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THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.*
St. MATTHEW xxviii, 20.
“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
On the occasion of an ordination of priests or of deacons, the Church directs not only that there should be a sermon, but that that sermon should be on a particular subject, “how necessary the order is in the Church of Christ, and also how the people ought to esteem those ordained in their office.”
It would seem sufficient to say that the orders of priests and deacons are necessary because the Holy Ghost has so ordained by the direction of the Apostles themselves; and as to how the people ought to esteem them, it would seem sufficient to say that the people should hold them to be “ministers," that is, “servants," of Christ, and “stewards of the mysteries of God.”
It would seem, I say, sufficient to say these things—to cite the direct words of Scripture, and then to leave the matter on the ground
* Preached at an ordination held in St. Paul's, Bedford, September 20, 1868.
that God has ordained it; and so Christian men must fall into His mind.
But this would not by any means be sufficient, in these days, at least, for not only is every institution now put on its trial, but first principles are questioned, and if these principles are allowed, their applicability to the present state of things is denied. It is not enough to cite texts or passages setting forth the functions of the Christian ministry. There are those amongst us who say, with more or less plainness, that the Church has outgrown the ministry—that the priesthood was very well in the times of the Church's infancy, but now that she has arrived at full age it becomes less and less necessary.
We must, then, not only cite Scripture on behalf of a visible ministry, such as ours is ; we must, if God has given us means of doing so, show the consistency of the institution with the deepest truths of Revelation on the one hand, and with the deepest needs of our nature on the other.
And this, God helping, I shall now make a feeble attempt to do.
The eternal Son of God, amongst other divine purposes which His Father commissioned Him to fulfil, came to establish a kingdoma kingdom which, though not of this world, was yet to be in this world. He came, not merely to establish a religion, or a code of morality,
or a philosophy, but a kingdom; for that is the name most frequently given by Himself to the state of things He was about to set up. Now the first idea of a kingdom implies that it should be visible—that it should have an organizationthat it should have a king, and officers under him, acting by his authority, for no king can possibly govern solely by himself. It must also have laws and a principle of continuity, so that it should exist as one from one age tu another.
Such, as we gather from His own words, was to be the nature of His kingdom. Before He was taken up He laid its foundation, chose its first rulers, gave them their commission, and, as we read, for forty days instructed them in the things pertaining to this kingdom of God.
And then a marvellous thing took place. The King of this kingdom, instead of tarrying on earth till the kingdom was fairly established and had won some way in an hostile world, left it-left His work, apparently only just begun, to others to establish. Wonderful this that He should leave so soon, but not more wonderful than this, that He Who left, engaged always to be present. He Who had left in the flesh, returned in the Spirit. He withdrew His sensible presence, because that presence could only be local and partial, in order that He might be present with a spiritual unseen presence, which is sunra-local and universal.
Now this is the idea, the doctrine, rather the truth, of the Christian ministry.
It is Christ in His infinite wisdom choosing to establish a visible rather than an invisible Church or kingdom. It is Christ ascending up out of our sight and carrying on the concerns of this kingdom by human, and therefore fallible, even sinful agents. It is Christ engaging to be always present, to work by, and with, and under, the human, fallible, sinful agents whom He has commissioned; so that amidst manifold mistakes, errors, shortcomings, declensions—must we not say apostacies ?-His
urpose should be carried out; which purpose is not the civilization of the world, but the gathering together of His elect, of souls known to Him, to be with Him where He is.
So that every minister, be he Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, be he Apostle, Evangelist, Missionary, or whatever other order of service is required by the exigencies of times or seasons; so that every minister should act in Christ's stead, , as His ambassador, as if Christ were—which in one sense He is—absent; and yet the ministry be a pledge of Christ's presence, because it was to the members of a visible ministry, which was to last till He came again, that He said,
Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.”
Let us apply this.
ruling it because Christ is not visibly present to rule it Himself, and because amongst the visible ministries which He has left to His Church there are "governments” specially included; for we read, “ Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching: .... or he that ruleth, with diligence."
And yet, of himself, the Bishop cannot hope to rule the flock of God to any saving purpose. There must be both guidance and strength not his own; and more than this, every act of rule must have the counter-signature of an invisible hand, the hand of Him Who is absent, and yet present, or it will be utterly without effect, except for evil.
But this is his strength and consolation, if he knows Christ—that Christ will be with those who act for Him and in His name, in doing work which He has set them to do, in having instituted and ordained their order of service.
Again, a Priest, when he is performing any act of his ministry, is exercising some ministry which Christ once exercised Himself, but which He no longer exercises visibly in person, because He has gone to the Father. Does the Priest preach or teach? It is because Christ said when He was leaving this world, “Go ye