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martyrs, quite as much as on their character as an Ecumenical Council, that their authority reposed. In this respect no other council could approach them; and, in the whole proceedings of the assembly, the voice of an old confessor was received almost as an oracle.
Lectures on the Eastern Church.
THE CLERICAL PROFESSION.
It is my belief that the writings of the New Testament do not authorize the conclusion that it is the prerogative, or the peculiar and exclusive duty, of any class in the church of Christ, to communicate to others the gospel of God, and that they do not give the smallest countenance to the notion rep ented by the phrase, “the sacred order of the Christian ministry.” It is, perhaps, difficult to describe with accuracy what are the prevailing ideas which clothe themselves in these, or equivalent terms—each section of the religious world exhibiting some variations in the interpretation it puts upon them. The vaguest and most general form in which the erroneous impression shows itself, is in a broad classification of society into clerical and lay. There is commonly felt to be a higher sense in which the one class differs from the other, than that which arises out of difference of engagements. A minister is, as minister, segregated from the mass, and becomes, in virtue of his calling, a member of a consecrated order. He is supposed to have passed out of the ordinary ranks of life, in obedience to an inward call, and to have joined a company from which the churches are to take their rulers and teachers. Thenceforth it becomes his special and appropriate function to preach the gospel, and to administer its ordinances. He is regarded as, in some sort, not merely qualified by his gifts, but authorized by his profession, to discharge duties with which laymen should not meddle. Now I do not believe that Jesus Christ ever instituted such an order in his churches, or that the apostles anywhere hint at its existence. In sacred offices I do believe, and for them I cherish a profound respect—in a sacred order I have no faith whatever. To my view it is at variance with the genius of the gospel, in opposition to the intimations of the New Testament writers, and productive of the most pernicious results.
The almost universal practice of limiting spiritual teaching in each church, so far at least as it is stated and official, to a single individual, is one of the arrangements by which this professional sentiment finds development and sustenance. In apostolic times, there seems reason to conclude, all the Christian disciples of one city or town were united together in spiritual fellowship, and constituted the one church in that town. From the intimations of Scripture we may infer, with a high degree at least of probability, that the offices both of oversight and of teaching were as numerous in each church as convenience might prescribe, or as the distribution of gifts amongst the members would allow. In the apostolic epistles, where a single church is addressed, allusion is commonly made, not to the bishop, but the bishops; and when Titus is instructed by Paul to finish in Crete the work which the apostle himself had left uncompleted, he is told to ordain, or appoint, not an elder, but elders, in every city. From the same apostle's letter to the Corinthian church, we gather that the gift of teaching was possessed by several of its members, and some important regulations are laid down for its orderly exercise. To some such mode of manifesting and nourishing their spiritual life, the Christian churches in our land will probably return by slow degrees, as the spirit of their faith becomes purified from the dross of worldly-mindedness. Meanwhile, it is but too apparent that the needless multiplication of spiritual organizations in one locality, and the appointment of a single minister over each, but ill succeeds in eliciting either the life or the power of religious association. Our very mechanical arrangements, modelled, of course, in conformity with our ecclesiastical ideas, put a needless distance between teacher and taught, and exert a repressive influence
upon the sympathies which should connect the one with the other. In each place of worship there stands the pulpit—a visible symbol of the monopoly of teaching—a fixed memento to the church that it is to one individual they have to look for all those declarations, illustrations, and enforcements of the word of God, by which their minds are to be informed, their consciences stirred or comforted, or their hearts impressed and improved. From that spot, sacred to ministerial occupation, the devotions of the people are to be led by the same man that preaches the word, every time the church assembles, year after year. The most seraphic piety, combined with the most splendid talents, can hardly, on this plan, prevent both devotion and instruction from becoming invested with an air of formality deeply injurious to freshness of religious feeling. Oh! those pulpits, and all the influences they infer! Would that no such professional conveniences had been invented ! Would that some change of feeling, or even of fashion, amongst us, could sweep them clean away! How much they themselves, and the notion of which they are the visible expression, have done to repress the manifestations of spiritual life and energy in our churches it is impossible to calculate. The evils always attendant upon monopoly have not been wanting here ; and the pains taken, but unwisely taken, to secure by means of it the best results, have produced the worst. The limitation of public spiritual service to a single functionary has greatly, and, as I think, most unhappily, favoured the diffusion of the professional sentiment amongst both churches and ministers. The attribution of a large class of duties in which the body ought to take a lively interest, and concerning which it ought to feel a weighty responsibility, to a particular order of Christian men, has been fatally encouraged, nay, rendered all but inevitable, by the arrangements to which the foregoing observations refer. The pastor and the flock alike suffer disadvantage--and it is hard to determine which is most to be commiserated. Not a few, we apprehend, in both relationships, would rejoice most heartily to go back to primitive methods. But, for the present, the tyrant custom overrules their wishes—and, perhaps, in this instance, as in others, lurking traditional feeling refuses to keep pace with intelligent conviction.
But there are other illustrations of the professional sentiment to be met with in our churches. The canon laws of an ecclesiastical establishment, itself a re-adaptation of Papal machinery to purer doctrine, exert, in some respects, a more powerful influence over their views of ministerial etiquette than the dictates of common sense and the lessons of experience, backed though they be by the sanction of apostolical example. Else, how comes it to pass that the stated discharge of the functions of eldership should be so generally regarded as incompatible with secular engagements ? Doubtless, it is frequently desirable that men found by the churches “apt to teach," should be placed in a position enabling them to consecrate their whole time to the work ; and so long as the “oversight” and religious tuition of each church are committed exclusively to a single individual, secular pursuits, even when necessary to eke out for him a scanty subsistence, will be found to preclude the profitable performance of his duties. But is it requisite, or does the New Testament give countenance to the idea, that every spiritual teacher should refrain from seeking an honest livelihood by the work of his own hands, or that upon being appointed to office he cannot continue in a worldly calling without infringing the rules of ecclesiastical propriety? Just the reverse! The case of the 'greatest of the apostles need hardly be cited, for no thinking mind can miss it. “ The preachers among the poor Waldenses,” says Milton, “the ancient stock of our Reformation, bred up themselves in trades, and especially in physic and surgery, as well as in the study of Scripture (which is the only true theology), that they might be no burden to the church ; and, by the example of Christ, might cure both soul and body. But our ministers,” he continues, in a strain of severity which the condition of his times fully justified, “think scorn to use a trade, and count it the reproach of this age that tradesmen preach the gospel. It were to be wished they were all tradesmen—they would not so many of them, for want of another trade, make a trade of their preaching.” This quotation, to some extent, is applicable in the present day; and the truths, thus pithily and forcibly put, deserve far more serious consideration than they have yet received. By condemning the teachers of Christianity, as such, to an entire abstinence from secular engagements, these semi-papal notions of what becomes the “profession,” shut up one-half, or more, of our ministers to a miserably straitened income ; and inasmuch as their efforts to keep body and soul together are prevented from taking an independent and self-reliant direction, they can only tell in the shape of earnest and reiterated appeals to Christian liberality, or sink unsuccessful into bitter complaints. It is this unnatural state of things which gives to the world an appearance of ministers “making a trade of preaching ;” and when many a man is heroically struggling against actual want whilst ministering to his flock, and perseveres in the performance of his sacred duties under sharp and seemingly interminable privations, his very necessities, which can seek relief nowhere but in the bounty of others, throw over his entire work a false tint provocative of the suspicion that his objects are mercenary. Why should not these men pursue an honourable worldly calling ? Partly, because our mode of ministerial education has unfitted them for business—chiefly, because opinion in the churches would regard it as a desecration of the “sacred profession." And yet even that opinion is inconsistent with itself. It sees no objection to this imaginary desecration by missionaries, and among the heathen ; it is only at home that it ensures censorious and condemnatory remarks. But thus it is that the professional sentiment expresses itself—by such arrangements it is nourished—being at once cause and effect of one of the most anti-scriptural and deplorable characteristics of evangelical church polity in our country and times.
To the foregoing illustrations I think it needful to add but one other—that presented to our notice by distinct clerical titles, official vestments, and all those external peculiarities intended to distinguish from others the members of the “sacred profession.” There are varieties of custom amongst different denominations in reference to these distinctive insignia of office ; but the sects are very few, and the individuals are far from numerous, who treat all such outward marks as unworthy of notice. Looked at apart, they are confessedly trifles—viewed in connexion with our present theme, they are not altogether matters of indifference. They are meant to express what it would be well for the churches altogether to forget-a difference of order. They indicate the existence of views respecting the sanctity of the profession, which neither scriptural language nor the genius of Christianity support. They render more visible the line of separation between the disciples of Christ in office and out of it. They originated in times of corruption; and they serve no useful purpose which pure religion can desire. They minister to unworthy tastes. They lend a countenance to popular superstition. They are a relic, and a very absurd relic, of the old sacerdotal system, which delegated the whole business of religion to the priesthood, and which placed the efficacy of priestly mediation chiefly in a minute observance of external forms and “bodily exercises.” It is surely high time that the Christian churches in Great Britain had got above such puerile trumpery, which, where it has ceased to be capable of doing positive harm, evinces, in close association with the grandeur of God's truth, a littleness of spirit in melancholy contrast with it.