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ON THE SELECTION, PREPARATION, AND APPOINTMENT, OF THE
MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL.
In the preceding chapter I have endeavoured to explain in what manner the sentiments of Friends, respecting the true nature and character of the Christian ministry, are founded on that well-known principle of the divine law, that God, who is a Spirit, must be worshipped spiritually. Now, the sentiments of Friends, respecting the steps which precede the exercise of the ministry-respecting the pecuniary remuneration of preachers--respecting the public administrations of females--and respecting silence in worshipwill severally be found inseparably connected with the doctrine that, in order properly to consist with divine worship, the ministry must arise out of the immediate impulses of the Holy Spirit. These peculiarities, therefore, may be considered as all equally arising (whether directly or indirectly) out of the same essential principle of the divine law. The reader's attention will, in the present chapter, be directed to the steps which precede the exercise of the ministry of the Gospel.
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, when brought into exercise. Those who are satisfied with a ministry which requires, for its performance, nothing superiour to the powers of man, will lookfor nothing superiour to those powers, in the selection, preparation, and appointment of the individuals who are to minister. Those who are accustomed to regard the ministry as the offspring, partly of divine influence, 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, nor without the interposition 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 denomination 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.” That there are many, among the ministers of this denomination, who, in the exercise of their ministry, really depend, in a great measure, on a divine influence, and who would by no means have undertaken the work of the Gospel had they not apprehended that they were inwardly moved to such a duty by the Holy Ghost, my own knowledge of such individuals enables me freely to allow. 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 nothing whatever of immediate inspiration, in connexion with the work, 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 afterwards 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 a 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 acquiremeut 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, recognized 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