Chapter 2. The Nature of the Pastoral Office, and the Call to Enter on its Functions
IT is only with some of the preliminary points bearing on the office of the Christian pastorate that we have as yet been occupied. We come now to the subject itself, which naturally falls into a few leading divisions. First, there is the nature of the pastoral office, with the consideration of what constitutes a valid call to its functions and employments. Secondly, the personal and social life befitting one who undertakes the responsibilities and duties of such an office. Thirdly, its proper work, comprising: (1) homiletics, or the composition and delivery of discourses; (2) the employment of subsidiary methods of instruction and counsel; (3) the devotional services of the sanctuary; (4) the administration of discipline; (5) supplemental helps and agencies, not strictly connected with the work of the ministry, but having, in certain respects, an incidental bearing on its operations or results. Under one or other of these divisions every topic of importance relating to the subject may be brought into consideration. And we take that first which naturally precedes the others in the order of discussion, the pastoral office itself, with the call to enter on its functions.
I. The office viewed in relation to the persons in whose behalf it is instituted.—This office has to do with the oversight and care of souls, and by its very name imports that ministers of the gospel are called to exercise somewhat of the same fidelity and solicitude in behalf of these, that shepherds are expected to do in respect to their flocks. The names usually applied in Scripture to the highest officers in the Christian Church carry much the same import, though each with some specific shade of meaning as to the primary aspect under which their calling is contemplated. Those names are πρεσβύτεροι and ἐπίσκοποι, presbyters and bishops, or elders and overseers, both alike involving the charge or duty of superintending and consulting for the good of the religious community. The more distinctive Greek term (ἐπίσκοποι), even in its primary or civil application, bore just this, meaning. It denoted a class of persons appointed to the work of inspection and responsible government in towns or provinces subject to the parent state. And when transferred to a corresponding class in the Christian Church, it must have been meant to convey the ideas of watchful vigilance and authoritative control. If the term elders may be regarded as having originally borne respect to seniority of rank, as marked by advance of years, when it came to be used as an official designation, first in the synagogue, then in the Church. It denoted the heads of the religious community, the fathers of the spiritual household. Both terms, therefore, pointed rather to the exercise of authority, or to the ruling and governing power, than to any other ministerial function. They simply designated the men who were set over Christian congregations as the guides and guardians of the flock, who had to watch for its safety and welfare as those that must give an account. And of the same import also is another epithet employed—a description rather than a designation, ὁι ἡγουμενοί, the leading or ruling ones: ‘Remember them that have the rule over you.’ (Heb_13:7)
A form of expression, however, is occasionally used, which seems to point in the opposite direction, representing, as it does, the work and calling of ministers under the notion of a service, or, we may even say, of a servitude. Our Lord had Himself employed this language: ‘Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (διάκονος); and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (δοῦλος, slave): even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto (διακονηΘῆναι), but to minister (διάκονῆσαι), and to give His life a ransom for many.’ (Mat_20:28) The Apostle Paul was peculiarly fond of this form of expression, and seems to have considered it more distinctly indicative of his apostolic or ministerial agency than any of those commonly applied to the presidents or overseers of particular Churches: ‘Who, then, is Paul,’ he asks, ‘and who is Apollos, but ministers (διάκονοι) through whom ye believed, as the Lord gave to every man? (1Co_3:5) ‘Christ Jesus our Lord hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the deaconship,’ (1Ti_1:12) the ministerial employ. And speaking yet again of the manner in which he conducted himself toward the Churches, he gave no offence, he says, in anything, (2Co_6:3) ‘that the διακονία ( the ministerial office) might not be blamed.’
It is the same thing still, only presented under another aspect, and with more immediate reference to the performance of work not directly connected with the exercise of authority, though necessarily involving its possession, and its exercise also, in so far as circumstances might render it needful. Whatever special exercise Paul had to render in his office as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is clear from his epistles, that the light in which he chiefly delighted to contemplate his calling was that of a cure of souls; it was his destination to minister to the perishing the bread of life, and bring them to the possession of a saving interest in Christ. Therefore, when he seeks to magnify his office, it is more especially with respect to the preaching of the gospel that he does so. What he dwells upon is the commission he received from the glorified Redeemer to proclaim the unsearchable riches of His grace and goodness, and, in the fulfilment of this commission, the labours he underwent, the sufferings he endured, the efforts he plied, and the measure of success he obtained. We can thus be at no loss to understand what kind of service or ministry it was that the apostle meant when he spake of his διακονία in the Lord; in its more essential features it coincided with that which has to be discharged by every faithful missionary and minister of the word. Having for its object not merely the bringing of sinners within the pale of salvation, but the constituting of those so brought into an organized society, it necessarily included the exercise of an administrative as well as of a teaching function; yet the teaching more directly and prominently, as everything was to proceed in connection with the knowledge and belief of the truth. This, in its entire compass, belongs to the ministry of the word; which is, as Bucer notes, a ministerium, not a magisterium; a service, not a lordship; but a service founded on a divine commission, and holding at command a sacred authority, which it is permitted and even bound to employ whenever the interests of truth and righteousness may seem to require it.
In apostolic times the primary object of concern was the diffusion of the gospel, and the planting of churches consequent on its propagation; the oversight and government of particular churches occupied but a secondary place. The apostles gave hours to the one and only minutes to the other. And though the same might be deemed fitting still, if the matter were viewed with reference to the calling of the Church generally toward the world, yet the proportion comes nearly to be reversed when the pastoral office is considered with respect to individual congregations. This, indeed, is what is plainly implied in the instructions given concerning it in the later epistles of the New Testament. The name itself of pastor is but once used there, namely in Eph_4:11, where the discourse is of the gifts provided and conferred by Christ for all official service and employment in the Christian Church, and where pastors and teachers are mentioned among the persons who were intended to share in the bestowal. If not the precise word, however, the idea involved in it, and the relative obligations and duties to which it calls, have expression given to them elsewhere; as at Act_20:28, when St. Paul charges the elders of the Church of Ephesus to ‘take heed to themselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, and to feed (ποιμαίνειν) the flock of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood;’ also at 1Pe_5:2, where the exhortation to feed the flock of God is addressed by Peter as an elder in the universal Church to all the elders of particular congregations; and for encouragement in the work points to the expected appearance of Christ as the chief Shepherd, who will give to His faithful servants the unfading crown of glory. It was the more natural for Peter to view the office in this light, as it was the one in which our Lord presented the calling and destination of the apostle, on the touching and memorable occasion when, after drawing forth the confession of his love, He gave to him the charge, ‘Feed my lambs,’ ‘Feed my sheep.’ (Joh_21:15-17) And standing as Peter did on that occasion, the representative, in a sense, not only of the select company of apostles, but of all in every age who should be called to ply the work of an evangelical ministry, it is but to enter into Christ’s mind in the matter when they view the work in the light of a pastorate, and regard themselves as charged by Christ to care for and feed the sheep of His pasture.
It is what may be called the interior side of the office which this view of it most naturally suggests, its relation to those who are already within the fold, nominally, at least, the members of Christ’s spiritual household. It was under the same aspect that our Lord presented His own high calling, in that gospel which is pre-eminently inwards and spiritual in its representations. He there speaks of Himself as the Shepherd, who knows His sheep, and is known of them; (Joh_10:14) who even came to lay down His life on their behalf, and who ever keeps them in the grasp of His almighty hand. Yet, while in such representations of Christ there was, in one point of view, a certain limitation, in another there was a wide comprehension, far beyond what at first might occur to the mind. If His eye excluded from the range of its vision those who should ultimately perish from the way of life, it at the same time included all who might at any period be brought into that way; not the existing members merely of the fold, but one and all who in the future ages of the Church’s history, and from whatever quarter, should come to have a place in it. Such intimate and comprehensive knowledge, however, is only for the Chief Shepherd Himself, whose eye can discern the things that are to be as clearly as if they already were. And interpreting His words by the light reflected on it from His own actual procedure, which is our pattern and rule, they tell us of a love He cherished, a compassion He displayed, a watchful and beneficent care He exercised toward many who for the moment were far off from His peculiar people, as well as those that were formally numbered in their ranks. All, in some sense, belong to His flock, as forming part of that creation-proprietorship which is His by inherent, indefeasible right; only, in their natural state they are in the condition of lost sheep, and with multitudes the state of nature becomes the fixed and abiding one; so that they cease to be reckoned of the flock in the stricter sense. But it is from the same lapsed and perishing mass that those who became the true sheep have to be gathered; all stand originally on one footing; and hence the work of Christ is so many-sided, and bears in such diverse ways on the responsibilities and interests of the world at large. Directly and properly, it has a twofold object in view, aiming first at the recovery of those who had gone astray, and then at their establishment and growth in the life of holiness. To turn enemies into subjects, aliens into children, sinners into saints, this is its primary design; and its further aim is to keep those who have been so reclaimed from falling away, and carrying forward their preparation for glory. As the Shepherd, therefore, by way of eminence, Christ in His pastorate as clearly goes forth to seek the lost, that they may be brought into the fold of safety, as He ministers to those who are already there what is required to sustain and nourish them in the life of holiness.
The relation in which ministers of the gospel stand to Christ puts it beyond a doubt that the pastoral office in their hands was meant to be a kind of reflex or copy of His, alike in respect to its general scope and aim, and the relative order of its ministrations. Here, also, the evangelistic was ever to go along with, and in a sense precede, the evangelical; or, as we may otherwise put it, the ministry of reconciliation must prepare for and accompany the ministry of edification. And this from the very nature and design of the office, since men are nowhere born members of the spiritual flock of Christ. They have first to be made such, and, when made, nourished with the sincere milk of the word. And amid the manifold variety of fields and circumstances in which the pastoral office has to be discharged by those who assume its responsibilities, it may sometimes be the one, sometimes the other department of the work which is entitled to the greatest prominence and application. But both must always to some extent be the object of the pastor’s solicitude and endeavours.
Besides, while in any specific field of pastoral labour the direct objects of its assiduities should be ever coming into being as members of Christ’s true flock, as well as growing into maturity, the whole together, pastor and flock, should exercise a diffusive and regenerative influence around. They should operate for good on the ungodly mass amid which they are placed, not by any means exclusively, yet with a more concentrated and sustained energy through the ministrations of the pastor himself. If the church to which he ministers is set as a light in the world, he should be as the lustre of that light, and should avail himself of every opportunity, and employ every means within his reach, to bring the truth to bear with power upon the hearts and consciences of sinners. In short, if the pastoral office more directly contemplates the good of particular congregations, and in these congregations the spiritual wellbeing and comfort of Christ’s true flock, it has respect also to an intermingling or outlying portion, who have to be brought under the husbandry of the gospel, with a view to their becoming children of God and partakers of the blessing. Were it not for operations of this sort, constantly proceeding and successfully plied, there should soon be no flock, in the proper sense, to feed; as, on the other hand, without due attention to the work of feeding, the flock when found should want its proper nourishment, and fail to grow up to ‘the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ.’
I shall advert presently to the relative importance and the mutual interconnection of those two departments of ministerial agency, and the methods best adapted for their successful prosecution. But whichever of them may be primarily regarded, whether it be the formation of a Christian flock, or the nourishment and growth of its members in their most holy faith, the work itself which the Christian pastor has to perform is always presented to our view in Scripture as a service of love, not as a vicarious mediation; it is a ministerial, not a priestly agency he has to ply; and the results aimed at, of course, must be of a reasonable kind, such as may be expected to flow from an intelligent apprehension of the truth as exhibited in the word and ordinances of God, not what might be effected by any mysterious charm or magical operation. In all that is said concerning the office, in the words either of our Lord or of His apostles, not a hint is dropped which would bespeak for the ministers of the gospel the character of a secret-loving, wonder-working priesthood. And when, a few centuries after the gospel era, we light upon descriptions which present them in such a character, one cannot but be sensible of a huge discrepance between them and the representations of Scripture. It seems as if an essentially new office had come into being, rather than the original office perpetuated with certain slight modifications. Listen, for example, to Chrysostom’s description of what he calls the glory of the Christian priesthood: (De Sac. iii. op. vol. i. p. 467.) ‘The priesthood, indeed, is discharged upon earth, but it takes rank with heavenly appointments, and deservedly does so. For this office has been ordained not by a man, nor by an angel, nor by an archangel, nor by any created power, but by the Paraclete Himself, who has laid hold on men still abiding in the flesh to personate the ministry of angels. And therefore should the priest, as standing in the heavenly regions amid those higher intelligences, be as pure as they are. Terrible, indeed, yea, most awful, were even the things which preceded the gospel, such as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones in the breastplate, the mitre, etc., the holy of holies, the profound silence that reigned within. But when the things belonging to the gospel are considered, those others will be found little, and so also what is said concerning the law, however truly it may be spoken: “That which was glorious has no glory, by reason of that which excelleth.” For when you see the Lord that has been slain, and now lies before you, and the priest bending over the victim, and interceding, and all dyed with that precious blood, do you still reckon yourself to be with men and still standing on the earth? Do you not rather feel transplanted into heaven, and, casting aside all fleshly thoughts and feelings, dost thou not with thy naked soul and thy pure mind behold the things of heaven? O the marvel! O the philanthropy of God! He who is seated above with the Father is at that moment held by the hands of all, and to those that are willing gives Himself to be clasped and received; all which they do through the eyes of faith.’ He then refers to the action of Elias on Carmel, declaring that of the Christian priest to be much greater; and he asks: ‘Who that is not absolutely mad, or beside himself, could slight so dreadful a mystery? Are you ignorant that the soul of man could never have borne the fire of such a sacrifice, and that all should have utterly perished had there not been the mighty help of the grace of God?’
Such was what constituted, in Chrysostom’s view, the peculiar glory of the Christian ministry; and he proceeds in the same magniloquent style to enlarge on the pre-eminent dignity and power connected with it in its prerogative to bind and to loose souls, to forgive or retain sins, to purge men through baptism and other rites from all stains of pollution, and send them pure and holy into the heavenly mansions. All that is, of course, priestly work; work in which the officiating minister has something to offer for the people, and something, by virtue of his office, to procure for them; benefits, indeed, so great, so wonderful, so incomparably precious, that the typical ministrations of the old priesthood, and the benefits accruing from them to the people, were completely thrown into the shade. Now, this is a view of pastoral work on which New Testament Scripture is not only silent, but against which it virtually protests. The service which it associates with the ministry of the gospel is one that employs itself not with presenting a sacrifice for men, but in persuading them to believe in a sacrifice already offered, and through that promoting in them a work of personal reconciliation with God, and growing meetness for His presence and glory. Hence the ministry of the gospel as set forth in Scripture has the revealed word of God in Christ for its great instrument of working; and according as this word is received in faith, and brings forth in the lives of men the fruits of holiness, the end of the ministry is accomplished.
In such a service there is, no doubt, a priestly element, since it requires those who would perform it aright not only to deal with men on behalf of God, but also to deal with God on behalf of men, to accompany all their ministrations of word and doctrine with intercessions at the throne of grace. But it is a priestly element of the same kind as belongs to the calling even of private believers, who are bound to bear on their spirits before God the state of the unconverted, and entreat Him for their salvation. And no more in the one case than in the other is there anything of that distinctive characteristic of the priestly function which consists in formally sustaining a vicarious part, and doing for others what they are not warranted or called to do for themselves. The work of the Christian ministry, indeed, is more nearly allied to the prophetical than to the priestly office of the Old Testament; and like it, too, it stands on a higher elevation; for it is a nobler thing to deal directly with the spiritual realities of God’s salvation, and by the varied exhibition of these to wield an enlightening and renovating influence on the souls of men, than to do the part of performers in a merely outward, however imposing, ceremonial. Peter and his fellow-apostles on the day of Pentecost displaying the banner which their Lord had given them because of the truth, and bringing crowds of penitent and willing captives to His feet, did a far higher service in the eye of reason than if they had acted as ministrants at an altar where thousands of bleeding victims were presented, or were even for a whole lifetime sending up clouds of incense from golden censers in a temple. And the same may be said in a measure of every one who, like them, or like the apostle of the Gentiles, is enabled through divine grace to commend himself, by the manifestation of the truth, to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. No ministry is comparable to this, because none is fraught like it with the elements of power and blessing. (So even Erasmus well remarks: ‘The minister is then in the very height of his dignity, when from the pulpit he feeds the Lord’s flock with sacred doctrine’ (Eccles. L. l). And referring to Paul’s statement, that Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach, Stillingfleet justly asks in his Irenicum: ‘Shall we think that those who succeed him in his office of preaching are to look upon anything else as more their work than that?’)
In regard, now, to the distribution of ministerial agency, as between that which is devoted to the work of reclaiming sinners and the work of edifying believers, the relations of time and circumstance must determine. Nothing definite respecting it has been indicated in Scripture, nor can it be done here. The actual state of matters differs so widely with one pastor as compared with another, and even with the same pastor in different localities, that the greater prominence will naturally be given sometimes to the one department of labour, sometimes to the other. If he has reason to think that many around are dead in sin, and in danger of sinking into perdition, he cannot but regard it as a much more pressing business to have such rescued from their peril, than that the others, who appear to be already safe, should be plied with encouragements and supports to continue in the path on which they have entered. On the other hand, if spiritual life seems to be generally diffused through the flock, to have this life quickened into greater activity, and drawn forth into more abundant fruitfulness, will naturally become the main object of his ministrations. But, in reality, the two aims of the ministry run very much into each other; and not unfrequently the means which are more immediately directed toward the conversion of sinners will be found of greatest service in strengthening the graces of believers; as, inversely, what is intended to prompt some to the higher attainments of faith and holiness may react with wholesome influence on such as are still living in vanity and sin.
There is no difficulty in understanding how this should be the case. It always is owing to the dominion in some form or another of the flesh and the world, that those who have the root of the matter in them are impeded in their progress heavenwards, and are less active than they might be in the service of their Redeemer. But it is only the same thing in a yet higher degree which operates to the danger of those who are altogether estranged from the way of life; and the means and appliances which are employed to rouse these out of their perilous security, cannot but have points of contact in the hearts and consciences of such as, though partakers of the divine life, are still but imperfectly subject to its power. It will even sometimes happen, that individuals of this class may feel as if services of the kind referred to had a special application to them, and they, more almost than any others, had need to listen to the warnings and admonitions which are addressed to the supine and godless. On the other side, things said concerning the faithful in Christ Jesus may strike a chord in the bosom of men far off from righteousness: for, when such hear of the privileges of true believers, of the desires and feelings awakened in their souls by the grace of God, of their blessed nearness to God Himself, their zeal in well-doing, hope in death, and meetness for eternity, how natural the reflection for those who are still living after the course of a present world, that all this belongs to a line of things to which they are entire or comparative strangers, and that if they should continue as they are, the shades of an irrecoverable death may overtake them! It is an undoubted fact, that some of those whose ministrations have been most blessed to the conversion of sinners, have also been most distinguished for the deep spirituality and richly varied experience that have characterized their services, though it cannot, perhaps, be said to be quite common.
Indirectly, however, the same result is accomplished by a ministry of this description, since the work of spiritual nourishment and growth in the better portion of the community, in proportion as it is healthful and vigorous, will ever be found conducive to the enlightenment and reformation of the classes which lie beyond. If the members generally of a Christian Church are full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, if their conversation and their conduct are deeply imbued with the earnest, generous, and blessed spirit of the gospel, they will assuredly be to many around them ‘as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass.’ (Mic_5:7) The careless and ungodly with whom they come in contact will be constrained to feel that there is a reality and a power in the life of faith which bespeaks its connection with a higher world; so that, as in the case of the Thessalonian converts, the word of the Lord will be ever sounding forth with convincing and refreshing power to others. And every successful effort that is made for the perfecting of the saints is also a train laid for the breaking asunder of spiritual bonds, and recovering from the snare of the devil those who are led captive by him.
But, in such matters, much must always depend on individual temperament and personal gifts. Some are more peculiarly qualified by nature, as well as by the special work of grace in their own souls, for producing convictions of sin; others for guiding those who have been convinced to peace in believing, and progress in the Christian life. And it is in accordance with the highest wisdom, that each should lay himself out chiefly in the kind of work for which his talent is the greatest, and should even seek for such a field of ministerial labour as may admit of its being employed to most advantage. If one may refer to the Puritan period for examples, it is plain that such men as Owen and Howe would find their most appropriate sphere in ministering to congregations which as a rule were not only settled in the faith, but were capable also of receiving and relishing the strong meat of the gospel; although it were not easy to find more solemn and stirring appeals to slumbering consciences than appear occasionally in their extant discourses. It is equally plain, that the next two most distinguished Puritans, Richard Baxter and John Bunyan, both from their native cast of mind, and the spiritual training through which they passed, were more especially fitted for the work of rousing dormant consciences, and moving sinners to flee from the wrath to come. The effects in this line actually wrought through their instrumentality were certainly of the most marked description. And the account which Baxter himself gives in the Reformed Pastor of the reasons which prevailed with him to aim mainly at the conversion of sinners, and to prosecute this aim with the most intense eagerness, are well deserving of the serious consideration of all who are either looking forward to pastoral work, or are actually engaged in it:—
‘Alas,’ says he, ‘the misery of the unconverted is so great that it calleth loudest to us for our compassion. He that seeth one man sick of a mortal disease, and another only pained with the toothache, will be moved more to compassionate the former than the latter, and will surely make more haste to help him, though he were a stranger, and the other a son. It is so bad a case to see men in a state of damnation, wherein, if they should die, they are remedilessly lost, that methinks we should not be able to let them alone, either in public or in private, whatever other work we have to do. I confess I am forced frequently to neglect that which should tend to the greater increase of knowledge in the godly, and may be called stronger meat, because of the lamentable necessity of the unconverted. Who is able to talk of controversies or nice unnecessary points? yea, or truths of a lower degree of necessity, how excellent soever, while he seeth a company of ignorant, carnal, miserable sinners before his face, that must be changed or damned? Methinks I see them entering on their final woe. Methinks I even hear them crying out for help, and speediest help. Their misery speaks the louder, because they have not hearts to seek or ask for help themselves. Many a time have I known that I had some hearers of higher fancies, that looked for rarities, and were addicted to despise the minister, if he told them not more than ordinary: and yet I could not find in my heart to turn from the observation of the necessities of the impenitent for the honouring of these, nor to leave speaking to the apparently miserable for their salvation, to speak to such novelists; no, nor so much as otherwise should be done to the weak for their confirmation and growth in grace. Methinks, as St. Paul’s spirit was stirred within him when he saw the Athenians so addicted to idolatry, so it should cast us into one of his paroxysms to see so many men in great probability of being everlastingly undone. And if by faith we did indeed look upon them as within a step of hell, it should more effectually untie our tongues, than, they tell us, that Croesus’ danger did his son’s. He that will let a sinner go to hell for want of speaking to him, doth set less by souls than the Redeemer of souls did, and less by his neighbour than rational charity will allow him to do by his greatest enemy. Oh therefore, brethren, whomsoever you neglect, neglect not the most miserable! Whoever you pass over, forget not poor souls that are under the condemnation and curse of the law, and may look every hour for the dreadful execution, if a speedy change do not prevent it!’
Considerations like these will undoubtedly weigh much with all preachers of the gospel, who are animated by the true spirit of their office, and alive to its great responsibilities. Yet there is no need, even when such is the case, that conversion should be always thrust prominently forward, as if it were the one concern the faithful pastor had to mind. It will often be felt in the tone and manner in which the particular subjects are handled, rather than discovered in the choice of the subjects themselves. For there is such a manifold variety in the states of unconverted men, their degrees of guilt, and the kinds of deceitfulness with which it is accompanied; such endless diversities exist as to the temper and habit of their minds, the avenues by which the springs of thought and feeling may best be reached, and the appeals that may be most likely to carry their decision for a life of piety, that it is proper to bring into play a corresponding variety of means of moral suasion; and nothing, perhaps, in the whole revealed counsel of God, if wisely handled, may be excepted from the things calculated to effect the desired end. At the same time, it is not to be doubted, that persons who have in a strong degree the bent of soul, and the gifts, natural and acquired, which are more peculiarly adapted to the work of spiritual conviction, will generally find the greatest aptitude and success in handling the topics which do most directly bear upon the object in view. The Spirit of God within men, and the teaching of their own experience, must be their principal guide. But as regards the work itself, the work of winning souls from sin to Christ, if any are successful in accomplishing it, whether by the use of a more extensive and varied or of a more limited range of materials, blessed are they, even above other faithful labourers in the Lord’s vineyard. For the highest place of honour there, and the noblest heritage of blessing connected with its labours, must ever belong to those who have been the instruments under God of saving souls from death, and turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. It was a fine saying of Samuel Rutherford’s, ‘Heaven would be two heavens for me, if souls given me as seals were found there.’
II. The pastoral office viewed in respect to its higher relations.—The preceding observations have had respect to the nature and responsibilities of the pastor’s vocation chiefly on one side, in its relation to those in whose behalf it is exercised. But there is another and higher relation which it also holds; for, considered as the ministry of reconciliation, it is of the nature of an embassy, and implies a commission from Heaven; considered as a cure of souls, it is stewardship, and involves a sacred trust, of which an account must be rendered; considered, finally, as the instrumental agency for regenerating souls and preparing them for glory, it is a work of God, and requires the possession of gifts which He alone can bestow. These are the higher aspects of the pastoral office, its points of contact with the sanctuary above; and it is of importance, both for obtaining a right view of the office itself, and for the preservation of the right spirit in discharging its functions, that it be looked at also in this higher relationship.
(I.) Considered, first of all, as a ministry of reconciliation, and implying a commission from Heaven, the original charge of our Lord to His apostles, to go and preach the gospel to every creature, lays for it a sure and abiding foundation. It was obviously impossible that those immediately addressed could do more than make a commencement in the execution of such a wide commission. The charge delivered primarily to them must necessarily go down as a descending obligation to future times, and is virtually laid upon all who in a right spirit and a becoming manner undertake the duties of the pastoral office. Hence the Apostle Paul, speaking not in his own name merely, but in that of all who, like himself, were sincerely preaching the gospel, says, ‘We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ (2 Cor. 2:20) And the ministry generally he calls ‘the ministry of reconciliation,’ as having for its more immediate and primary object the pressing upon them of God’s message of love, the reception of which would close their alienation from God, and secure their entrance on a state of peace and fellowship. Having such an aim, and an aim to be accomplished through so vast a field, it was indispensable that the message itself, and the right to deliver it, should turn upon no nice technicalities or ecclesiastical punctilios, but should be of a plain, broad, and reasonable character. And so, indeed, they are as presented to us in the word of God. For, while the Church is there most distinctly and solemnly charged with the mighty task of reclaiming the world to the saving knowledge and love of God, she is trammelled with no minute forms and rubrics as to the specific mode of carrying it into effect; she is left with a few simple directions and ordinances of divine appointment, to proceed as circumstances of time and place might suggest or require. And the terms of the embassy to be put into the mouth of all her official representatives are just the great facts and promises of Christ’s salvation. There for all times and all lands is the sum and substance of the pastor’s commission. Not in any new or more special communication from heaven, but in that revelation which has been delivered to the Church by apostles and prophets, lies the burden of everlasting weal, with its fearful alternative of woe, which he goes forth to deliver in the hearing of his fellow-men, and press on their regard; the only thing, indeed, suited to his purpose and to the necessities of those with whom he has to deal. So that the grand rule here is, as the apostle puts it, ‘If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God;’ for therein alone is contained the revelation of Heaven’s counsel to fallen and sinful men, and the only sure grounds on which they can hope for acceptance and blessing.
(2.) Considered more strictly, in the second place, as a cure of souls, the pastoral office involves a stewardship, a stewardship of most grave responsibility, for it has entrusted to it the oversight of treasures of inestimable value. The flock themselves are such a treasure, seeing that in every one of them there resides a soul capable alike of the highest enjoyment and of the deepest misery. To be set in a position of official superintendence and ministerial agency in respect to these, is plainly to be invested with the highest of all earthly stewardships. But add to this the consideration also of the means furnished for meeting the wants of the flock, the treasures of spiritual knowledge, and life, and blessing which, in their behalf, are placed at the pastor’s command, that he may give to all their food in due season. What a thought, to be constituted the dispensers of such imperishable treasures! No doubt the treasures are in a sense common, open to the members of the flock, apart from any human instrumentality; open to all who are willing to search the Scriptures, and, in accordance with the tidings they convey, to make personal application for them through the blood of atonement. There, unquestionably, is the ultimate authority for everything that is either offered or received in the matter of salvation. Still, it is through the ministrations of word and ordinance, as connected with the labours of the pastoral office, that usually the treasures of divine grace and truth are unfolded, and made practically available to the ever-varying conditions of men. Hence the word of our Lord, spoken in answer to a question from Peter, but spoken with reference to all who might be called to pastoral work, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.’ (Luk_12:42-43) In another passage they are likened by Him to persons who are provided by their Master with spiritual treasures, and should be ever bringing forth from them things new and old; (Mat_13:52) as also by St. Paul they are designated stewards of the mysteries, or hidden riches of God’s wisdom, (1Co_4:1) which, as he again expresses it, are put like heavenly treasure into earthen vessels. (2Co_4:7) What an honourable position! And, at the same time, what a high calling! The special keepers and dispensers of Heaven’s peculiar treasure! The living conduits of that divine word which God Himself delights to magnify above all His name!
(3.) The office has still again to be considered as a work, a work of God, by means of which those naturally dead in sin are made alive to God, and carried forward on the way to glory; a work, we may say, impossible, unless divine influences come in aid of its accomplishment. Every work calls for the application of powers suited to its nature; by such alone can it be successfully managed; and as this particular work belongs to the new creation, it can only be made good if the earthen vessels engaged in effecting it have ‘the excellency of power,’ which comes from God.
Here, especially, the great truth holds, ‘Not by might, nor by power (viz. of man); but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’ Hence, when unfolding the gospel commission to His disciples, and pointing as well to the duties as the trials connected with the work, Christ gave such express assurance to them, that He would be with them even to the end of the world, (Mat_18:18-20) and would obtain from the Father, in answer to believing prayer, whatever might be needed for the service required at their hands. (Joh_16:23; Joh_14:12-13) St. Paul also refers to this plenitude of spiritual gifts for pastoral duty, and the readiness of Christ to bestow them, presenting it as the immediate result of His personal glorification: ‘When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Eph_4:8; Eph_4:11-12) And He gave some apostles (that is, the grace needed to fit them for doing the work of apostles), and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ It is not properly of the distinction of offices in the New Testament Church that the apostle is here speaking, but of the distribution of gifts in connection with the discharge of office, and of all kinds of ministerial service. So far as office was concerned, apostles and prophets might be both one; and, indeed, the highest kind of prophecy proceeded only from Christ and His apostles. Pastors and teachers, in like manner, might be, and doubtless were for the most part in the apostolic Church, as well as now, officially one. But whether united in the same person, or existing and exercised apart, the work itself proper to the parties so engaged, having to do with divine operations and results, necessarily required divine help for its successful performance; and it was then, and even is, one of the great ends of Christ’s mediation in the heavenly places to bestow the requisite gifts on those whom He calls to the work. So that, as in their spiritual husbandry they are fellow-workers with God, they have in the promised supply of those gifts of the Spirit the link of connection between the human instrumentality and the efficient power.
Rightly viewed, therefore, the work of the Christian pastorate is a kind of continuation of the agency of Christ, carried on through the instrumentality of a divinely aided as well as humanly ordained ministry. It bespeaks, in every faithful discharge of duty, and every saving effect produced, Christ’s gracious presence, and mediatorial fulness of life and blessing. And at every step in his ministerial course the true servant of Christ will have reason to say, ‘Not I, but the grace of God that is in me! Whatever fitness I may have for the work, and whatever good I may be the means of accomplishing in it, is the fruit of what I have received.’ The thought on one side is humbling; for it calls the pastor to regard himself as simply an instrument, and to renounce all claim to the glory. Yet, on the other side, how elevating! since it places him in immediate fellowship with the Lord of glory, and sets the stamp of heaven on what would otherwise have been marked only by human impotence and corruption.
III. The call to enter on the pastoral office; what properly constitutes it.—The view which has just been given of the higher aspects of the pastoral office, while throwing around it a certain elevation from the connection it thus appears to hold with the spiritual and divine, serves at the same time to aggravate the difficulty of the question, what should be regarded as constituting a proper call to the office? and how may particular individuals ascertain whether it has actually been received? Contemplated even on its human side, with respect simply to the oversight, responsibility, and anxious labour connected with it, there is much, undoubtedly, that is fitted to inspire awe, and awaken earnest inquiry and solicitude, in the mind of any one who desires to have his path cleared regarding it. But how much more when the higher relations of the office are taken into account; when it is seen to touch at so many points on the special gifts and operations of Godhead! How may it, in such a case, with certainty, or even with some measure of probability, be concluded that the requisite qualifications and conditions for the office meet in any one?
There are cases ever and anon occurring, in which no difficulty of this kind exists; the question, in a manner, solves itself; for the experiences of the individual soul carry along with them a self-convincing and determining power. ‘There are decisive hours in which a man feels the germ of a new vocation bursting forth in him; a world all at once opens to his mind, and, seized with a passion imperious as the very voice of God, he takes upon his conscience the engagement to pursue the work, which is henceforth to be the end of his life.’ So a late editor of Pascals Thoughts (Faugere) says of him, and men of like religious impulse; and what was true of Pascal, as the thinker and representative of an earnest religious party, has its exemplification also in persons with reference to the work of the ministry. The operation of divine grace upon their souls, coupled perhaps with something in the native bent of mind, has been such, so marked and peculiar, that they feel moved with decisive energy to give themselves to this sacred calling. Of such, therefore, there is no need to speak here; the point is virtually settled already.
With respect, however, to others who have not the advantage of such marked experiences in their mental history, the way to a right determination of the question may be considerably smoothed, by taking properly into account the relation which the special calling of a pastor has to the general calling of a believer. It is a fundamental principle in Christianity, that there is nothing absolutely peculiar to any one who has a place in the true Church. Among its genuine members there is room only for relative distinctions, or for differences in degree, not in kind. It is a consequence of the vital union of true believers to Christ, by virtue of which there belongs to all alike the same spiritual standing, the same privileges and prospects, and, as a matter of course, the same general obligations of duty. If every sincere Christian can say, ‘I am one with Christ, and have a personal interest in all that is His,’ there can manifestly be no essential difference between him and other believers; and whatever may distinguish any one in particular, either as regards the call to work, or the capacity to work in the Lord’s service, it must in kind belong to the whole community of the faithful, or else form but a subordinate characteristic. The ministry itself, in its distinctive prerogatives and functions, is but the more special embodiment and exhibition of those which pertain inherently to the Church as Christ’s spiritual body. And the moment any one recognises himself to be a living member of this body, it thenceforth becomes, not his right merely, but his bounden duty, to consider what part of its collective responsibilities lie at his door, or what department of its common vocation he should apply himself in some specific manner to fulfil.
Bring the principle here laid down into connection with the Christian ministry under any one of the aspects already presented, and you will readily perceive that fundamentally the ministerial vocation links itself to that of the simple believer; they differ only as a development may differ from the germ, or a higher and more intensive from a simpler and commoner mode of operation.
Let the ministry, for example, be considered in respect to the testimony it has to bear, or the message it has to deliver, in the name of God before men. This is certainly a very prominent part of the ministerial calling; and yet it is by no means peculiar to those who have been formally destined to the office. There are, we may say, various gradations belonging to it. In the highest degree it belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world, as He Himself says, to bear testimony to the truth by revealing it, and as so revealed sealing it with His blood. His apostles next, as His immediate representatives and delegates to the world, were sent forth to declare authoritatively, and for all time, the truth which He had partly taught them, and partly revealed to them by His Spirit, that there might be a sufficient and infallible testimony concerning it with the Church. But has not the Church also, the community of believers as such, to take up what has thus been delivered, and bear it forth to the world? It is of the Church, as composed of those who know and believe the truth, that our Lord has said, ‘it is the light of the world;’ (Mat_5:14) and the apostle, that ‘it is the pillar and ground (or basement) of the truth.’ (1Ti_3:15) To this Church there has been given a banner, that it might be displayed because of the truth; (Psa_60:4) and it is the duty of every faithful member, in his own place and sphere, to witness for that truth by word and deed. Here, in fact, lies the very essence of the trial and triumph of their faith, which consists in standing practically as well as doctrinally to the testimony for the truth of God; and for holding not their lives dear to them, that they might faithfully acquit themselves of this obligation, the martyrs of the Church obtained at once their name and their crown. When, therefore, a ministry is appointed for the special purpose of unfolding the testimony of Christ, and pressing its overtures of grace and love on the acceptance of men, it is not to be regarded as something altogether by itself; it is only a more full, regular, and systematic exhibition of the testimony which the Church is called, individually and collectively, to maintain and make known.
The same remarks may in substance be applied to the διάκονια, or active service, which is required of the pastor for the behoof of others. Christ Himself, as formerly noted, gave the first and highest exemplification of it in New Testament times. From Him it devolved on the apostles, who were severally required to give proof of their apostleship, by their readiness to serve after the pattern of their Master, and whose respective places in His kingdom were to be determined by the comparative amount of humble, earnest, and devoted labour undergone by them. (Mat_20:25-28) Yet it does not rest there, nor with those who, subsequently to the apostles, might be called to bear office in the Church. The members of the Christian Church are also called, according to their opportunities, to serve:—in prayers, in alms-deeds, in works of righteousness, in strivings against sin, in bowels of compassion, in brotherly admonitions, in ministrations of knowledge among the young and ignorant, and visits of kindness, or acts of beneficence among the distressed and destitute. The measure of what people can do in such things is the measure of their obligations (‘she did what she could’); and in so far as any professing Christian neglects or comes short of them, he does so in violation of the claims and responsibilities under which he is placed by his relation to Christ. All have some gifts to be used in His service, and for the good of their fellow-men, only ‘differing according to the grace that is given to them;’ and, as a rule, they should be both most fully possessed and most fruitfully exercised by the Church’s pastors, because in them the calling and obligations of the spiritual community naturally find their highest exemplification.
Nor is it otherwise in respect to the higher aspects of the ministerial office, its connection with the sanctuary above; for wherever the Christian really exists, that connection must exist also. The Church collectively is the habitation of the Spirit; so is the individual believer. The works which, as a believer, he is called to do in order to make his calling and election sure, must be works of God; and for one and all of them he needs the illuminating and strengthening agency of the Holy Spirit. No Christian parent within the private walks of domestic life can fulfil his obligations in regard to the godly upbringing of his children; no Christian philanthropist, yearning over the miserable and degraded multitudes around him, can discharge the labours of love, which the mercies of God in Christ impel him to undertake in their behalf; no solitary individual even, warring in his personal experiences with the solicitations of the flesh and the powers of evil in the world, can resist, and stand fast, and do the will of God,—except by receiving gifts of grace to qualify him for the work, and to render the work itself serviceable to the end toward which it is directed. In short, all who would move in the Christian sphere, and in any of its departments would serve their generation according to the will of God, must stand in living connection with the heavenly world. Their calling as the Lord’s servants warrants them to expect, and, if they succeed in that calling, their success proves them to have received, grace for spiritual work; in which respect, therefore, they are vessels of honour fitted for the Master’s use, and partakers of the blessing.
Such, then, being the case in regard to the Church as a whole, the question as to a man’s personal vocation to the Christian ministry is merely an application of the general to the particular. It narrows itself to the point, whether he has reason to consider it to be the will of God, that in addition to the ordinary obligations resting on him as a believer, he should undertake the special obligations, cognate in their nature, yet more arduous and exacting in their discharge, of the Christian pastor. It is not, strictly speaking, whether he is to enter into another sphere, or assume a relation altogether different to the Spirit and the cause of Christ; but whether he would have himself more closely identified with this cause, and for the sake of it cultivate more earnestly the higher gifts and endowments of the Spirit than is done even by the major part of genuine believers. In a word, the question resolves itself into the consideration, whether he has the capacity and the will, the faculties of nature and the endowments of grace, which, if duly cultivated and employed, might reasonably be expected to render him more serviceable to the interests of righteousness in the peculiar service of the ministry, than in the common service of the Christian life.
When the matter comes to be examined in this light, there will very rarely be found much practical difficulty among earnest inquirers in arriving at a proper conclusion on the subject. It may very readily be otherwise if the correct relation of the Christian ministry to the Christian community is wrongly apprehended or virtually ignored, as indeed is not unfrequently the case. It is not unnatural for the mind, when first turning its thoughts in this direction, to look at pastoral work in too isolated a light, as having, all in a manner peculiar to itself, little or nothing in common with that which enters into the calling of members of the flock. By striking too low an estimate of this general calling, or for the time leaving it out of view, the mind gets perplexed with difficulties regarding its right to intermeddle with the higher vocation. The way cannot but appear to some extent relieved of those difficulties if it is distinctly understood that the primary and fundamental obligations are the same for the true believer as for the Christian pastor. In both cases alike the soul that is properly enlightened about the things of God, and earnestly desirous to fulfil aright its part concerning them, will feel that it has substantially the same gracious privileges to handle, the same principles of life to follow out, the same vital connection with the Spirit to maintain. And with this for a starting-point, it has merely to consider whether it may not be warranted, or even bound to go on to what further is involved in the destination and duties of the pastorate.
It is clear, then, that all just and proper inquiries on this point must proceed on one assumption; they must take for granted the personal Christianity of the inquirer as the essential basis and prerequisite for all that belongs to a living and divinely-constituted ministry. He who has not yet been called of God to the common work of a believer cannot possibly have a call to the distinctive work of a pastor. One who is himself a stranger to grace can be in no proper condition to act as a chosen vessel and instrument of grace; he cannot even cordially enter into ‘and sympathize with the objects toward which the ministry of grace is directed. The connection between the common and the special in this respect was forcibly put by the well-known Mr. Robert Bruce, in relation to his own case: ‘I was first called to my grace before I obeyed my calling to the ministry: He made me first a Christian before He made me a minister.’ And then, as to the necessity of the personal work of grace for the proper exercise of the ministerial calling: ‘If the Spirit be not in me, the spirit of the hearer will discern me not to be sent; but only to have the word of the commission, and not the power.’ It is therefore indispensable that those who would have any satisfaction as to their call to the ministry, and any blessing in the work when actually engaged in it, should have some reasonable evidence of their own interest in the salvation of Christ, and personal surrender to the claims of the gospel. ‘We believe, and therefore speak;’ such is the divine order.
But even when evidence exists of a work of grace in the heart, there may still be defects and hindrances which practically serve to place a barrier in the way, the absence of which must also be presupposed as an indispensable condition to a real call. For, considering the position which a pastor has to occupy, the amount of intellectual and exciting labour he has to undergo, and the share which public discourse must have in his ministrations, there are various things of a natural kind which may act as virtual disqualifications,—obstructions raised by the hand of God in providence against this particular way of serving Him,—such as physical inability, nervous temperament, defect of voice, feebleness of intellect, incapacity for continued study, want of literary acquirements, and other things of a like nature. Disadvantages of this sort may create difficulties which it is impossible to overcome, or which may at least stand in the way of any reasonable prospect of the individual to whom they belong serving God more acceptably, or yielding more benefit to the interests of religion, by devoting himself to the work of the ministry, than by occupying a sphere in private life. Here, therefore, there is room for calm and thoughtful consideration, sometimes for friendly counsel and advice, as well as for earnest prayer; since, in such cases, neither personal desire nor what are called providential openings can be regarded as sufficient grounds of action. ‘What some call,’ said John Newton justly, ‘providential openings, are often powerful temptations; the heart in wandering cries, “Here is a way opened before me;” but perhaps it is not to be trodden, but rejected.’ It is impossible, however, to lay down any definite rules which would be generally applicable; for the disqualifying circumstances themselves exist in such various forms and degrees, and the spheres of ministerial labour also differ so widely in the comparative demands they make alike for bodily and mental qualifications, that gifts quite inadequate to some, or even to most situations, might yet suffice for a fair amount of acceptable and useful labour in others. There can be no doubt that, however desirable a happy constitution of body and mind may be, however necessary superior powers in both respects for filling the more arduous and prominent positions in the Church, yet comparatively moderate talents, and talents accompanied with marked bodily weaknesses or defects, when thoroughly sanctified and diligently used, have been honoured to do much effective service in the more retired fields of Christian labour. The first-called labourers in the Lord’s vineyard were manifestly of very diverse grades in respect to those natural qualifications of mind and body. In variety and fulness of mental powers, as well as general culture, none of them appear to have approached the Apostle to the Gentiles; while he, again, laboured under certain bodily ailments or defects; and Peter, James, and John seem to have considerably surpassed the other members of the apostolic band. Yet the Lord had work for them all. He did not reject the weaker on account of the stronger; they too had their proper place, though a somewhat humbler one, in the field of apostolic agency. On matters of this description, therefore, I go no further than to suggest the wisdom of prayerful consideration and friendly advice, coupled with a readiness to submit to the application of those tests which in well-constituted Churches are employed to ascertain whether candidates for the ministry possess the gifts which, in ordinary circumstances, may warrant them to count upon some measure of success in pastoral work.
But supposing no hindrance should present itself on the preliminary points now indicated; supposing one has to all appearance become a partaker of the grace of God, and, along with a fair measure of natural talent, to possess also a competency of other qualifications, there yet usually is room for a certain regard being had to considerations of a circumstantial kind, considerations arising mainly from one’s training and position in life, which may of themselves go far to exercise a determining influence. Such, undoubtedly, and of the most decisive character, were the circumstances which marked the early career of the apostles and many others of the original heralds of the gospel, who, from their historical position with reference to Christ, or to the movements of His kingdom, were singled out as by the finger of Heaven for the work of the ministry. Those circumstances were, no doubt, in many respects peculiar, and nothing like a formal repetition of them can now be looked for; yet, at the same time, what then took place may in principle, however in point of form diversified, occur at any time, and is in a manner sanctioned for all times. There has often been since, and there may quite readily be expected in the case of particular individuals, such a direction or concurrence of things in providence as may be sufficient to constitute a distinct call to the Christian ministry; nay, even to do it when the individuals themselves might have some cause for hesitation or doubt. In proof of this, and as affording a most striking exemplification of the principle in question, we can point to the case of one of the greatest men who have filled the pastoral office in later times, that, namely, of John Calvin. It was some time after he had embraced the Reformed cause, and had published the first edition of his Institutes,—a clear and lucid exhibition of Christian faith and practice even in that form, but a brief and imperfect production compared with what it ultimately became. He had not, however, as yet resolved to devote himself to the work of the ministry; and was on his way from Italy, where he had been on a visit to the Duchess of Ferrara, to some place in Germany suitable for the further prosecution of his studies. He took Geneva on his route, intending only to spend in it a night or two, as he h