Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

bylonish captivity. These holy men, after the patriarchs, preserved the purest tradition of the true religion. Their employment was meditating upon the law of God, praying to him often, day and night, both for themselves and others, and inuring themselves to the practice of every virtue. They instructed their disciples, explained to them the spirit and meaning of the law, and opened to them the sublime mysteries relating to the state of the church, either upon earth or in heaven, after the Messiah should come, that were hidden under allegories of things sensible and seemingly mean. They instructed the people too who came to hear them upon Sabbath and other feast days.” ł. is the opinion of learned men, “that it was God's ordinary method to call those persons out of these schools, whom he employed in the discharge of the prophetical office.”—Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae, p. 97. book ii. ch. 4, § 5. 2. Among the primitive Christians too, academies were erected in several large cities, designed especially for the education of those whose attention was turned to the work of the ministry. In these schools they were instructed in the different branches both of sacred and profane literature. Mosheim is of opinion, that these establishments should be attributed to the apostles themselves, and to their injunctions to their disciples. He also asserts, that the apostle John erected a school of this kind at Ephesus, and Polycarp one at Smyrna.-Ecc. Hist. vol. i. cent. 1. part ii. chap. iii. § 7, p. 116. One of the most famous schools of antiquity was that at Alexandria, which is generally supposed to have been established by St. Mark, and which produced some of the most distinguished preachers and teachers of primitive times. 3. At the time of the reformation vast pains were taken by the reformers to instruct pious young men, previously to their entering on the work of the ministry. Wickliff, who has been called the morning star of the reformation, and who is declared to have possessed a lofty genius and extraordinary learning, was a celebrated professor of divinity in the university of Oxford. John Huss, the celebrated Bohemian reformer, who was burnt by the council of Constance, and who was distinguished by his uncommon erudition and eloquence, was a professor of divinity in the university of Prague. Luther and Melancthon were both of them famous professors in the university of Wittemberg, and Calvin and Beza at Geneva, and crowds of pious youth who were afterwards eminently distinguished as preachers of the gospel; men of emiment piety, of eminent zeal, of eminent devotedness to the work of the ministry, who were blessed to the conversion of multitudes of souls, and many of whom suffered martyrdom for the cause of Christ. Crowds of such pious youth attended their lectures. One of the first objects of the reformers in England was to get able professors of divinity in their universities, that the young ministers might receive suitable educations, and thus be able to repel the attacks of the enemies of the reformation. It was from their universities that their most eminent preachers came; and some of the most distinguished of their martyrs, who, in the days of the bloody Mary, sealed their testimony with their blood, had sat as scholars at the feet of Bucer and of Martyr. 4. Ever since the days of the reformation the most eminent servants of Christ have considered it of the utmost importance to perpetuate a learned ministry. Without mentioning the illustrious and venerable divines of Europe, who have been distinguished not only for their own personal piety and learning, but who also were blessed under God to be illustrious instruments of promoting the interests of true piety and science; we would call your attention to the pious ministers who first settled our own country; yet their piety and devotedness cannot be questioned; so deeply sensible were they of the importance and usefulness to the church of a learned ministry, that they used their utmost efforts to obtain and perpetuate such a ministry. It is to their piety and liberality, that we are indebted for most of our colleges, especially for those which hold the highest rank. Holy men of God, in their zeal for his glory and the prosperity of his church in our land, established these institutions with a special view to the education of pious young men for the gospel ministry: and they continue among us venerable monuments of their wisdom, their piety, their liberality, and their devotedness to the cause of Christ. Surely these two facts, that God has been pleased generally to use and greatly to bless a learned ministry, and that men the most eminent for piety and usefulness, have always been anxious to secure such a ministry in the church, speak loudly in favour of sound learning in the gospel ministry. III. The great business of a minister of the gospel is to expound sacred scripture. The original scriptures are written in languages which have long ago ceased to be spoken. Will any one say, that it is unimportant whether a professed expounder of the divine word is or is not acquainted with this word in its original language? Again, the scriptures contain a series of prophecies relating to the most important events; commencing from the creation and reaching to the end of the world. An accurate acquaintance with history is necessary to trace the fulfilment of these prophecies. Besides they have a peculiar symbolical language of their own, and are perfectly unintelligible to those who are unacquainted with their language, and the laws for interpreting them. There are, moreover, in scripture, a vast number of allusions to the customs, the governments, the amusements, and the productions of eastern countries. To understand all these requires a vast range of learning; nor can any man who does not possess at least a respectable portion of it, be justly esteemed an able minister of the New Testament who can rightly divide the word of truth. IV. But the peculiar circumstances in which the church is now placed, render it highly important that we should have a learned ministry. The church has heretofore been assailed by brutal force; and imprisonment, and fines, and death, have been the chosen means of its adversaries to oppose it. Such times have perhaps passed away for ever. . At the present day the church is surrounded with enemies who are subtle, bitter, and learned; and the way by which they assail our faith is by pretensions to superior rationality and learning. Learning, like every thing that is good, may be abused; money in the hands of a pious man affords him the means of being greatly useful, and in the hands of a wicked man of doing much mischief: so learning, according to the use which is made of it, is either a powerful instrument for the promotion of true religion, or against it. Sensible of this, the enemies of Christianity have occupied almost every branch of polite literature, and used it to the disadvantage of the church. Indeed those particular branches of science which are most extensively diffused and cultivated, and which, therefore, most directly influence the public mind, seem to be receiving a cast decidedly infidel. Infidel histories, infidel poetry, and infidel systems of philosophy, together with infidel novels, are widely spread, and multitudes have drunk in the poison. Thousands, and of these thousands multitudes of youth, have by these infidel writings been seduced and ruined for ever. And what is still more dreadful, many of these infidels, who bitterly hate all the peculiar doctrines of Christianity—for Iconsider infidels and Socinians as the same—have assumed the name, the garb, and the functions of the ministry of the gospel. They make vast pretensions to learning, to candour, to liberality, to free inquiry, and even to superior benevolence and piety. They talk of biblical criticism, and researches into antiquity, and false translations of the scripture, and various readings, and the collation of manuscripts, and interpolations and emendations, and by their effrontery and confidence, would stun and confound the opponent who is not versed in their wiles, and furnished with sufficient learning to meet them. These men are endeavouring to direct and to give a tone to the current literature of the day. In fact, Christianity is at this moment undergoing among us a fierce and tremendous trial. Jesus Christ appears now to have his fan in his hand, and to be winnowing his church, and trying who among those who profess to be Christians are the friends, and who are the enemies of his gospel. But who are to meet such enemies of our faith? Evidently they must be combated with their own weapons; men sufficiently learned, who are able to detect all their artifices, to unravel their sophisms, and to overwhelm them by a clear demonstration of the truth, must be opposed to them; and it is truly mortifying to reflect, how few such men there are in our churches. True learning is always favourable to Christianity; it is the abuse of learning that is unfavourable to it. Ministers are set for the defence of the gospel; they must be able to defend the truth, to answer the objections and cavils of infidels, and to expose and to refute heresy; and the state of the church at the present time, loudly demands an able and learned ministry. V. But if an able and faithful ministry is thus to be desired, what is our duty in relation to this subject? Unquestionably to take immediate measures to secure and increase such a ministry. This Jesus Christ expects of us as a proof of our love to him and his cause. We are aware that it will be objected, that the liberality of the Christian public has been abused, that it has been thrown away on insufficient men, who were destitute of those talents which are necessary for the work of the ministry. This objection is perhaps in part true. But admitting that in some instances Christian liberality may have been misapplied, is the real good that has been done to be overlooked and forgotten? How many illustrious men, who have been some of the brightest ornaments of the Christian ministry, and the greatest blessings to the church, have received that education which qualified them for their career of usefulness from the benefactions of their Christian friends. It was thus that Doddridge, and Davies, and Buchanan, and a multitude of such men, were introduced into the Christian ministry. Two considerations, however, are sufficient to silence every objection, and to excite us to the most earnest zeal on this subject. 1. Many pious young men of distinguished talents, but scanty means, are now buried, and their services perhaps lost for ever to the church, because the hand of Christian liberality is not reached out to assist them. Young men of wealth, of enterprise, and of ambition, are allured by prospects of worldly gains and honour to more lucrative professions; and, until they possess that spirit of piety, of devotion, and of zeal, without which no ministry can be exemplary or useful, we most earnestly desire it may be thus. The Lord preserve in mercy his church from an unconverted ministry, however learned or distinguished in other respects it may be. But, we repeat the fact, young men of distinguished piety and talents, are now buried, and their talents lost to the church for want of support in acquiring an education. They offer their services to the church; they apply to us for support, and we are compelled to tell them, we have no funds to assist you. 2. The present number of ministers is by no means sufficient to supply the wants of the church; several hundred congregations are without pastors, and large tracts of country are wholly destitute of the preaching of the word, and we have not ministers to send to them. Year after year the General Assembly of our church have repeated this lamentable fact, and called upon our churches to awaken to a sense of the importance of the subject. We have lately been told, in a solemn address to the churches on this subject, that “our church now wants at least a thousand gospel ministers beyond the number which she can possibly command:” that in the course of twenty years, probably double that number will be wanted; and that, “if ministers of the gospel shall be annually furnished for a century to come, only in the ratio of the present supply, there will, at the end of the century, be in this country a population greater than the present population of Europe entirely destitute of competent religious teachers.” In fact, our churches seem to be asleep on this subject. It is truly astonishing that wealthy Christians have not done more to aid this cause with their wealth; and the members of our church at large, are surely bound to contribute their assistance. The small pittance of one or two dollars, annually appropriated by the members of our church, generally, to this important object, would be sufficient to answer all our wants, and yet this pittance is withheld. The following remarks of the great Dr. Owen, deserve to be seriously pondered: “We are bound to serve God with all that is ours, and with the first fruits of our substance in every kind. Somewhat of whatever God hath given unto us, is to be set apart from our own use, and given up absolutely to him as a homage due unto him, and a necessary acknowledgment of him. To deny this, is to contradict one of the principal dictates of the laws of nature; for God hath given us nothing ultimately for ourselves, seeing we and all that we have are wholly his. And to have any thing, whereof no part, as such, is to be spent in his service, is to have it with his displeasure.”—Owen on Heb. vol. ii. p. 357. * In conclusion, let us remember that the ministry is appointed by Christ, as the grand means to be employed in the conversion of sinners. It pleases God, by the foolishness of preach

« PoprzedniaDalej »