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ARTICLES AND DISCOURSES.
On the Importance of a Pious and Enlightened Ministry.
The Christian ministry is of Divine origin. It is the instrumentality by which the cause of truth, righteousness, and piety are maintained ; the means ordained of God for the salvation of men. In the arrangements of Christ for the establishment of his kingdom in the earth, the institution of the gospel ministry is very prominent. He selected the men, trained them for the great and arduous work under his own eye, sent them forth to preach the word of truth, and gave them directions for perpetuating the holy order. The wisdom of this appointment has been demonstrated by the experience of the whole history of the gospel church. Every great interest needs special supervision; and the greater the interest, the more thorough and systematic should be the supervision by which its affairs are to be guarded and directed. And the guardian influence which is exerted by the ministry over the church, is clearly seen to be wisely adapted for the accomplishment of its great and momentous objects. It was designed of God to exert a great moral power over individuals and communities, for the advancement of the highest interests of mankind, both for time and for eternity. Hence, good men have always looked with anxious solicitude to the character and qualifications of the ministry. This solicitude is natural and right; for the state of public morals, and the prosperity of the church, depend, in a great degree, upon the piety, ability, and faithfulness of the gospel ministry. Both the state of the church, and
the character of the times in which we live, require as devoted, as able, and as faithful a ministry as at any former period.
The first and most important characteristic of a gospel ministry, is decided piety. This qualification is indispensable; it is demanded both by the Scriptures and the nature of the ministerial office, and, for the absence of which, nothing can atone. Unsanctified learning and talent will rather obstruct than advance the Redeemer's kingdom; will rather tarnish than promote the glory of God among men. Every Christian teacher should be a truly converted man, and should possess the graces of the Spirit in a strong, vivid, and prominent exercise. He should be truly and eminently a man of God; full of faith and the Holy Ghost; and should be rooted and grounded in love. Without a decidedly pious ministry, no church can possibly, for any length of time, sustain a devotional and spiritual character. Her graces will languish, her energies will dry up, and her spiritual life will vanish away.
But, while piety is indispensable, it should not be forgotten that there are other qualifications, which are also essential in rendering a minister of the gospel useful and successful as a public teacher. The great head of the church would have an energetic, as well as an honest and devoted ministry. And hence, the necessity of looking into the intellectual, as well as the moral and religious character of the ministry. The enlightened age in which we live, and the general intelligence which is disseminated among all orders and conditions of men, obviously require an intellectual as well as a pious and devoted ministry. It is absurd to suppose that a man who possesses a rude and uncultivated mind, is properly qualified to preach the gospel with success, to a polished, intellectual, and intelligent congregation, merely because he is truly pious. Pious, he may be ; but if his talents and learning are not sufficiently commanding to gain and fix the attention of his audience, he can be the means of doing them but little good. There seems to be a great absurdity in giving our children a polite and polished education, and then doom them to hear an uneducated ministry. Where education is widely diffused and disseminated among all classes of the community, as in this country, the ministry should also be edu. cated, in order that they may become competent and useful teachers of the Christian religion. And if the church duly respect her. self, and have a proper regard for the glory and honor of God, she will, with a proper feeling, insist on those qualifications in the ministry, which are essential in rendering them useful as pastors.
That God has ordained an able as well as a devoted ministry for his church, is clearly manifest from the precepts of the Bible. The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth. Neglect not the gift that is in thee. Meditate upon these things. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. These precepts speak a language clear, plain, and decisive ; a language that cannot be misunderstood. And,
in accordance with these positive precepts, there are also individual expressions of the Divine will. The same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others. For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. It is said of Paul, that his letters were weighty and powerful. And, speaking of himself, he testifies, though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge. It is also said of Apollos, in the way of commendation, that he was an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures ; that he spake boldly in the synagogue, and mightily convinced the Jews. From these Scripture testimonies it is evident, that it is well pleasing to God to have a ministry of a vigorous and well cultivated mind, as well as of a pious and devoted heart; of a high intellectual, as well as of a religious character ; able to teach and instruct the ignorant and those who are out of the way; of sound speech that cannot be condemned; well furnished with all the qualities for making a deep, vivid, and lasting impression upon the public mind.
That an able ministry is ordained of God as a blessing to his church, is also evident from the fact, that all the most important movements in the church, have taken place under the instrumentality of such a ministry. Why were Moses and Aaron selected to rescue Israel from bondage, to instruct them on their journey to Canaan, and to arrange for them a splendid system of civil and religious polity? Why, but for their peculiar qualifications ? the one being learned in all the wisdom of the age, as well as divinely inspired, and the other, a man of ready and commanding address. Who have displayed nobler powers, a superior genius, a higher and more commanding eloquence, than David and some of the prophets? But why were not men of inferior capacity selected to be thus honored of God, if talents and intellectual power are of no account with him? In moral, as well as in physical results, the means must be adapted to the end. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.
So, also, in the gospel age, the chief actors in establishing the Christian religion have not been less illustrious. The twelve disciples, who were selected as the chief instruments in planting the gospel among the nations of the earth, although taken from men in the humble walks of life, were not sent forth to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ till thoroughly trained, and fully qualified for the most wise and powerful action. The Apostle Paul, was the most eminent man of the age. He had great mental capacity; he had a quick and penetrating perception: he had a warm and lively imagination; he had genius; he had a well cultivated and disciplined mind; he had stores of varied, important, and useful learning. Commissioned by the great Head of the church, and animated by the spirit of his Master, he went forth bearing his name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. He labored in this cause with unremitting diligence and untiring zeal for the
space of thirty years; exhibiting a firmness of purpose which neither difficulties nor dangers could shake, and a purity of life the breath of calumny could not tarnish. During this short space of time, he visited all the principal countries of the old world, and proclaimed to them the gospel of the Son of God. And how brilliant and triumphant was his course from city to city, and from province to province! And why did Divine wisdom enlist those gigantic powers, cultivated, enlarged, and disciplined at the feet of Gamaliel, in the work of the ministry? Why, but that the work called for a powerful instrumentality ?
Another period of the gospel history has also been marked by its wonderful achievements; the reformation from papal corruptions. And who were the men first to discover, refute, and demolish the papal errors and the papal tyranny? Who, but the men of the most vigorous minds, cultivated and enlarged by sound learning, and deep piety? This event gave immortality to the names of Wickliffe, Huss, Jerome of Prague, Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, Knox, and a hundred others, as eminent for literature as for religion, for integrity and courage as for zeal and ardor in the cause of truth. They seem to have been eminently fitted for the accomplishment of the great work assigned them by Divine Providence. Men of less learning, talent, wisdom, and courage, could hardly have accomplished what they effected. Think of the torrent of wickedness which had nearly deluged the Christian world, and nearly buried in ruins the whole Christian fabric ; think of the ignorance and prejudice which had bound the multitude with the chain of superstition for ages ; think of a domination over reason and conscience, supported by the combined energies of church and state, throughout an entire continent; think that every stir for freedom, every movement for the acquisition of knowledge, was watched with a jealous eye by prelates and emperors ; think that the church had slept for centuries, had nearly become extinct, and that pomp, show, and the mummery of pagan rites and superstitious ceremonies, had superseded almost every vestige of piety. What must have been the inflexibility of character, the moral courage, the intellectual strength, the rich resources, the bold daring, that could successfully engage in an onset against such an array of sin and despotism? The conflict came, the powers of darkness were scattered, and nations were emancipated from the yoke of ignorance and superstition, and brought into the possession and enjoyment of religious and civil freedom.
But the great work of reformation did not stop here; at a later period, another emergency brought up a Wesley, a Whitefield, a Penn, the immortal Edwards, and a host of others, to emancipate the world from the thraldom of spiritual bondage, and to reinstamp upon the heart of man the image of his God; to rescue the church from worldliness, formality, and the most fatal errors. From the days of these eminent and devoted servants of God, the great work