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The candid inquirer after truth, must see at once the difference in opinion that exists among those who claim the same general name—that of Christian. To search after truth, and embrace it when found, should be the earnest desire and employment of all who assume the name of Christ. In these days of modern improvements in Christianity, when doubt holds her leaden sceptre over both reason and revelation, when truth is left unsought, when by bold assertion and critical dexterity it is evaded to Poncealed; it would appear necessary for those who have embraced Christ, the king of truth, not to act like Pilate the Roman governor, who, when Jesus Christ stood before him, accused of perverting the word of God, asked, what is truth P But waited not to hear the answer from the lips of the God of truth.
As it appears to comport with the design of the Presbyterian Magazine, as exhibited by the prospectus of that work—one of the conductors, as time and |...}. may offer, intends to avail himself of this channel, to state some scriptural truths which seem to be controverted by some. This shall be done without either the desire or design of exciting controversy, but only to establish believers in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in the essential doctrines of the gospel.
We would inquire, in what character God punishes sin. That God is a sovereign is verified in every page of inspiration, and the great volume of mature attests this fact. His dominion is universal and illimitable. In all his works greatness in conjunction withgoodness, strikes our view, and wherever we see the parent, we behold also the legislator. Jehovah is a benefactor in whom we have reason to rejoice, whose purposes are gracious, whose law is the plan of our happiness. Every #. and perfect gift comes down rom him. But the hand that confers them we cannot see. Mysterious obscurity rests upon his essence. And further than he reveals himself we cannot know him.
Now as he is a sovereign, it does not appear from nature or revelation, that God uniformly acts as a sovereign; for many of his works must be attributed to him under another relation. He is revealed to us, under the endearing title of father—as a king—frequently as an unlimited sovereign—and often as a judge and ruler.
To assign all to God under one relation, or give to him under a wrong relation, those things which belong to him in another, is to confound the truths of the word of God. This leads to many mistakes, and occasions errors of the grossest kind. How necessary is it, that we have correct apprehensions of the true character of him, who claims our worship, and of that part of his character in which he punishes the guilty for their sins! All who receive the sacred scriptures as the revelation of God’s will, must admit, that God punishes, and has a right to punish the guilty transgressor of his laws. Notwithstanding, while they grant the fact, yet they differ, as to the point of God’s character to which that right belongs, and the relation under which he carries it into effect. To form a sound judgment on this important point, we ought to have a true apprehension of punishment, and of the reason why God punishes. Punishment may be defined the avenging either of a transgression or of an injury. When wickedness or transgression is avenged, the evil is punished: but when men avenge for the injury done, restitution only is sought. Moral evil is the cause of enal evil, hence penal evil is the inflicting punishment for the transgression of law. If punishment were solely to avenge the injury, and not the transgression, then the punishment would descend to the heirs, as does the injury with the profit. But this is contrary to sound reason and the holy scriptures. No punishment that is just can be conceived of, without recurring in thought, to a criminal act, to some violation of right and transgression of law. By this we learn what divine punishment is, viz. an avenging of a crime or transgression committed against God’s law. The crime is the reason of punishment; because the very essence of sin consists in transgressing the law. God inflicts punis ment not merely because sin is injurious ; but because sin is worthy of such an effect of his power. “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” Jehovah also punishes on account of his own holiness; “for he is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look
on iniquity.” Hab. i. 13. Hence it follows that he hates that which he punishes. We may see from this, in what relation the right to punish, and the execution of punishment belong to God. It is not because he is an absolute sovereign, injured, and to whom a debt is due, but as he is governor and ruler, who judges and punishes the sinful action of him who transgressed his law; for the application of the law to the guilty, is the proper work of a judge. That God is injured and insulted by sin, and has a right to demand reparation for the evil, is a truth we freely embrace. But reparation for the violation of God’s law, by man himself in his present sinful and helpless state is impossible. , And though reparation were possible, in this case, it would be the same as punishment—for as man in his present state of depravity is unable to repair the breach of the law, or pay the debt of perfect obedience; the law makes an eternal demand against the guilty sinner, which is a proper reason for the eternity of punishment. This punishment is not inflicted on the guilty and impenitent sinner, as a simple reparation, for this he can never effect in and of himself, but as the punishment of a crime committed against God and his law, who is the judge of all the earth; and it is not a private, but a public determination to punish the guilty, and that executed by a public person. Here we shall state the ground of our belief in the words of another, “That God the Lord is absolutely free, possessed of supreme dominion, that he is injured by sin, but that he does not punish as an absolute lord, or as injured, or as a creditor, but as a ruler and a judge.” We are aware, that there are many who deny this, in order to get clear of two things galling to fear and human pride. They overthrow, if possible, the necessity of punishment when sin is committed,
and then deny the necessity of any atonement by Jesus Christ, for sin, as the substitute and surety of sinners. But the necessity of punishment, and that of atonement and satisfaction made by Jesus Christ, as God man mediator, can be maintained and defended by other reasons. It is admitted by some of those who assert, that God punishes as a sovereign lord, who is injured and demands the punishment; that there are cases, in which the party injured cannot omit to take vengeance, that is, when his honour is affected. Now the least sin dishonours God, who is absolutely perfect. But can we, or dare we, measure the perfect dealings of the perfect Jehovah, by that standard which sinful man assumes for his mode of judging and acting towards his fellow creature man? It is asmed among men of this cast, that the right of punishment belongs to the person injured, and by parity of reasoning, to God, as injured or insulted by sin. This they take for granted, while it yet remains to be proved, that man executes, or can execute proper punishment on his fellow: besides it is not correct to say, that the right of punishment, among men, belongs to the party injured as such. For the wrong done gives no greater right to the injured, than in proportion to the wrong done him ; that is, to simple reparation, which is very different from punishment. It follows, that punishment with men, concerns the ruler and judge as such; therefore when properly viewed, can be ascribed to God under no relation, but that of a ruler and judge. That the right to punish sin or for sin, belongs to God; that he is dishonoured by sin as a lawgiver, is admitted on both sides. But under what character or relation God punishes, whether as an absolute sovereign, the party injured, and having a right to demand punishment—or whether only as a
ruler and a judge, is the point in dis- |
pute. The former is asserted by our opponents—the latter is maintained by all who love the Lord Jesus Christ, into whose hand all judgment is committed, and who will judge a righteous judgment. G. C. P. == Thoughts on Lay Preaching. The Christian world, in the present auspicious period, exhibits a system of operations which is characterized by singularity as well as by importance. The apathy of years is shaken off; an unprecedented impulse has been given to hitherto slumbering energies; and a feeling has been transfused through the community, which affords a promise of glorious events. Christian ingenuity has devised and Christian exertion is executing multifarious and magnificent plans for the diffusion of gospel truth. Whatever has a tendency to accomplish prophecy, by the enlargement of * Mediator’s kingdom, is now become deeply interesting to believers, and finds in them powerful advocates; all appear prepared, to proffer their aid and enlist their. resources on the side of God against the mighty. The spirit that breathes through all these active and diversified operations, we o applaud, a.S well becoming the Christian character; and we should regret, in any measure, to lower the tone which has been imparted, or to subtract from the efficiency of the force, which has been engaged. We love to see combined and individual exertions, where the glory of Christ is the aim. Yet we do believe, that there may be an agency exerted with the purest intentions to spread the gospel, and which may appear sanctified by its success, which is nevertheless contrary to scripture authority, and therefore to be discountenanced. Such an agency, in our apprehen. sion, is Lay Preaching.
We are aware that the ground, upon which we tread, is delicate; yet we are equally aware, that through false delicacy, it has too long remained undisputed. We have not the slightest desire to curtail the prerogatives of our . thren, whom we cordially acknowledge as fellow labourers with us, in the gospel of Jesus Christ; yet we have some reason to fear their overstepping a proper boundary. We do not institute this as a criminal charge; but we do esteem it an effect of indiscreet zeal. There can be no doubt, that many who are included under the denomination of lay preachers, are influenced by the holy desire of contributing their exertions, to the mass . employed, for the diffusion of truth; yet is it not possible that their ardour may betray itself under an unwarrantable aspect? We think it is possible; we apprehend it is certain, that it has thus appeared. It is not our intention to enter into an elaborate examination of this question, but merely to offer a few considerations, by way of arousing more general attention to the subject. By a peculiar and happy arrangement of Providence, every man has a particular sphere assigned him, in which he may lawfully and effectually labour in the cause of the gospel. There is no individual, however lowly his station, or however limited his influence and unpretending his talents, who does not possess a certain power of promoting the spiritual interests of his fellow men. But whilst this is true on the one hand, it is equally true on the other, that if a man trespass beyond his proper sphere, his movements become eccentric, and have a tendency to introduce disorder through the whole system. This is universally true; but in a very particular manner it is true, in relation to the affairs of the church of Christ. If the order of civil society depends upon variety in office; much more do the
peace and order of the church depend upon every man operating in his own sphere:—if all civilians cannot be governors or judges, all Christians cannot be preachers. That governmental policy would be miserable and ruinous, which
would permit all men without dis
tinction to occupy its offices of trust and responsibility; and equally indiscreet would be the policy of a church, which should throw open a door for the admission of all Christians to the functions of the ministry, without an inquiry into their qualifications--their prudence, their piety, their aptness to teach. If it would be improper then for a church to give such an extensive warrant; it is certainly improper for individuals to act, as if on the assumption, that such a warrant had been given. The ministry is an ordinance of God; this is a fact, denied only by schismatics. This institution is connected with every circumstance of solemnity and responsibility; it is an established means of God for the conversion of sinners, and hence its duties are notlightly to be infringed. The authority to exercise the functions of this office can only be communicated by those who already possess that authority. The apostles who received an extraordinary call to the ministry, did, by a particular ceremony, communicate ministerial authority to those who were to take part with them in the work; and it is by an imitation of their example, that a regular succession of gospel ministers has been preserved in the church. None but the lawless and disorderly will deny that a succession in the ministry is to be preserved in this way; that ministers of the gospel alone have authority to admit others to be co-workers with them, to the whole extent of ministerial duty. Who would not shudder to see an individual administering the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, who had not received authority by an ecclesi
astical act? Yet it is somewhat
strange, that many who would con
sider the act of administering the sacraments without proper authority, as a violation of an ordinance of God, an infringement of ecclesiastical order, and as a procedure highly dangerous to the ... of Christ; do not hesitate to assume the office of public teachers, although this is a principal and peculiar duty of the gospel minister. The commission is, preach—then baptize; preaching has the precedence; it is intende for the conversion of sinners; the sacraments are principally designed for their strengthening and consolation after they have become Christians; and hence more seems to depend on the one than on the other. If then, all men may preach without ecclesiastical authority, why not baptize? Surely if our feelings justify us in doing the one, they should not be alarmed in proceeding a little further. In our opinion, the one is as much an infringement of the peculiar functions of the ministry, as the other would be, and manifests as much looseness of principle. Every intelligent Christian will acknowledge, that the prosperity of the church essentially depends upon the ability of its teachers. This ability consists not merely in piety, but in an “aptness to teach.” A minister of the gospel should possess peculiar qualifications; he should have natural talents, and these properly cultivated by education. All acknowledge the necessity of an apprenticeship, before a man can be fitted for the professional duties of an ordinary mechanical employment; and will we deny the necessity of an appropriate education to fit men for preaching the gospel? The thought is dishonour to that gospel. The deeply important doctrines of this system are not to be declared
by every novice who imagines he
possesses ability to teach. Human literature is essential to a faithful
and edifying ministry, and this fact has been abundantly corroborated by the past experience of the church. We ask then, who are to judge whether an individual possesses qualifications for a teacher in the church of Christ? Certainly not himself; for his judgment would be partial: but unquestionably those, who are recommended by their experience in the discharge of the duties of the holy office. - This Fo truth, however, is denied by lay preachers, who take the liberty of judging for themselves, and who most generally judge ignorantly. We willingly concede, that there are some, who, preaching without authority, are nevertheless calculated by their talents to do much service to the body of Christ in the regular ministry; but this very circumstance is an aggravation of their trespass; for they thereby manifest marked contempt of ecclesiastical discipline, through which a proper authority might be obtained. They do more; they establish a precedent highly dangerous; they encourage others who are deficient in every necessary acquirement, to follow in their footsteps, who, by way of apology for their deficiencies, decry a learned ministry, and endeavour to bring it into contempt. Ignorance of every thing calculated to add honour to the sacred office, in connexion with a species of religious wild fire, are the only furniture of multitudes who preSume to bear the hallowed ark. Many esteem it their duty to become self-constituted public teachers, when totally unable to account for the impression they have received; they have a vague notion that they have received a call, although that call has no foundation in reason. Now we say that the man who urges his spiritual call to preach, when destitute of necessary human learning, is a fanatic, and is to be avoided as a disturber of the church of Christ. We are not, at the pre