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church, so far from rendering it feeble, doubtful, or ineffectual to its proper ends; on the contrary, makes it sacred and binding on conscience, and brings both ministers and people, in respect of it, under a direct and solemn responsibility to the Great Redeemer and Judge. Whatever authority christian ministers possess, they hold it ..jure divino,' or they have none at all. If any exercise in the church an authority which Christ gave them not, it is a usurpation. The church itself has no existence but from him; and he that is absolute creator must have absolute dominion over his own work. If, therefore, there were indeed any now empowered to make new laws, and additional officers and regulations in the church, they could have that power only by delegation and appointment from the Lord Jesus. Nothing is then more clear, than, that if there be in the hands of a christian minister any authority, he derives it from the only Lord and Master, Christ Jesus.
It must be equally apparent, that the authority of christian ministers must be exclusively scriptural; they must be invested with it by warrant of the New Testament. The mind and will of Christ is made known to his church by no medium but scripture. Nothing is left to human discretion, nothing to human reason, save only the office of correctly interpreting, with divine help, the sacred oracles. All titles, offices, powers assumed by any professing to be Christ's ministers, not derived from the instructions of Christ and his apostles, are therefore invalid and usurped.
The authority of christian ministers must be purely and wholly spiritual. Its origin, nature, and purposes are all spiritual. It does not affect men's temporal interests, but their consciences, their christian
graces and duties, and the salvation of their souls. The whole labour and duty of a christian minister is in the church, among the professed disciples of the Saviour; and where his duty and labour is, there, and there only, is his authority. It extends not to the bodies, or property, or liberty of men; is not armed with secular coercion and punishments ; can employ legitimately no weapons but the word, ordinances, and instituted discipline of the gospel. And though in this view, to the judgment of the world, the authority of a christian minister may seem no authority, may seem wanting in sanction and force, because it can inflict no carnal, secular penalties, employ no terrors of the magistrate's sword; yet in truth, for its own proper purposes of administering the laws and blessings of Christ's kingdom, for ruling and benefiting his subjects, this authority is therefore venerable, and its sanctions appropriate, because they are altogether spiritual; and the seeming force and power obtained from carnal weapons altogether enervates and annuls it, and renders it entirely unfit to act on consciences and govern souls.
The authority of christian ministers is again strictly and only executive: there are no legislative functions confided to them, and therefore no discretionary power to make, or alter, or repeal laws in the church of God. In proof of this it is enough to say, that no man can pretend, with any show of reason, to make laws for the church, without an express warrant and charge to do so. But the New Testament certainly empowers no uninspired men to make laws for Christ's church. This is so sure, that to assert it is quite sufficient. Neither is there the slightest pretence that any man ever was employed to give laws in the church, except under an immediate inspiration from God. All those honoured servants of heaven, from Moses to Paul, exhibited miraculous proof that they were commissioned of God, and then gave forth, not their own conclusions and regulations, but his oracles and sacred ordinances. But to the standing ministry of the church is confided nothing more than the faithful administration of its affairs, upon rules laid down in scripture, and by means furnished there. The doctrines to he preached, the ordinances to be administered, and the discipline to he enforced, are all contained in the New Testament. And the whole authority of a christian minister depends on his requiring nothing, employing nothing that is not scriptural. Engaged in his holy office to carry into effect the requirements of the word of God, he has the sanction of Christ, and is borne out by his authority ; but attempting to obtrude on the disciples of the Saviour, what he has not enjoined, he has no hold on their consciences: they are under duty to Christ to resist, not to obey, that unauthorised dictation.
As the authority of the christian ministry, whatever it may be, can, in fact, be possessed only by those who are legitimately invested with that office, it may be necessary to a complete view of our subject, that we should briefly inquire what constitutes a scriptural call to this sacred service, and establishment in it. In truth, a valid institution into the ministry of the Gospel must originate with the Great Master himself: none but he can determine who shall serve him in this great work, or communicate adequate qualifications, or give a lawful appointment to it. But as inspiration has ceased, and men are not now sent forth into the sacred ministry by any miraculous call, but in the ordinary course of gracious and providential arrangements, a personal call to the ministry of the word must be judged of in accordance therewith. And as the church is an organized society of christian men, the Saviour effects, through that instrumentality, the regular and safe introduction of good men into the ministerial office; not leaving the determination of so weighty a matter to the private and personal will of the individuals themselves, who may, on whatever grounds, desire the work of a bishop. Three things on the part of the Great Head of the church, and as immediately from him, seem essentially necessary, as an indication of his will, that any of his disciples should serve him in the public ministry of the word;—that is, all these three things must concur and meet in any individual to designate him as intended of Christ for this work. Qualifications, natural and gracious : sincere piety, and not only competent, but appropriate abilities. Next the spirit of the work: an impulse of the soul to it, a deep sense of duty to undertake it, a real love to the employ. And providential openings, and disposal of circumstances to secure a regular and clear admission to the office. But then, as before observed, these things are not left to private interpretation; the judgment of others is to be consulted, and their sanction obtained.' Especially those already in the ministry are under charge to attend to the succession of others in the sacred work, and are, therefore, equally under duty and authority, both to prevent improper persons from intruding into it, and to seek out, encourage, and advance suitable characters for it. The voice of the church may, with great propriety, be consulted. But, as a proper distribution of the duty of ministers and churches, in the introduction of the younger brethren into the sacred office, it would seem that it is the part especially of ministers to judge of the qualifications and call of candidates to the ministry generally, in the first instance, and to oversee and provide for their suitable training for it; and then of the people to judge whether they will sanction and confirm what has proceeded thus far, by accepting to the ministerial and pastoral work among them, those who have had the countenance of other pastors in becoming candidates, and obtaining education for the work. And, indeed, he who is conscious to himself of upright and holy motives in entering on this great * calling; whose qualifications and spirit have been approved by wise and faithful elders; and who has obtained from Christ that favour among the christian people to whom he has opened his probationary ministry, that they receive him to be their pastor with unanimous love and joy, may calmly and satisfactorily conclude, Jesus hath counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry; and that the authority of a christian minister rests on him, not as usurped, but as committed to him from him that called him, that he may be thoroughly furnished for his work and make full proof of it. While in any young and zealous Christian, desirous to engage in the gospel ministry, a contempt or disregard of the advice and countenance of other ministers and Christians, on so momentous a design, would betray dispositions in themselves almost conclusive proof that he was intruding himself uncalled and unauthorized to the service of God's altar: only ignorance, conceit, self-will, inadequate views of the awfulness of sacred office, could lead to such conduct. Not that there is, therefore, no remedy in cases where, from the general corruption of the church, and decay of piety, ministers and people would concur together, in thrusting away from the regular avenues of approach to the pulpit, every youth of sound doctrinal views, fervent piety, and devoted zeal; accounting the best qualifications for the sacred work with which his Divine Master had endowed him, the strongest reasons for their hostility and rejection. In such cases, in all cases, where the great interests of piety and truth can only be vindicated by departure from ordinary forms and modes of procedure, the word of God is not bound to them; they must not, by scrupulous and superstitious adherence to them, be allowed permanently to obstruct and hinder the very ends they were instituted to promote. And God will give a call and a seal to what may seem the irregular recommencements of his own work, which, once revived into life and power, will again adjust itself to salutary and restored order. The churches which have orginated in zealous and holy efforts for truth and piety, though upbraided for their irregular origin, and cut off from an orderly course of succession, by the corrupt and persecuting communities against whose errors they bear
their protest, may rest satisfied in the approval of him who prefers obedience to sacrifice, and substance to form. Nor can it be imagined that any precise modes of introduction into the ministry are so essential, as that whoever departs from them in his entrance upon the office, therefore invalidates his whole ministerial call and administrations. The episcopalian, presbyterian, and congregational modes cannot be all exactly or equally scriptural: but surely it is not to be imagined that any one of those bodies has so fatally erred in its mode of induction to the sacred ministry, as to have rendered it impossible that, under its forms, the Saviour should call forth into service pastors of his own choice and approval. And if not, then must it be regarded as a most deplorable departure from enlightened charity and spiritual views of Christ's kingdom, in those who limit valid ordination to one form, and make ministerial character depend on ordination, which is, indeed, a solemn, appropriate, scriptural service for giving public expression to the concurrent sanction of ministers and Christians to the entrance of a pastor in his public work; but still valuable to him, and to the general cause of piety, just in proportion as it is conducted with faith, love, truth, and zeal ; even in this case the spirit far more than the form giving validity to the transaction. But to make the blessing of Christ, the promise of the Spirit, and the validity of a ministry, all dependant on a form, instead of holding that where the truth and power of godliness are, there errors in form will be forgiven by the Great Master, and therefore ought to be considered quite subordinate by us, is utterly to Judaize, and to subject the church again to the old yoke of ceremonials, our freedom from which is no mean article in the charter of our gospel liberty.
This is not advanced to make light of the Saviour's institutions, even in their most subordinate details; or to justify known departure from his will, or neglect to ascertain it, in any instance; or to represent all the various modes adopted among Christians as matters entirely indifferent in themselves, and to be regarded by us with equal approval. By no means. Charity and forbearance towards what we deem the minor errors of our brethren, is not approbation of them. Communion on the ground of agreement in great things, is no sanction of what are mutually deemed deviations from truth on lesser points. But this principle of communion with Christians, notwithstanding ritual and ecclesiastical differences, is essential, if there is to be any fellowship without perfect outward uniformity. For the congregationalist may deem himself to have as valid and scriptural objections to episcopalian ordination, as those of that communion can entertain against his mode of induction into the christian ministry. He may think mere parental designation, without evidence of personal piety, in the first instance; a slight examination as to creed, morals, and learning before ordination; and a presentment to cure of souls, by the sole authority of a patron, with no appeal at any stage to the judgment of a christian people, as defective and unscriptural a call to the sacred office, as his episcopalian brother can consider his introduction to it for want of the supposed apostolic succession. What is to be done? To forbear and commune. For does not the Great Master himself interpose to check and rebuke mutual exclusion and alienation on this account, by making it plain before our eyes, that by both modes he introduces into a useful and honourable ministry, many men of character, usefulness, and divine approbation so equal, as to prove that however much either or both denominations have erred in this matter from his institutions, neither have forfeited altogether his promised presence and blessing ; and that, therefore, neither ought to condemn, unchurch, and excommunicate the other.
And as in our brotherly forbearing communion with christian ministers and churches from whom we differ in ecclesiastical polity, so in order to satisfaction with our own ministerial character and authority, it is necessary to lay the main stress of its validity on great principles rather than on any circumstances or accuracy of forms. For if a christian minister can never be satisfied of his regular, valid introduction into his sacred office, till he has the same precise and sure knowledge of every form that should be observed for that purpose, as might be obtained, and was necessary to the due consecration of a Jewish priest, that satisfaction is now utterly unattainable. But if it be deemed sufficient that every man be clearly satisfied he is following the mind of Christ, which he has diligently sought for in the divine word, and that as such sincere inquirers will be preserved from fatal or serious error as to personal duty or salvation, so also equally from such injurious mistakes in the formation and government of churches, in the call and ordination of ministers, as would invalidate their character and forfeit the Saviour's approval and blessing, on this ground we have satisfaction for ourselves and charity for others; we see how both they and we may partake in the smile and presence of the Great Master; we have a rule of judgment in harmony with the liberty of the gospel, with the genius of a spiritual, not a ritual dispensation. We may prefer our own modes under a persuasion of their accordance with scripture, and be satisfied that, whether as shepherds, or as sheep, we have entered into the fold by the door, and have not climbed over the sacred inclosure with fraud or violence as thieves and robbers; and yet recognize as brethren those who have entered by the same great portal, though with some variation of course and manner. The great law is, “ let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,” as to truth and duty on subordinate points; and then bear with his differing brother, in the candid hope that, notwithstanding his different conclusions, he has been equally careful to ascertain the mind of Christ, and is equally satisfied of his own success.
This may seem a long digression. But our object is to ascertain the legitimate authority of a christian minister; and it seems, in order to that, necessary to determine what constitutes a man a legitimate minister. To a mind solicitous on this subject, both questions will require a reply; what authority has the Lord Jesus confided to his ministers ? and has he confided that authority to me by constituting me one of his servants in the church? Now, while willing to exercise large charity to those of different judgments and practices, we respectfully but utterly deny the necessity of episcopal ordination,