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the accidental disparity of their outward advantages and opportunities, which in every other science, and even in questions affecting their personal rights, make the great bulk of mankind willing to be instructed, guided, and governed by a few; would dispose them to a like submission and subordination, in the pursuit or reception of religious knowledge; and the more readily, inasmuch as it is an object of inquiry, unconnected with secular advantages, and with present rewards.
In fact, this last consideration makes pure religion to be an object of so little interest to man, in his unrenewed state, that it would not long continue to subsist in any community, were there not an express provision for its maintenance and preservation. And it is not easy to conceive any provision, which shall so effectually answer this end, as the separation and dedication of a particular class of men, to be the religious instructors of their brethren, and to minister before them, in those public rites and offices of worship, which are indispensable to the maintenance of religion ; to be the lights of the world; the salt of the earth; the ambassadors of divine mercy to a sinful and careless generation; watchmen, to awaken mankind from the sleep of sin; stewards of the word of God, and dispensers of his sacraments.
With respect to the Christian religion, the evidences upon which it claims our belief and obedience, and the records which contain its doctrines and precepts, are of such a nature, as to demand inquiries, for which the greater part of mankind are of necessity but little qualified: and for the results of these inquiries they must rely upon the concurrent testimony of others, who have had leisure, and opportunity, and ability to prosecute them with effect; or, at least, who are appointed, by competent judges, to deliver to them the truths which such inquiries have established, and the knowledge of which is essential to their eternal interests. The people at large must therefore know, to whom they are to look for instruction, in questions of such vital importance: and from these simple premises is inferred the necessity of a standing ministry.
Not only in the doctrines of the Gospel, not only in its precepts and consolations, has the divine wisdom consulted the actual constitution and wants of those for whom it was designed ; but also in the provision made for its continuance and preservation. That, which would in any case have been necessary, or highly expedient for man, as a religious being, the object of a divine revelation, has been rendered obligatory and aụthoritative, by the positive appointment of Jesus Christ, made through those chosen messengers, whom he invested with plenary authority to build his Church, and to provide for its perpetuity. I say nothing here of our more special and holy designation, as administrators of those distinguishing ordinances of our religion, by which the grace
of God, purchased for us by his blessed Son, is conveyed to his people; being willing, for the present, to rest the authority of the Christian ministry upon the appointment of Jesus Christ through his Apostles, ratifying and confirming that provision for the spiritual wants of his people, to which the wants themselves would naturally have conducted them; the separation and constitution of an order of men, to declare to mankind the laws and counsels of God, and to lead them in the performance of the public offices of piety.
But although such an institution is both natural and necessary, and has been, under some modification or other, a feature of almost every religion, yet the Christian ministry is distinguished by characters peculiar to itself, and strongly indicative of divine benevolence and wisdom. The religions of the heathen world had no office
corresponding to that of a minister of the Gospel; no, nor even the chosen people of God under the old covenant. They had, it is true, a holy priesthood, to offer sacrifices for sins; but their office related principally to outward forms and ceremonies, the shadow of good things to come.” Holy men, also, were, from time to time, raised up, to denounce the vengeance of Jehovah against idolatry and disobedience, and to foretell the future destinies of Israel. But there was no stated practical exposition of the Word of God; no course of divine instruction; no friendly admonition; no watching over souls, as a charge to be accounted for to God. This was a peculiar feature of the Christian polity; and bears the stamp of that consummate wisdom, and exceeding goodness of God, which knew the wants and weaknesses of human nature, and made ample provision for them, in the final dispensation of his mercy.
In the next place, let me say a few words as to the ministerial authority with which we are invested.
It is held by some Christians, that to the right ordination of a minister nothing is requisite, but his election by a certain congregation, and a formal declaration of their choice, accompanied by prayer. Now if the choice of their minister by a congregation be ordination ; then, if a majority of his hearers be displeased with their teacher, they can unordain him; and he will have no resource but to be reordained by another congregation, and to be more pliable to their judgment, or caprice. The mischiefs, which are likely to result to the cause of truth, from an elective ministry, from a dependence of the teacher upon those whom he has to teach, are of themselves an unanswerable argument in favour of that form of church government, which does not leave the choice of guides to those who are to be led by them ; but entrusts it, under an awful responsibility, to those, who have been appointed in succession from the Apostles themselves, to provide for the Church a supply of fit and able ministers, and to take care, as they value their own peace of mind, that none enter into the sacred office, who are not qualified for the performance of its duties. Such a power is no where given by Christ and his Apostles, even by inference, to magistrates or people ; but has been exercised by the pastors of his Church ever since its foundation, in every part of the world.
5 Heb. x. 1.