The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister

The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister

This is a sermon by Jonathan Edwards at the ordination of another minister. He took John 5:35 as his text, noting Jesus’ description of John the Baptist as a “burning and a shining light.” Edwards shows that a “burning” light is one that is fervent, zealous, energetic, with a “holy flame enkindled in the soul.” A “shining” light is one that is pure and clear, that brings truth to the souls of men.

Edwards illustrates the need for both heat and light:

It is the glory of the sun that such a bright and glorious light, and such a powerful, refreshing, vivifying heat, are both together diffused from that luminary. When there is light in a minister…without a spiritual warmth and ardor in his heart, and a holy zeal in his ministrations, his light is like the light of an ignis fatuus, and some kinds of putrefying carcasses that shine in the dark, though they are of a stinking savor.

Truly excellent ministers must burn and shine. Edwards observes that, as we pursue both,

hereby our ministry will be likely to be as beneficial as our office is honorable.

Too many men love the honor of the office and do not consider if they are actually beneficial. They do not consider if their religion remains “only in the head,” or consists in “outward morality, or forms of religion” but if it “reaches the heart” and “burns there.” Those who fail in personal, spiritual fervency not only suffer an ineffectual ministry, they are also “so much the more hurtful and pernicious” to men and “the more abominable and inexcusable” before God.