) and by it he hath instructed us to go on to conquer both his enemies and our own; yea, to conquer the enmity rather than the enemy, in imitation of himself, who saveth the sinner, and kills the sin; and this is the most noble kind of victory. Every soldier can end a fever or other disease by cutting a man's throat, and ending his life; but it is the work of the physician to kill the disease, and save the man. The scandalous pastor is for curing heresy in the Roman way, by silencing sound preachers, and tormenting and burning the supposed heretics; or at least to trust for the acceptance and success of his labours to the sword. And if that which will restrain men from crossing the pastor, would restrain them from resisting the Spirit of God, and constrain them to the love of holiness, it were well; then the glory of conversion should be more ascribed to the magistrate and soldier than to the preacher.

But the true pastor is armed with a special measure of life, light, and love, that he may be a meet instrument for the regenerating of souls, who by holy life, and light, and love, must be renewed to their Father's image. Every thing naturally generateth its like, which hath a generative power. And it is the love of God which the preacher is to bring all men to that must be saved; this is his office, this is his work, and this must be his study; he doeth little or nothing if he doeth not this.

Souls are not sanctified till they are wrought up to the love of God and holiness; and, therefore, the furniture and arms which Christ hath left us in his word, are all suited to this work of love. We have the love of God himself to preach to them, and the love of a humbled, dying and glorified Redeemer; and all the amiable blessings of heaven and earth to open to them, and all the loving promises and invitations of the gospel: and must not our hearts, our ministry, and our lives, be answerable to all this? Believe it, it must be a preacher whose matter and manner of preaching and living doth show forth a hearty love to God, and love to godliness, and love to all his people's souls, that is the fit instrument to glorify God by convincing and converting sinners.

God can work by what means he will; by a scandalous, domineering, self-seeking preacher; but it is not his ordinary way. Foxes and wolves are not nature's instruments to generate sheep. I never knew much good done to souls by any pastors, but such as preached and lived in the power of love, working by clear convincing light, and both managed by a holy, lively seriousness. You must bring fire, if you would kindle fire. Trust not here to the Cartesian philosophy, that mere motion will turn another element into fire. Speak as loud as you will, and make as great a stir as you will, it will be all in vain to win men's love to God and goodness, till their hearts be touched with his love and amiableness, which usually must be done by the instrumentality of the preacher's love. "Let them hate me, so they do but fear me and obey me," is the saying of such as set up for themselves, (and but foolishly for themselves,) and, like Satan, would rule men to damnation. If love be the sum and fulfilling of the law, love must be the sum and fulfilling of our ministry. But yet by "love" I mean not flattery: parents do love as necessarily as any, and yet must correct; and God himself can love, and yet correct; yea, "he chasteneth every son that he receiveth." (Heb. 12:6, 7.) And his love consisteth with paternal justice, and with hatred of sin, and plain and sharp reproof of sinners: and so must ours; but all, as the various operations of love, as the objects vary.

And what I say of ministers, I say of every Christian in his place. Love is the great and the "new" commandment; that is, the last which Christ would leave, at his departure, to his disciples. O, could we learn of the Lord of love, and Him who calleth himself Love itself, to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, and to do good to the evil, and pray for them that hurt and persecute us, we should not only prove that we are genuine Christians, the children of our heavenly Father, (Matt. 5:44, 45,) but should heap coals of fire on our enemies' heads, and melt them into compassion and some remorse, if not into a holy love. I tell you, it is the Christian who doth truly love his neighbour as himself; who loveth the godly as his co-heirs of heaven, and loveth the ungodly with a desire to make them truly godly; who loveth a friend as a friend, and an enemy as a man that is capable of holiness and salvation. It is he that liveth, walketh, speaketh, converseth (yea, suffereth, which is the great difficulty) in love, and is, as it were, turned, by the love of God shed abroad upon his heart, into love itself; who doth glorify God in the world, and glorify his religion, and really rebuke the blasphemer that derideth the Spirit in believers, as if it were but a fanatic dream.

And it is he that by tyranny, cruelty, contempt of others, and needless proud singularities and separations, magisterially condemning and vilifying all that walk not in his fashion, and pray not in his fashion, and are not of his opinion, where it is like enough he is himself mistaken, that is the scandalous Christian; who doeth as much against God, and religion, and the church, and men's souls, as he doeth against love. And though it be Satan's way, as an angel of light, and his ministers' way, as ministers of righteousness, to destroy Christ's interest by dividing it, and separate things which God will have conjoined, and so to pretend the love of truth, the love of order, or the love of godliness or discipline, against the love of souls, and to use even the name of love itself against love, to justify all their cruelties, or censures, and alienations; yet God will keep up that sacred fire in the hearts of the sound Christians which shall live and conquer these temptations, and they will understand and regard the warning of the Holy Ghost: "I beseech you, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them," in their sinful, dividing, offensive ways. "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ," though they may confidently think they do, "but their own belly," or carnal interests, though perhaps they will not see it in themselves; "and by good words and fair," or by "flattering speeches, deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom. 16:17, 18.) The word is twn akakwn, hominum minime malorum, "no bad men," or "harmless, well-meaning men;" who, in case it be not to mortal errors, perhaps may be in the main sincere, and may be saved when their stubble is burnt; but whether sincere or not, they are scandals in the world, and great dishonourers of God, and serve Satan, when they little think so, in all that they do contrary to that universal love by which God must be glorified, and sinners overcome.

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