BECAUSE the nature of things consisting, as this doth, in action, is known by the object whereabout they are conversant, and by the end or scope whereunto they arc referred; we must know that the object of this function is both God and men: God, in that he is publicly worshipped of his church; and men, in that they are capable of happiness by means, which Christian discipline appointeth. So that the sun of our whole labor in this kind it to honour God, and to save men.
The ministry of the word was ordained for the planting and watering of the church. The epistles were written to the respective churches, which had been planted by the preaching of the gospel—to supply the place of an oral ministry—to reduce them to church order and unity—to confirm them in Christian steadfastness, and to advance them to Christian perfection. The several individuals also addressed were the fruits of this ministry. Timothy, Titus, and Philemon appear to have been ‘begotten in Christ Jesus,’ through the ministry of Paul; as were probably ‘the elect lady and her children,’ and the beloved Gaius, ‘the seals of the apostleship’ of John.
Thus has this great ordinance of the Gospel regard to the continual progress of the church, both in its collective body, and in the several states of its individual members. It was given ‘for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ There was not only a foundation to be laid, but a building to be raised. Elementary truths were to be carried to perfection. Constant superintendence was needed even in the most flourishing churches. The administration of the word was the appointed remedy to ‘perfect that which was lacking in the faith’ of the Thessalonians. Peter wrote his second epistle to those that ‘were established in the faith;’ yet ‘he would not on that account be negligent to put them always in remembrance of these things.’ For the same reason the beloved disciple wrote to the church; ‘not’—said he—’because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it.’
The primary use, therefore, of this holy function is, as we have already observed, the channel of communication from the Head to the several members of the body. Its more specific uses may be readily collected from the various scriptural illustrations of the office—each bearing a relation to the nature of the ministration, and the necessities of the charge. If the church be called a flock, the Minister is the pastor to ‘seek that which is lost—to strengthen the diseased—to heal the sick—to bring again that which was driven away;’ in a word, to shepherd the flock in all the exercises of tenderness, consideration, and care, that belong to this endearing character. If the family of Christ be an household, the Minister is ‘the faithful and wise steward’ who dispenses the provision of the house according to the necessities of its several members. If the Church of God be a city, he is the watchinan to wake and warn slumberers of their peril. If it be a husbandry, he is the ‘laborer,’ to plant and water the soil—to cleanse the earth to watch the growth of the plant—and instrumentally to bring forward the harvest. If it be a building, he is the ‘master-builder,’ to build upon the ‘sure foundation’ lively stones a spiritual house—’growing into an holy temple of the Lord, builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.’ If there be a treaty of peace to be negotiated between the Majesty of heaven and a world of rebels, he is the ambassador, entrusted with ‘the Ministry of reconciliation;’ and praying them in Christ’s stead—’Be ye reconciled unto God.’
We do not limit the infinite extent and power of Divine grace, when we speak of the necessity of the Christian Ministry. These uses of the sacred institution are not and cannot be necessary to God, as if he were unable to work without them. But they are such as he has appointed and made necessary in the constituted order of means, for the accomplishment of his own purposes of mercy to the world. His sovereign pleasure has ordained this office as a first link of means in the chain of salvation; so that without a Ministry there should be no hearing of the word—consequently no faith in the only Saviour of whom it speaks—no calling upon his name—no salvation. It is not our province to prescribe what he ought have done, but to mark the consummate wisdom of what he has done, and to exercise the humility of faith, when we cannot discern the reasons of his dispensations. Doubtless he might have instructed as well as converted Paul by a miracle; but it was his pleasure to direct him to a fellow-sinner for the explicit revelation of his will. The angel also might have been an instructor to Cornelius; but, in order to maintain the order of the divine economy, the Ministry of the word was made the medium of conveying evangelical light to his soul. This, therefore is the ordained means of conversion, and of subsequent establishment in every stage of the Christian life; and its necessity must continue, while there is a single sinner to be brought into the family of God, or a single grace in the heart of the saint to advance to perfection.