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THE CONGREGATIONAL MAGAZINE.
AN ESSAY, READ TO A FRIENDLY ASSOCIATION OF MINISTERS,
As every office is appointed with a view to duties that are to be discharged, so it must be invested with authority adequate to the responsibility and obligations it imposes. In an office, therefore, such as the ministry of the gospel, which involves duties and responsibilities so awful, there must reside proportionate and sufficient authority; and it must be, equally to christian ministers and their people, a point of great interest and moment to ascertain the nature, extent, and legitimate exercise of that authority. For an enlightened and faithful minister can desire to know and sustain his authority only in order to his own fidelity, the honour of his Master, and the good of his charge; while a people duly impressed with a sense of the divine, supreme authority of the Great Master, will be desirous to honour every delegation of it, as expressed in his word, or confided to his ministers. And as it is certain no human society, whether organized for civil or sacred purposes, can prosper, in which the authority of the rulers and the privileges of the people are not mutually respected; in the church of Christ it is of the highest moment that the ministers encroach not on the rights of the people, nor the people on the jurisdiction of the ministers.
The original source or fountain of the authority, be it what it may, with which christian ministers are invested, must be the will and appointment of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only sovereign head and Lord of the Church, which is his by a most divine and perfect right, as redeemed by his blood, and as given into his hand by his heavenly Father. He is sole, supreme, and absolute king in Zion. And it is a presumptuous and intolerable usurpation, when any human power dares to arrogate to itself, and to confer on others, of its own authority, any office, title, or authority in his church, not expressly appointed by him. And this sole and immediate derivation from Christ, of ministerial office and authority in the christian.
Vol. I. N. S.—Vol. XX. B
church, so far from rendering it feeble, doubtful, or ineffectual to its proper ends; on the contrary, makes it sacred and binding on conscience, and brings both ministers and people, in respect of it, under a direct and solemn responsibility to the Great Redeemer and Judge. Whatever authority christian ministers possess, they hold it 'jure divino,' or they have none at all. If any exercise in the church an authority which Christ gave them not, it is a usurpation. The church itself has no existence but from him; and he that is absolute creator must have absolute dominion over his own work. If, therefore, there were indeed any now empowered to make new laws, and additional officers and regulations in the church, they could have that power only by delegation and appointment from the Lord Jesus. Nothing is then more clear, than, that if there be in the hands of a christian minister any authority, he derives it from the only Lord and Master, Christ Jesus.
It must be equally apparent, that the authority of christian ministers must be exclusively scriptural; they must be invested witli it by warrant of the New Testament. The mind and will of Christ is made known to his church by no medium but scripture. Nothing is left to human discretion, nothing to human reason, save only the office of correctly interpreting, with divine help, the sacred oracles. All titles, offices, powers assumed by any professing to be Christ's ministers, not derived from the instructions of Christ and his apostles, are therefore invalid and usurped.
The authority of christian ministers must be purely and wholly spiritual. Its origin, nature, and purposes are all spiritual. It does not affect men's temporal interests, but their consciences, their christian graces and duties, and the salvation of their souls. The whole labour and duty of a christian minister is in the church, among the professed disciples of the Saviour; and where his duty and labour is, there, and there only, is his authority. It extends not to the bodies, or property, or liberty of men; is not armed with secular coercion and punishments; can employ legitimately no weapons but the word, ordinances, and instituted discipline of the gospel. And though in this view, to the judgment of the world, the authority of a christian minister may seem no authority, may seem wanting in sanction and force, because it can inflict no carnal, secular penalties, employ no terrors of the magistrate's sword; yet in truth, for its own proper purposes of administering the laws and blessings of Christ's kingdom, for ruling and benefiting his subjects, this authority is therefore venerable, and its sanctions appropriate, because they are altogether spiritual; and the seeming force and power obtained from carnal weapons altogether enervates and annuls it, and renders it entirely unfit to act on consciences and govern souls.
The authority of christian ministers is again strictly and only executive: there are no legislative functions confided to them, and therefore no discretionary power to make, or alter, or repeal laws in the church of God. In proof of this it is enough to say, that no man can pretend, with any show of reason, to make laws for the church, without an express warrant and charge to do so. But the New Testament certainly empowers no uninspired men to make laws for Christ's church. This is so sure, that to assert it is quite sufficient. Neither is there the slightest pretence that any man ever was employed to give laws in the church, except under an immediate inspiration from God. All those honoured servants of heaven, from Moses to Paul, exhibited miraculous proof that they were commissioned of God, and then gave forth, not their own conclusions and regulations, but his oracles and sacred ordinances. But. to the standing ministry of the church is confided nothing more than the faithful administration of its affairs, upon rules laid down in scripture, and by means furnished there. The doctrines to be preached, the ordinances to be administered, and the discipline to be enforced, are all contained in the New Testament. And the whole authority of a christian minister depends on his requiring nothing, employing nothing that is not scriptural. Engaged in his holy office to carry into effect the requirements of the word of God, he has the sanction of Christ, and is borne out by his authority; but attempting to obtrude on the disciples of the Saviour, what he has not enjoined, he has no hold on their consciences: they are under duty to Christ to resist, not to obey, that unauthorised dictation.
As the authority of the christian ministry, whatever it may be, can, in fact, be possessed only by those who are legitimately invested with that office, it may be necessary to a complete view of our subject, that we should briefly inquire what constitutes a scriptural call to this sacred service, and establishment in it. In truth, a valid institution into the ministry of the Gospel must originate with the Great Master himself: none but he can determine who shall serve him in this great work, or communicate adequate qualifications, or give a lawful appointment to it. But as inspiration has ceased, and men are not now sent forth into the sacred ministry by anv miraculous call, but in the ordinary course of gracious and providential arrangements, a personal call to the ministry of the word must be judged of in accordance therewith. And as the church is an organized society of christian men, the Saviour effects, through that instrumentality, the regular and safe introduction of good men into the ministerial office; not leaving the determination of so weighty a matter to the private and personal will of the individuals themselves, who may, on whatever grounds, desire the work of a bishop. Three things on the part of the Great Head of the church, and as immediately from him, seem essentially necessary, as an indication of his will, that any of his disciples should seive him in the public ministry of the word ;—that is, all these three things must concur and meet in any individual to designate him as intended of Christ for this work. Qualifications, natural and gracious: sincere piety, and not only competent, but appropriate abilities. Next the spirit of the work: an impulse of the soul to it, a deep sense of duty to undertake it, a real love to the employ. And providential openings, and disposal of circumstances to secure a regular and clear admission to the office. But then, as before observed, these things are not left to private interpretation; the judgment of others is to be consulted, and their sanction obtained. Especially those already in the minis