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of what we say to them, being the produce of our own minds, may, according to the degree of our honesty, and of our ability in the Scriptures, be more or less agreeable to the mind of God. If therefore the Clergy are respected, they will be heard, not otherwise.
Now, pursuant to what hath been premised, the respect paid to them, so far as piety is permitted to interfere in the matter, will be in proportion to the character they appear to be invested with in the holy Scripture ; and so far as their hearers are governed by observation, or experience, according to the character they give themselves by the moral part of their behaviour, and by the discharge of that sacred office they assume.
And first, as to the ministerial character setforth in holy Scripture, it is expressed in terms, that intimate, as you may observe, an equal degree of humility and dignity.
Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister, and whosoever will be chiefest, shall be servant of all.' Here is plainly signified a certain dignity and pre-eminence of some, who are to be greater than others, and chief among their bretheren; and yet, at the same time, with this dignity is joined a proportionable humility, on which the very dignity is founded; for, in order to his future exaltation, the messenger of Christ must humble himself here; must of himself take the lowest seat, before his Master will promote him to one that is higher; must make himself little and inconsiderable in one respect, in order to be great and chief in another; that is, the higher he is advanced in spiritual, the more regardless he ought to be of mere worldly pre-eminence; for the same reason, perhaps, that a king thinks that precedency not worth his claiming, which the lowest of mankind yields to him, who is but one degree above him. Indeed he who hath ever tasted that internal grandeur, which springs from the consciousness of real worth, of religious honours, will have little relish for outward pomp and parade; his soul will soar above it, to the dignity of Christian humility. Thus we see, in these words of our Saviour, that we must all be servants one to another; and that, in order to gratify the highest ambition we are permitted to entertain.
If all the passages of Scripture, relating to the dignity of our function, are fairly weighed and compared together, none will be found, to do us more honour, than those in which we are stiled 'the servants of Christ;' and yet none more strongly inculcate the humility essential to that function; for even our Master 'took on him the form of a servant,' and 'came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.' To minister to whom? Why, to the soul of the very meanest man, that should believe on him. Accordingly, what can be more humble, what more ministerial, than the carriage of this exalted Being ? This 'King of kings,'submits himself, not only to the majesty of bis Father, but to every ordinance of man. This · Lord of lords girds himself with a towel, and washes the feet of his disciples.' This Creator of all things, this Ruler of heaven, is contented to be spit on, buffeted, crucified.' And in all this recommends his example to us his servants, with a reason, which all the evasions of pride can never parry; Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent, greater than he that sent him. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you.'
With such an example, set us by the Son of God himself, set us, who are but dust and ashes, we must be lost to common sense, and common modesty, if we presume to carry ourselves above either the humblest duty of our office, or the meanest mortal to whom that duty may be due.
But, since the office of the clergy appears to be set so low in holy Scripture, it may now be asked, wherein the dignity of that office consists, as set forth by the same Scripture?
The dignity of this sacred office is represented to us in terms so strong, and in a stile so high, by the holy Spirit, that, were not the words dictated by that very Spirit, and did not the necessity of the thing press me to it, as I am unworthily vested with that awful office myself, I should choose, conscious of my own miserable unfitness for so holy a function, to be silent on a subject, much fitter for the minds of the laity, than the mouths of the clergy. However, before I have done with it, I hope to set it in such a light, as may induce my brethren and myself to draw arguments for humility, nay, for fear and trembling, rather than for pride and presumption, from that very dignity.
So necessary is the ministry to the propagation of Christia: knowledge, and, by that means, to the reformation
and eternal happiness of mankind, that our blessed Saviour himself calls those, who are honoured with it, the salt of the earth,' without which it must become corrupt and fetid before God; and “the light of the world,' without which it must still sit in darkness, in the darkness of idolatry and wickedness. Let a Christian (I speak to the reason, the faith, the conscience of a real Christian), ask himself, how he can hold those in contempt, whom his Saviour emblazons with so noble a coat, and not remember, at the same time, the other words of our Saviour, He that despises you, despises me; and he that despises me, despises him that sent me.'
Again, the clergy are in holy Scripture called shepherds,' the shepherds to whose care 'that flock is committed, which God hath purchased with his own blood.'
Again, they are called 'teachers,' teachers of heavenly wisdom, and saving righteousness, to a people, who, if destitute of such instructors, must spend their days in shameful ignorance, and horrible wickedness; and die at last like the beast that perisheth.'
Again, they are called • stewards, stewards of the manifold grace, and the mysteries of God;' without whose intervention, as Christ hath pleased to constitute his church, neither the Spirit of God, nor the seal of the covenant, administered in the holy sacrament, can be conveyed to any man ; 'for no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God.'
And to raise their character still higher, they are dignified with the title of Christ's apostles, and even with that of ambassadors and angels from the high God, who speaks to the people by their mouths, who washes away their sins, and holds forth the precious body and blood of his Son, by their hands.
If, from the Scriptural characters, we descend to the execution of their office in its various branches, we shall be struck with a most exalted idea both of its beauty and dignity.
What reverence is due to those, who faithfully deliver, and ably defend, that word, of which its great Author says, * Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'
How tenderly ought they to be loved! how highly ought
, they to be respected! who with the requisite discretion, administer absolution to the penitent, and in the bowels of Christian charity, apply the other consolations of the gospel, to such as, through a deep sense of their sins, dare hardly hope for the promised mercy; to such as welter in the tortures of a sick bed; to such as hang in the agonies of death, between heaven and hell, and do not of themselves know how to support their spirits, or guide their steps, through the dark and dreadful passage!
With what veneration ought we to look up to those, who, without respect of persons, humble the proud and stubborn with the terrors of the Lord, and brandish the awful thunders of his word, against the dignified vices of the great! How are they to be esteemed by, not only every Christian, but every worthy son of his country, every friend to civil society, who reform the vicious, who confirm the virtuous, who, in the name of God, and by the power of true religion, labour to strengthen the foundations of civil government, that cannot stand but on religion; and who spend their days, and, if they are truly the ministers of Christ, would lay down their lives, for that important cause, on which absolutely depends all that is of any importance to mankind here, or hereafter.
So greatly important is the religion we preach, and, of consequence, so highly honourable is the office of preaching it: for we preach that religion (let the world hear, and the clergy fear) for which man was made, for which so many miracles were wrought, for which the Red Sea was divided, and mount Sinai cloathed with fire and thunder; for which the sick were healed, the dead raised, the devils ejected; that religion, for which the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, laboured and suffered; for which the Son of God descended from the throne of heaven, took on him the nature of man, was persecuted, buffeted, spit on, ridiculedfor which he died.
If to preach such a religion as this, be not a work of high honour and dignity, then surely there is no dignity, not to say in the kingdoms of this world, but even in the celestial principalities, promised to the righteous. If there is no honour in such a charge as this, then may the robes and ensigns of royalty look dim, and the thrones and sceptres of kings hide themselves in obscurity; for this world is nothing, heaven itself is nothing.
After what hath been said, it may be asked, how so much grandeur is to be reconciled with so much lowliness, in the same person, and with respect to the same office.
Christ hath already answered the question; for he said, My kingdom is not of this world. As his ministers derive all their dignity from him, and from the station they hold in his kingdom, which is purely spiritual, so their dignity is only spiritual. Now, with the highest pitch of this dignity, the utmost lowliness is surely as consistent, as the infinite majesty of our Saviour's person was with the unexampled humility of all his carriage. Perhaps it may be truly said, that, to a discerning eye, he never appeared among men in higher glory, than when he washed the feet of his disciples. The keys of heaven and hell were in those hands, that performed this lowest office of a servant. At least, I will venture to assert, that the highest minister of his church appears with more real dignity, when he enters a cottage to dispense his alms both to the soul and body of a beggar, than when he shews himself in the utmost splendor of his office on the episcopal throne. In this the envious, at least, will think he assumes; which hath in it the littleness of vanity; whereas, in that, every one must see he condescends; and condescension supposes as much grandeur, as it demonstrates humility.
With whatsoever outward magnificence the state, in its piety and prudence, may have thought fit to invest the character of a minister, he should, however, remember the true, the genuine dignity of his function; and should be above stooping to so mean a pride, as that of assuming, on account or the bells and fringes hung on him by this wretched world; which, after all the compliment of these external things, always looks with a jealous, often with a contemptuous eye on him, who seems to value himself on account of these inviduous, these interfering honours. Let him, therefore, despise the frippery of worldly grandeur, and stand as high as he pleases on that grandeur of his calling, which his Master allows him. Here mankind will be ready to yield him all the respect he hath a right to claim; provided be confines himself to this, and willingly resigns to the world