A minister, according to the gift of the grace of God - Ephesians iii: 7.
To preach the gospel of Christ, and to administer its ordinances, God has been graciously pleased to appoint a select class of men. These are familiarly known as MINISTERS. To be legitimate, they must be conformed, in their character, in their qualifications, and in their office, to the requirements of the divine law. More particularly: "A minister, according to the gift of the grace of God," must have been renewed in his spiritual nature, by the Holy Ghost; he must have legitimately become a member of the true church; he must maintain a high standard of personal religion; and in other resects, possess the requisite Christian character. To qualify him for his vocation, he must have been called of God to the work; he must have acquired clear and Scriptural conceptions of the system of revealed truth; and be able, with facility, to communicate his knowledge to others; he must have derived his ministerial rights and authority from the source whence they are possessed, and, for lawful purposes, he must have been scripturally invested with the sacred trust. These constitute his qualifications. In his high office, he must preach the true doctrines of Christ; administer the ordinances, in both their form and substance, as the gospel enjoins; and he must rule as instructed by the king in Jeshurun. Such a man, all will admit, is a true minister of Jesus Christ. Such are Baptist ministers; therefore the Baptist is the true ministry of Jesus Christ. We have, consequently, all the authority which the gospel confers, or that any gospel minister can have, to preach, to baptize, to organize churches, to ordain ministers and other officers, and to do all other acts that may lawfully be done, by any minister of the gospel whatever.
In the present discourse, I propose to sustain two propositions. The former is, that the authority and rights of Baptist ministers, in all respects, are EQUAL to those of the ministers of any other denomination whatever; and the latter is, that the authority and rights of Baptist ministers, are, in many respects, SUPERIOR to those of any other denomination whatever . Both these postulates now announced, involve comparisons. These, I am well aware, are always proverbially odious. Permit me then to say, in advance of this discussion, once for all, that I would not, for a moment, indulge them, were I not called, upon to vindicate what I conceive to be the true teachings of the word of God. And, were it possible, I would greatly prefer to accomplish my purpose in some other way. At all events, I beg you to be assured, that while I firmly advocate my own principles, long since fixed, I cherish at the same time, the profoundest respect for my brethren of the several denominations around us. If I must speak of their doctrines without approval, I shall studiously avoid every word and thought calculated to give them pain, and shall ever delight to honor their piety, intelligence and usefulness.
1. The authority and rights of Baptist ministers, are EQUAL, in all respects, to those of the ministers of any other denomination whatever.
This is our first proposition. Is it true? Which of the three leading denominations in the south-west - and I refer to no others - the Presbyterian, Methodist, and the Episcopalian, will question it? Do our Presbyterian brethren allow our claims to be with theirs? It is so presumed, our Methodist brethren? They, it is true, are episcopal; they, therefore, their bishops; and their ecclesiastical regulations have invested them alone with authority to ordain others,. Still they are not understood to maintain episcopacy as of "divine right," but simply as recommended by expediency. A bishop with them, is, consequently, merely "primus inter pares" - the first among his equals. They do not, therefore so far as I know, deny to us as ministers, authority and rights equal with theirs. Our Protestant Episcopal brethren, hold a doctrine of an entirely different character; and, at this stage of our discourse, demand our chief attention. Bishops with them, are an order of men, divinely appointed to a superior grade in the ministry - they inherit the apostleship; -and they, or Catholic, or Greek bishops only, having descended in regular succession from the apostles, have authority to ordain other ministers! Those not ordained by them, are not ordained at all! We have not been ordained by them - consequently, we are not, in their estimation, ordained at all! We have, therefore, no right to administer ordinances, nor indeed to act, in any sense, as ministers of the gospel of Christ.
They alone, the true ministers of Christ! We, as such, destitute of authority! This is a high and imposing claim. What facts and arguments can be adduced in its defence? They are understood to allege, first, that successors to the apostles were actually appointed; in the days, and by the authority, of the original twelve apostles; secondly, that this succession is shown, by history, to have been continued in subsequent ages, and to have been preserved to the present time; and, thirdly, that the authority thus derived, was necessary in the apostolic church, and is still necessary, to ministerial character, and the validity of all ministerial acts. If these theses can be supported, our authority and rights, are not equal to those of Episcopalians. - Indeed, we are in no proper sense, the ministers of Christ. We should, therefore, instantly retire from our pulpits, and while we hide ourselves from the public gaze, repent of the presumption with which we dared to intrude ourselves, uncalled, and unauthorized, into the sacred office. But we are not prepared to admit, as true, either of the propositions announced. The facts appear to us to be the opposite of them in every case.
Successors to the apostles, with the style and office of bishops! Appointed, too, in the days, and by the authority of the original twelve! And they the sole inheritors of this high distinction! Consider the peculiarities by which the apostolic office was marked, and tell me, whether, by possibility, they can characterize those known among us, par excellence, as bishops? The apostles, let it, in the first place, be observed, received their commission, not in any sense from men, but directly, and personally, and exclusively from Jesus Christ himself. It was, secondly, an indispensable qualification for an apostle, that he should have been a witness of the actions and teachings of Christ, and have seen him after his resurrection. The apostles, thirdly, were endowed with supernatural gifts, and with a complete and infallible knowledge of all things pertaining to the gospel. And, lastly, their doctrines and their commands, were the law of the church. All the apostles were thus characterized. This fact, the word of God places beyond question. The absence of the endowments indicated, to any man, made, and still makes, the apostleship to him impossible. Are our bishops thus distinguished? Have they received their commission, not in any sense, from man, but directly and personally from Jesus Christ? Have they been witnesses of the actions and teachings of Christ, and seen him after his resurrection? Are they endowed with supernatural gifts, and inspired with a complete and infallible knowledge of the gospel? Are their doctrines and commands the law of the church? And yet they claim to be apostles, and as such, successors of the original twelve! They have not conferred ministerial character and authority upon us, and, therefore, we have none!
The truth is, my brethren, the apostles, as apostles, had no successors. As ministers of the gospel they had successors; but it is impossible, that as apostles, they COULD have had. Such a succession was wholly unnecessary. The God of grace never designed that the office should be perpetuated. Still it is claimed, and the plea must not be summarily dismissed. A writer of distinguished ability, himself a bishop of that church, in a recent work on Episcopacy, thus states what is called the scripture argument, (and with us, this is all important,) in proof of the proposition, that "Successors to the apostles, in the apostolic office, were actually appointed in the days, and by the authority, of the original twelve." He says: -
"After the order of deacons had been created, and the church had been provided with pastors also, we have mention made, Acts xiv: 14, of the appointment of two, apostles - Paul and Barnabas. In, writing to the Romans, Romans xvi: 7, St. Paul mentions two more - Andronicus and Junius, as being of note, eminent among the apostles. In writing to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians viii: 23, he calls Titus and two others, whose names he does not give us, apostles of churches. In writing to the Galatians, Gal. i: 19, he speaks of James, the Lord's brother, as an apostle. In writing to the Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians i: 1, compared with ii: 6, he mentions Sylvanus and Timothy as apostles with himself. Epaphroditus is spoken of , Philippians ii: 23, as an apostle. "Here," remarks the bishop, "we have mentioned in scripture twelve, [he should have said eleven] besides the original twelve, in all making twenty-four" apostles. "The angels of the seven churches," mentioned in the book of Revelations [sic], are believed also to have been bishops, or ministers, "jure divino," of a superior grade.
This is "the scripture testimony." It is, at the first glance, imposing and specious. Is it legitimate? If so, it is very nearly conclusive of the claims of Episcopacy. Our equality with them cannot be supported. If it is not just, all is irrecoverably lost to prelacy. No other argument, without this, is of any material value. Let us briefly review it.
In the mention of three of this number, I must observe the advocates of episcopacy are particularly unfortunate; because two of them, Paul and James, were of the original twelve, and one of them, Junia, (not Junius,) if we may determine sex by the gender, was a woman! She was the wife of Andronicus: and they were relatives of Paul. "Salute," said he to the Romans, in the passagge quoted by the bishop, " Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles" - not "noted, eminent, apostles," but simply Christians, early of great reputation in the estimation of the apostles. This is the plain common sense, and the evident meaning of the text, and so acknowledged to be, by our best biblical critics, of all classes. Thus, instantly, four of the extra eleven apostles disappear!
Here it is necessary for us to pause a moment, and make a remark, explanatory of the original word Apostolos, since it appears that our bishops use the Greek version of the New Testament, and claim, that, wherever this term, Apostolos, occurs in connection with a name, however it may be rendered in the common translation, the person so designated, must have been clothed with the Apostolic office! By reference to philological works of authority, this word will be found to mean simply a messenger, one sent. If he is sent, no matter who he is, by whom sent, or what may be the nature of his errand, he is, in Greek, called an apostle. It follows, therefore, that whether the word, in scripture, is used of a messenger of any kind - one sent, without respect to his character, or the nature of his message - of a man merely sent to preach, or of the apostolic commission especially, must depend entirely upon the connection in which it occurs. With this fact distinctly before us, we proceed with the review.
Barnabas was an apostle. This is most cheerfully conceded. Luke, in the Acts, speaks of "the apostles, Barnabas and Saul." But in what sense was Barnabas an apostle? He was sent to preach the gospel. This is positively all. There is not a particle of testimony in the word of God, to prove any thing more. The people of Lystra, when they wrought miracles, would have paid them divine honors; of "which, when the apostles [the men sent of God to preach to them the gospel,] Barnabas and Saul, heard," they rent their clothes, ran among them, and, by a suitable address, prevented. Barnabas, then, was sent as a preacher, but he never was an apostle, in the sense in which Peter, and Paul, and John, and the others, were apostles. This is indisputably true.
"Titus and two others, whose names are not mentioned," are claimed as apostles. The passage is relied upon for proof, in which Paul says to the Corinthians: "Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my fellow-helper concerning you; or our brethren be inquired of, [the two not named,] they are the messengers of the churches, [in the Greek, apostoloi ekklesioon, the apostles of the churches,] "and the glory of Christ." And were these men clothed with the apostolic office? No such thing appears, either from this, or any other text. The sense of the passage is exceedingly plain. Let it be briefly stated. The poor saints at Jerusalem, despoiled by persecution, of all the comforts, and of nearly all the necessaries of life; and besides this, now suffering under the effects of the prevailing famine, were truly objects of compassion. The various gentile churches, determined to send them relief. Those of Macedonia particularly, had acted with great generosity, and the wish prevailed to infuse the same liberal spirit into the minds of the Corinthians. For this purpose, Titus and the others, were selected and sent on a visit to Corinth. Paul, the prime mover and, active agent, in this enterprise of love, wrote, and transmitted by their hands, this epistle - in which he commends these three ministers to the confidence of the brethren, with the assurance that they were sent to them. by several churches, - on this mission of mercy. Any apostleship of Titus and the others, beyond their being thus, and for this purpose, sent by the churches - apostoloi ekklesioon - has not been, and never can be, inside to appear. They apostles in the episcopal sense! So far from it, they were merely pent out by the gentile churches to collect money to relieve the temporal necessities of the churches among the Jews! Four others thus leave the apostolic theatre.
Three only remain, for whom the apostleship is demanded - Epaphroditus, Sylvanus and Timothy. The episcopacy of the first of these, the bishop defends with this passage of Paul to the Philippians: "I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and companion in labor, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger [umoen de apostolon, your apostle,] and he that ministered to my wants." The amount of apostleship here indicated, is readily explained. Paul was ascertained to be in want of the means of support, and the Philippians, to relieve hid necessities, kindly transmitted to him a sum of money, of which they made Epaphroditus the bearer. The design of the mission, extending no further, and having now been accomplished, Paul sent Epaphroditus back to them, with this admirable epistle, in which he commends their gift, and also the manner of its bestowment; it having been borne to him by a brother beloved - his "companion in labor, and fellow-soldier" in the gospel of Christ. This, and no more, constitutes all the apostleship of Epaphroditus.
As respects the other two, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, that he, and Sylvanus, and Timothy, had been careful to give them no trouble, although they had a right, and "might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ." Sylvanus and Timothy apostles of Christ! How? Being with Paul for the time, he inserted their names in his epistle, as he did that of Sosthenes in his first epistle to the Corinthians, and Timothy's alone, in his epistle to the Collossians [sic], and be bears testimony that they were his companions, and, equally with himself, were sent of God to preach the gospel. If because they were so sent to preach the gospel, which is all the word apostle here means, they are to be considered apostles, then all the primitive preachers were, and all true ministers to this day, are apostles, since they were, and are, all sent of God to preach the gospel. Thus the three last of the extra apostles depart, leaving none but the original twelve.
But were not the angels of the seven churches, mentioned in the book of Revelations, bishops or ministers superior in grade, authority and prerogatives, to other ministers? I submit, in answer, three brief remarks. The first is, that the scriptures afford no proof whatever that they were. The second is, that the claim is disproved by the passages themselves, and parallel texts. Angelos, the name used to designate these ministers, means simply a messenger; and Apostolos, means simply a messenger; both words describe any one sent to bear the message of the gospel; therefore, both are equally as appropriate now, to those who preach the gospel, as they were then, to persons of the same class. My third remark is, that the supposition is unreasonable. There were precisely as many angels as there were churches. Now, since there can be no bishop without a diocese, if each angel was a bishop, where was his diocese? The angels of the churches were not therefore bishops, but, most clearly, pastors only, in the ordinary sense.
Upon a full and candid examination of the whole "scripture argument" we now see plainly, that no successors to the apostles, were, in their days appointed, either by their authority or with their consent. Besides the original twelve, not one minister can be found of a grade superior or inferior to presbyters. So far, therefore, as the scriptures are concerned, nothing appears to disprove, but every thing to sustain, the proposition, that the authority and rights of Baptist ministers are equal to those of Episcopalians, or of any other denomination whatever.
The first argument of our brethren in support of the divine right of bishops, having, as we now see, totally failed, the second, which assumes, that, the alleged succession can be proved by historical authority, to have been actually continued and preserved to our day, falls, as a matter of course, and all others predicated upon it, necessarily go with it. Yet it may be worth our while to give it a moment's consideration.
Is it true, Task, that history bears testimony to a continued apostolic succession, and that from the apostles' lime td our day, it has been preserved? How can history speak the truth, and bear testimony to a thing that never existed? If history does not prove the opposite to be the fact, then, I have read history, I must confess, to little purpose. Let us glance at the testimony of history.
Mosheim says, Ecclesiastical History Intro., vol. 1., p. 17, "When we look back to the commencement of the Christian church, we find its government administered jointly, by the pastors and peoplee. But in process of time, the scene changes, and we see the pastors affecting an air of superiority, and trampling upon the rights and privileges of the community, and assuming to themselves supreme authority." In his history of the first Century, vol. 1, p. 88, the same distinguished writer further says: "The rulers of the churches were called either presbyters or bishops, which two titles, are, in the New Testament, undoubtedly applied to the same order of men." He again remarks, p. 91: "Let none confound the bishops of this primitive and golden period, with those of whom we read in the following ages. A bishop during the first and second century, was a person who had the care of one Christian assembly, which, at that time, was, generally speaking, small enough to be contained in a private house." The same facts, and many more to the same effect, are maintained by Gheisler, and Neander, and the other reputable writers in the department of ecclesiastical history.
Permit a single passage from the christian fathers, regarding the history of apostolical succession. We will select it from Jerome, who wrote in the fourth century, and who was one among the most candid and learned of them all. He says. Comm. on Titus: "A presbyter is the same as a bishop." But "when every one, by the instigation of the devil, supposed that those he baptised belonged to him, and not to Christ, it was decreed, throughout the whole world, that one chosen from the presbyters should be set over the rest."
These, and such like, are the true historical authorities. They not only do not intimate the doctrine, but positively condemn apostolic succession. Nothing taught in history, therefore, can be found, contradicting the proposition that our authority and rights as ministers, are equal to those of any other denomination whatever.
The third, and last argument, in support of the doctrine that Episcopal authority is derived by succession from the apostles, and transmitted in an unbroken series of ordinations, is essential to the validity of all ministerial acts, is now utterly overwhelmed, cut off, hopelessly, from any connection with the subject in hand. Yet, two or three considerations require that it should receive a passing notice.
Apostolical authority was necessary at one period of the church. This is admitted by all. Our brethren conclude that it must, therefore, be necessary at every other period of the church. But I answer that this conclusion does not, by any means, follow, as a matter of course. It is a most obvious "non sequitor." Apostolical authority was necessary in the age of inspiration, to complete the system of divine revelation. The New Testament is the product. And here, in the New Testament, the whole apostolical authority and teaching are lodged, retained, and perpetuated, in all their freshness, force and vigor. In the New Testament, therefore, and no where else, the apostles, substantially, still live, and speak to us, as they did literally to their own personal associates. This is obliged to be the fact. Moses, for illustration, was the apostle, or lawgiver, and ruler of Israel, under the old dispensation. He had successors in the rulership; but as a lawgiver, or apostle, he had no successor; he could have had none while that dispensation continued, without a total subversion of his laws. So the twelve were apostles, or lawgivers, and ministers, under the gospel. As ministers, they had successors; but as apostles, they had none; they could have had none, without a total subversion of the New Testament. Are bishops legitimate successors to the apostolic office? Then they have the same authority which was possessed by Peter, or James, or John. A letter of the bishop of Tennessee is, therefore, as obligatory, and as infallible, as any of the epistles of the New Testament. This doctrine is admitted, and acted upon at Rome, because it inevitably follows from the first principles of episcopacy; but will enlightened American Christians give it their assent? I presume not. The apostolic office was necessary in the beginning of the church; but, as we now see, it was not, therefore, subsequently necessary; indeed, it could not possibly, in the nature of things, have continued to exist. It is consequently, impossible that it can now be necessarily, either to confer upon us ministerial character, or to give validity to our ministrations.
We have thus seen, that the apostles, as such, had no successors. Let it be conceded that bishops, in the episcopal sense, found their way, at an early period , into the church, and still, in some departments of it, firmly maintain their place. Yet for their existence, they have no scripture warrant. Our Episcopal brethren, therefore provided even that in all other respects they are conformed to the word of God, have no ministers, they can have none, but plain simple presbyters. Those who wear the title of bishop, are nothing more, since no such office exists to be conferred.
But can it be that the scriptures authorize no such office in the church as bishops, in the episcopal sense? Than this, no fact appears to me to be more certainly true. The only officers appointed by God to preach, and administer ordinances, and whose commission has come down to our times, are called indifferently, elders, bishops and presbyters; all of which names, when referring to office, convey the same idea. They are convertible. terms, and are frequently used interchangeably, to describe the same person. There is, however, some difference in their sense, which it is proper should be stated. A presbyter is a man clothed with the ministerial office; an elder is a presbyter advanced in age; and a bisho p is a presbyter invested with the pastorship. All have, however, the same authority to preach, to ordain, and to administer all the ordinances of religion. Let us refer, in proof, to a few passages of the word of God.
"For this cause," said Paul to Titus, Titus i: 5-7, "left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders, [presbuterous, presbyters,] in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, not accused of riot, or unruly: for a bishop [episkopos] must be blameless, as the steward of God." Who does not see that in this passage, the same persons are called indifferently, elders, presbyters and bishops? And who was Titus, who ordained these bishops, not over large territories, but in every city? He was simply a presbyter, evangelist, or missionary. And who were these bishops? Nothing more certainly, than ordinary pastors.
Again. Peter, speaking on this subject, in his second epistle, v: 1, 2, says, to the pastors: "The elders which are among you, [presbuterous, the presbyters]I exhort, who am also an elder, [sumpresbuteros, a fellow-presbyter,] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory which shall be revealed; feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, [episkopountes, exercising the office of bishops,] not by constraint, but willingly." Here again we have the inspired declaration, that elders are presbyters, and that presbyters are bishops.
Once more. Paul the apostle came, Acts 20: 17-28, to Miletus, "and sent to Ephesus and called the elders [presbuterous, the presbyters] of the church," and said to them, "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, [episkopous, bishops,] to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood. The elders of the church at Ephesus were presbyters, and the presbyters were bishops.
Such are all the teachings of God's word. Did the apostles understand this matter? Are we to rely upon their representations of it? If so, then four facts are firmly established. The first is, that the apostles, as apostles, had no successors in the church; the second is, that presbyters, bishops and elders, all hold the same office; the third is, that presbyters ordained bishops, who were pastors in the ordinary sense; and the fourth is, that all ordained ministers were the equals, the peers, of each other. Our brethren of all denominations, if in every other respect they are fully legitimate, have received their ordination from presbyters alone. Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, have received this, and only this ordination. We have received the same. Our authority and rights, therefore, to preach, to baptize, to organize churches, to ordain minister and other officers, and to do all else that may be done by ministers of the gospel, are equal in all respects, to the authority and rights of the ministers of any other denomination whatever. This fact is now placed beyond controversy.
2. The authority and right of Baptist ministers, are, in many respects, superior to those of the ministers of any other denomination whatever.
We do not intend by tins claim, to derogate from the high Christian character, intelligence, zeal, or usefulness, of our brethren of the several churches around us. Our purpose is only to defend what most certainly belongs to us. Exclusive pretentions are not often heard with patience, even by those who are willing to admit that they are well founded. We concede to our brethren equality with us, in personal religion, in love for the cause of Christ, in readiness to labor for the salvation of men, in deep sincerity, and other Christian qualities. They may indeed, in many things, be even greatly our superiors. Still, in other respects, and especially in the ministry, we are obligated to believe that similar concessions cannot with truth be admitted.
It is most evident to us, that our authority and rights as ministers, are superior to those possessed by the ministers of any other denomination whatever, because by baptism we entered, and became legitimate members of Christ's kingdom, before we assumed to be invested with the office of that kingdom, or to administer its ordinances and government. They have been baptized at all!
I know of no competent authority any where, or in the opinions of any Christians, Baptists or Pedobaptists, by which a man can be admitted even to membership in the visible church of Christ on earth, without baptism. Do the ministers of other churches claim to have been baptized? They were, I allow, sprinkled in their infancy! But such a ceremony, and at such a time, bears no more relation to baptism than it does to the sound of the trumpet. They have never been baptized! Here, therefore, they labor under a capital deficiency, and our advantage over them is most obvious. I will not ask whether they are really members of the visible church. That is their own affair. If, however, they are not, what authority have they, what right, to exercise those prerogatives that belong only to the officers of that church? If the matter is barely doubtful, how can they, especially as there is no necessity for it, risk so important a qualification upon an uncertainty? Our authority and rights are, therefore, in this respect, most certainly superior to theirs.
They are superior upon another ground. We received our ordination from the only, true source, whence, under God, it can be derived - the church, and her bishops, acting upon her order, and as her executive officers.
Ordinations conferred by a bishop, in his own right, and those also given by, a presbytery, as a permanent body, and without church order, all and equally destitute of divine sanction. I do not say that they are invalid. That is no business of mine; but I well know that they have no countenance in the word of God. Where is the warrant? Episcopacy is modeled after the ancient Hebrew Theocracy and Presbyterianism after the Jewish Synagogue. Will these be quoted as authority? Surely not. Baptist principles look to the New Testament, and not to the abrogated forms of a former and extinct dispensation. There the law of Christ is fully recorded, and in it we find two words which are employed to express the conferring of the ministerial office; they are katastesomen, and Kairotonesantes. The former, which occurs in Acts vi: 3. Scapula assures us, (and he was confessedly one of our best writers on the sacred languages,) signifies to put one in rule, or to give him authority, or ministerial sanction. The latter, found in Acts xiv. 23, expresses, we are told, the suffrages or votes of the members of the church, by stretching forth the hand, in approval of the act of ordination. Ordinations, therefore, are the united acts of the church and her bishops. Ministers are employed in setting apart other ministers, not in virtue of their being bishops as a superior order, nor of their being presbyters, all of the same order; but merely as executive officers of the church, with whom the whole right is lodged by her great and adorable Head, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ordinations not so conferred are, of necessity vitally defective, since the power is possessed by the church alone, and can of course be imparted only by the church. Paul and Barnabas, the former an apostle, the latter a presbyter, ordained bishops in Derbe, Lystra and Iconiun, as we ordain them; and the same thing was done, in the other places, by Timothy and Titus, and all the other primitive ministers. The early churches had each its own bishop and there were certainly as many churches as bishops. Nor did they when ordained, join presbyteries, or bodies of ministers, who thereupon ceased to have their names in the individual churches as before. They never ordained men first to a lower grade in the ministry, and then again after a stipulated time, to a higher grade in the ministry as is so often done among us. No such case can be found in the word of God; in the form either of precept or example. No New Testament minister, as a minister, ever received but one ordination. This was by the united suffrages of the church and her bishops Such ordination only is scriptural legitimate; and it confers upon all those who receive it, all the powers and authority requisite to the complete fulfilment of all the duties belonging to those of any class who preach the gospel, and administer the offices and ordinances of our holy religion. Baptist ministers have received this ordination; ministers of other denominations have not; our authority and rights therefore, are, in this respect also superior to those of any other denomination whatever.
In still another department, our authority and rights are superior to those of others. We are not ordained for unscriptural purposes, such as to place us over other ministers, as their governors, and to become legislators, and judges, in the kingdom of Christ.
If a man is ordained to do what the scriptures do not allow to be done at all or if at all, not by ministers, then so far certainly as those things are concerned, his ordination is no ordination. A minister, for example, has no right, in his q[blur] as such to exercise the office of civil magistrate. Suppose he should be ordained to that office, would he therefore be a civil magistrate? Certainly not. Such ordination would surely be void. So of every other authority not divinely given. And now, where in the word of God do you find that the inferior clergy are subjected to the government of a superior, called a bishop? Where does that word speak of ecclesiastical courts, or of courts of judicature, and courts of appeal? Show me the grant for enacting laws by the clergy, or by any one else, for the government of the church? Jesus Crist is the supreme, and the only supreme Bishop in his church. "All ye are brethren." He is sole Ruler, Lawgiver and Judge. We know no other; we admit no other; and so far as men are ordained for such purposes, their ordinations are a nullity. We are ordained to execute the laws of Christ, in the church, and in the world, and we can never forget that where there is no command there is no obedience. We dare not assume powers which Jesus Christ has never granted. Our ordination, therefore, being conformed, as to its purposes, to the word of God, confers upon us authority and rights superior to those possessed by the ministers of any other denomination whatever.
Our authority and rights are superior in several other respects; but we have sufficiently illustrated this part of our subject, and we must not longer detain you.
We have now seen what is necessary to constitute a true minister of Jesus Christ, "according to the gift of the grace of God," and that all the characteristics of such are possessed by Baptist ministers; we have seen that the authority and rights of Baptist ministers are, in all respects, equal to those of the ministers of any other denomination whatever, because those from whom we received the ministry had full power from the great Head of the church, to confer it, and did confer it upon us in all its plenitude, by the agency of lawful presbyters, which is all that can be said of Presbyterian, Methodist, or Episcopalian ministers; and we have seen that our authority and rights are, in many respects, superior to those of all others, particularly in the fact that, by baptism, we entered and became legitimate members of Christ's visible kingdom upon earth, before we assumed to be invested with the offices of that kingdom, or to administer its ordinances and government; in the fact, that we received our authority and rights from their only depository and legal source; and in the fact, that we are not ordained for unscriptural, but for lawful gospel purposes.
From this whole subject, maturely considered, we conclude in the first place, that with our authority and rights as ministers of the gospel, we have ample reason to be entirely satisfied.
No Baptist minister, of whom I know any thing, ever had the slightest misgiving upon this point. Did your hearts, brethren, ever hesitate for want of full confidence? No, I am ready to answer for you, no, never. Did any well instructed Christian, who has received the ordinances from the hands of Baptist ministers, ever doubt their validity, from apprehension that we want authority to give them? Far, very far from it. On the contrary, there are millions, and I confess myself to be of the number, who would consent to accept them from no other administrators. No, here we stand on firm ground. We may fail in our fidelity, our devotion, our zeal, but our authority cannot be shaken. The Lord sustain us in the duties of our high vocation.
We, in the second place, conclude, from this subject, that upon us particularly, devolves the obligation to understand, and be governed strictly, in all that pertains to the ministry, by the word of God.
Our brethren of other churches, have in many, instances, gone far aside, and their return to the simple teachings of revelation is hardly to be hoped. How can they return without a total breaking up of their several systems of ecclesiastical polity? Will they, can they do this? As for us, the Bible is our standard,; and our only standard. To comprehend its teachings, therefore, and to be governed by them, is our paramount duty. We are then prepared, not only to do our duty, but to defend the truth, and to teach others the service of Christ. Ignorance of the divine law, or disregard of its instructions, is the teeming source of all errors. Every departure from the beautiful system revealed by Christ, is a derogation from the power and effect of religion. Jehovah can never be pleased with that which he has not appointed. To us the command is not less imperative than it was to the Hebrews.
"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it. Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish, from it."
This subject leads us in the third place, to conclude that, in religion particularly, we should estimate men as they are conformed to Christ.
We are but to prone to be attracted by titles; to be dazzled by pageantry; and to be seduced by flattery, and the love of power. Many, for these baubles, sacrifice their claims to gospel purity. Shall they ever cause us to forget, and to swerve from the truth taught by our blessed Redeemer? The gospel claims our obedience wholly. Submission to Christ generally, and in the ministry particularly, should be our only test of character. Yes, and he shall be most loved and revered by us, who most loves and obeys our adorable Saviour.
The pulpit, we conclude, in the last place, never can clothed with all its wonted power over the hearts and consciences of men, until it fully corresponds with the laws of its institution. Then, and not till then, may it be properly said:"There sands the messenger of truth; there stands
The legate of the skies! His theme divine,
His office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him the violated law speaks out
Its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet.
As angels use, the gospel whispers peace.
He 'stablislies the strong, restores the weak,
Reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart.
And, armed himself, in panoply complete,
Of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
Bright as his own, and trains, by every rule
Of holy discipline, to glorious war,
The sacramental host of God's elect."
[From The Baptist Preacher, via the Tennessee Baptist January 13, 1848 , pp. 1-2. CD edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
American Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage