« ElőzőTovább »
into every country in the world, it cautiously refrained from interfering with the municipal regulations or civil condition of any. Negligent of every view, but what
. related to the deliverance of mankind from spiritual perdition, the Saviour of the world advanced no pretensions which, by disturbing the arrangements of human polity, might present an obstacle to the reception of his faith. We may ascribe to it this design, that he left the laws of his church so open and indeterminate that, whilst the ends of religious communion were sufficiently declared, the form of the society might be assimilated to the civil constitution of each country, to which it should always communicate strength and support in return for the protection it received. If there be any truth in these observations, they lead to this temperate and charitable conclusion, “ that Christianity may be professed under any form of church goverment."
But though all things are lawful, all things are not expedient. If we concede to other churches the Christian legality of their constitution, so long as Christian worship and instruction are competently provided for, we may be allowed to maintain the advantage of our own, upon principles which all parties acknowledge—considerations of public utility. We may be allowed to contend, that whilst we imitate, so far as a great disparity of circumstances permits, the example, and what we apprehend to be the order, of the apostolic age, our church and ministry are inferior to none in the great object of their institution, their suitableness to promote and uphold the profession, knowledge, and influence of pure Christianity. The separation of a particular order of men for the work of the ministry—the reserving to these exclusively the conduct of public worship and the preaching of the word—the distribution of the country into districts, and the assigning of each district to the care and charge of its proper pastor--lastly, the appointment to the clergy of a maintenance independent of the caprice of their congregation, are measures of ecclesiastical policy which have been adopted by every national establishment of Christianity in the world. Concerning these points there exists no controversy. The chief article of regulation upon which the judgment of some Protestant churches dissents from ours is, that whilst they have established a perfect parity among their clergy, we prefer a distinction of orders in the church, not only as recommended by the usage of the purest times, but as better calculated to promote, what all churches must desire, the credit and efficacy of the sacerdotal office.
The force and truth of this last consideration I will endeavour to evince.
First, the body of the clergy, in common with every regular society, must necessarily contain some internal provision for the government and correction of its members. Where a distinction of orders is not acknowledged, this government can only be administered by synods and assemblies, because the supposition of equality forbids the delegation of authority to single persons. Now, although it may be requisite
, to consult and collect the opinions of a community, in the momentous deliberations which ought to precede the establishment of those public laws by which it is to be bound ; yet in every society the execution of these laws, the current and ordinary affairs of its government are better managed by fewer hands. To commit personal questions to public debate, to refer every case and character which requires animadversion, to the suffrages and examination of a numerous assembly, what is it, but to feed and to perpetuate contention, to supply materials for endless
altercation, and opportunities for the indulgence of concealed enmity and private prejudices ? The complaint of ages testifies with how much inflammation, and how little equity, ecclesiastical conventions have conducted their proceedings : how apt intrigue has ever been to pervert inquiry, and clamour to confound discussion. Whatever may be the other benefits of equality, peace is best secured by subordination. And if this be a consideration of moment in
every society, it is of peculiar importance to the clergy. Preachers of peace, ministers of charity and of reconciliation to the world, that constitution surely ill-befits their office and character which has a tendency to engage them in contests and disputes with one another.
Secondly, the appointment of various orders in the church may be considered as the stationing of ministers of religion in the various ranks of civil life. The distinctions of the clergy ought, in some measure, to correspond with the distinctions of lay society, in order to supply each class of the people with a clergy of their own level and description, with whom they may live and associate upon terms of equality. This reason is not imaginary nor insignificant. The usefulness of a virtuous and well-informed clergy consists neither wholly nor principally in their public preaching, or the stated functions of their order. It is from the example and in the society of such persons, that the requisites which prepare the mind for the
reception of virtue and knowledge, a taste for serious reflection and discourse, habits of thought and reasoning, a veneration for the laws and awful truths of Christianity, a disposition to inquire and a solicitude to learn, are best gained: at least, the decency of deportment, the sobriety of manners and conversation, the learning, the gravity, which usually accompany the clerical character insensibly diffuse their influence
over every company into which they are admitted. Is it of no importance to provide friends and companions of this character for the superior as well as for the middle orders of the community ? Is it flattery to say, that the manners and society of higher life would suffer some depravation from the loss of so many men of liberal habits and education, as at present, by occupying elevated stations in the church, are entitled to be received into its number? This intercourse would cease if the clergy were reduced to a level with one another, and, of consequence, with the inferior part of the community. These distinctions, whilst they prevail, must be complied with. How much soever the moralist may despise, or the divine overlook, the discriminations of rank, which the rules or prejudices of modern life have introduced into society; when we have the world to instruct and to deal with, we must take and treat it as it is, not as the wishes or the speculations of philosophy would represent it to our view. When we describe the public as peculiarly interested in everything which affects, though but remotely, the character of the great and powerful, it is not that the soul of the rich man is more precious than the salvation of the poor, but because his virtues and his vices have a more considerable and extensive effect.
Thirdly, they who behold the privileges and emoluments of the superior clergy with the most unfriendly inclination profess nevertheless to wish that the order itself should be respected; but how is this respect to be procured ? 'It is equally impossible to invest every clergyman with the decorations of affluence and rank, and to maintain the credit and reputation of an order which is altogether destitute of these destinctions. Individuals, by the singularity of their virtue or their talents, may surmount all disadvantages ; but the order will be contemned. At present every member of our ecclesiastical establishment communicates with the dignity which is conferred upon a few—every cler. gyman shares in the respect which is paid to his superiors--the ministry is honoured in the persons of prelates. Nor is this economy peculiar to our order. The professions of arms and of the law derive their lustre and esteem not merely from their utility (which is a reason only to the few), but from the exalted place in the scale of civil life, which hath been wisely assigned to those who fill stations of power and eminence in these great departments. And, if this disposition of honours be approved in other kinds of public employment, why should not the credit and liberality of ours be upheld by the same expedient?
Fourthly, rich and splendid situations in the church have been justly regarded as prizes held out to invite persons of good hopes and ingenuous attainments to enter into its service. The value of the prospect may be the same, but the allurement is much greater where opulent shares are reserved to reward the success of a few, than where by a more equal partition of the fund, all indeed are competently provided for, but no one can raise even his hopes beyond a penurious mediocrity of subsistence and situation. It is certainly of consequence that young men of promising abilities be encouraged to engage in the ministry of the church; otherwise, our profession will be composed of the refuse of every other. None will be found content to stake the fortune of their lives in this calling but they whom slow parts, personal defects, or a depressed condition of birth and education, preclude from advancement in any other. The vocation in time comes to be thought mean and discreditable-study languishes--sacred erudition declines--not only the order is disgraced, but religion itself disparaged