This short article appeared in the January, 1810 edition of the Baptist Magazine, page 20.
In a small circle of ministers, a question was recently discussed, relative to the evidences of divine approbation, which gave occasion to the following remarks.
1. A minister may have popularity without success. Thus to Ezekiel the Lord said: Lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. Ezek. xxxiii. 32. John the Baptist was a burning and shining light, and the jews were willing for a season to rejoice in his light–yet of the same jews it is said, they repented not that they might believe in him of whom John testified. John v. 35. Matt. xxi. 22. Of Jesus himself we are informed, The common people heard him gladly, yet his labours appeared not to have been effectual to the conversion of many. After his resurrection, the number of names was at first but one hundred and twenty: he was despised and rejected of men.
2. A minister may have success without popularity. The apostles were the foundations of the Christian church. We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Eph. ii, 20. Yet of most of them it may be said, their record is on high, but their labours are not recorded on earth. In the tenth of Matthew we have the catalogue of their names, and, except in three or four instances, that is all. Many a worthy man, unknown to fame, shall hereafter shine as the stars for ever and ever, when it shall be shewn that he has turned many to righteousness. Dan. xii, 3.
3. A minister may have both popularity and success. Paul the great apostle of the Gentiles, was eminently popular. The people of Lystra cried: The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter, and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Acts xiv, 11, 12. His success too was amazing: Now thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. 2 Cor. ii, 14.
4. A minister may have both popularity and success without Divine approbation. Witness the History of Balaam and of Judas. Witness the account of the false prophets in Jer. xxiii. 21. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. Many preachers have been known to be useful to saints and to sinners, who (as it appeared afterwards) in the time of their usefulness were living in sin!
5. A minister may have Divine Approbation without popularity or success. Noah, as a just man, found grace in the eyes of the Lord: as a preacher of righteousness, he was not regarded. Elijah was a favourite of the skies, yet he complains, I am left alone, and they seek my life. Rom. xi. 3. Isaiah mourns: Lord, who hath believed our report. Rom x. 16. Then, I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. Isa. xlix. 4, 5. Remarkable are the words of Paul relative to this point: For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish. 2 Cor. ii. 15.
6. A minister may read the signs of Divine Approbation in the testimony of conscience, the testimony of the words, and the testimony of providence compared together. Happy the man who enjoys the consciousness of his own sincerity, who can say with the apostle: Whose I am, and whom I serve. Acts xxvii. 23. But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ. 2 Cor. ii. 17. Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. 2 Cor. i. 12. It is desirable that sincerity should be accompanied with a fervour of zeal, inspiring a man with “thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.” Paul was not only sincere–he was ardent. God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son; Rom. i. 9. 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. I Thes. ii. 8. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy. I Thess. ii. 19, 20. Happy the man who looks into the exceeding great and precious promises which are made to faithful ministers, and derives consolations thence which are neither few nor small. To such these words of Jesus will be ever precious: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matt. xxviii. 20.
“And when my spirit drinks her fill
At some good word of thine,
Not mighty men that share the spoil
Have joys compared to mine.
Watts, Ps. cxix.
Happy the man who can look round upon his congregation and see many who are turned by his ministry from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God: who can see believers standing fast, growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, adorning the doctrine of God their saviour by their holy and useful lives–to such he will say: Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men.
Bromley, W. N.