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And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. - Acts xv. 6.
CONDUCT IN CHURCH JUDICATORIES.
MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND:—I have repeatedly had occasion to observe, that every part of the deportment of a minister is important, both to himself and the church. He cannot be said, in the discharge of any official duty, to act for himself alone. In all that he does, the whole body of Christ has an interest. But this remark applies to no part of his duty more strongly, than that which he performs as a member of the judicatories of the church. When a minister takes his seat in any one of these judicatories, he places himself in a situation in which every thing that he says and does, may, for what he can tell, exert an influence to the remotest bounds of the church to which he belongs, and may have a bearing on the comfort, respectability and usefulness of his brethren, as well as himself, to an extent which no one, at present, can measure. In this situation, he is called continually to act with others, as well as for others; and almost every hour to give a touch more or less important, to the ark of God.
To suppose “a steward of the mysteries of God," capable of addressing himself to duties so peculiarly interesting and momentous as these, with levity or indifference, would be to suppose either a want of consideration, or a want of principle, truly deplorable. Here, if ever, he ought to be awake to all the solemnity of his situation; and to be anxious to summon to his aid all those dictates of wisdom and holy fidelity which he continually needs. He who does not feel deeply serious, when he is about to deliberate, with his brethren, on the great concerns of the Redeemer's kingdom, and to take steps which may vitally affect that kingdom, not only in a single congregation, but in many congregations, has little indeed of the spirit of a “watchman on the walls of Zion." And he who is not aware of the danger, that his own prejudices, passions, and folly may interpose an unhallowed influence in all his deliberations and discussions on these great concerns, will not be likely to be much employed in watching and praying against that influence.
I must say, that there appears to me much need of attention to this subject. It has seldom been my lot to witness the proceedings of any of the higher judicatories of the church, either as a member or spectator, without having occasion, as I thought, to lament that correct views and habits, in relation to this matter, were not more prevalent. I have seen excellent men expose themselves, give pain to others, and even embarrass ecclesiastical business, by mere inadvertence. And I should certainly have esteemed it a happy circumstance for myself, if I had been put on my guard, in early life, against many of those mistakes and faults into which I fell, from want of suit
able instruction and training, on a point so deeply interesting to all who wish to see dignity, order, wisdom, brotherly love, and piety, marking the proceedings of every ecclesiastical body.
It will readily occur to you that there is an importance attached to this subject which is altogether peculiar. In state legislatures, in congress, and in most of the secular deliberative assemblies which convene, the time which may be spent in their sessions is not rigidly limited. If the debates be protracted, and they cannot complete their business in three or four weeks, they may take, if they see proper, double or treble that period. And if a high degree of heat, disorder, or even violence, should unfortunately mark their proceedings, decent people may deplore it, but the great interests of religion may not be materially compromitted, inasmuch as they are not religious bodies. But it is otherwise with our ecclesiastical judicatories. For various reasons, they cannot possibly continue to sit beyond a very few days. Every moment, therefore, is to them doubly precious. Of course, every moment's interruption, and every unnecessary, worthless speech, become serious evils; evils to the cause of Christ: and whenever heat, disorder or violence occurs among the ministers and elders of the church, religion bleeds at every pore. As ecclesiastical judicatories are purely religious bodies, so they ought to bear a religious character, in all their deliberations, and in every movement. Surely, then, this is a concern in which all our wisdom as men, and all our piety and prudence as Christians, are most solemnly put in requisition.
This subject is so extensive that I cannot under
take to consider it in its minute details. Permit me, however, to suggest a few general counsels; and to accompany each, as I proceed, with some brief explanatory or corroborative remarks. And
1. My first counsel is that you make a point of being perfectly punctual in attending on every judicatory of the church in which it is your duty to be present.
This is a duty of far more deep and vital importance than most ministers appear to imagine. The faithful discharge of it bears relations, and exerts an influence, which, unless I am deceived, are seldom duly considered. Among the many reasons which might be urged in favour of this opinion, the following are certainly entitled to your serious regard.
(1). Your ordination vows will demand constant attention to this duty. In that solemn hour, in which you kneel before God, and, surrounded by the church and her ministry, receive the imposition of “the hands of the presbytery,” you will promise to be 6 subject to your brethren in the Lord,” and to be “faithful and diligent in the discharge of all the public, as well as the private duties of your office.” Now, there is scarcely any public duty more important than that for which I am pleading. Of course, he who neglects it violates his solemn engagements. Nor is this all. These judicatories form an essential feature of Presbyterian church government. Το abolish them, would be to abolish Presbyterianism. Consequently, he who allows himself habitually and unnecessarily to neglect attendance on them — is unfaithful to his solemn profession-is no Presbyterian in fact, whatever he may be in name.
(2). If these ecclesiastical assemblies ought to be maintained, then it is plain that all who are properly members, ought to be punctual in their attendance, on the principles both of equity and benevolence. He who neglects them, thereby refuses to render his share of service to the church, and throws an additional and unequal burden on those of his brethren who make conscience of attending. Is this consistent with good morals, to say nothing of higher considerations? It is, certainly, not doing to others, as we would that they, in like circumstances, should do to us.
(3). A punctual attendance on the ecclesiastical judicatories to which a minister belongs, is indispensable to his attaining a high and desirable standing among his brethren, and enjoying their affectionate confidence. It is the remark of one of the wisest and most venerated ministers of the Presbyterian church now living, that “he has never known a minister, in our connection, who was either very useful, or very respectable, that did not give his presence at presbytery, synod, and assembly, whenever that duty became incumbent.
The reasons are many and obvious. The minister who seldom appears among his brethren, in their ecclesiastical meetings, has, commonly, but little intercourse with them, as ministers, at all. He is, consequently, but little known to them. Of course, he cannot possibly enjoy much of their confidence, or have much influence among them. They see little of him in person; but they habitually witness his negli
* Rev. Dr. Green. Charge at the Ordination of Messrs. J B. Linn,” &c. [Dr. Green died May 19th, 1848, in the 86th year of his age. Ed. of the Board of Pub.]