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To the Editor of the Nev Evangelical
Those who survey with impartiality the state of the Churches or Religious Societies existing in this Nation, at the present, must unavoidably be struck with an agreeable surprise. The general concurrence with which they cooperate in disseminating the word of Life, and the active zeal they manifest in supporting institutions for instructing the ignorant and reclaiming the vicious, discovers something unknown to former ages; and demonstrates a singular interposition of Providence. That those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, should feel disposed to lead others to the only spring of real comfort, is quite congenial to the dictates of Godliness, and the tender feelings of humanity. To view, even superficially, the awful _ruin of sin in alienating from God and exposing to endless perdition, must be sufficient to awaken the liveliest sensations of pity and compassion in the breasts of all who are followers of Him who went about doing good. It is almost wonderful, that persons professing to be every man's neighbour, should have so long beheld the scattered descendants of Abraham sunk in sin and ignorance, without any attempt t«
remove the veil which hangs upon their hearts. So must it likewise seem strange, that the favoured inhabitants of Europe should have been for ages so lukewarm and in(1 liferent towards the eternal welfare of their brethren the heathen, millions of whom have been, and still are immersed in the grossest darkness. Such unfeeling hardness of which we have been guilty, is altogether incompatible with the benevolent influence of the gospel. But though we are warranted to speak so highly in commendation of Christian exertion in supporting the hospitable institutions of the age, yet there are various utterly objectionable practices conspicuous in the proceedings of professing Christians. Their departures from the primitive order of Christ's house, which present themselves to public observation, ought not to be viewed as trivial or unworthy of regard, for they stand connected with serious impediments in the way of religious prosperity. If all the institutions of Jesus are enjoined for the purpose of edification—> if they tend in their very spirit to enlarge the acquaintance of Christ's followers with heavenly and divine things, the neglect of any of them must be a matter of deep regret. One of the several imperfections to which these remarks have respect is the common mode of electing 2JP * and appointing Bishops or Elders in our congregational churches. Had we not discarded the obligatory nature of Papal traditions, and likewise exploded the vain pretensions of the church to decree Rites and Ceremonies, we might plead some shadow of excuse, in the instance referred to, though delusive and erroneous. But having adopted that substantial maxim, Scripture the only rule of faith and practice, we stand chargeable with the most palpable inconsistency.
In the apostolic model of church constitution, there is no one part drawn with greater exactness than that which regards the office and duty of Pastors. It is a matter to be lamented, that after the perspicuous rules given to Timothy and Titus, together with that solemn charge to the Ephesian Elders, there should still remain such an evident departure from those weighty precepts. That much depends on the regular appointment of Overseers in the Churches must be unquestionable, if we consider the high responsibility that connects with their office. For if we view them under the character of watchmen, it is needful they possess vigilance and fortitude—looking upon them as stewards, they ought to manifest faithfulness and impartiality—regarding them as shepherds, love and unceasing care are necessary—considering them as rulers, extensive judgment and protracted experience are requisite in a high degree, that they may stand patient under affronts, and continue long-suffering when painful disturbances arise.
It is much to be feared that the institution and prevalence of Academies have been, though undesignedly, one means of leading religious Societies from the rule of God's word, in "their proceedings relative to Elders or Bishops. This devisal which must be considered as merely human, has in various
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points been destructive of tfint simplicity and unassuming meekness which adorned the Churches planted by the Apostles. There is no doubt but these Seminaries of learning have given birth to men of high eminence in literature and general knowledge, whose attainments have turned to great advantage in the defence of sacred truth. They have cherished genius, and snatched from oblivion intellectual endowments, which otherwise must have remained dormant and unknown. But if we compare this with the mischiefs which have sprung from those Seminaries in fostering ministerial pride, and leading men off from the order of Christ's house, the evils of the latter will far outweigh the benefits of the former. This shews that human institutions designed as coercive with the holy ordinances of God, however plausible they appear in the eyes of carnal reason, are attended with exceptions which discover their origin as antiscriptural. Thnt there are very unfavourable consequences to the purity of religion, connected with the present mode of academical preparation of men for the Christian ministry, is but too plainly demonstrated in a number of circumstances which might easily be pointed out. Omitting to trace the general impression it makes on the minds of many, who have been brought up in humble life—leading them out into almost a different sphere, raising them to a sort of lofty mien and self-consequence;— waving this, I say, let us consider a few concomitant evils which appear in the state and conduct of many of our churches. To exemplify them, we must refer to actual occurrences, many of which take place within the circle of personal acquaintance. Suppose a Church destitute of a Pastor by death, or any other cause: what is the plaa generally pursued 1 Application i* made to an Academy; if they «* capable of raising the required remuneration, 'tis well; if not, they need not expect to share in the regular means of edification. They are now become nearly dependent on these institutions for their accommodation with (hose who engage in the active exercises of the Church, instead of looking out amongst themselves for one who could speak to edification and comfort. In this state they continue too frequently a long period of time without any regular order in their proceedings as a Church, save only the attendance on public preaching, which too often is of a light and airy, and sometimes of such a philosophical stamp, that rather than their minds being fed with the precious word of life, they have nothing whereon to rest but the mysterious movements of the imagination which leave the understanding uninformed, and consequently the will unimpressed, and the affections partaking of the same degree of carnality. After the intervention of a considerable length of time, some one is fixed upon as likely to suit them in the department of preaching, and so of course must take upon him the office of Ruler or Overseer. But what now is the rule of their conduct? Have thev taken the Epistles to Timothy amf Titus, and examined with deliberation, whether the proposed person possesses the qualifications indispensably required there 1 too frequently this is altogether neglected. The greater part of the church perhaps know very little of the person, but by seeing and hearing him in the pulpit. Contrary to this, they ought collectively to be acquainted with his private demeanour, and to know whether his temper and disposition, answer the requisition of the Divine Law, "not soon angry, not self-willed, not greedy of filthy lucre." Unless a Church be persuaded that the persons they appoint to rule over them be par
takers of these qualifications, in some degree, they cannot proceed without breaking the precepts of the Lord Jesus. After the process has gone on to the mutual giving and accepting the invitation, then follows frequently a piece of conduct, the mode of procedure in which is disgraceful to the Christian name. This is the seltling a living or benefit upon the ministerial visitant. This, too, is often attended with stretching and pressing on both sides the question—the minister to procure more, and the church to put him oft' with less—and it is no uncom. mon tiling to hear of this conclusion, that if the church does not engage to advance such a sum, they need not expect the company of the object of their choice any longer. Is such conduct as this consistent with that disinterestedness of spirit which appeared in the primitive teachers of Christianity? Is it not prohibited by the apostle Peter, when he says, "not for filthy lucre." No such tie as this was deemed needful to unite pastor and people in primitive days. If a Church possessed abundance, they freely contributed to the supportof those who laboured amongst them; but if through poverty or affliction they were incapable of doing this, then those in whom the fear of God predominated over the love of this world willingly wrought with their hands,' and this was made a matter of command by the apostle. Hence that bright example set before the assembled Elders at Miletus; "Ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my necessities and to them that were with me! I have shewed you how that so* labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Another very objectionable practice which prevails in the settling of preachers in the churches, is the unseemlyandunscriptural dominion of the rich over the poor. In case of a vacancy in the ministry of a church, who ought to appoint one to fill that vacancy 1 It is done by two or three individuals who happen to be blest with the good things of this life, so that they are enabled to contribute more liberally than their brethren. Does this warrant them to bring into the assembly whom they will, too often contrary to the mind of the poor, who are more likely to judge of persons and their doctrine than themselves?—It would be an uncouth, though a just compliment to all such men, were they told, that so far they act as near kinsmen to his Holiness the Pope. Besides this, thereisanotherspecies of innovation, evidently of a more abominable nature, and productive of greater evils in magnitude, though not in number than the former. This practice, which justly deserves the severest reprehension, becomes more prevalent than formerly. The matter now alluded to, which has often been the subject of bitter lamentation, is the conduct of some churches towards others relative to their Pastors, which frequently leads to awful breaches, in the peace of those who profess to be of one heart and of one mind. When a church has appointed a person as their Elder, with this he unites his solemn engagements to become their servant in the ministry of the most holy things; and after this, who hath any right to seek by lures and worldly encitements to obtain him from them 1 That this is too often done, and that too under a pretence of God's glory, many have to witness with grief and anxiety. The unscripturai nature of all such attempts, is unquestionably, proved by the consequence that follows. To enumerate the evils that result herefrom is both irksome and painful to the
mind. It is a breach of the golden rule, '* as ye would that others do unto you, do ye even so to them"—a departure' from that amiable law of the blessed Saviour, "This is my commandment that ye love one another." It sows the seeds of animosity and discord, and leads the world to entertain profane ideas of religion. It hardens the captious sceptic, and gives him an opportunity of representing the profession of Christ's name, as a mere jumble of priestcraft and credulity—and above all it is a direct departure from that compliance with the sacred institution of God, which is enforced by all that is attractive, and all that is solemn. No doubt it is possible for circumstances to occur which may make the exchange of Pastors both prudent and necessary. There is such diversity of talent possessed by different men, that one is rilled for this scene of labour and another for that. But whenever a matter of this sort is deemed necessary, there ought always to be a mutual understanding, and if possible a mutual agreement in the respective churches. Should this, however, be impracticable, there is no alternative but each continuing in their situation. It might seem (though it is with sorrow 1 express it) that the obligations of Eldership are now reduced to the same vague uncertainty, as was the matrimonial tie amongst the Jews, who "put away their wives for every cause." For there is no doubt but that many a well meaning minister is thrust away from his friends and acquaintance, to make way for another, who perhaps is but the stolen servant of some declining church, which stood in the greatest need of his labour and assistance. There is moreover in too many instances a great degree of blame attaching to the conduct of ministers; for after they have in the most solemn manner pledged themselves as the