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as transmitting a supposed sole apostolic succession to the validity of a ministerial call and character. We have in the New Testament immediate fellowship with the apostles. We have there a knowledge, from their own pens, of their principles and practices. Our communion with them; our succession to them; our sanction by them, do not depend on a long, precarious transmission of a form ; but rest on our obedience to instructions given to us immediately from themselves, by their own pens. And on this ground we are bold to believe that he is called by the Spirit of Christ to the office of a bishop, and is, in an orderly manner, inducted into it by the only competent human authority provided by the Saviour to act in the affair, who, with gracious, moral, and suitable intellectual qualifications, is animated with an ardent, irrepressible desire for the holy work; and is sanctioned by the solemn, cordial approval of other ministers, and by a christian people welcoming him to the oversight of them, to the exercise of the minister's work and office among them. And when such approval of ministers and people has been publicly expressed by solemn ordination services, the whole authority of a christian minister resides in that pastor; and he may perform with perfect validity all that Christ has appointed his ministers to perform. And where the substance of this is, not the less or more for slight variations of order, mode, or form of ecclesiastical procedure.
Nothing has perhaps been so enormously perverted and abused, as the authority of the christian ministry. The most preposterous prerogatives and tyranny have been founded on a basis they have so encumbered and concealed, that it must be with equal surprise and delight, when a discovery is at last made of the simple, benign, gentle rule, which has been swelled and distorted into a sway so absolute and grinding. Into such excesses have these abuses run, such mischiefs and miseries have they inflicted on mankind, as not unnaturally to excite prejudice and alarm at the bare mention of the authority of ministers of the gospel. For when the imagination realizes the decrees and anathemas of councils; the pomp, and power, and pride of prelates and popes; the cruel and execrable persecutions of inquisitors and men claiming to be christian and apostolic ministers; the claims of power to remit sin, to bind conscience, to interpret infallibly and authoritatively the word of God; the requiring of christian people absolute submission and unresisting obedience ;-these things amaze and shock the mind. Yet have they been all done in the name of Christ, and by authority claimed as his ministers. The consciences and lives, the souls and bodies of men, have been reduced to a miserable slavery under ecclesiastical domination. All the terrors and miseries of superstition have been inflicted on men by an aspiring christian priesthood, till it has become the plain duty and interest of all men, as ever they value Divine truth and their own souls, as ever they regard their rights and liberties as men or Christians, to be jealous of the power claimed or exercised by the ministers of religion. And yet all this is but the wicked abuse, by men lusting for dominion, wealth, and pomp, of an institution in itself the most friendly to truth and happiness, of an authority
purely spiritual, confided to christian ministers for no purposes but to promote piety and virtue, happiness and salvation among mankind.
The first point of administrative authority, plainly and fully confided by the Lord Jesus to his ministers, respects the publication in all the world of his gospel. “ All power,” said he, “ in heaven and earth is committed to me. Go ye therefore into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The preaching, therefore, of Christ's gospel in all ages, in all lands, rests on no general considerations, however just and wise, of utility or necessity; nor primarily on our conviction of its supreme excellency, and of its value and importance to mankind, but on the command of Christ; and the right and authority of christian ministers and missionaries to proclaim every where their message has the same foundation. If a door of opportunity be set before a minister of Christ, to open his commission in an idolatrous kingdom, as China, for instance, where there is a false religion of great antiquity, and of great authority with the people, what reply could he give were he questioned as to his right and claim to interfere with the religious customs and opinions of the people, the traditions of their fathers, the instructions of their priests, and the institutions established and upheld by their government; but this, that he was sent and commissioned by Christ, the Saviour and Judge of men, the Lord of truth and conscience? Of this authority they would be ignorant, and at least, until better informed, would despise it; but it is really the authority on which his servants act, by which they are sustained, and to which the final appeal must be made. So in the stated ministry of the word, the minister preaches not merely under a mutual compact with his people to that effect, but under a commission from Christ. By him, he is invested with authority, as well as laid under duty, to preach the whole truth of his gospel, even every unwelcome, humbling, condemnatory doctrine. If he be asked by any unsubmissive spirit among his hearers, by what authority he presumes to reprove, rebuke, exhort, his answer is, Christ empowered me, as well as charged me to publish and enforce this truth. It is as responsible to him that I preach, and you hear. Equally so, if faithful men, in Christian lands, find the people scattered as having no shepherd, through the neglect, unfaithfulness, and erroneous doctrine of those, by whatever authority appointed, who claim to be their pastors; and go to them with a purer and more zealous ministry, when they are upbraided as unauthorized, and schismatics, and intruders, may make their appeal to authority and commission from Christ; and they and their opponents must equally abide the great decision of him, who will own and recompence his faithful servants, and condemn and punish idle shepherds. We must no more renounce than abuse this divine commission and authority for preaching the gospel. It has been vested in every true minister of Christ, from the beginning of his dispensation. If it be said, how are ministers to be sure they are really thus commissioned and authorized ? or how are their hearers to know it of them? And who is to be judge in the case? The answer is, Christ is the judge, and has appointed a day in which
he will declare who have been the faithful shepherds of his flock, sent and empowered by him; and who have been but pretenders, wolves in sheep's clothing: a day in which he will equally determine among the hearers of his ministers, who have received with obedient mind his truth from the lips of his servants, and have therefore received him; and who have been despisers or neglecters of his truth, ordinances, and ministers, and therefore of himself. And in the mean time, it being publicly declared that the case is so; that the gospel is preached by Christ's divine authority, of which he, at his appointed day of judgment, will take account; all who preach, and all who hear, are equally bound to act as desiring to be found faithful, and therefore to know his word and will, as those who must give account. And this state of the case connects sacredness, vitality, power, with the whole ministration of gospel truth, and makes it adapted to promote that kingdom, which consists in a rule over consciences, and willing subjects. No further sanction is either possible or necessary to a gospel ministry. Any human force or terror, any worldly attractions or interests, can in no way promote the gospel, or aid the authority of its ministers. They come in Christ's name, preach his truth, and appeal to his judgment, both on their own and their hearers' account, and there leave their cause and labour. If it be asked, but should the congregation slight the pastor's faithful testimony, or hate and reject him for it; should a heathen people despise the missionary's authority and message, and expel him from their borders, is there no remedy? The case must stand over to the great audit. An apostle could but have shook the dust from his raiment, in solemn testimony of his fidelity and their guilt, and so appeal to the great decision. The gospel ministry, indeed, now pretends to no infallible declaration of truth, or authoritative interpretation of scripture; "wut ni kes its appeal to conscience and the divine word. The hearer is 'not bereft of his christian liberty, the minister usurps not lordship over reason and conscience. He is commissioned to preach what he deems pure, simple, gospel truth. Therein is the trial of his diligerice and fidelity. The hearer listens to his testimony, as to that of one sent of Christ to preach his truth, yet liable to error. But there is the word of God, as the appeal of both. The minister requires assent and submission to his testimony, not merely because he is commissioned of Christ, but because what he advances is scriptural. The written word, not the preacher's commission, is the test of truth. And if a hearer withholds assent to the statements of a minister, because he deems them unscriptural, he offends not against the minister's commission and authority, as between preacher and hearer, but the case stands over for the decision of the Great Judge, to whose word now, and judgment hereafter, both equally appeal as the authority they venerate, and to which they are accountable. This derivation of his commission immediately from Christ, gives a faithful minister great courage and liberty in expounding the word of God. He stands under no compact with mer, to withhold any part of divine truth. Its whole extent and variety is open to him. True, as churches are now constituted of Christians, who have separated themselves from other communities of the
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faithful, and have united in fellowship upon their agreement in certain views of doctrine and discipline, they, as a matter of course, choose those to be their ministers who also agree with them therein. And from the beginning of the relationship, between pastor and people, obtain satisfaction that their ministers are, in their view, sound in the faith: a solemn duty of churches as conservators of the truth, and as studying their own edification and peace. An upright minister, therefore, will not attempt to controvert or conceal those truths among a people, by the profession of which he originally obtained their confidence, and his sacred office among them. But if, on subsequent investigation, he has found reason to change his views in respect to them, he will state the fact, and withdraw from a station for which he is no longer qualified. Within those limits, which are indeed no restraint to an honest mind, which really believes what is professed, the minister of Christ, as sent by him and accountable to him, is faithful to truth and to souls. With him awe towards Christ, is courage towards men. This conviction that every true gospel minister owes his commission, authority, and account to Christ, duly considered, would render ministers solemn and tender in assuming their office; courageous, faithful, zealous, in the discharge of it. It would make hearers of the gospel duly esteem the persons, office, and labours of their ministers. It would equally forbid ministers to assume and aspire in the church, for to remember their master's commission, and their own account to him, would make · them truly humble; or the people to slight either the messenger, or the message of Christ. Both ministers and people would think men nothing, and Jesus all in all. While the gospel ministry, in this view of it, would appear an instrumentality of eminent efficacy to advance the kingdom of heaven, not merely by natural suitableness and adaptation, though that is great; but by divine authority and appointment; by Christ in the gospel ministry renewing, employing, sustaining it from age to age.
The second point of authority confided by Christ to his ministers, has respect to the administration of his instituted ordinances. Those whom he charged, and therefore authorized to teach all nations, he also in like terms instructed and empowered to baptize all who should receive their testimony. It has suited the views of carnal, aspiring, superstitious intruders into the gospel ministry, to attach exaggerated importance and efficacy to gospel ordinances, in order to exalt themselves into power, as holding the office by which they alone were entitled to administer these mysterious, awful rites ; an artifice common to priestcraft in all ages and countries. Let it be once established in the minds of the people, that these rites are necessary and efficacious to salvation; and that by none but a priest could they be administered with validity and success; then the priests holding in their arbitrary power the souls and the hopes of the subdued and terrified people, can exact of them any terms, any submission. It is but to withhold or suspend the offices of religion, and the miserable devotees are brought trembling to the feet of their tyrants and oppressors. And in proportion as the sacraments are unduly magnified, or are perverted from their true character and use, the tendency is to exalt the minister by the delusion of the flock. The very nature of the case, the apostolic practice from the beginning, and the necessity of solemn order in sacred services, unite to show that the ministers of religion should alone dispense its instituted officés. Not that this rule could, under no extreme circumstances of necessity, be dispensed with ; but that it is the will of Christ, this should be the established order of his church. He who is duly received by a people as their minister, appears among them qualified and empowered to preside at their sacramental table, and to baptize their infant offspring. These services, so performed by him, have all the formal efficacy required in the case, and the measure of spiritual benefit received through them, as well as through. the preaching of the word, depends upon the sovereign disposal of gracious influence by the Great Head of the Church, not irrespective of the faith, prayer, and spirituality both of the pastor who officiates, and of the persons who receive the signs and pledges of grace by his ministration. How important the due and regular attendance upon the gospel institutions of baptism, and the Eucharist, is, needs not now be declared. But so it is. Let these appointments be vitiated or neglected let them be regarded and used with superstition, or forsaken as undeserving regard, or neglected from want of pious concern for gospel privileges and duties, and then true religion will be found in decay and feebleness. To explain them accurately to the people; to administer them with decent, devout solemnity and sacred unction; to gather the flock to them with awe and joy, is one of the great duties of a christian shepherd. He will, therefore, rejoice to feel himself possessed of a divine commission for the valid performance of them; and neither to exalt himself, nor to enslave the people; neither to magnify the services unduly, nor to engage for them an excessive and dangerous confidence from the people; but to fulfil the command of Christ, to maintain the order, the edification, the worship of his church, he will delight to feel he can administer the sacraments with a valid and sufficient authority. It will not move him that some of his brethren impeach his character and functions as a christian minister, and deny the validity of his ministrations of the sacraments, because he follows not them in every iota of ecclesiastical order. It is enough for him that his own heart and mind witness for his call to the ministry ; that a christian people have hailed him as a pastor sent them in the providence and grace of Christ; and that the great Spirit has not left him without the crowning testimony of his power and grace on his humble labours. Then will he meekly hail the promised approving presence of Christ, while he breaks the bread and pours the wine, while he applies the washing of regeneration in token of the renewing of the Holy Ghost. · Again, christian ministers have authority to preside over the order, worship, and discipline of the churches. Theirs is an administrative authority for carrying into effect the whole will of Christ, in the gathering and governing his church. In such societies there must be a presiding and executive authority, and for that necessary provision is made by the Lord Jesus in the gospel ministry. It is to