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The Qualificaitons of the Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

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

MR. NEWTON’S important remark may be considered as an axiom-‘None but he who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel.’ He thus proceeds to illustrate his position (for it cannot be thought to need any proof) -‘If a young man has capacity, culture and application may make him a scholar, a philosopher, or an orator; but a true Minister must have certain principles, motives, feelings, and aims, which no industry or endeavors of men can either acquire or communicate. They must be given from above, or they cannot be received.’

These principles, wrought out and exhibited in their practical influence and application, will furnish a complete view of the necessary qualifications for the Christian Ministry. There is something so fearfully responsible in entering upon this work with incompetent abilities, that the man can scarcely have felt any serious concern for his own soul, for the immortal interests of his fellow-sinners, or for the welfare of the Church of God, whose mind has not been more or less exercised upon the ground of personal unfitness. When we see the most ‘able Minister of the New Testament’ that the Church has ever known, deeply penetrated, and indeed well-nigh overwhelmed, with the sense of the ‘necessity laid upon him’-we may well be ashamed, that with qualifications far inferior, our sense of obligation should be less accurate and constraining.

In our discussion of this subject we assume a suitable measure of natural and intellectual endowments, as well as the conscientious improvement of them. As to spiritual qualifications, we would be careful neither to lower, exceed, nor deviate from, the Scriptural standard. It is obvious that all requisites (though none without bearing upon the efficiency of the Ministration) are not of equal moment. We must therefore distinguish between what is desirable and what is essential-between what is wanting from immaturity or inexperience, or in the substance and character of the man-and again, between that deficiency, which incapacitates for the work, and a comparative measure of unfitness, as contrasted with Ministers of acknowledged eminence.-‘There are diversities of gifts,’ and ‘differences of administration’ of the same gifts, under ‘the same Spirit and the same Lord.’ But under all circumstances, the Divine call to this sacred office will be evidenced by a supply of competent qualifications for its discharge.

In ‘considering the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus,’ we witness a most harmonious combination of seemingly opposite characteristics. The Ministry of our Lord was distinguished by the dignity of God, and the Sympathy of a man and a brother-by the authority of the commissioned delegate of his Father, and yet by the humility of a servant, who ‘came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.’ If ‘he taught as one having authority,’ yet were they ‘gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth,’ tempered with ‘the meekness of wisdom’ and the ‘gentleness’ of love. Indeed, the several features of his Ministerial character furnish the most accurate standard of our official qualifications, and the explicit directory for every exercise of our office, public or private. But, lest we should despond in our infinite remove from this standard of perfection, let us mark this high function, as administered by ‘men of like passions with ourselves,’ and yet by the grace of their Great Master, following closely in his steps. A rich treasure of instruction will be found in an attentive perusal of the Acts of the Apostles. The Epistles will also furnish a complete portraiture of the character, no less than a comprehensive system of the doctrines, of the Christian Ministry. The different traits of St. Paul’s Ministry-as they break forth in the natural flow of his writings, and the brief sketches which he occasionally intersperses-embody the various particulars of his invaluable didactic instructions. Quesnel has drawn out no less than thirty-three individualities of the sacred character from a single chapter. The incidental mention of Epaphroditus introduces some of the primary qualifications for this holy work. Paul speaks of him as his ‘brother’-a sincere Christian. He marks his sympathy, diligence, and perseverance, as his ‘fellow-soldier;’ his ‘endurance of hardness’ as his ‘fellow-laborer;’ his tender attachment to his flock, in longing to relieve them from needless anxiety on his account; and his high estimation of his Master’s service, as dearer to him than life itself.

1. In taking a general view of Ministerial qualifications, we must remark-that, if the ministry be a spiritual work, a corresponding spiritual character seems to be required in its administrators. Whatever be the value of human literature in a minister; unconnected with this prime qualification, its influence will prove unprofitable-if not prejudicial-to his work. The Scripture justly insists-that Ministers should be ‘holy’-in a peculiar sense men of God-men taught of God-men consecrated to God by a daily surrender of their time and talents to his service-men of singleness of purpose-living in their work-living altogether but for one end; and for the promotion of this end, ‘moved by none of the afflictions that await them; neither counting their life dear to them, so that they might finish their course with joy, and the Ministry which they have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.’ Such was the Apostle Paul, the living exemplar of his own instructions-as he drew them out in that charge to the Elders of Ephesus, which might serve as an admirable pattern for our episcopal charges; and of which Baxter truly observed, ‘that it better deserveth a twelve month’s study, than most things that young students do lay out their time in.’ ‘O brethren,’ (continues this earnest pleader for his Master) ‘write it on your study doors, or set it as your copy in capital letters, still before your eyes. Could we but well learn two or three lines of it, what preachers should we be! Write all this upon your hearts, and it will do yourselves and the Church more good than twenty years’ study of those lower things, which, though they get you greater applause in the world, yet separated from these, will make you but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.’ It is evident, however, that this Ministerial standard presupposes a deep tone of experimental and devotional character-habitually exercised in self-denial, prominently marked by love to the Saviour, and to the souls of sinners; and practically exhibited in a blameless consistency of conduct. The Apostle justly pronounces ‘a novice’ to be disqualified for this holy work. The bare existence of religion provides but slender materials for this important function. A babe in grace and knowledge is palpably incompetent to become ‘a teacher of babes,’ much more a guide of the fathers. The school of adversity, of discipline, and of experience, united with study and heavenly influence, can alone give ‘the tongue of the learned.’ Some measure of eminence and an habitual aim towards greater eminence are indispensable for Ministerial completeness; nor will they fail to be acquired in the diligent use of the means of Divine appointment-the word of God and prayer.

2. Spiritual attainments also must be combined with a spiritual character-including chiefly a clear and comprehensive view of the evangelical system. However we may admire the simplicity of the Gospel, (consisting only of a few leading ideas, and included often in a single verse) and admit an experimental acquaintance with its elementary principles, ‘as able to make wise unto salvation;’ yet the Scripture, in its comprehensive extent, is given for a variety of important purposes, and for this express intent; ‘that the man,’ or the Minister, ‘of God’ (who seems to be chiefly meant) ‘might be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.’ The solid establishment of the people may be materially hindered by the Minister’s contracted statement, crude interpretations, or misdirected Scriptural application. His furniture for his work must therefore include a store of knowledge far beyond a bare sufficiency for personal salvation. ‘The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.’ He must be the ‘householder-instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.’ Without this store he is incompetent for the great end of his work-‘to speak unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort.’ For how can he, without an enlarged acquaintance with his own principles, exhibit them in their true light, or apply them to successive emergencies?

3. But spiritual gifts must be connected with spiritual attainments. The rich variety of these gifts (the fruit of the ascension of Christ, and the furniture of his servants for their important work) is a matter of equal admiration and praise. There must be an ability to communicate and apply what has been imparted; else the highest attainments, however serviceable to their possessors, can never become the public benefit of the Church. Yet here much discernment will be necessary, lest we confound the ready exercise of spiritual gifts with Divine influence, and thus foster self-delusion of a most fatal tendency.

The diligent student of the Epistles of St. Paul will readily observe, that they were written, as his brother Apostle reminds us, ‘according to the wisdom given unto him.’ With what admirable skill does he adapt his instruction to an almost infinite diversity of persons, occasions, and circumstances-to their strength or feebleness-their progress or decay-their mistaken or willful abuses-their different capacities, advantages, or disadvantages! With what exquisite address does he ‘change his voice,’ in meekness or in vehemence-in tenderness-or in sharpness-in reproof or in expostulation-thus in his administration, as in his personal conduct, ‘becoming all things to all men, if that by any means he might save some !’ Thus spiritual wisdom is as important for the building up of the Church of God, as was the wisdom imparted to Bezaleel and Aholiab for the raising of the Levitical tabernacle. Thus we ‘approve ourselves unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ Thus, as ‘stewards of the mysteries, and rulers over the household,’ of God, we distribute the stores of provision to every member of the household, suited to their several wants, and answering to their Master’s wise and gracious will. Thus we take account of their individual state-the strength and exercise of their spiritual capacities-the kind of food, which they severally require for the nourishment of the Christian life, according to their infantile, growing, or adult state-their special hindrances or advantages-their advance, apparently stationary condition, or visible decay, in the ways of God. The treatment of these several individualities demands a deep and well-digested acquaintance with the methods of the grace of God, in order to administer a seasonable and effective distribution of the word. The Apostle marks also the gift of ‘utterance’ as a spiritual endowment in the dispensation of the word-enabling us to address our people with ‘opened mouth’ and ‘enlarged heart;’ to ‘speak as the oracles of God -in mode as well as in matter-in ‘sound speech’ as well as in ‘sound doctrine;’ delivering our testimony with holy confidence, ‘not as the word of man, but in truth the word of God’-in a manner suitable to the dignity of the pulpit, and yet plain to the weakest capacity. The natural powers of clear thinking and arrangement of matter, of aptitude of expression, and of familiar and appropriate illustration, are often used as sanctified instruments for conveying the life-giving power of the Gospel with increasing acceptance and powerful application. Not however that these abilities are communicated by an extraordinary or sudden afflatus, or that they necessarily accompany in an equal measure the efforts of diligence. The diligence of faith will ever receive its measure of encouragement in the growth, increase, and improvement of Ministerial gifts. Yet we must not intrench upon the exercise of the Divine sovereignty; remembering, that ‘all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.’

‘It is not to be supposed’ therefore, (to use the words of a sensible writer) ‘that such an office can be easily filled. It demands not merely some, but many, nay, all excellencies, in happy combination. A person may, in a general way, be said to be qualified for the Ministry, who has talents for preaching, though not fitted for profitable private intercourse, or the affairs of Church Government. But this is evidently not a complete adaptation to the work. It is, on the contrary, a very imperfect one, and one with which no man should be content. For, all the aspects of Ministerial labor are, if not equally, yet highly, important; every one of them far too important to be trifled with. The right performance of each affords facilities for the rest, and gives additional beauty and efficacy to all. To be fit for only one department, cannot but greatly impede our activity, and diminish our success. To fill the Ministerial office with a degree of satisfaction and benefit commensurate with its capabilities, or with the desire of a heart awake to its importance, we must be all that it demands-men of God, perfect, completely furnished to every good work. This is an elevated standard. He that aims highest will most approximate to it.