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and gained its establishment in some of the fairest portions of our own country? There must be limits somewhere to the inroads of false doctrine, or all is lost. Without some limitation here, on the part of the appointed watchmen on the walls of Zion, councils are but collections of men without personal responsibility; the very name is but a mockery; and examinations, pretended deliberations, votes, results, are but meaningless forms, or mere impositions on the credulity of the uninitiated in the mysteries of theological jugglery. What must the limits be? I shall not attempt to specify them exactly, but shall propound certain principles, according to which, it appears to me, every man's conduct ought to be regulated in deciding as to the admission or rejection of those who come before him as candidates for the sacred office.
I need not say that to expect from ministers perfection in knowledge or in virtue would be absurd, and betray utter ignorance of the design of God in his appointment of men as the messengers of his mercy to a guilty world. He might have chosen angels to preach the Gospel. But such was not the purpose of infinite wisdom.
" We have,” says Paul, “ this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
Yet it is evident that they who are set apart to the work of the ministry should have a good report as Christians, of them that are without, and that they should be able to give such an account of their religious experience as ought to be satisfactory to a discerning and impartial council. Christ required of Peter, and consequently requires of all religious teachers and pastors, love to the Redeemer, as preliminary to the privilege and duty of feeding his sheep and his lambs.
Certain natural qualities are also requisite to fit one for the arduous labors of the ministry; as a good understanding, sound judgment, industrious habits, and a physical power of endurance. On this point, I presume, there can be but one opinion among sensible and candid nen.
In addition to these qualities, a minister at this day needs a thorough education in the common and higher branches of learning, an extensive knowledge of the Scriptures in their general scope and connection, discriminating views of the Gospel, and the ability to state and defend them against all cavillers and enemies of the Cross of Christ. (1 Tim. iv. 15, 16; iii. 6; Tit. i. 9; ii. 8; 2 Tim. iv. 1-5.)
Aptness to teach is twice distinctly mentioned by the apostle as a necessary qualification of a Christian bishop. (1 Tim. iii. 2; 2 Tim. ii. 24.) An utter want of this talent, whatever else may be a man's acquirements and gifts, is a clear intimation of his unfitness to be intrusted with the care of souls. Though eloquence, strictly so called, may be of little comparative value, yet an ability to speak with clearness and some degree of fluency, is, in ordinary cases, highly desirable, if not of indispensable necessity. Moses was encouraged in the self-denying labor of
delivering the children of Israel from their bondage, by the consideration that he would have as his associate in the work, “Aaron,” his “brother,” concerning whom, “I know,” said God, “that he can speak well."
From the foregoing remarks it is obvious that true piety, though an essential, is yet not of itself a sufficient qualification for the ministerial office. A man may be a true Christian who has little power of ratiocination, little knowledge, and few intellectual gifts of any kind. He may do good by his example, by his prayers, and by the words of grace and truth which occasionally fall from his lips; but to make him a public teacher of religion would be as incongruous as to elevate a man of little experience and of but ordinary powers to the command of an army in times of the utmost peril and alarm. What losses, what disorders, what defects has the church sometimes suffered from the ignorance and weakness of her professed leaders! Well does Cowper, the honest Episcopalian, say:
" From such apostles, () ye mitred heads,
Preserve the church ! and lay not careless hands
Some hopefully pious men, moreover, have certain constitutional defects of character which would greatly mar, if not destroy, their usefulness as ministers.
As there may be a sound theology without other important qualifications, so there may be many other apparent qualifications without that soundness in the faith which is needful to one whose office it is to guide immortal souls in the way of truth and duty. In judging in such cases, an association or council are to decide, not according to what a man may probably hereafter be, but according to what he professedly now is, in point of religious belief. We cannot penetrate into the future of one's course, and many most grievous mistakes have been made in attempting to do so. The greatest heretic may hereafter become orthodox; but is this a good reason for admitting him, as he now is, to our communion? What if a man have great talents and learning ? So much the worse; the greater is his power to do harm, if his creed be false or defective, by erroneous teaching. Is one, also, as we are bound in charity to think, a good man? His piety may be a reason for receiving him to our communion as a private member of the church, while his errors or misapprehensions may be sufficient to make him a danger. ous man in the pulpit. In refusing an approbation of him as a religious teacher, we do not necessarily deny or affirm anything with respect to his Christian character. We merely say, that, with such defective or erroneous teaching as his must be, his views continuing as they now are, he cannot have our approbation as a minister; and, if he is in an inquiring state of mind, we would advise him to wait till his opinions
are more matured and settled before he take upon himself the vows and responsibilities of the holy ministry. Is this a hard requirement? Shall he teach others, who is not himself taught? Is any injury done him because his brethren do not say publicly, by introducing him into the sacred office, that they virtually approve of his ignorance, his indecision, or those principles of his which they deem subversive of the truth as it is in Jesus? They cannot look into the heart; but the ground of their judgment must be, what they see, and what they hear. Nor is it safe to incline always to what many would call a charitable judgment on questions connected with the public weal. "Charity,” said a plain old man of a generation long since past, “charity is not a fool.” Said the meek and merciful Redeemer, “ By their fruits ye shall know them.” “By thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” What right have we to reckon him sound in the faith who either explains away or denies some of the most fundamental doctrines of what we regard as the Christian system?
Nor will it be a sufficient excuse for introducing men who hold error into the ministry, that their feelings, or the feelings of their friends, will be hurt, if we do not. We are not, indeed, lightly to trifle with the feelings of any man. An unkind spirit is certainly an unchristian spirit. Needless severity, under whatever pretext, is, in all instances, to be avoided. But what is there of unkindness in refusing to approve as ministers those whose errors, we verily believe, tend to undermine the entire scheme of grace revealed in the Gospel? Ought we not to have regard to the right instruction of precious souls, as well as to the wishes and comfort of those who ask our approval of them as preachers of the Gospel? Shall we sacrifice the general good to the apparent, or real, interests of a few individuals?
It may be asked, Shall we risk our popularity? Yes, if it be necessary. Our popularity is a curse to ourselves, and to the world, if it prove a hindrance to our fidelity. Let it go, if it cannot be secured without the commission of sin. We are most plainly assured, orer and over again, that if we love any worldly object more than Christ and his cause, we cannot be his disciples.
Would any wise man become responsible for the future debts of another, who was obviously unacquainted with all the laws of economy and the first principles of regular business? And is it more important that men should not be cheated in their pecuniary concerns, than that they should not be led astray in what respects their everlasting wellbeing? Would any of us vote for a ruler whom we believed to be wholly incompetent, though, peradventure, he might be our neighbor, or our particular friend? And shall we act on different principles in electing our fellow-men to the highest and most solemn vocation on earth? Is it better to endanger souls than to put in jeopardy a state?
The boastful talk concerning liberality and bigotry cannot meet the case. What saith the divine record ? Its decision must ultimately settle every dispute in morals and religion. Indifference here, instead of being a virtue, is a crime of no small magnitude.
The recommendation of a candidate by others does not exonerate a council from the obligation of examining and judging for themselves. They are greatly responsible to the chureli, to the world, and to God.
Nor can a council be justified in sanctioning the ordination or installation of a minister, merely because a people have united in giving him a call, and are very urgent to procure his settlement among them as their pastor. The people may, if they choose, act independently; but they have no power to control the judgment or dictate the measures of a council convoked to decide in view of evidence, and as in the presence of God. The council cannot be excused from acting thus, whether the people are or are not pleased with the result that shall be adopted. The council are not unconscious tools; they are reasonable creatures, and must give a final account of their doings at a greater than any earthly tribunal.
Nor are ministers in a council or association bound, in cases of conscience, to yield their own opinions to those of majorities. The former cannot, it is true, prevent the result; but they have a right, and it may be their duty, to protest against what they believe to be an erroneous decision. “ So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.” The express command of God is, not “ Act with thy brethren at all events,” but “ Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” Nor will it avail to say that we sought by conformity our greater usefulness; for what right have we to do evil that good may come? With respect to those who act on this principle, the apostle has told us (Rom. iii. 9), that their “damnation is just.” Christ frequently foretold divisions and persecutions as the certain consequence of fidelity in his cause.
It is not to be forgotten that the influence which professed ministers wield for good or evil, is immense. Nor can it be otherwise, so long as the laws of human nature remain unchanged. Heresies, tumult, and every species of disorder and wickedness, have originated with unfaithful ministers, while those of the opposite character have been the greatest benefactors of the church and the world in promoting knowledge, a reformation of morals, and the revival, increase, and perpetuation of genuine religion. Good ministers have conducted their fellow-men to the eternal mansions of the blessed, and led the way; while ungodly ministers, by their example and teaching, have swelled beyond human calculation the number of incorrigible rebels against God, and endlessly lost souls. And can we be too careful in guarding with Christian vigilance the avenues to that office which has so tremendous a relation to the everlasting wellbeing or perdition of our dying fellow-creatures?