This picture is of Alexander James Gilliland, my 6th great-grandfather. He was born October 28, 1769 in Lincoln County, North Carolina. He died February 1, 1845 in Red Oak, Ohio. He was a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina. He was ordained and began pastoring in Bradaway (now Belton), North Carolina in 1796. Because of his strong anti-slavery convictions, twelve members of his congregation remonstrated against his ordination, charging that he preached “against the government”. When called to account by the presbytery, he denied the charge but admitted that he preached against slavery. The presbytery advised him to discontinue such preaching, so he appealed to the Synod. The Synod refused to support him, suggesting that he should try to convince his congregation of the evils of slavery privately. After spending eight unsatisfactory years at that congregation, he moved to Red Oak, Ohio in 1805, accompanied by several relatives and many of his congregation. He served that church until the latter part of 1841 and played a key role in the anti-slavery movement in southern Ohio.
Last year, I started investigating my ancestry. After taking a break for a while, I resumed my research a couple of weeks ago. As I have looked into my family tree, I have had mixed feelings. Some of my ancestors were pretty rough characters, to put it mildly. One guy on my Mom’s side was an outlaw who got shot between the eyes. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a line of preachers on my Dad’s side. I was particularly thrilled that I was able to find so much information on my 6th great-grandfather. For some reason, it gives me great comfort to know that some of my direct ancestors loved Christ and His Gospel and lived out their faith, even in the face of opposition. One of his sons in the faith, Hugh Fullerton, had this to say about my 6th great-grandfather: “Father Gilliland was a very humble and modest man. He shrank from anything like ostentation; plainness characterizing his dress and style of living and speaking. In preaching, he hid himself behind his subject, especially when the subject was the cross. Self, nothing; Christ, all in all, seemed to be his motto.” Words can’t express the thankfulness I felt when I read those words. Just to have the knowledge that one of my ancestors was described that way brought me immense comfort and gratefulness.
I was happy enough with the information that I had found. Imagine my surprise when I was able to find one of his sermons that has been transcribed! I was especially excited when I saw the title: The Necessity of Real Religion in a Minister of the Gospel. Since I am a minister of the Gospel, it is like my 6th great-grandfather is addressing me personally through his sermon. And though he is dead, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4). It’s amazing that although it has been 168 years since his death, his words and actions can impact his 6th great-grandson all of these years later. I’m so thankful for the providence of our great and sovereign Lord! Since I was so immensely blessed by his sermon, I thought I would post it hear so others could read it as well. I hope it is as big a blessing to you as it has been to me. For some reason, WordPress was freaking out today, so I couldn’t skip a space between each paragraph of the sermon. Maybe I was able to clean it up enough that you can still read it easily enough, though.
The Necessity of Real Religion in a Minister of the Gospel
(Transcribed by Beth Spindler – This document was not dated, and I don’t know if it was written by James Gilliland or copied down by someone else)
The subject on which I would address you, on this occasion, is the necessity of real religion in a minister of the Gospel. I have not chosen this theme because I suppose it needs to be proven. I think I could hardly have hit upon a proposition, the truth of which is more universally admitted. Christians, formalists, hypocrites, infidels, all agree, that he who professes to teach the Religion of Jesus Christ, ought himself to be religious.
Neither have I chosen this subject because I expect to be able to say anything upon it that will be new. In almost every sermon preached, and every charge delivered, at the ordination or installation of ministers of the Gospel, has this subject been brought into view; and probably, everything that could with propriety be said upon it, has been said. But two things have induced me to address you on this topic. As we hope, in the course of our meetings to have a number of addresses on the qualifications and duties of the Gospel ministry; and as Religion is undoubtedly a fundamental qualification, it seemed to me fit to begin with this one.
Altho we all admit with the truth of the proposition; yet I am fully persuaded that it is a subject to the consideration of which even the purest minds often need to be stirred up, by way of remembrance.When I say that real religion is necessary in a minister of the Gospel, I do not mean that it is necessary to the being of a minister. There are some natural qualifications which are even more necessary to the being of a minister than religion itself; such as a knowledge of the scriptures; the power of speech. And no doubt a man of good natural qualifications may, without real piety, be regularly introduced into the ministerial office.
Neither do I mean to say that an ungodly minister, who has been in an orderly manner, licensed and ordained to preach the Gospel, may not be a useful preacher. If our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned and sent forth a Judas with the rest of the Disciples, to preach the Kingdom of God, and to work miracles, I do not know any reason why he might not make him an instrument of good to those whom he ministered. If the Lord, in his providence, still opens the way for the introduction of some irreligious men in-to the Gospel ministry, I dare not say that he will not make the truth delivered by them, instrumental in feeding his people, and gathering in his own elect. Those ministers of the Gospel who conclude that because they have been instrumental in building up the Church of Christ, therefore they themselves might be good men, are, in my opinion, comforting themselves on quite insufficient evidence. I apprehend we may not only preach the Gospel to others, but even preach it with some success, and yet be ourselves cast away.
Further, when I say that real religion is necessary in a minister of the Gospel, I do not barely mean that it is necessary in order to his own salvation. In this point of view it is equally necessary for every man under the sun, what ever be his station or occupation in life. But what I mean is that altho. he may be a minister without it, and may be instrumental in doing good to the people of God; yet, without it , he cannot be able well to perform the duties of his office: he cannot be comfortable in his work: he cannot be faithful in the discharge of his duty; and he will not be very useful.
1. Without real religion, no man can be an able minister of the Gospel.
The work of the minister of the Gospel is to teach the people, to whom he ministers, the true character of God; the obligations under which all men are to love and serve him; the nature of the divine law; the sinful and miserable condition of fallen man; his utter inability to deliver himself, either from the guilt of sin, or the power of corruption; the way of a sinner’s acceptance with God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; the preciousness of Christ, in all his divine and saving characters; the necessity of a godly life, and the inseparable connexion of such a life with faith in Christ. An able minister of the Gospel must inculcate these doctrines, and others necessarily connected with them, both by his words and by his actions. In short, his preaching and his manner of life must be suited to convince sinners of sin of righteousness and of Judgment, and to lay them in the dust of humility before God; to lead the seeking soul to Christ, as the only foundation of hope; to comfort mourners in Zion; to call back wanderers; to alarm hypocrites, and to build up the people of God in holiness and comfort thro faith.
Now it is easy to see that without an experimental acquaintance with the exercise of a real Christian no man can be able well to perform these duties. I am aware that a bad man may be a man of great learning, he may have much of the scriptures by memory, he may preach and contend for a great part of the system of divine truth: but I am also fully persuaded, that he does not well understand what he says. If he does not himself fear God, if he is not humbled under a view of his own sinfulness,if he does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, if he has not a zeal for the glory of God, and a bleeding concern for the salvation of sinners, he will neither study the scriptures with a right view, nor will he be able to preach them in that manner which is likely to produce the desired effect on the minds of his hearers.
In every other branch of science, it is admitted on all hands, that practical or experimental knowledge far exceeds that which is merely speculative. But this maxim is equally true in religion. He who does not feel the power of divine truth on his own heart, and does not himself travel in the strait way which leads to Heaven, will be illy qualified to guide others in that way; and no wise man, deeply concerned for the salvation of his soul, would choose such a guide.
2. Without real religion a minister of the Gospel cannot be comfortable in his work.
An ungodly minister neither loves his master nor his work. He undertakes the work for the sake of worldly honours, or to get a piece of bread, or for some advantage suited to the taste of a carnal heart. How unpleasant then, yea how burdensome must every part of the ministerial duty be to such a man? Can he study the sacred scriptures and pray over them with pleasure? Can he preach with comfort that saviour whom he does not love, and that Gospel which he does not understand? Can he have any comfort in dealing with the hearts and consciences of sinners, crying for mercy, and inquiring what they shall do to be saved? The answer is easy. He cannot. He must be a mere slave, who will consider his service as hard, tedious and burdensome, and all the time he can redeem from it as so much saved.
Perhaps I may be told here, that those ministers who appear to have the least religion, are generally the most cheerful, and appear to be the least burdened with the task committed to them; which the more pious are often deserted and seem to be much pressed with the weight and importance of their work. The truth of this I readily admit: but the objection does not in the least invalidate the truth of what I have said. The ungodly minister is not cheerful and gay because he loves his work; but because he takes as little of it as may be; and because he finds, that with a little labour, he can so display his talents, as to obtain the worldly honours and profits attached to the office. But if you would judge, from his outward appearance, whether he loves his work or not, look at him in the day of adversity. Let the world for-sake him. Let his popularity be over. Let the world and the church refuse to support him: and you will soon see that his comfort as a minister is gone. The pious minister is not cast down because he dislikes his work. But impressed with a view of the importance of it, and of the worth of immortal souls: feeling also that he comes far short of serving his master and the church as he ought, he is, indeed, often much depressed, and were it not for his dependence on his divine master, he would give over his work altogether. But if you would know whether he loves his work or not, look at him in the day of adversity.
Let the world forsake and persecute him. Let him be denied that support which he has a right to expect from those for whose good he labours, and he will soon tell you, by his conduct, that he loves his master’s work. You will hear him say, in language louder than words, Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.
3. Religion in a minister of the Gospel is necessary in order to his faithfulness.
By faithfulness, I mean diligence, and impartiality in the discharge of his duty. In both these respects, it is required in Stewards that a man be found faithful: but in neither can it be expected from an unregenerate man. As he hates his master and his work, like every other bad servant, he will naturally be careless and slothful; caught so far as he considers diligence necessary to recommend him to the world, and to procure the applause of men. His own worldly interest is the strongest inducement which he has to be faithful: and as this is frequently a strong temptation to partiality, he can-not be expected to be impartial. We must declare the whole counsel of God. We must shew the people their transgressions. We must reprove, rebuke and exhort with all diligence: and the whole should be done in such a manner as to be intelligible to the plainest and weakest of our hearers. There is generally a great variety of characters among the people to whom we minister, the pleasing or displeasing of whom will have a very considerable influence on our own ease and worldly interest. If we declare the whole counsel of God, we will offend many if we plainly and faithfully point out to sinners their profitable and fashionable sins, we will offend some: If we do not preach in a style far above the capacities of some of our hearers, and embellish our discourses with such fine gestures, and rhetorical figures, as are calculated to recommend ourselves, and render the cross of Christ of no effect, the learned infidel is disgusted.
The fear of man bringeth a snare. Who then is able, faithfully, to discharge the duty of a gospel minister, in the midst of such temptations to unfaithfulness? No mere man is able to do it perfectly. But who shall be found so faithful, as at last to receive the plaudit, well done good and faithful servant? None but he who knows that if he seeks to please men he shall not be the servant of Christ. None but he who lives, habitually, in the fear of that God, who is himself no respecter of persons.
4. Without real religion a minister of the Gospel will not be very useful.
It is true that God only can grant the blessing which will make the ministrations of the most able and faithful minister successful, and I have already admitted that he may make the ministry of a bad man useful to his people: but it will not follow that he will ever make a bad man eminently useful. In ordinary cases, God proportions the success to the means: or, perhaps to speak more properly, he proportions the means to the end which he designs to produce. I would not venture to say that every man who is eminent for piety is eminently useful: but surely to be eminently useful is an honour which God does not confer on ungodly men. God can work by means or without means: by the weak or by the strong as he pleases: but when he is pleased to use means he will undoubtedly employ fit ones. Now we have already seen that an ungodly minister has very little fitness for doing good. He does not well understand the truth which he delivers; he cannot speak with a feeling sense of the importance of divine truth ;he is unfaithful, slothful and partial in doing his work, he seeks his own honour instead of the glory of God and the salvation of souls; and what is worst of all, his untender walk is continually tending to defeat the design of his preaching; and upon the whole he does far more harm than good in the world.
From all these considerations, I conclude that real religion is a most important and necessary qualification, in a minister of the Gospel. Now Brethren, let us endeavour to make that improvement of the above considerations which the Apostle Paul seems to have made. Let us take care lest after we have preached the Gospel to others we ourselves should be cast away. While we exhort our people to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure, let us examine our-selves whether we be in the faith. We are in equal danger with others of deceiving ourselves. Our calling lays us under the necessity of often thinking and speaking of Religion, and of living, in some degree, like Christians. But let us beware of satisfying our-selves on this ground. All this may arrise from selfish motives. Let us inquire then whether we love our master and his work: whether our chief concern is the glory of God and the salvation of immortal souls, and whether we are really the servants of the people for Christ’s sake.
Again from the above considerations we see the necessity of labouring to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We often complain that we are so poorly qualified to perform the duties of our office: but probably you as well as I often forget wherein our greatest deficiency lies. Why is it that we are so often at a loss to know what to say to our people? Why do we speak with so much coldness and apathy? Why have we so little comfort in our work? Why so many temptations to unfaithfulness? And why so little success? The answer is plain and must not be disguised. It’s because we have so little religion. Let us beware of laying all the blame on our want of memory, our want of learning, our want of time to study, the inattention of our peoples. If we had more love to God, more zeal for his glory and more compassion for poor sinners, we would be more knowing in the scriptures, we would better remember divine truth, we would find more time to study and we would speak & live in a manner more calculated to gain the attention of our hearers. In short we would be more able, comfortable, faithful and useful ministers of the Gospel. Human learning is useful and ought not to be neglected but our chief concern ought to be to grow in Grace and in the knowledge of Christ.
Lastly, from the above remarks we may see what ought to be our chief object and our constant aim in our social meetings. We profess to meet for our own improvement as ministers of the Gospel. Let it then be our chief aim to stir up one another to the lively exercise of every Christian grace, that we may be able and comfortable and faithful and useful ministers of the Gospel & at last receive the plaudit: Well done good & faithful Servants.