The Divine Origin and Institution of the Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

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

THE Church is the mirror, that reflects the whole effulgence of the Divine character. It is the grand scene, in which the perfections of Jehovahare displayed to the universe. The revelations made to the Church—the successive grand events in her history—and, above all—the manifestation of the glory of God in the Person of Jesus Christ—furnish even to the heavenly intelligences fresh subjects of adoring contemplation.

The means also employed in the building of the Church are equally illustrative of the wisdom of their great Author. The exhibition of Almighty ‘strength made perfect in weakness’ effectually secures the important end—’that no flesh should glory in his presence.’ A separate order of men were consecrated to the great work of laying the foundation, and raising the superstructure, of his Church. Twelve only were included in the original institution, with a commission, bounded at first within the scanty extent of ‘Immanuel’s land;’ but afterwards enlarged with a tender of the promised blessing to ‘every creature.’ As the work increased upon them, the necessity for a corresponding increase of laborers became apparent. To provide for this exigency, the Great Mediator had delegated the power of his own commission to his faithful laborers. Thus invested with plenary authority, they ‘ordained elders in every Church,’ (who were acknowledged to be ‘made overseers over the flock’ by the appointment of the Holy Ghost’) and entrusted the power of ordination successively to others,for the continuance of the function according to the special promise, ‘unto the end of the world.’ Not indeed that the Lord has transferred to men his supreme authority; but he has exercised the right of the master workmen in the choice of his own instruments. And as in fact no instrumentality was needed, his selection of the delegates of his commission, and the representatives of his person, is an act of grace; exercising our humility in the submission to men of like infirmities with ourselves, and our love in this cementing bond of reciprocal interest. Thus every step in the way of our salvation hath on it the print of infinite majesty, wisdom, and goodness; and this among the rest, that men, sinful, weak men, are made subservient in that great work, of bringing Christ and souls to meet; that by ‘the foolishness of preaching’ (or what appears so to carnal wisdom) the chosen of God are called, and come unto Jesus, and are made wise unto salvation; and that the life, which is conveyed to them by the word of life in the hands of poor men, is by the same means preserved and advanced.

The Great Head of’ the Church has ordained three grand repositories of his truth. In the Scriptures he has preserved it by his Providence against all hostile attacks. In the hearts of Christians he has maintained it by the Almighty energy of his Spirit—even under every outward token of general apostacy. And in the Christian Ministry he has deposited ‘the treasure in earthen vessels’ for the edification and enriching of the Church in successive ages.

This sacred office is administered by agents, Divinely—called through the medium of lawful authority, and entrusted with the most responsible and enriching blessing;rendering the highest possible service to their fellow men, because that most nearly connected with the glory of the Saviour. In the comprehensive view given of the office (Eph. iv. 7-16) the grandeur of its introduction is shown to have been long prefigured by the glorious descent and ascent of Jehovah upon Mount Sinai. This inestimable gift to the Church, in its original grant and institution, belongs to the mediatorial work of the Son of God, as the purchase of his humiliation, and the immediate result of his investiture with glory. The high pre-eminence of this gift, as well as the efficiency of its operations, appears in its distributive variety of office. The privileges communicated to the Church by its instrumentality, are union with her glorious Head, and the communion of the several members with others in their diversified relations, and mutual dependencies. Thus the body ‘cometh in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.’Each member contributes to the establishment of the system. That tossing instability of profession, which is connected with so much of doctrinal and practical error, is powerfully resisted. Party spirit melts away in the atmosphere of love.The whole body, ‘growing up into its Head in all things,’ is enriched by the mutual impartation of the gifts severally distributed to the members, each of whom readily forgets his own proper individuality in a considerate regard to the general interest.’ How decisively does this entire view of the Christian Ministry mark its Divine original! And surely it is not easy to conceive of a machine better adapted for the grand purposes which it was intended to subserve—the completion of the Church, and the regeneration of the world. Suppose it to be in its full effective operation—how admirably is it framed to make the Church the most important blessing to the world! What an extensive medium of pouring forth the light and life of the Gospel upon a benighted world! What a vast and valuable body of moral influence would it spread throughout its widely expanded sphere! How would its wise and kindly control of ‘the madness of the people’ impose a check even upon the political convulsions of the earth! And what an unlimited flow of national, social, and individual blessing would be communicated to our own, and to every land through this divinely-appointed channel!

We may remark in this great system of agency, the illustration of the Unity of the Divine will and purposes in the administration of the Church. From each of the Sacred Persons in the Godhead did this holy office originate: ‘God hath given to us the Ministry of Reconciliation.’ Yet was it also, as we have seen, the gift of his exalted Son promised by him to the Church before his departure from the earth; communicated as the first act of his glorious power in ‘filling all things;and sealed in every instance by his joint commission. At the same time is this office emphatically called ‘the Ministration of the Spirit.’It is his authority, that calls to the work—his guidance, that directs in it—and his influence, that supplies the needful furniture of gifts and graces.Thus do the institutions of the Gospel exhibit its deeper and more mysterious doctrines.The three adorable persons are severally and distinctly glorified. The ministry has an equal concern and dependence upon each, and owes equal honour and service to each. Tracing therefore this sacred ordinance to the footstool of the eternal throne, with what prostration of soul should we bind ourselves to its solemn obligations! ‘Mine eyes’—saith the Evangelical prophet—’have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts—Here am I’—was his answer to the sacred voice—’send me.’

Nor can we wonder to see ‘the chiefest of the Apostles’ unable to express his overwhelming sense of his responsibility—’Who is sufficient for these things?’Who, whether man or angel, ‘is sufficient’ to open ‘the wisdom of God in a mystery’—to speak what in its full extent is ‘unspeakable’—to make known that which ‘passeth knowledge’—to bear the fearful weight of the care of souls? Who hath skill and strength proportionate? Who has a mind and temper to direct and sustain so vast a work? If our Great Master had not himself answered these appalling questions by his promise—’My grace is sufficient for thee;’and if the experience of faith did not demonstrably prove, that ‘our sufficiency is of God;’who, with an enlightened apprehension, could enter upon such an awful service; or, if entered, continue in it?

But how solemn is the sanction—infinitely above all human authority—stamped and engraven upon the sacred office! And how tremendous the guilt of rejecting its commission!—’He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.’