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adapted to the mutable condition and varying exigencies of the Christian church. “ As my Father hath sent me, so send I you." “Let every thing be done decently and in order.” Lay hands suddenly on no
“ Let him that ruleth do it with diligence.” “ The things which thou hast heard of me, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” “ For this cause left I thee, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.”
These are all general directions, supposing, indeed, the existence of a regular ministry in the church, but describing no specific order of pre-eminence or distribution of office and authority. If any other instances can be adduced more circumstantial than these, they will be found, like the appointment of the seven deacons, the collections for the saints, the laying by in store upon the first day of the week, to be rules of the society, rather than laws of the religion-recommendations and expedients fitted to the state of the several churches by those who then administered the affairs of them, rather than precepts delivered with a solemn design of fixing a constitution for succeeding ages. The just ends of religious as of civil union are eternally the same; but the means by which these ends may be best promoted and secured will vary with the vicissitudes of time and occasion, will differ according to the local circumstances, the peculiar situation, the improvement, character, or even the prejudices and passions, of the several communities upon whose conduct and edification they are intended to operate.
The apostolic directions which are preserved in the writings of the New Testament seem to exclude no ecclesiastical constitution which the experience and more instructed judgement of future ages might find it expedient to adopt. And this reserve, if we may so call it, in the legislature of the Christian church, was wisely suited to its primitive condition, compared with its expected progress and extent. The circumstances of Christianity in the early period of its propagation were necessarily very unlike those which would take place when it became the established religion of great nations. The rudiments, indeed, of the future plant were involved within the grain of mustard-seed, but still a different treatment was required for its sustentation when the birds of the air lodged amongst its branches. A small select society under the guidance of inspired teachers, without temporal rights, and without property, founded in the midst of enemies, and living in subjection to unbelieving rulers, divided from the rest of the world by many singularities of conduct and persuasion, and adverse to the idolatry which public authority every where supported, differed so much from the Christian church after Christianity prevailed as the religion of the state ; when its economy became gradually interwoven with the civil government of the country; when the purity and propagation of its faith were left to the ordinary expedients of human instruction and an authentic Scripture; when persecution and indigence were to be succeeded by legal security and public provision-clandestine and precarious opportunities of hearing the word and communicating in the rites of Christianity, by stationary pastors and appropriated seasons, as well as places, of religious worship and resort : I say, the situation of the Christian community was so different in the infant and adult state of Christianity, that the highest inconvenience would have followed from establishing a precise con on which was to be
obligatory upon both : the same disposition of affairs which was most commodious and conducive to edification in the one becoming probably impracticable under the circumstances, or altogether inadequate to the wants, of the other.
What farther recommends the forbearance observable in this part of the Christian institution is the consideration, that as Christianity solicited admission into every country in the world, it cautiously refrained from interfering with the municipal regulations or civil condition of any. Negligent of every view, but what related to the deliverance of mankind from spiritual perdition, the Saviour of the world advanced no pretensions which, by disturbing the arrangements of human polity, might present an obstacle to the reception of his faith. We may ascribe it to this design, that he left the laws of his church so open and indeterminate, that whilst the ends of religious communion were sufficiently declared, the form of the society might be assimilated to the civil constitution of each country, to which it should always communicate strength and support in return for the protection it received. If there be any truth in these observations, they lead to this temperate and charitable conclusion ; “ that Christianity may be professed under any form of church government.”
But though all things are lawful, all things are not expedient. If we concede to other churches the Christian legality of their constitution, so long as Christian worship and instruction are competently provided for, we may be allowed to maintain the advantage of our own, upon principles which all parties acknowledge-considerations of public utility. We may be allowed to contend, that whilst we imitate, so far as a great disparity of circumstances permits, the example, and what
we apprehend to be the order, of the apostolic age, our church and ministry are inferior to none in the great object of their institution, their suitableness to promote and uphold the profession, knowledge, and influence of pure Christianity. The separation of a particular order of men for the work of the ministry—the reserving to these exclusively the conduct of public worship and the preaching of the word—the distribution of the country into districts, and the assigning of each district to the care and charge of its proper pastor-lastly, the appointment to the clergy of a maintenance independent of the caprice of their congregation, are measures of ecclesiastical policy which have been adopted by every national establishment of Christianity in the world. Concerning these points there exists no controversy. The chief article of regulation upon which the judgement of some Protestant churches dissents from ours is, that whilst they have established a perfect parity among their clergy, we prefer a distinction of orders in the church, not only as recommended by the usage
of the purest times, but as better calculated to promote, what all churches must desire, the credit and efficacy of the sacerdotal office.
The force and truth of this last consideration I will endeavour to evince.
First; the body of the clergy, in common with every regular society, must necessarily contain some internal provision for the government and correction of its members. Where a distinction of orders is not acknowledged, this government can only be administered by synods and assemblies, because the supposition of equality forbids the delegation of authority to single persons. Now, although it may be requisite to consult and collect the
ions of a community, in the mo
mentous deliberations which ought to precede the establishment of those public laws by which it is to be bound; yet in every society the execution of these laws, the current and ordinary affairs of its government, are better managed by fewer hands. To commit personal questions to public debate, to refer every case and character which requires animadversion to the suffrages and examination of a numerous assembly, what is it, but to feed and perpetuate contention, to supply materials for endless altercation, and opportunities for the indulgence of concealed enmity and private prejudices ? The complaint of ages testifies, with how much inflammation, and how little equity, ecclesiastical conventions have conducted their proceedings ; how apt intrigue has ever been to pervert inquiry, and clamour to confound discussion. Whatever may be the other benefits of equality, peace is best secured by subordination. And if this be a consideration of moment in every society, it is of peculiar importance to the clergy. Preachers of peace, ministers of charity and of reconciliation to the world, that constitution surely ill befits their office and character which has a tendency to engage them in contests and disputes with one another.
Secondly; the appointment of various orders in the church may be considered as the stationing of ministers of religion in the various ranks of civil life. The distinctions of the clergy ought, in some measure, to correspond with the distinctions of lay-society, in order to supply each class of the people with a clergy of their own level and description, with whom they may live and associate upon terms of equality. This reason is not imaginary nor insignificant. The usefulness of a virtuous and well-informed clergy consists neither