The Dignity of the Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

By April 10, 2011 April 12th, 2016 Church Ministry, Pastoral Ministry

THE Divine original of the Christian Ministry has already opened a view of its dignity far above any earthly honour or elevation, and such as the infidel scoff can never degrade. An institution—introduced into the world, and confirmed to the Church, with such solemn preparation—conversant with the interests, and entrusted with the charge, of immortal souls—ordained as the main instrument for the renovation of the world, and the building up of the Church—cannot be of inferior eminence. The office of ‘fellow-worker with God’ would have been no mean honour to have conferred upon the archangel nearest the everlasting throne. It formed the calling, the work, and the delight of the Lord of glory during his last years of abode upon earth; and was established by himself as the standing ordinance in his Church, and the medium of the revelation of his will to the end of time. He has not indeed (as the judicious Calvin observed)—’called his ministers into the function of teaching, that, after they have brought the Church under, they may usurp to themselves the government; but that he may use their faithful diligence to associate the same to himself. This is a great and excellent thing, for men to be set over the Church, that they may represent the person of the Son ofGod.’ The dignity however of the sacred office belongs to a kingdom ‘not of this world.’ It is distinguished therefore, not by the passing glitter of this world’s vanity, but by eternal results, productive, even in their present influence, of the most solid and enduring happiness. For surely it is the highest dignity, if not the greatest happiness, that human nature is capable of here in this vale below, to have the soul so far enlightened as to become the mirror, or conduit or conveyor of God’s truth to others. The chastised apprehension of this high calling, so far from fostering a vain-glorious spirit, has a direct tendency to deepen self-abasement and reverence. For can we help recoiling from so exalted an office from handling such high and holy things? What! We to convey life, who ourselves are dead! We, so defiled, to administer a service so pure, so purifying! ‘Woe is me’—said one of old, when contrasting this honour with his personal meanness—’for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips.’ How can we think of this vast commission—this momentous trust, but as an act of most undeserved favor ?

But let the remembrance of this sacred dignity give a deeper tone of decision to our ministrations. ‘A Pastor’—remarks Bishop Wilson ‘should act with the dignity of a man, who acts by the authority of God’—remembering, that while we speak to men, we speak in God’s stead. And this is the true Scriptural standard of our work ‘As we were allowed of God’—said the great Apostle—’to be put in trust with the Gospel,’ (the highest trust that ever could be reposed in man) ‘even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.’ Let it also connect itself with its most responsible obligations that we disgrace not the dignity that we live under the constraint—of our high calling—’Ye are the salt of the earth. Let not tile salt lose its savour. Ye are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men’—are the impressive exhortations of the Great Master. ‘Neglect not’—said the great Apostle—’the gift of God that is in thee: stir it up’ by the daily exercises of faith, self-denial, and prayer. Quesnel observes—’What courage, what boldness, what freedom ought the dignity of the Ministry to give a bishop or priest; not for his own interests, but for those of the Church; not through pride, but fidelity; not while he employs carnal means, but while he makes use of the armour of’ God.’ The moment we permit ourselves to think lightly of the Christian Ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility and relaxation remains. But let the weight of this dignity be relieved by Evangelical encouragement — The ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness constitutes the chief glory of the evangelical economy. ‘Therefore,’ says the Apostle, after an exhibition of its pre-eminent excellency ‘seeing we have this Ministry’ — so richly endowed so freely vouchsafed—as we have received mercy, we faint not.’

A sense of the dignity of our office—accurately formed, carefully maintained, and habitually exercised is therefore of the highest importance. It elevates the standard of Christian consistency even in the prospective consideration and choice of the work. For what is unsuitable to the Ministerial character is obviously unsuitable to the probationer for the Ministry. In the actual discharge also of duty, the mind will thus be excited to a more solid and devoted consecration; and the whole man will be gradually formed in this heavenly mold—exalted, not elated. Dignity of character will thus correspond with dignity of station. The ‘office’ will be ‘magnified’ in perfect harmony with the lowliest personal humility and, indeed never more eminently displayed, than in the exercises of genuine humility; the man invested with these high responsibilities sinking in the dust as an ‘unprofitable servant.’