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25 February, 2013

Christian Progress - Part 4

Written by John A. James, in 1853

6. Much the same remark will apply to a growing attachment to some particular PREACHER, which is not always of itself a proof of progress in true religion. We are allowed our preference even in this matter—for though it is the message rather than the messenger—the truth rather than the preacher—that is to be the ground of our attachment, yet it cannot in the nature of things be otherwise than that we should prefer one minister to another. He may have been the instrument of our conversion, or the means of our establishment in the faith. Or, independently of these matters, he may more clearly explain, and more powerfully enforce God's truth. Or even without this, his natural abilities with equal orthodoxy and piety may be more to our taste; and on all these grounds preference, within certain limits, is allowed.

But nothing in a young convert requires greater care and effort to keep down excess, than 'ministerial attachment', lest it should degenerate into exclusiveness and spiritual idolatry. This is a danger into which multitudes run. They make this 'pulpit favorite' not only the standard of all excellence—but its monopolist. They think basely of everyone else. They can hear, at or any rate relish, no other. When he preaches elsewhere they follow him—or if they cannot do this, they make up their mind not to profit by his substitute. This actually grows upon them until he is everything, and all other ministers nothing. 

Now this very attachment is by some supposed to be a proof of progress; especially in the case of those who formerly cared nothing about this minister, or any other. They now feel pleasure in hearing him—but then it is confined to him, and this preference, instead of leading them to love him for the sake of the truth he preaches, leads them rather to love the truth for the sake of the preacher.

If with their preference for him, they united a delight in hearing all who preach the same truths; and his preaching had formed in them a taste for evangelical doctrines, instead of for one man who preached them, this would be a blessed result, and one that would prove advance in true religion. Perhaps there are few evidences more conclusive of progress than such a state of mind as is described in the following reflections, "At my first setting out in the ways of religion, I felt a preference for my minister so strong, that I could hear with pleasure no other. 

I was disappointed and discontented if I saw anyone else in the pulpit, and thought the sermon scarcely worth listening to. I now see it was more an attachment to the preacher himself than to his message. True, I was pleased with his doctrine—but still more with his manner of setting it forth. As my knowledge of divine truth increased, and I became more and more in love with this, I found my delight more and more drawn off from the preacher to his doctrine.

Until now, with my preference for him above all others still remaining, I am so much taken up with the truth as it is in Jesus, and feel so much more the importance of the matter than the manner, that I can hear anyone with pleasure who, with tolerable ability, explains and enforces the glorious gospel of the blessed God. It is the man who opens most clearly to my judgment the truth of God's word, and enforces it most powerfully upon my heart and conscience, and carries on my growth in knowledge, peace, and holiness—that is the preacher I love most." There is no mistake here.

7. Somewhat analogous to this, some mistake a growing delight in some particular DOCTRINE, or some particular parts, aspects, and subjects of the Bible, for progress in the divine life. "All Scripture," to quote this passage again, "is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." But all Scripture is not equally adapted to foster the strength and promote the health of the soul. Now it is clear to anyone who will attentively study the New Testament, that the truth by which we are to be sanctified—the doctrine which is according to godliness—the "perfection," which is distinguished from first principles—is the mediatorial character and work of Christ.

 This seems to be plain from our Lord's words, "I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them at the last day. For my flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. John 6:53-55. This is a most momentous passage, and deserves the very serious attention of all, and especially of young converts.

It is of vast consequence, in bodily nutrition, to know what is the most nourishing food, and what will sustain the strength and increase the stature of the body. Can it be less so in the nutrition of the soul? Here then, by Him who came to give life—by the great Physician of the soul—we are told upon what food the growing Christian must live. In these words our Lord did not, could not, mean to be understood literally. By his flesh and blood, he meant his body offered up in sacrifice, and his blood shed as an atonement for sin; and by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he intended nourishing the divine life by the knowledge, the faith, the contemplation, of his atoning death as it is set forth in the Scriptures. 

The study of everything that stands connected with the atoning death of Christ, whether it be in the types of the ceremonial law, the predictions of the prophets, the narratives of the Gospels, the doctrines of the epistles, or the sublime visions of the Apocalypse—this is the food of the soul—the manna from heaven—the bread of life. This is "food indeed," and "drink indeed." Whoever with hungry appetite feeds upon this will grow—and whoever neglects this will become lean and weak.