Solomon Stoddard was the minister of the Congregational church in Northampton for over half a century, and was succeeded by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards. He enjoyed a fruitful ministry over many years, and in particular, he was used by God in the conversion of many people and the reform of the community in line with Christian principles.
In this extract from a sermon entitled “The Duty of Gospel Ministers to Preserve a People from Corruption,”1Stoddard enunciates the high calling of the gospel minister. The text for his sermon was Matthew 5:13—“You are the salt of the earth.”
[M]insters are to preserve a people by their preaching . . . This is the principle part of their work . . . The Word of God duly preached is the special means to advance the work of sanctification . . .
The light of nature teaches men some things concerning God and His attributes, and it teaches them the difference concerning many things that are morally good and evil; but this light shines but dimly, and the characters that are written in the heart are much blurred and obliterated. So men have need to have those things clearly indicated. But the way of salvation by Christ is a thing of pure revelation. Natural reason is utterly silent about it . . . It is not enough that men are able to say their catechism by rote, but the minister must labor in it that they have a confirmed knowledge of the truth, that they may have a clear, distinct, and explicit understanding of the doctrines of religion. They must take pains to make them understand . . .
Ministers must do their office in being the salt of the land . . . It is a great fault in ministers when they don’t diligently study the mind of God, but spend their time in visits and worldly business . . . It is very blameworthy in them when they preach things that they have not studied. It is a great sin in them when they are afraid to deal faithfully and to bear a testimony against the sins of the land. If the land is corrupted by their default, they will bring down the anger of God upon themselves. If they countenance the sins of the land, if they do not do their duty to prevent the sins of the land, they will make themselves partakers of other men’s sins; and it will be a dreadful thing for God to charge the sins of the land on them.
There are four things that ministers should labor in to prevent the corruption of the land.
That there are a good number of people converted. Ministers should labor to convert as many as possible, not only out of respect to the salvation of their souls, but to prevent the corruption of the land. If men are converted they will lead holy lives . . .
That godly men are kept in a flourishing condition . . .
That the consciences of natural men are kept tender. Ministers must labor to possess men with a deep sense of the jealousy of God and of the terrible judgements that God executes for sin . . .
That they are well principled against the errors and vices of the age. Ignorance exposes a people to corrupt carriages . . .2
1 Solomon Stoddard, The Nature of Saving Conversion (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 161-179 and 175-178.
2 i.e., manners or deportment.