Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]



The standard upheld by any body of Christians, in reference to the selection, preparation, and appointment, of the ministers of the Gospel, will ever be found to coincide with their standard respecting the nature and character of the ministry itself. Those who are satisfied with a ministry which requires, for its performance, nothing superior to the powers of man, will look for nothing superior to those powers, in the several steps which lead to its exercise. Those who are accustomed to regard it as the offspring, partly of the influence of the Spirit, and partly of human study, will indeed consider a divine call essential to the object; but they will not, for the most part, admit such a call to be sufficient, without the addition of preparatory intellectual efforts, or without the interference of the authority of man. Those, lastly, whose principle it is to admit no ministry but such as flows immediately from the Spirit of Truth, must, of necessity, leave the whole work of selection, preparation, and appointment, to the Lord himself.

In order to develop this general rule with some degree of precision, it may be desirable to examine, in the first place, how far it is exemplified by the known practices of the Anglican church, and of the generality of English protestant dissenters. I trust, however, it will be clearly understood by the reader, that, in attempting such an examination, I have no intention to throw discredit on any de nomination of professing Christians; much less to discourage the sincere in heart from the pursuit of those duties which appertain to their own condition and situation in the church universal. My object is simply to illustrate the subject on which I am treating, and

to introduce, in a clear and explicit manner, the sentiments entertained, on that subject, by the Society of Friends.

When the bishop of the Anglican church ordains to the priesthood, he lays his hand on the head of the individual to be ordained, and says, “Receive the Holy Ghost, for the office and work of a priest in the church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands.” Here is a plain recognition of the doctrine, that the person ordained is to exercise his ministry by means of the influence of the Holy Ghost; and it is in perfect coincidence with such a sentiment that the candidate for the sacred office, in the same church, professes that he is “inwardly moved” to the assumption of it" by the Holy Ghost”—that he is called” to the work “ according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.” My own knowledge of such individuals enables me freely to allow, that there are many among the ministers of this denomination who, in the exercise of their functions, really depend in great measure on a divine influence, and who would by no means have undertaken the work of the Gospel, had they not believed that they were inwardly moved to it by the Holy Ghost. On the other hand it will not be disputed that much of the ministry actually employed within the borders of the Established Church is the production of human effort; that it is universally understood to have no other origin; and that no direct influence of the Spirit, in prompting the service, is either expected by the preacher, or required by his hearers. The multitude, who are accustomed to this low standard respecting the nature and character of the ministry itself, are habituated to a standard equally low, in relation to the steps which precede the assumption of the sacred office. First, with respect to selection; the choice of the individual, who is afterward to proclaim to others the glad tidings of salvation, is very usually understood to rest with his parents, with his friends, or with himself. Secondly, with respect to preparation ; nothing is required, for the most part, but the passing of a few years at one of the universities, in order to the attainment of mathematical and classical literature, and of a certain moderate stock of theological knowledge. Lastly, with respect to appointment: the personal authority of the ordaining bishop is, for this purpose, generally deemed to be all-sufficient. Were it true that, by the laying on of his hands, the bishop of modern times, like the apostle of the earliest church, was miraculously enabled to communicate to the candidate for sacred orders the gift of the Holy Ghost, the most spiritual Christian could advance no objection to episcopal ordination. But, since this is not true, and since it is perfectly known not to be true, the ceremony plainly resolves itself into an appointment to the office of the ministry by the bishop only; and, with the exception of those individuals who are really called to the work by the inward motion of the Holy Ghost, the ministers thus ordained must be considered as undertaking the office of a preacher upon the sole authority of that appointment.

Among the generality of protestant dissenters in this country, much less of form is observed, in conducting the administrations of the Gospel, than is customary in the Anglican church. The written sermon, as well as the printed liturgy, are for the most part discarded, and make way for the extempore discourse and prayer. While, however, it appears to be an opinion generally prevalent among English protestant dissenters, that the faculty of praying aloud and preaching is the gift of the Spirit, I believe there are few of their ministers who hesitate either to prepare themselves for the work by previous study and reflection, or to preach and pray, at periods appointed by others, or fixed upon by themselves. With this mixed standard, respecting the nature of the ministry itself, the practices of these Christians, with regard to the preceding measures, will be found exactly to correspond. While the necessity of a divine call, and the preparation of grace in the heart, are generally admitted, the first selection of the dissenting minister depends, in great measure, on the church to which he belongs. When any young person is considered as affording a sufficient evidence of suitability for the ministry, in point of conduct and talent, as well as of a general call into such a field of labour, he is mostly recommended by the church ( with his own consent and that of his friends) to some preparatory academy. There, his attention is directed to the acquirement of literature, and to those branches of study, more especially, which, bear immediately on his great object. Thus prepared, he is invited by some congregation to come and preach the Gospel among them; and finally, when both parties are satisfied, several dissenting ministers, who have been already established in their office, unite in ordaining him as an authorized preacher, and as the minister of that congregation. This may, I believe, be considered an accurate description of the course adopted with respect to the selection, preparation, and appointment, of ministers, by some of the leading bodies of dissenters in this country; and, among many others, to whom such a description will not precisely apply, the same principles are, nevertheless, allowed and enforced-namely, that a divine call and the work of grace are, in the first place, indispensable; but that to these are to be added the application of outward means, and the interposition of human authority.

Before we proceed to consider the principles and practices of Friends in reference to the present branch of our subject, it will be well for us to examine whether any sanction is given, in the Holy Scriptures, to that practice so general among modern Christiansthe human ordination of the ministers of the Gospel.

That the apostles, and some others of the earliest Christians were enabled, by the laying-on of their hands, to draw down upon individuals, in a miraculous manner, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, has been already remarked.' But it will be allowed, by the impartial reader, that the human ordination of preachers, when connected with this extraordinary power, resolves itself, in point of fact, into a divine appointment, and affords no authority for such ordination, when the power ceases to exist. There are, however, two passages of the New Testament, in which we read of human ordination, independently of any miraculous communication of the Holy Spirit. We are informed, in the book of Acts, that, when Paul and Barnabas revisited the churches which they had planted at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, they “ordained them elders (or presbyters) in every church ;”” and, on another occasion, Paul thus addressed himself to Titus, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (or presbyters) in every city.”

Here, on the supposition that the example of Paul and Titus may be safely followed by uninspired persons, we find a direct authority for the human ordination or appointment of Christian presbyters : and, since the office of preaching is understood, among many modern Christians, to be inseparably connected with the station of a presbyter, the inference is easily deduced, that the human ordination of the preachers of the Gospel is authorized in the New Testament. But I apprehend that such an inference is founded


3 Tit. i. 5.

i Acts viii. 19; 1 Tim. iv. 14.

2 Acts xiv. 23.

upon an original error, of no slight importance. In the times of primitive Christianity, there was no necessary connexion between the gift of preaching, or prophecy, and the offices of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The fourteenth chapter of the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians affords abundant evidence, as we have already found occasion to notice, that, when the earliest Christians assembled together for the purpose of divine worship, it was not the bishop or overseer, nor the presbyter or elder, nor the deacon or subordinate manager, who preached and prayed, ex officio, in the congregation. Being, for the most part, persons of a spiritual character, they might, indeed, be frequently included in the number of those who preached and prayed in the churches ; but the work of the ministry was, at that time, restricted to no appointed individuals: it devolved promiscuously upon all persons—whether men or women-whether governors or governed-to whom the word of God was revealed, and who were visited by the fresh and heavenly influences of the Spirit of prophecy.

The office of the bishops or overseers was, in the earliest Christian churches, the same as that of the presbyters or elders. The overseers were denominated elders, and the elders, overseers. Their situation in the body corresponded with that of the chief rulers of the ancient Jewish synagogues." It was their duty,”

says Schleusner, “ to rule the church of Christ, but not to teach : more especially, to preside over matters of worship; to administer the sacraments (or at least the Eucharist); to make decrees in ecclesiastical affairs; to provide assistance for the poor and the sick; to maintain, in the church, integrity of doctrine and sanctity of manners, and to settle the differences which arose among Christians.”2 This able critic appears to have been somewhat hasty in excluding from the offices of the bishops and presbyters the duty of teaching. The gift of teaching—a gift which is sometimes distinguished from that of preaching or prophecy-does not, indeed, appear to have been universal among them; but the apostle, in his general directions re

i Phil. i. 1. “Paul and Timotheus, &c. .......... to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Theo doret, in his note upon this passage, says, "He calls the presbyters bishops ; for, at that period, they were called by both those names ;" so also Theophylact.

2 See Schleusner in voc. apea Búrepos.

« PreviousContinue »