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none will be found to do us more honour, than those in which we are stiled “the servants of Christ; and yet none more strongly inculcate the humility essential to that function; for even our Master 'took on him the form of a servant,' and 'came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.' To minister to whom? Why, to the soul of the very meanest man, that should believe on him. Accordingly, what can be more humble, what more ministerial, than the carriage of this exalted Being ? This 'King of kings,'submits himself, not only to the majesty of his father, but to every ordinance of man.' This · Lord of lords girds himself with a towel, and washes the feet of his disciples.' This Creator of all things, this Ruler of heaven, is contented to be 'spit on, buffeted, crucified.' And in all this recommends his example to us his servants, with a reason, which all the evasions of pride can never parry; 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent, greater than he that sent him. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you.'
With such an example, set us by the Son of God himself, set us, who are but dust and ashes, we must be lost to common sense, and common modesty, if we presume to carry ourselves above either the humblest duty of our office, or the meanest mortal to whom that duty may be due.
But, since the office of the clergy appears to be set so low in holy Scripture, it may now be asked, wherein the dignity of that office consists, as set forth by the same Scripture ?
The dignity of this sacred office is represented to us in terms so strong, and in a stile so high, by the holy Spirit, that, were not the words dictated by that very Spirit, and did not the necessity of the thing press me to it, as I am una worthily vested with that awful office myself, I should choose, conscious of my own miserable unfitness for so holy a function, to be silent on a subject, much fitter for the minds of the laity, than the mouths of the clergy. However, before I have done with it, I hope to set it in such a light, as may induce my brethren and myself to draw arguments for humility, nay, for fear and trembling, rather than for pride and presumption, from that very dignity.
So necessary is the ministry to the propagation of Christian knowledge, and, by that means, to the reformation
and eternal happiness of mankind, that our blessed Saviour himself calls those, who are honoured with it, the salt of the earth,' without which it must become corrupt and fetid before God; and the light of the world,' without which it must still sit in darkness, in the darkness of idolatry and wickedness. Let a Christian (I speak to the reason, the faith, the conscience of a real Christian), ask himself, how he can hold those in contempt, whom his Saviour emblazons with so noble a coat, and not remember, at the same time, the other words of our Saviour, 'He that despises you, despises me; and he that despises me, despises him that sentme.'
Again, the clergy are in holy Scripture called' shepherds, the shepherds to whose care that flock is committed, which God hath purchased with his own blood.'
Again, they are called 'teachers, teachers of heavenly wisdom, and saving righteousness, to a people, who, if destitute of such instructors, must spend their days in shameful ignorance, and horrible wickedness; and die at last like the beast that perisheth.'
Again, they are called stewards, stewards of the manifold grace, and the mysteries of God;' without whose intervention, as Christ hath pleased to constitute his church, neither the Spirit of God, nor the seal of the covenant, administered in the holy sacrament, can be conveyed to any man ; ‘for no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God.'
And to raise their character still higher, they are dignified with the title of Christ's apostles, and even with that of ambassadors and angels from the high God, who speaks to the people by their mouths, who washes away their sins, and holds forth the precious body and blood of his Son, by their hands.
If, from the Scriptural characters, we descend to the execution of their office in its various branches, we shall be struck with a most exalted idea both of its beauty and dignity.
What reverence is due to those, who faithfully deliver, and ably defend, that word, of which its great Author says, • Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
How tenderly ought they to be loved ! how highly ought
they to be respected! who with the requisite discretion, administer absolution to the penitent, and in the bowels of Christian charity, apply the other consolations of the gospel; to such as, through a deep sense of their sins, dare hardly hope for the promised mercy ; to such as welter in the tortures of a sick bed; to such as hang in the agonies of death, between heaven and hell, and do not of themselves know how to support their spirits, or guide their steps, through the dark and dreadful passage!
With what veneration ought we to look up to those, who, without respect of persons, humble the proud and stubborn with the terrors of the Lord, and brandish the awful thunders of his word, against the dignified vices of the great! How are they to be esteemed by, not only every Christian, but every worthy son of his country, every friend to civil society, who reform the vicious, who confirm the virtuous, who, in the name of God, and by the power of true religion, labour to strengthen the foundations of civil government, that cannot stand but on religion; and who spend their days, and, if they are truly the ministers of Christ, would lay down their lives, for that important cause, on which absolutely depends all that is of any importance to mankind here, or hereafter.
So greatly important is the religion we preach, and, of consequence, so highly honourable is the office of preaching it: for we preach that religion (let the world hear, and the clergy fear) for which man was made, for which so many miracles were wrought, for which the Red Sea was divided, and mount Sinai cloathed with fire and thunder; for which the sick were healed, the dead raised, the devils ejected; that religion, for which the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, laboured and suffered; for which the Son of God descended from the throne of heaven, took on 'him the nature of man, was persecuted, buffeted, spit on, ridiculedfor which he died.
If to preach such a religion as this, be not a work of high honour and dignity, then surely there is no dignity, not to say in the kingdoms of this world, but even in the celestial priricipalities, promised to the righteous. If there is no honour in such a charge as this, then may the robes and ensigns of royalty look dim, and the thrones and sceptres of
kings hide themselves in obscurity; for this world is nothing, heaven itself is nothing.
After what hath been said, it may be asked, how so much grandeur is to be reconciled with so much lowliness, in the same person, and with respect to the same office.
Christ hath already answered the question ; for he said, My kingdom is not of this world. As his ministers derive all their dignity from him, and from the station they hold in his kingdom, which is purely spiritual, so their dignity is only spiritual. Now, with the highest pitch of this dignity, the utmost lowliness is surely as consistent, as the infinite majesty of our Saviour's person was with the unexampled humility of all his carriage. Perhaps it may be truly said, that, to a discerning eye, he never appeared among men in higher glory, than when he washed the feet of his disciples. The keys of heaven and hell were in those hands, that performed this lowest office of a servant. At least, I will venture to assert, that the highest minister of his church appears with more real dignity, when he enters a cottage to dispense his alms both to the soul and body of a beggar, than when he shews himself in the utmost splendor of his office on the episcopal throne. In this the envious, at least, will think he assumes; which hath in it the littleness of vanity; whereas, in that, every one must see he condescends; and condescension supposes as much grandeur, as it demonstrates humility.
With whatsoever outward magnificence the state, in its piety and prudence, may have thought fit to invest the character of a minister, he should, however, remember the true, the genuine dignity of his function; and should be above stooping to so mean a pride, as that of assuming, on account or the bells and fringes húng on him by this wretched world; which, after all the compliment of these external things, always looks with a jealous, often with a contemptuous eye on him, who seems to value himself on account of these inviduous, these interfering honours. Let him, therefore, despise the frippery of worldly grandeur, and stand as high as he pleases on that grandeur of his calling, which his Master allows him. Here mankind will be ready to yield him all the respect he hath a right to claim; provided he confines himself to this, and willingly resigns to the world
its own proper pomps and vanities, which he renounced when he was baptized.
By this I do not mean, that religion should be stripped of all exterior ornament, or, that they who preside in its sacred offices should appear in a slovenly meanness, but that this kind of pomp should be evidently so applied, as to add a dignity rather to the office itself, than to the persons of those who fill it. This foreign grandeur is no sooner detached from the function to the man, than it excites envy, instead of respect, and disdain, instead of veneration.
The seeming deference paid even to the more exalted part of the clergy (so much of it at least as is attracted by outward shew and figure), is as outward, is as superficial, to the full, as that to which it is paid. It is but the mere vizard of respect; and even when there is any thing of reality under it, sure I am, Christ and his religion have no share of it. And yet, as matters go, and (I am sorry to say it) are likely to go, this compliment sort of respect is all we have got, in the place of that pious veneration, which a sincere Christian never fails to entertain for a good clergyman.
If it is asked now, by what means we may recover a more solid and useful respect; I answer (and truth itself shall be my voucher) that, in case we have sense and goodness (I had almost said ambition) enough to seek our honour, where the nature of our employment fixes it, the way lies straight before us; we are to have recourse, in the first place, to a thorough reformation of whatsoever is amiss in our morals; and then, to those means, which, when united and patronized by a good example, ever were, and ever must be attended with success. Of these means I shall only insist on a few; for which, at present, there seems to be a more than ordinary call.
The first is natural capacity, and a thorough knowledge of the Christian religion. He who, without these, sets up for a teacher, must at least have a large stock of assurance to bear him out; for, at every turn, they who know him will be pointing at him and his flock, that keen expression of our Saviour, ' If the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch. Although a plain man may, in a few hours, learn enough of Christianity to regulate his life, and save his soul; yet a minister of the gospel, who is to be attacked