Prophecy Nature Function And Interpretation by Patrick Fairbairn: 01. Chapter 1. Introductory.—The Relation of the Pastoral Office to the Church, and the Connectio...

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Prophecy Nature Function And Interpretation by Patrick Fairbairn: 01. Chapter 1. Introductory.—The Relation of the Pastoral Office to the Church, and the Connectio...

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Chapter 1. Introductory.—The Relation of the Pastoral Office to the Church, and the Connection Between Right Views of the One and a Proper Estimate of the Other

THE office of a Christian pastor obviously proceeds on the assumption of a Christian membership or community, as the parties in respect to whom, and among whom, it is to be exercised. It assumes that the flock of Christ are not a mere aggregation of units, but have by divine ordination a corporate existence, with interconnecting relationships, mutual responsibilities, and common interests. It assumes, further, that the Church in this associated or corporate respect has a distinct organization for the management of its own affairs, in which the office of pastor occupies a prominent place, having for its specific object the oversight of particular communities, and the increase or multiplication of these, according to the circumstances of particular times and places. There are other things of a collateral or subsidiary kind, not unimportant in themselves, and fitted to exercise a considerable influence on pastoral relations:—such as the internal constitution of the Church, or section of the Church to which the pastorate belongs, its relation to a superior governing power (whether of a presbytery or an episcopate), the understanding on which destination is made to a specific field of labour, or the tenure under which the appointment is held. Matters of that description cannot fail to tell with more or less effect on the exercise of the pastoral function, though they cannot be deemed of essential moment. For they may be, and have been, ruled differently in different portions of the Christian Church; while still a pastorate, with substantially the same duties to discharge, and the same interests to prosecute, remains in each of them. Nothing more for the present needs to be assumed than the existence of the Church in separate outstanding communities, constituted with a view to the promotion of the great ends of evangelical truth and duty, presided over by persons destined to spiritual functions, and, in particular, set apart to the ministration of the word and the care of souls. This much, however, must be assumed, and assumed without any detailed proof or lengthened vindication.

But as much depends upon the idea entertained of the Church for the idea that also comes to be entertained of the nature and ends of the ministerial calling, so that the one cannot fail to act and react on the other, a brief outline of the scriptural view of the Church (as we understand it) in its more essential characteristics, and of the false views which would either altogether supersede or injuriously affect the character of the pastoral office, may form an appropriate introduction to the line of thought and inquiry that lies before us.

I. Scriptural idea of the Church, considered with respect to the nature and calling of the Christian pastorate.—(I.) The Church in its primary and fundamental aspect is the kingdom of Christ, the spiritual society within which, as more peculiarly His own, He is acknowledged as the rightful Head, and served with a loving, loyal obedience. The members of it are the election of grace, the partakers of Christ’s life and Spirit; and as such, His body, in which He more especially resides, and through which He acts for holy ends upon the world. There is therefore a pervading unity, an essential agreement in position, aims, and character among those who really constitute the Church, arising from their common relation to one head, and their mutual relation one to another, precisely as in the members of the human body, or in the subjects of a rightly-constituted and well-ordered kingdom. The Church, in this higher aspect, cannot be thought of but as an organic whole, bound up in living fellowship with Christ, He in it as the habitation which He fills with the manifestations of His presence and glory, and it again in Him as the root out of which it grows, and the pattern after which, in character and destiny, its members are to be conformed.

(2.) But the Church in this higher sense exists only ideally, so far as human perception or outward organization is concerned; visibly and actually it nowhere appears in the world, except as it may be in part, by successive stages, realizing itself among the members of Christian communities. This, however, it is ever doing; it is the very law of its growth. And so, what is usually termed the invisible Church, invisible as regards its component elements or actual membership to man’s view, though perfectly known to God’s, demands as its proper counterpart the visible. It demands this not as a circumstantial adjunct merely, a convenient or suitable adaptation, but as a necessary co-relation, the inevitable tendency and result of those spiritual instincts and divine principles which link the believing soul to Christ, the Church of the first-born on earth to the Church made perfect in glory. For, as the internal operation and life-giving agency of the Spirit come into effect through the external call and ministration of the word, thus, and no otherwise; so the one spiritual body of Christ has for its necessary complement a formally constituted corporate society. In short, the process of calling out of the world, and preparing for glory the elect of God, realizes itself through the existence and agency of a visible Church—the visible is the nursery, and, in a measure also, the image of the invisible. Only in so far as it is so can it be said to fulfil its divine calling and appointment. In each Christian community the offices and ministrations, the government and discipline, should be such as may through the Spirit most effectually serve to diffuse the saving knowledge of Christ, awaken and sustain the love of those who receive it, form, nourish, and draw forth the spiritual and holy graces, which are the very life and glory of the elect society that are there in training for the kingdom and presence of God. So that every individual, when as a believer he connects himself with the membership of the Church, should feel as if entering a society that holds of heaven rather than of earth, a society in which all should drop, as they enter, the selfishness and corruption of nature, that they may mingle in the blessed harmony and communion of redeemed souls.

(3.) It follows from this relation of the visible to the invisible Church, as to character and calling, that everything in the several sections of the Church on earth should be framed and regulated so as in the most faithful and efficient manner to carry out the revealed mind of Christ. It ought to be so, in a very special manner, with respect to the Christian pastorate, to which belongs for all ordinary ministrations and results the highest place. Christ Himself is the Shepherd of the entire flock; and the pastors whom He promised to provide, for whom He received gifts on finishing the work given Him to do, (Eph_4:11-12) are the under shepherds who have to tend the flock in subordinate divisions, and distribute in due season the materials of life and blessing committed to their hand. It is their part to stand and minister in His name; to give themselves to the defence and the propagation of His gospel; to cause His voice, in a manner, to be perpetually heard and His authority respected; in a word, to direct the operations and ply the agencies which are fitted to bring those that are far off near to Christ, and to carry forward their advancement in the life of faith and holiness. Whatever private members of the Church may, and also should, do toward the same end,—for where all are taught of God, who should venture to think or to say that he is charged with no responsibility for the good of others?—yet those who are formally set as pastors and teachers in the various Christian communities must, from the very nature of their position and calling, have the chief responsibility resting on them of doing what is needed to enlighten, and edify, and comfort the souls of men.

(4.) And, finally, while all this has immediate respect to the Church as a select body, and to the spiritual life and wellbeing of those within its pale, it has also a real and important bearing on the world at large. For as the Church is gathered out of the world, so it is called to be ever acting on the world with regenerative and wholesome influence. In this evangelistic and reformatory work the Church as a whole, the Church individually and collectively, has the charge committed to it; it is the candlestick which the Lord has set up to diffuse abroad the light of heaven, or, to refer to another metaphor of Scripture, the divinely impregnated and impregnating leaven, which is to work till the general mass of humanity is leavened. But the pastors and teachers of the Church have here also, by virtue of their special gifts and calling, the foremost place to occupy; and much must ever depend on their zeal and energy for the progress that is made in the blessed work of reconciling the world to God.

The views now presented contain nothing more than the briefest possible outline of the nature of the Christian Church, of the position assigned to the office of the pastorate in it, and the share which this must necessarily have in all the more vital and important functions which the Church has to discharge. But even such an outline can hardly be presented without conveying to our minds an impression of the lofty character of the pastoral office, and of the momentous interests which are entrusted to its keeping. It stands in close affinity with what lies nearest to the heart, and most peculiarly concerns the glory of God; and high, assuredly, must be the honour, and large the blessing, of being counted worthy to take part in its sacred employments, if these employments be but faithfully discharged; while, on the other hand, a fearful responsibility must be incurred by those who rush unprepared into the holy vocation, or manage in a slovenly and careless manner the concerns with which it charges them. But of this more hereafter: we turn now to other views of the Church, such as are either wholly inconsistent with a Christian pastorate, in the scriptural sense, or injuriously affect it.

II. Views of the Church which are subversive of the pastoral office as exhibited in Scripture.—The views which most palpably tend in this antagonistic direction are those which spring from a disposition to push to an extreme the more spiritual aspect of the Church. The reformers found it necessary to bring out very clearly and forcibly the distinction between the Church in this higher aspect, and the existing visible communities, compounds of light and darkness, purity and corruption, which claimed in the hands of the Papacy to be possessed of everything which entered into the idea of the Church. It was impossible otherwise to raise a testimony, such as the times required, against soul-destroying error. But the Reformation had not proceeded far on its course when a tendency appeared on the part of some to carry to an extreme the spiritualistic element, and make comparatively nothing of the outward and visible, consequently disparaging the organizations of scripturally-constituted Churches. And such views have their concrete representation still, in the Society of Fiends, for example, the Quakers, who so isolate and exalt the internal agency of the Spirit, as to render it independent of all official appointments or formal distinctions. According to them, it is only when ‘God raises up and moves among the assemblies of the faithful by the inward, immediate operation of His own Spirit,’ certain persons to instruct, and teach, and watch over them, that any are called to do the work of ministers of the word; and the proof that they are called, is ‘by the feeling of life and power on the part of the brethren which passes through them,’ in connection with the ministration. (Barclay’s Apol, Prop.) Hence, Möhler in his Symbolik, trying to expose the Lutheran doctrine respecting the visible and invisible Church, represents Quakerism as ‘the consummation of Lutheranism,’ because it carries fully out the maxim, which he takes to lie at the root of Lutheranism, that ‘God teacheth man only inwardly.’ In Quakerism, certainly, there is a very earnest endeavour to act in accordance with this maxim, though the endeavour is by no means either consistent in its working, or in its results successful. The Society so far yields to it as to discard all stated forms of worship from having a place in the divine service, to disallow the administration of sacraments, and to suffer the word of exhortation or the presentation of audible prayer only when the motion to do so proceeds from one who is conscious of a special call from above to the exercise. Not merely the actual, but the perceptible influence of the Spirit is required to constitute a right to impart spiritual instruction or guide the expression of pious feeling in their assemblies; so that it is not enough to say with the apostle, ‘If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God,’ but let him speak as a conscious instrument of God’s Spirit, obeying the impulse of a higher power in his soul.

But with all this curtailment of the outward means of grace, with the view of enhancing and elevating that which is spiritual, much still remains, even with this peculiar class of spiritualists, to reach the point, that God teaches man only inwardly. For the formal basis, and to a large extent the material, of the instruction which man has to receive in divine things exists outside of him, and in so far as it works by way of enlightenment, must do so from without inwards. The incarnation of the Son of God, His atoning sacrifice, corporeal death, and resurrection, were all external things, connected on every side with the realities of sense and time; hence in themselves they belong to another region than that of the individual consciousness, as does also the written word, in which they are presented to our belief and contemplation. There have been some, not so much, I believe, in this country as in America, who in the interest of the distinctive principles of Quakerism, the sufficiency of its inward light and direct action of spirit upon spirit, have quitted their hold of the historical Christ, and treated the evangelical record as an allegory. This was, indeed, a terrible sacrifice to make for the consistent maintenance of their spiritualistic principles; it was, indeed, abandoning the substance of Christianity itself for the sake of an extravagant assertion of one of its characteristic features; but, after all, it still fails to secure the desired emancipation of the soul from dependence upon the outward elements of instruction. For, interpret the written word as you may, it is in itself an objective instrument, and, as such, the ground on which Quakerism, as well as every other Christian denomination, rests for the justification of its tenets and discipline. We know, indeed,—and it is the exaggeration of this truth which gives rise to the extravagance in question,—that the word may be read or proclaimed in the letter without being understood or received in the spirit. Yet that in no way prevents its being the common, or even the indispensable, handmaid of the Spirit’s working, the means by which He may, without which He ordinarily does not, let in the light of salvation on men’s souls, and conduct them in the way of peace. And if the word has such an end to serve, why should it not be statedly read in the assemblies of God’s people? Why not preached and prayed over at every favourable opportunity? Why not embodied also in outward symbol, and with the solemnity of a covenant transaction impressed upon the heart and conscience? These are all, no doubt, outward things, and of themselves are incapable of either converting souls to God, or of building them up in righteousness; but so far they stand on a footing with the Bible itself; and the same principle which would discard the one might equally discard the other.

So, doubtless, the party in question would have acted if their spiritual instincts had not prevailed in some degree to counteract the tendency of their abstract principles. Yet the system, as a whole, has proved a palpable failure; it has been without living warmth or impulsive energy, scarcely able to perpetuate its existence, and exercising no assignable influence on the degeneracy and corruption around it. The fundamental mistake of its adherents, and of the few other sects who in principle coincide with them, lies in a misconception of the nature of the Spirit’s work upon the soul. And the inconsistence alleged against Protestants generally by such writers as Möhler has this in common with it, that it imputes to them, without any just warrant, substantially the same view of the doctrine of the Spirit, and thence chiefly derives what it possesses of a plausible character. It assumes the action of the Spirit to be, according to Protestant ideas, so peculiarly and essentially inward, as to have no proper dependence on what are called the means and ordinances of grace; in which case it would be in ill accord with the complex constitution of man, and the known laws of human thought and feeling. But, to use the words of Isaac Taylor, who in this speaks the common sentiments of Protestant divines, (Nat. Hist. of Enthusiasm, p. 69.) ‘if it be true that the agency of the Holy Spirit in renewing the heart is perfectly congruous with the natural movements of the mind, both in its animal and its intellectual constitution, it is implied, that whatever natural means of suasion, or of rational conviction, are proper to rectify the notions of mankind, will be employed as the concomitant, or second causes, of the change. These exterior means of amendment are, in fact, only certain parts of the entire machinery of human nature; nor can it be believed that its Maker holds in light esteem His own wisdom of contrivance, or is it at any time obliged to break up, or to contemn, the mechanism which He has pronounced to be “very good.” That there actually exists no such intention or necessity, is declared by the very form and mode of revealed religion; for this revelation consists of the common materials of moral influence, argument, history, poetry, eloquence. The same authentication of the natural modes of influence is contained in the establishment of the Christian ministry, and in the warrant given to parental instruction.

These institutions concur to proclaim the great law of the spiritual world, that the heavenly grace which reforms the soul operates constantly in conjunction with second causes and natural means. In an accommodated, yet legitimate sense of the words, it may be affirmed of every such cause, that the powers which be are ordained of God; there is no power but of His ordaining; and whosoever resisteth (or would supersede) the power, resisteth (or supersedeth) the ordinance of God.’

Such being at once the scriptural and the commonly received view among Protestants on the subject, it is manifestly erroneous to suppose that the internal action of the Spirit on the souls of men must be of a perceptible kind, consciously distinct from one’s own thoughts and volitions; equally so, that it must make itself known by communications apart from, if not superior to, those contained in the revelation of divine truth in Scripture; and still again, that it stands in any sort of contrariety to an ordained ministry and stated ordinances of worship. Any view of the Spirit’s agency which runs counter to the use of such natural aids and appropriate channels of working betrays its own arbitrary and enthusiastic character. And it certainly is, as again remarked by Taylor, among the singular incongruities of human nature, that notions of spiritual agency, which, when viewed abstractedly, seem as if they could only belong to minds in the last stage of folly and extravagance, have been for generations maintained by a sect remarkable for the chilliness of its piety, for its contempt of the natural expressions of devotional feeling, and even for a peculiar shrewdness of good sense in matters of worldly interest.

Another religious party, however, has arisen much more aggressive than the Society of Friends (as these have been known in later times), and differing from them also to a considerable extent in regard to the work of the Holy Spirit, who yet so far concur with them in their views both as to the Spirit and the Church, that they equally set themselves against the function of an ordained ministry, and, indeed, any fixed Church organization. I refer to the Plymouthists, who perhaps approach more nearly to the parties that in the times of the Commonwealth were known by the names of Seekers and Spirituals, than to the Quakers of the present day; (See Gillespie’s Miscellany Questions.) but they may be classed with the latter in this respect, that they disallow the right of any one to teach or rule in the assemblies of the faithful, except such as are directly called and endowed by the Spirit to do so. They therefore repudiate and denounce all kinds of ecclesiastical ordinations, fixed appointments to office, powers and authorities conferred, or attempted to be conferred, through a human instrumentality; nay, associate with these, especially with a regularly trained and endowed clergy, most of the corruptions in the Christian Church. And along with these negative peculiarities, they hold it to be now, at this particular stage of the gospel dispensation, the special and primary duty of believers to stand forth as expectants of the near advent of Christ; and, as such, to separate themselves from the mixed communities of Christendom, simply to recognise each other as united in the common bond of Christian faith and hope, and, when meeting together, to promote each other’s edification by the exercise of such gifts of teaching or administration as the Spirit may be pleased to confer on any of their number.

It is of course quite easy, in the existing state of many of the Protestant Churches of Christendom, to take advantage of various corruptions and abuses for the purpose of giving some plausible colour and support to the views now indicated; and there are not wanting currents of religious thought, phases of mind and character, which tend to foster the disintegrating, individualizing spirit, which finds its peculiar power and development in Plymouthism. But without entering into the examination of these, looking only for a moment at the views themselves which this party wish to have regarded as emphatically scriptural, there are two fundamental errors which, on the ground of Scripture, may be charged against them, and which are entirely fatal to the pretensions raised upon them. One is an error in respect to prophecy, which they unduly elevate; and another in respect to history, which they unduly depreciate. As regards the former, we lay down the position, that it is not now, nor ever has been, the insight furnished by prophecy into the Church’s future which constitutes the ground of her polity, but present truth and duty. Believers in Old Testament times, more especially when those times were verging to a close, were assuredly called to look and wait for a coming Messiah. Yet it was not this state of expectancy, or the changes which were to be introduced by it, but the past revelations of God, and the measure of truth therein unfolded, which gave birth to the ordinances of worship that were binding on the members of the old covenant, and determined the relative functions and modes of administration by which its affairs were to be carried on. The very last charge given by Old Testament prophecy to the people of God, was to observe the statutes and judgments introduced by Moses (Mal_4:4). Not, therefore, by separating oneself from these (as the Essenes did), but by the diligent and proper use of them, was the work of preparation for the events in prospect to be secured. And it is the same in New Testament times. There, the Church itself as an organized institution, with its gifts of grace and offices of ministration, took shape in connection with the incarnation and work of Christ in the flesh; in this, a thing of the past, not in any announcement of His coming again in the future, is placed the ground and reason of all that properly belongs to it. And though intimations were given, both by our Lord and His apostles, of defections that should take place, and corruptions in doctrine and practice that should enter into His Church before He should appear in His glory, yet the call that is addressed to His people in connection with these is merely to resist the evil and witness against the abuse, but not to refuse the order or change the administration which from the first has carried with it the sanction of His approval and the promise of His blessing. For this a specific revelation from heaven would be needed, laying anew the foundation of a Church polity on earth, or warranting believers to withdraw from the foundation already laid. And believers only invert the established order and revelation of things, when they have recourse for the rule of their procedure in such matters not to the historical past, but to the still undeveloped future.

But it is not thus alone that the historical element in the constitution of the Church is made too little account of by the parties in question. For this Church, it must be remembered, did not come into existence as an entirely new-creation. It was grafted, like Christianity itself, on the old stock of Judaism; and as to external form and official organization, it had its preparatory type in the arrangements of the Jewish Synagogue. The narrative of apostolic labour in the Acts and other incidental notices of New Testament Scripture plainly implies as much; and subsequent investigation has confirmed the impression beyond any reasonable doubt. The Christian Church, even when under apostolic guidance and direction, did not disdain to borrow, in the regard now under consideration, from existing institutions; and for any persons now summarily to discard what exists, and attempt to model everything anew, with no object but to afford scope for the exercise of spiritual gifts and operations, is certainly to follow another course than that marked out by apostolic precedent. True, in one point there is, if not a total, yet a comparative want of resemblance, between the Jewish Synagogue and the Christian Church; no one in the former was ordained to the office of a regular and stated pastorate; and this circumstance has been laid hold of, by the parties now immediately under consideration, for the purpose of disproving the necessity of such a pastorate in the Christian Church. But the idea of the office in a general form was undoubtedly there, namely, in the joint eldership who were charged with the spiritual oversight of each synagogal community; only, from the relative defect of the times as to spiritual light and privilege, this idea never developed itself into a proper pastorate, or a regular ministration of word and ordinance in the hands of any single individual. Such a development was necessarily reserved for the gospel dispensation; which had scarcely entered on its course till a palpable advance was made in this particular direction, and a church was constituted in which a prominent place was given to the office of pastors and teachers, not, indeed, as formally distinct from that of the eldership, but with a special rise and enlargement of one of its functions.

In regard, however, to the right to hold and exercise the functions in question, there is a point that requires to be carefully guarded, which in regularly organized communities is apt to be somewhat lost sight of, sometimes is even entirely misapprehended; and the partial defect, or actual error, is not unfrequently turned to account by the spiritualists in disparagement of the pastoral office. I refer to the relation of the office, as an institution of Christ, to the gift of the Spirit qualifying an individual for its discharge. What is of God in the matter may also be, and ordinarily should be, through man; and it is in the due co-ordination and harmonious working of the human and the divine that the will of Christ is properly accomplished. The original planters of Christian churches, the apostles of our Lord, held directly of Him; in their ordination, human instrumentality had no room to work; as also in their qualifications for what was given them to do, not only spiritual, but supernatural endowments of a high order came into play. But we are not thence warranted to infer that there should be the same direct intervention from above in subsequent and inferior appointments, any more than that because the word had the outward attestation of miracles in the gospel age, a like attestation might be expected for it after the Church had begun to take root in the world. Even in the apostolic age, from the time that matters had become in some degree consolidated, respect was constantly had to the official position and instrumental agency of men. St. Paul himself, who was not only called, but had occasion strongly to assert that he had been called, to the work of an apostle, ‘not of man, nor by the will of man, but of God,’ still submitted to be designated by the Church of Antioch, through imposition of hands, to a special mission (Act_13:3); and both he and the other apostles associated with them the eldership of the church at Jerusalem, when they came together to determine the question about circumcision. The decree issued was sent forth as the joint resolution of the Holy Ghost and the assembled heads of the Church on the subject (Act_15:28). In all the churches, too, planted by Paul, we find him ordaining elders or presbyters for the regular administration of word and ordinances; while the real authority to act in the name of Christ, and the excellence of the power in doing so with effect, he never hesitated to ascribe to God. Why should any contrariety be supposed, in such cases, to exist between the divine agency and the human instrumentality? In ministerial ordinations and appointments, the Church does not pretend, at least she should not, and when rightly constituted she does not pretend, to confer the gifts necessary to the rightful and profitable exercise of spiritual functions; she simply recognises the gifts as already possessed in such measure as to warrant her, by a solemn act, to encourage and authorize the exercise of them in a particular sphere. Wherever the matter is rightly gone about, the process is as follows:—the Church, through her ordinary channels of working, comes to obtain a certain number of persons, who are possessed of higher qualifications and spiritual gifts than belong to the general run of her members; these, when she finds them willing to separate themselves to the work of the ministry, she puts into a course, or takes cognizance of them while they put themselves into a course, of training for the work; and this being done to her satisfaction, the endowments of nature and of grace possessed by the individuals being in her judgment such as to warrant the hope of future usefulness, she sets her seal upon them by a formal act of ordination, appointing the individuals to the oversight of some particular portion of the flock of Christ. Viewed thus, which is the only proper light wherein to contemplate it, ordination to the work of the ministry, and other cognate offices, is only a becoming exemplification of the apostolic precept, ‘Let all things be done decently, and in order.’

On the other hand, let the principle of the spiritualists be adopted, and perfect freedom allowed every member of the religious community to exercise the gifts he thinks himself possessed of, what effectual check is there against abitrariness and presumption? What confusion and disorder may not, for a time at least, come into operation? Here one, we can suppose, shall rise up claiming to have received the gift of teaching from the Spirit; there another, asserting for himself the power of government; and another claiming to possess the discernment of spirits, so as to be capable of assigning to each his proper place and character in the reckoning of heaven; and whatever extravagance or delusion there might be in such assumptions, still, on the views of an idealistic and individualizing spiritualism, the claim must in the first instance be conceded, and only by and by rejected, if the teaching and procedure founded on it should be found to clash with the general sense of the community. But, meanwhile, what disturbance might be created? what unprofitable jangling, perhaps irreparable mischief, occasioned in the process? Such, indeed, that no religious community acting on the principle in question, and fairly carrying it out, has ever been able to perpetuate itself. Either some sort of constitutional government has been practically called into existence to temper and control the spiritualistic element, or the community has fallen a prey to its internal weakness and indiscriminate self-assertion.

Doubtless there were things connected with the first great movements of spiritual life and action in the Christian Church which have a somewhat irregular appearance, not quite reducible to the method and order of constitutional government; as there have been also in times of convulsive energy and deep spiritual awakening. The parties against whom we now reason are in the habit of making their appeal to such things. That is, they would make what is peculiar and occasional the rule and warrant for ordinary administrations; and not uncommonly what was peculiar and occasional is exaggerated, made to appear greater than it actually was, by throwing into the background circumstances of a qualifying or counterbalancing kind. It is in accordance with all that we know of the Spirit’s mode of operation in the Church, that when the position of affairs was so singular, and the exigencies of the Church in many respects so great, as they were at the commencement of the gospel, He would adapt His gifts and methods of working, in ways somewhat extraordinary, to the state of the times; thus giving special encouragements to believers amid their heavy struggles and embarrassments, and compensating, in a measure, for the want of resources which might at other times be within their reach. But things of that description, however expedient or even necessary at the beginning, might have proved disadvantageous afterwards; because tending to hinder the free and fitting development of the Christian life in its various capacities and powers of action. And it is again in accordance with all that we know of the Spirit’s operations, that the natural should, wherever and so far as properly available, be turned to account, and sanctified to spiritual uses. In the case even of the apostles, at least of the more prominent and influential among them, the recognition of this principle can be without difficulty traced. For, amid all that surrounded them of the supernatural and miraculous, we still see nothing like a disparagement or suppression of their natural powers and susceptibilities; but, on the contrary, a most real and valid consideration made of them. By these, indeed, their relative places and spheres of operation were to a large extent determined. In St. Paul’s case, especially, if we may not say he was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles because he was possessed of singular mental powers, of Grecian culture, and Roman citizenship, it is still clear that these formed no mean part of the qualifications which rendered important service to him in the prosecution of his high calling. Nor was it materially different in regard to the outward support of the ministry. During the earliest stage of ministerial agency our Lord charged Himself, in a manner, with the support of those who were engaged in it. He sent forth His disciples on their first missionary tour without purse, or scrip, or even change of raiment, (Mat_10:9-10) in order that, while He was still present with them, and personally destitute of material resources, they might have convincing evidence of His willingness and power to bring all necessary provisions to their hand. But at a later period, when on the eve of taking His departure from them, (Luk_22:36) and preparing them for what should be the future order of things, He indicated the propriety of their adopting whatever means or precautions lay within their reach: they were, henceforth, to serve themselves of the natural and the ordinary materials of sustenance or safety, so far as these might be at their command, and could be made available. It was but to follow out the spirit of this original revelation of the Lord’s mind and will, when the members of the New Testament Church provided, through their free-will offerings, for the maintenance of those who gave themselves to the work of the ministry, as well as for the relief of the poor; and when the principle was formally announced by the Apostle Paul, that ‘they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel.’ (1Co_9:14) If the principle has been abused in later times by the institution of rich benefices, and the employment of simoniacal practices, the legitimate use, with its scriptural warrant and obligation, still remains.

Other considerations, also, come in aid of those which are furnished by the word of God, pointing in the same direction. How, in a busy, and to a large extent hostile world, can the interests of the gospel be expected to flourish without a special class of officers charged with the responsibility of watching over them, and placed in a position which may enable them to devote their time and energies to the work? How, even in well-informed and orderly congregations, can the souls of the people be fed with sound knowledge, and their Christian efforts be rightly stimulated and made to tell with proper effect on the state of things around them, without the wise counsels and earnest application of a faithful ministry? The dictates of common sense, and the lessons also of past experience, concur in showing the necessity of adhering in this respect to the method, which has met the common approval of Christendom. It is well to say that the members of Christian congregations should each apply themselves, as God may enable them, to exhortation, and prayer, and active labours for the spiritual instruction and wellbeing of others. No doubt they should, and also will do this, if religion is in a healthful and thriving state among them; but never, unless perhaps in a few exceptional cases, can it be reasonably expected to such an extent as to supersede the necessity of a regular pastorate. It certainly has not done so in the past, and it seems less and less likely to do so in the future. The circumstances of the world, and of the Church itself, are manifestly of a kind to call for the undivided efforts of as many qualified pastors as there is the least probability of obtaining, and whatever occasional help besides can be derived from the more zealous and devoted members of particular congregations. It is not, we may be well assured, the cause of righteousness, but the interests of worldliness or sin, which would be gained by a general discontinuance of the pastoral office in the Church, or by the withdrawal, from those who fill it, of such temporal encouragement and support as may admit of the undivided application of their services to the work of the ministry.

III. Views of the Church which, though not fatal to the existence, are injurious to the proper character of the pastoral office.—It is quite possible, and has, indeed, been found greatly more common, to err both as to the idea of the Church, and the nature of the pastoral function associated with it, by pushing to an extreme the formal or visible aspects of the subject, than by going too far in the opposite direction. These may be so unduly magnified and dwelt upon as virtually to disparage and cast into the shade such as are of a more vital and spiritual nature; as is done preeminently in the hierarchical system of Rome, and in other communions in proportion as they are leavened with High Church notions of the priesthood and the sacraments. The system (whatever elements of truth may be combined with it) is always fraught with danger to the spiritual interests of the individual believer; for the tendency here is to repress individualism, hence to weaken the principle of personal responsibility, and dispose men to substitute an easy and formal acquiescence in something done for them, in lieu of a work of grace wrought in them by the Word and Spirit of Christ. It does not, however, carry the same formal opposition to the subject more immediately under consideration, as the erring tendencies in the other direction; for in the hierarchical Churches referred to there is also a pastorate, or cure of souls, only one of a materially different character from that recognised in the Reformed Churches, and, as we believe, sanctioned in Scripture; a pastorate which is at the same time a priesthood, and is mainly distinguished by the work of mediation which it has to perform in behalf of those who are the objects of its solicitude. Under such a system, everything necessarily partakes of a false tinge and bias; pastoral theology has to busy itself chiefly with offices and administrations of a vicarious kind, ritualistic services and sacerdotal offerings; with these, at least, much more than with any direct manifestations of the truth to the hearts and consciences of men. But the extent to which this may be done, and the danger which is in consequence brought to the interests of vital godliness, will depend on the degree in which the hierarchical element, with its accompanying ceremonialism, is allowed to prevail.

It is in the Romish Church, with which indeed may be included the several divisions of the Eastern Church, as in this respect there is no material difference, that the element in question has its most complete and systematic development. And it has obtained such ascendancy there, mainly because of the undue, almost exclusive regard that it had to the external relations and formal services of the Church as a visible Institute. Indeed, so far as any practical purpose is concerned, no other view of the Church is ever brought into notice, or distinctly contemplated as possible; and every effort is put forth to treat as entirely theoretical and inconsistent the Protestant doctrine of a spiritual or invisible, in connection with a visible Church. ‘Protestants’ (says Bossuet in his Variations) ‘insist that the Church consists exclusively of believers, and is therefore an invisible body. But when asked for the signs of a Church, they say the word and sacraments, a ministry and a public service. If so, how can it consist exclusively of the pious? And where was there any society answering to the Protestant definition before the Reformation?’ So, also, more recently Möhler in his Symbolik. After quoting Luther’s sentiments regarding the individual Christian as one taught of God through the divine word and Spirit, and representing the Church as composed of such as have been so taught, he thus proceeds: ‘It hence cannot be discerned why he should need the supplemental aid of a congregation invested with authority, from whose centre the word of God should be announced to him; for by the assistance of the outward divine word alone, written in the depths of his heart, he hears His voice, and without an immediate organ. What, after all this, can the Church be other than an invisible community, since no material object in the visibility of the Church can any longer be conceived? Yet,’ he adds, ‘Luther all at once admits, without its being possible to discover in his system any rational ground for such an assumption, the establishment of human teachers, and even the lawfulness of their calling. Hereby the Church becomes visible, recognisable, obvious to the eye; so that the ill-connected notions of God, the sole teacher, and of a human teacher declared competent, and who cannot even be dispensed with, meet us again in such a way as to imply that the invisible is still a visible Church also.’

The whole that there is of plausibility in this line of attack arises from a kind of clever confounding of things that differ, treating the two aspects of the Church as set forth by Protestants with studied perplexity, as if they were to be understood in reference to precisely the same interests and relations. When contemplated with respect to the true scriptural idea, the Church is the living body of the glorified Redeemer; and, as such, it is necessarily composed of those, and of those alone, who have been justified by His grace, and made partakers of His risen life. The signs of it in that point of view are not, as Bossuet insinuates, the word and sacraments,—no intelligent Protestant writer could so represent it,—but faith, holiness, perpetuity. These, however, from their very nature, are strictly inward and spiritual properties; they depend simply on the reality of the soul’s communion with Christ, and the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit. But when the question comes to be, How usually is this life-giving work of the Spirit, and communion with the Son, begun and carried on in the experience of men? it is proper to reply,—Through the word and the sacraments, or the ministrations and ordinances of the gospel, which, in so far as they are scripturally maintained and dispensed, are of God, and if not the only, still are the ordinary channels through which the Spirit imparts the blessings of salvation to the soul.

In the Bible first, and generally also in the Protestant confessions, the work of our salvation is presented to our view as primarily a personal concern, a transaction which has to take place between the soul and God. And the determination of the question, whether this has really become an accomplished thing in our experience, must ever turn on the state of the heart toward God, whether or how far it has come to be alive to the concerns of salvation in Christ, and has surrendered itself to the power of His grace and truth. The great source of salvation, and the vital bond that connects us with it, being alike spiritual, the main stress neither is nor could by possibility be laid upon our relation to some external apparatus, or human instrumentality. These, at best, can be but the appointed means and channels. The boon itself reaches the soul only when by a spirit of faith there is the appropriation of a living Saviour, and a humble reception of His word of truth. If these really exist, no matter how they may have come into operation, or where; it is of no moment whether amid the solemnities of worship, or in an hour of silent communing with Heaven; whether through a message spoken in due season by an ordained minister of the gospel, or by a word dropped in the private intercourse of Christian fellowship by a believing brother; the soul has found the blessing; it has laid hold of Him who is the fulness of life and blessing; and its portion is, beyond doubt, with the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.

But are we on this account independent of the visible Church? Do we owe nothing to its ministrations, and has it nothing to expect from us in return? On the contrary, we should never, in all probability, have sought after the requisite state of mind, and the blessings associated with it, or known how to attain them, except from the advantages enjoyed in connection with the visible Church; and as with the beginning, so with the future progress. The two, in short, stand related as a double and closely interconnected system of means; the direct and immediate are repentance toward God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ; but in order to the production and development of these, there is in the hand of the Spirit another class of means, of a remoter and outward kind,—the ministrations, ordinances, watchful superintendence and oversight of the Church. Is not this in correspondence with what takes place in the natural sphere of things? There also the prime, the essential thing is the secret implantation of a living principle in an organism fitted to receive and manifest its properties; but this organism itself is linked to a system of external adaptations, through which the vital principle is brought into existence, nourished into strength, and carried forward to the proper maturity and perfection of its nature.

Thus the sought-for point of union between the visible and the invisible Church, (The Church, p. 368.) to use the words of Litton, ‘lies in the administration of those means of grace by which, as instruments, the Holy Spirit works, continually replenishing the true Church with members out of the visible; and those means are the preached word and the sacraments. To the visible Church it belongs to administer these ordinances; for whatever be the state of heart of those to whom the ministry of the word and the sacraments is committed, these means of grace are efficacious not on account of, that is, not directly or primarily on account of, the human channel through which they pass, but by virtue of Christ’s promise, and the faith of the recipient. To the visible Church, then, belongs the public administration of the means of grace; and as it is by the instrumentality of these means that the true Church is gathered in, it is obvious that it is no more possible to sever the one from the other, than it is to sever the inward grace of the sacraments from the outward sign; and that, in fact, as in the sacraments the outward sign and the inward grace are not two sacraments, but the two aspects, the inward and the outward, of one and the same ordinance, so the visible and the true Church are not distinct communities, but one and the same, regarded from different points of view. The true Church depends for the maintenance of its existence on the visible Church; and, in turn, the visible Church is supported by the true. Thus a reciprocal action is ever going on: the visible Church, as such, dispensing the means of grace by which Christ works to the gathering in of His elect; and the true Church, as such, upholding and perpetuating the visible use of those means by furnishing faithful recipients of them.’

I only add to this clear statement regarding the mutual bearings and relations between the true and the visible, or the elect and actual Church, that the distinction, we should ever remember, is of man’s, not of God’s making. The two should correspond in number and extent, and would do so but for the corruption and hypocrisy of men, which are ever marring the efficiency of God’s ordinances, and bringing imperfection and disorder into His kingdom. The visible Church, as formerly stated, ought to be the community of saints, the brotherhood of faith; so that in it, as in a mirror, men might see what the life of Christ actually is, and be ever deriving from it salutary impressions upon their hearts and consciences. This can be but imperfectly done so long as the representation stands in the characters of single individuals or isolated families. There must be social organization, united action, collective results, otherwise nothing great, or general, or permanent can be reached; and the Church militant is true to her calling, and fulfils her mission, only in so far as she everywhere presents the aspect of a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

With such views of the nature and calling of the Christian Church, we have no hesitation in rejecting as unscriptural and misleading any Church system which, on the ground merely of its historical position, its ecclesiastical polity, or hereditary claim to be the dispenser of salvation, would dispose men to look more to the external framework and formal administration of the kingdom of Christ than to its spiritual aims and inner life; to be more concerned about preserving the right relation to a human instrumentality and a generally recognised order of things, than about their relation to the mind and Spirit of Christ; in a word, to make salvation primarily and chiefly a matter of compliance with a prescribed ritual of service, and of interest in the ministrations of a divinely-constituted priesthood. Such a system, wherever it exists, and however it may be guarded, must always be perilous to the souls of men, since it necessarily tends to carnalize their views of divine things, to fix their regard more upon form than substance, and to turn the work of the ministry, in its higher functions, from an earnest treatment of the sublime realities of the gospel for the good of men, into a mechanical routine of observances which the stupidest of men could perform with equal propriety as the most intelligent and wise.

The evil, too, is all the greater, and the more apt to impose on the credulity of men, from its existing in the firmly-compacted system of Rome, where, with a certain measure of plausibility, an appeal can be made to an apparently unbroken historical connection with the past, and the claim is made, as of right, to the heritage of doctrine and worship which has descended from the first fathers of the Christian Church. Unquestionably a certain weight is due to the historical element in determining the relation we should occupy toward any particular Church, and the title it may rightfully have to our allegiance. It should not be without solid grounds that we set aside a claim which, either in a national respect, or from personal ties, may press itself on our regard. Still this historical element itself is an outward thing; it does not directly touch the vitals of the faith; and there are important considerations to show that the outwardness belonging to it, whether as connected with the Church of Rome or with any other visible Church in Christendom, should be allowed nothing more than a secondary place, and should yield, when necessary, to the higher claims of truth and righteousness.

(I.) In the first place, the history of the past presents a conclusive argument against the absolute force of any simply historical claim, on the part of a Church or religious community, to our acceptance. For the Christian Church itself started on its course with the peremptory denial of such a claim. Christianity sprang out of Judaism, and when taking root in the earth as an organized society or spiritual kingdom, though but a fresh exhibition and proper development of what already existed in the synagogue, it had at the outset to cast off the authority of the synagogue, and pursue an independent course. This consideration has been put forth by the advocates of Protestant liberty in former times, by Claude, for instance, in his disputation with Bossuet, and has never met with a valid reply. Bossuet urged the inevitable tendency of the Protestant doctrine toward Independentism, and asked what remedy it provided against ‘that intolerable presumption which must lead an individual to believe that he can understand Scripture better than the best Œcumenical Councils and the whole Church together.’ Claude objected to this alleged unanimity, the contrary decisions of councils, such as that of Rimini; but passing from that, he said there is ‘an incontestable example; there is the judgment of the synagogue when it condemned Jesus Christ, and by consequence declared that He was not the Messiah promised by the prophets.’ This, he affirmed, was an unquestionable fact, and it proved that one might do without presumption that which had been pronounced to be intolerable and presumptuous. Bossuet professes to have seen at once the transparent fallacy of this argument, and prayed for grace that he might show it to be so to those who appeared greatly taken by it. ‘When an individual now,’ he said, ‘denies the authority of the Church, there is no other external means by which God can avail Himself to dissolve the doubts of the ignorant, and beget in the faithful the necessary humility. In order to draw such an argument from the conduct of the synagogue, it is necessary to affirm that there was not on earth any external means, any sure authority, to which one ought to submit. But who can say that when Jesus Christ was on the earth? Truth itself then visibly existed among men, the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, to whom a voice from heaven gave testimony before all the people: “This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” True, it was resisted, though infallible. I don’t say that the authority of the Church has never been contested, but I say it ought not to have been so by Christians. I say there has never been a time on the earth in which one has not been sure of a visible, speaking authority, to which obedience ought to be yielded. Before Jesus Christ we had the synagogue; when the synagogue was going to fail, Jesus Christ Himself appeared; and when Jesus Christ withdrew, He left His Church with the Holy Ghost. Bring me back Jesus Christ; I no longer want the Church; but you must restore to me Jesus Christ in person, and an infallible authority.’

Such, from a Papal point of view, will naturally appear a perfectly satisfactory way of viewing the matter, and unanswerably right; and yet it is without any solid foundation, and entirely evades the real merits of the question. First, it lays stress upon the peculiar circumstances of the time, as if these formed the essential features of the case, and in a manner constituted it a principle of working. This, however, was to misjudge Christ; for it was precisely through the circumstances in which He was placed, and His bearing under them, that we learn His will; and whatever He did in the fulfilment of His mission, may in spirit be done over again by His people when placed in positions somewhat analogous. But, secondly, it totally misrepresents the action of Christ at the period referred to, for the purpose of destroying the parallel between His case and ours. When Christ personally appeared before the synagogue, truth did then, indeed, visibly exist among men; but He did not stand upon what, as such, was due to Him; neither then, nor at any other time during His sojourn on earth, did He press rights and prerogatives that were peculiar to Himself. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He took the part of an ordinary believer under trial, simply leaning as a child on the word of His Father in heaven. And when judged and condemned by the synagogue, He waived all His distinctive claims to honour and regard, and quietly carried His appeal heavenwards, committing Himself, as St. Peter expresses it, to Him that judgeth righteously. (1Pe_2:23) If, however, we look from the Master to the disciples, whose case more nearly resembles ours, the light furnished is still more decisive; for when it became necessary for them to take up a separate position, as the guides and leaders of the Christian Church, Christ was no longer visible on earth; He had gone to the right hand of the Majesty on high, and to this invisible Head was their appeal formally made: ‘We must obey God rather than man; ‘or more exactly, ‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.’ (Act_4:19) Thirdly, when the advocate of the Romish Church speaks of the Church being left as Christ’s substitute, the only remaining visible authority upon earth, he quietly assumes the very point at issue; for what or where is the precise community so left? Is it the Papal, or the Greek, or some particular branch of the Reformed Church? The case now is greatly stronger for a liberty of choice among these, or a freedom to act in certain circumstances above them all, than at the commencement of the Christian Church. For then there was but one authority on earth with which, as a competing jurisdiction, the disciples of Christ had to do. But now there is Church beside Church; the very face of Christendom wears a divided aspect. It therefore remains for all time a most instructive and monitory fact, that when the Church of the New Testament was entering on its history, those who guided its counsels had, in the face of existing authorities, to prosecute their course under direct appeal to heaven; and that it was ‘precisely those who refused to examine, who gave themselves up with implicit faith to the guidance of their Church, and relied absolutely upon the teaching of their priests and their learned men, who rejected and crucified the Lord of glory’ (Cautions for the Times, p. 110).

(2.) There is, however, another, a prophetical ground for the line of procedure now under consideration, which serves greatly to strengthen and confirm that which is derived from the history of the past. For in the prophetic announcements made by Christ and His apostles, the plainest intimations were given of a coming degeneracy in the Christian Church, not only warranting but most urgently demanding a spirit of faithfulness on the part of true believers, and, in particular, of Christian pastors. It was not merely that single individuals, or even scattered communities, were to give way to doctrines and practices inconsistent with the tenor of the gospel; (Mat_24:11-12; Mat_24:23-24) but that there were to be false prophets or teachers arising and gaining ascendancy, a general growth and prevalence of iniquity, what one apostle represents as a gigantic system of harlotry, (Rev_17:4-5; Rev_17:18) carrying away multitudes in the sweep of its abominations; what another designates, by way of eminence, the apostasy (2Th_2:3-10; 1Ti_4:1-3; 2Ti_3:1-7) a huge and portentous backsliding from the faith and purity of the gospel in the professing Church, coupled with a defiant and persecuting spirit toward those who should presume to question its authority.

With such pre-intimations respecting the future of the Christian Church, interspersed also with the most solemn charges and admonitions to watch against the evil, to resist it, nay, to come out and be separate from it, though at the hazard of property and life, is it not the height of presumption to quash all inquiry and consideration by pointing to some ecclesiastical corporation, and saying: ‘There it is, the very Church which was of old planted by evangelists and apostles; hear it.’ It may be so, we reply, as to local possession or hereditary descent; there may be in one sense an unbroken continuity; but those same evangelists and apostles forewarned us that corruption was to mar their handiwork, that it was to be infested by the spirit of error and delusion, even as by a spreading plague; and we are expressly enjoined by them to consider whether the Church which claims our homage be a Sardis or a Philadelphia, the Lamb’s bride or the whore, a Church which has kept the faith and testimony of Jesus, or a Church which has allied herself to the pride and carnality of the world. This is necessarily a point for decision between Church and Church and as those to whom the revelation of God has come, we cannot escape from the responsibility of searching for ourselves, and determining where the truth lies, and what part it calls us to take. For this purpose, among others, that revelation has been committed to writing, and handed down to us; and as by it we shall ultimately be judged, so by it we must now be guided, as well in regard to our ecclesiastical as to our social and domestic relations.

Enough, however, for the present. It would be out of place to pursue the subject further here. Our object is not to enter into a full discussion of it, but to lay down a few fundamental principles upon it, with reference more especially to the responsibilities and calling of those who are either preparing for, or are actively engaged in, the pastoral office as the great business of their lives. As matters actually stand, divisions in the Church, even in its sounder portions, may be held to be inevitable. Christian prayerfulness and effort, it is to be hoped, will lessen their number, but still for many a day they may be expected to exist; and aspirants to the ministry, as well as believers generally, have no alternative but to select a particular community in preference to others as that with which to associate themselves in the exercise of Christian privilege or the discharge of Christian duty. But certain difficulties of a practical kind necessarily arise out of this state of things touching one’s relation to the pastors and members of other evangelical Communions, and the way and manner in which, with due regard to one’s own position, Christ’s great law of love may still be effectively maintained. A few reflections on this point may not unsuitably close these preliminary discussions.

IV. The relation of Church to Church and pastorate to pastorate in connec