A Sweet Savor Contact Miscellaneous Audio Messages Penmen



Verse 5. “And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a defense.”

I come now to notice the expression, A cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night. The figure is a little varied, but the spiritual idea is, no doubt the same as that represented by the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire in which the Lord went before Israel by day to lead them in the way, and by night to give them light, to go by day and night. Neh.9:19. This I take uniformly understood as typifying the gospel ministry, which is given for a guide and light to the Israel of God, by day and night. As this cloud, when the angel moved between Israel and the Egyptians, was a cloud and darkness to the latter, whilst it was light to the former, {Exod.14:19, 20,} so is the gospel ministry; it is a light to the people of God, but darkness to the legalists or bondmen of our day; and a faithful gospel ministry will in a great measure keep a separation between the two. As the cloud produced a refreshing shadow to Israel in that parched desert during the day, so is the preached gospel to the people of God, when scorched with persecution or legality, &c. Again, there are other instances in which clouds are made to represent the ministry of the word as in God’s covenant with Noah. He says, “I do set my bow in the cloud;” again, “And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.” Gen.9:13,14. So in the ministry of God’s raising up, the bow of the everlasting covenant is always to be seen. Again, Zechariah says, {10:1,} “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, &c.” So the gospel clouds or ministry, which the Lord maketh are bright clouds – not towering – and they give refreshing rain. Hence false teachers are compared by Jude to clouds without water, carried about by winds, of course only calculated to deceive and bewilder those who would follow them.

But I will notice the other expression; that is, the smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. It is a well known fact, that when the fire burns sufficiently clear, that which appears as smoke by day, is a shining flame by night. Hence, the smoke here spoken of, which is as the shining of a flaming torch by night must proceed from a burning fire. I had occasion in the preceding number to show that truth or doctrine of the gospel is comparable to fire and is so repeatedly denominated in the scriptures. It is equally true that pure gospel preaching proceeds from the fire of divine truth burning in the heart of the preacher. Thus Jeremiah, when he would refrain from speaking any more in the name of the Lord, says, “His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Jer.20:9. Thus Paul says, “A necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” I Cor.9:16. So when Isaiah was to have his mind prepared to offer himself willingly to go and publish the message of the Lord, and was depressed under a sense of his entire uncleanness, “then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar.” Isa.6:6. Thus the true gospel minister often feels his entire unfitness to preach the gospel, on account of the awful corruptions of his heart; but when the gospel in its cleansing nature is applied by the Holy Spirit, to his case he goes forth willingly, and with delight preaches that gospel which he so sensibly feels the power thereof in his own heart. Every gospel minister also knows how much of a task it is to attempt to preach when he has to go to the people with a cold, stale, relation of what he knows to be sure, is truth; and how pleasant it is to preach when his lips are touched with a live coal from off the altar, when there is given to him a fresh view, by faith, of the doctrine of the cross. When the fire thus burns in the heart of the preacher, the people of God will see and feel the effects of the preaching. If it is a time of darkness with them, they will see the shining of the flaming fire, and know that the gospel cloud is still near as their guide. If it is a time of light to their soul, they will feel the evidence that the true fire is burning in the preacher, and as Israel by marking their course by the cloud, knew that they were traveling in the right way, so these by comparing their experience with this gospel smoke, know that they and the preacher are taught by the same Spirit, and that their teaching is in accordance with the word. If true gospel preaching is like the smoke which rises hot from the fire, then that preaching which is so fashionable as this day, and which is no other than a flowery composition made up in the coolness of the study, of parts, of gospel doctrine, of human reason, of the science of the schools, and of quotations from the scriptures, and from the poets, or consist of recitations of what the preacher has stored his mind with, of dead men’s brains; though it may reflect the colors of the rainbow from being opposite to Christ, the believer’s sun, and with its beauties, please the fancy of the hearers, still not being sent forth by the fire of gospel truth, being not the effect of heat, but of cold, it is nothing but fog. So the people of God have ever found it by its producing chills and fevers upon them.

Another kind of preaching, very popular, is more like a cloud of dust than smoke. It consists of exhortations to creaturely duties, and of legal threatenings for failures to perform. And as dust it clouds the eyes and obstructs the breathings, so this kind of preaching beclouds the faith of the believer, when exposed to its influence, leading his views off from Christ, and directing them to his own doings for comfort and acceptance, and by obscuring his views of Christ, it hinders his prayers, or obstructs the breathings of his soul.

In reference to smoke, properly so called, it is sometimes unpleasant, and to weak eyes and weak nerves it is painful; but this is only when the fire does not burn clear, or there is some obstruction in the atmosphere or otherwise to its ascending up. So when the gospel preacher is left to himself, and his mind becomes confused, his preaching is often unpleasant to gospel hearers. And when the faith of believers has become weakened by their being overcome by the world or other temptations, or when they have been exposed to the blasts of the winds of doctrine, the declaration of clear gospel truth becomes painful to them. But still the preaching of the gospel will be of use in such cases; for as smoke expels noxious vapors, frost, &c., and drives away mosquitoes, so faithful gospel preaching, though at first painful to the believer in a backslidden state, will be likely to produce a reaction, reclaim him from his wanderings, and expel those vapors and frosts which had preyed upon his soul. It will drive from him also those swarms of modern mendicants, which had been sucking – not his blood – but an eleven-penny bit here, and an eleven-penny bit there, whilst he was exposed to their ravages, in the darkness of new-schoolism, or in the swamps of middle-groundism. It is not the sucking of blood, but the person infused, by the mosquitoes that causes the swelling and pain; so it is not the extracting by these traveling agents of the money from the pockets of those on whom they prey, that does the mischief, but the infusing into their minds the vain idea that they are thus doing something to help on God’s work, and the leading them to bid God-speed to this iniquitous course. Some reasons why the gospel ministry is pre-figured by smoke, I shall have occasion to notice before I close this.

I will now notice the special promise contained in this passage; namely, that “the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke &c.” The import of this evidently is, that in that day the Lord will provide all his churches with the stated ministry of the word – with “pastors after his own heart, who shall feed his people with knowledge and understanding;” for they shall be of the Lord’s creating, such as the Lord shall qualify and call to the work. What then will become of the various machinery for manufacturing ministers, and the multitude which they have produced? They will all fall; no place any longer to be found for them among the churches of Christ.

As this happy day has not yet arrived, and I have no idea of men’s hastening it, I will here notice an enquiry which naturally arises from this subject, relative to the present time; namely, whether it is now the duty of each church to have its own pastor, and preaching every Lord’s day? That in the apostolic age, elders were ordained in every church, and the churches met regularly for worship on the first day of the week is to me clear. The Romish Church appears to have continued this as a uniform practice. Those denominations which have reformed from that church, have also generally followed the same practice; perhaps not so much in reference to apostolic example, as from their bondage to the notion of a legal Sabbath. The Baptists in England, when they began to aim at being on an equality with the other dissenting denominations, as noticed in a former number, seem also to have copied after them in this thing. As the Baptist emigrants from England to this country, have formerly, more generally settled in the Northern and Middle States, and thither their educated preachers have principally been imported; there we find a general conformity to the English Baptists. There a Baptist College was early established; and there, were early established the notions of a legal Sabbath, and of having a pastor to each church, and he somewhat educated for the work, if it was only to go to a common school, or to some supposed Gamaliel for a time, after his first impressions to preach.

But the early start of the Baptists in the Southern States, appears to have been in a great measure independent of this foreign influence. Take Virginia for a specimen; a few plain preachers came here from the Middle States, and a few others the Lord soon raised under their ministry of the same uneducated stamp. The motive which these had to preach, appears to have been their love to Christ and his cause, their pay mostly persecution, and their guide, as to their field of labors, the openings of Providence; and their calls here and there, where there was an anxiety manifested to hear. Thus following the leadings of Providence, they preached one Lord’s day in this place, another in that; and as the Lord raised up churches under their ministry at different places, instead of confining their pastoral care to one church, and leaving the others destitute, they preached each, to several churches exercising a pastoral care over them. Hence the difference in the customs of the Southern Baptists from those in the more Northern States and in England. The question is, which order is most correct? But say some of my Northern brethren, can there be any question upon this point, when in the apostolic age, elders were ordained in every church? Do you not hold that apostolic example is binding upon the churches in every age? I do; but there is no example, remember, for a legal Sabbath to be observed by the churches, nor for the churches to provide themselves with gifts for the ministry, or to make themselves preachers, or to establish schools to make preachers for them; that is in the scriptures; in the practices of the two Beasts there are examples enough of this sort. The case before us is similar to that of adding members. There was an instance in the church at Jerusalem of three thousand being added in one day. The number then added depended altogether on the sovereign act of the Holy Ghost in regenerating them; the number therefore can be no example for churches in after ages to imitate. The order of their being added, was then established by apostolic example, as the order in all after ages; such as being first baptized after receiving the word with joy and then being added to the churches, &c. So in the case of pastors or elders. The Master gives but one direction upon the point of providing for this office. It is this; “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into the harvest.” Matt.9:37. This amounts to a prohibition of the churches attempting to provide them themselves. In accordance with this is the Apostle’s testimony; namely, that the Lord Jesus when he ascended up on high, gave gifts unto men; and this, not according to the notions of men, but according to the purpose of the Father, for he received these gifts. According to this purpose, he gave some Apostles, &c., and some pastors and teachers. Eph.4:8-11. Consequently it is not the work of men or money to provide these. But then the ordaining to the work, those which the Lord gives for it, even to a plurality of elders in every church, is Apostolic example. The pattern for ordaining elders is given, as I think, in the case of Barnabas and Saul, Acts 13:2,3. As several worthy brethren differ from me on this point, I will beg the indulgence here to say – not to provoke disputation, but to explain my own views – that it was in defense of a cardinal point in our Old School principles, that on a former occasion, well recollected by some, I thought it important to write on this subject. I still attach more importance to the subject than some others do – not to the form, as a form simply considered – but on account of that point in our principles above referred to; namely, the perfection of the Scriptures as a Rule, both of Faith and Practice. Throw away Acts 13:2,3, as a pattern for ordaining to the ministry, and we find it appointed to ordain elders, without any direction or example by which to inform us in what this ordaining consists. And throw away Acts, chapter 6, as a pattern for appointing and setting apart to the office of deacons, and we shall have certain officers named in the apostolic churches, as in Phil.1:1 & I Tim.3:8, and no intimation given how they were introduced into the churches, what is their office, or how they are to be appointed to it. If the scriptures are thus deficient in those points, their perfection, as a Rule, is destroyed; we are at sea without compass or stars. Such a view of the revelation which God has made of the religion of his own appointing I cannot admit. To return to my subject; admit Acts 13:2,3, to be a pattern in the case, and we shall find the order for setting apart to the ministry, harmonizing with the testimony that the gifts are imparted by Christ according to the purpose of the Father, for they must first be designated to the office by the Holy Ghost; that is, in their special call to the work, before being ordained. Thus as is salvation, so is the gospel minister, the work of the Three that bear record in heaven.

Here is the grand error, upon this point, of the English and our Northern Baptists, they appear to have taken the example of ordaining those gifts which the Lord gave and manifested to the primitive churches as a pattern for providing themselves with a supply of preachers. And they not only have absorbed all the gifts for exhortation in furnishing their supply of preachers, but in many instances where those have offered who did not possess the requisite gifts, they have concluded that by sending them to some famed Gamaliel, or school, or college, an image of the gift might be carved out of the candidate’s mind, or be stamped upon it by communicated ideas. Thus have they presumed to usurp that prerogative which the Lord has reserved in his own hands. And this awful presumption, with its accompanying filthiness and idolatry, has, lamentable to say, not been staid at the North, but all its evil consequences has overspread the South and West.

If it should be asked, Why are not the churches now as fully supplied with gifts as were those in the early ages of the gospel? I answer, because the Lord hath so purposed, hence the churches were left to corrupt their ways, and were allured and brought into the wilderness {Hosea 2:14,} which is of course a state of considerable privations. See also Psa.81:13-16. Hence when the Lord shall have performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and upon Jerusalem, he not only will give her, her vineyards from thence, {from the wilderness,} Hosea 2:15, but he will again “create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, &c.,” will furnish every church with a full supply of gifts of his own providing, and which he himself will call into active exercise. And this promise fully sustains the position I have taken; for it clearly presupposes that such was not the state of the churches previous to the period intended.

One more enquiry I must anticipate; namely, whether during the continuance of the wilderness state of the church, those gifts which the Lord does impart to the churches for the ministry, should be confined, each, to one particular church, or whether those endowed with them, should labor to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ, wherever they find them bleating for food, within the reasonable range of the locations respectively assigned to each by Providence? To me it appears clear, that the scriptural direction and example is in favor of a pastor or teachers extending the sphere of his labors beyond the limits of his one church. We read, it is true, of the elders of the church at Ephesus, and of elders being ordained in every church. These scriptures show that they are to take the oversight of the churches where their lot is cast, but cannot, I conceive, be justly construed to imply that their labors were to be confined each to one church. Hence, Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders; he says, “Take heed to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” What are we to understand by all the flock in this case? The Apostle himself explains it in the next clause. “To feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Will any Old School Baptist say, that the church of God which he has purchased with his own blood, and which of course Christ loved and gave himself for, was no other than that particular branch or church planted at Ephesus? I think not. The direction then must be general, to feed the church of God over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, that is to labor where he specially calls them, according to Acts 13:2, or in other words, wherever the Holy Ghost gives them to see it is their duty to go, there do the work of an overseer in taking heed of all the flock, to feed, not the goats, but the church of God, &c. Peter’s direction to the elders which were among those to whom he wrote, is equally general – not to feed their respective flocks – that appears to be a more modern idea – but to feed the flock of God, not everywhere; that those elders could not do – but which is among you, &c. That is, the flock of God is to be fed, and wherever the elders find it, among them or themselves among it, let their attention be turned to this work.

I now leave this, which may be considered a long digression, and come to the last clause of the verse under consideration; namely, “for upon all the glory shall be a defense.” This evidently has reference to the preceding part of the verse. The glory may be the glory of that purified state of the church, when the glory of the Lord shall have arisen upon her, and the Gentiles {the nations} shall come to her light, and kings to the brightness of her rising. Isa.60:1-3. The defense, the Lord having set watchmen upon the walls of Jerusalem that will never hold their peace – that will see eye to eye, {Isa.62:6,} and the light of the gospel being so clear, the enemy will no more be able to make inroads with his other gospels, or to set up in the churches his ministers transformed into the apostles of Christ. Or the glory may be, the peculiar glory and light of the gospel in that day; and the defense, the dispensation of the gospel being still committed to men of like passions with others; this treasure will still be in earthen vessels. And herein is the reason I was to give, why the gospel ministry is compared to smoke. The smoke is not the pure fire, but the heat and light of the fire ascending through the evaporation it causes from the fuel. So the preached gospel is not the pure revelation of God which he makes of himself in Christ; but it is that revelation and truth irradiating the human mind, and through that denser medium shining forth for the instruction and comfort of the people of God with a tempered brightness, so that the word of life as thus declared and manifested unto us, we mortals, can look upon, and handle, can examine it deliberately and composedly. See I John 1:1-3. Hence by this defense upon the glorious brightness of the divine truth of the gospel of the Son of God, it is tempered to suit mortal vision.

Fairfax Court House, Va., April 27th, 1837.