'The Highest Himself shall establish her.'--David.
The princes of this world establish churches sometimes out of piety and sometimes out of policy. Sometimes their motive is the good of their people and the glory of God, and sometimes their sole motive is to buttress up their own Royal House, and to have a clergy around them on whom they can count. Prince Emmanuel had His motive, too, in setting up an establishment in Mansoul. As thus: When this was over, the Prince sent again for the elders of the town and communed with them about the ministry that He intended to establish in Mansoul. Such a ministry as might open to them and might instruct them in the things that did concern their present and their future state. For, said He to them, of yourselves, unless you have teachers and guides, you will not be able to know, and if you do not know, then you cannot do the will of My Father. At this news, when the elders of Mansoul brought it to the people, the whole town came running together, and all with one consent implored His Majesty that He would forthwith establish such a ministry among them as might teach them both law and judgment, statute and commandment, so that they might be documented in all good and wholesome things. So He told them that He would graciously grant their requests and would straightway establish such a ministry among them.
Now, I will not enter to-night on the abstract benefits of such an Establishment. I will rather take one of the ministers who was presented to one of the parishes of Mansoul, and shall thus let you see how that State Church worked out practically in one of its ministers at any rate. And the preacher and pastor I shall so take up was neither the best minister in the town nor the worst; but, while a long way subordinate to the best, he was also by no means the least. The Reverend Mr. Conscience was our parish minister's name; his people sometimes called him The Recorder.
1. Well, then, to begin with, the Rev. Mr. Conscience was a native of the same town in which his parish church now stood. I am not going to challenge the wisdom of the patron who appointed his protege to this particular living; only, I have known very good ministers who never got over the misfortune of having been settled in the same town in which they had been born and brought up. Or, rather, their people never got over it. One excellent minister, especially, I once knew, whose father had been a working man in the town, and his son had sometimes assisted his father before he went to college, and even between his college sessions, and the people he afterwards came to teach could never get over that. It was not wise in my friend to accept that presentation in the circumstances, as the event abundantly proved. For, whenever he had to take his stand in his pulpit or in his pastorate against any of their evil ways, his people defended themselves and retaliated on him by reminding him that they knew his father and his mother, and had not forgotten his own early days. No doubt, in the case of Emmanuel and Mansoul and its minister, there were counterbalancing considerations and advantages both to minister and people; but it is not always so; and it was not so in the case of my unfortunate friend.
Forasmuch, so ran the Prince's presentation paper, as he is a native of the town of Mansoul, and thus has personal knowledge of all the laws and customs of the corporation, therefore he, the Prince, presented Mr. Conscience. That is to say, every man who is to be the minister of a parish should make his own heart and his own life his first parish. His own vineyard should be his first knowledge and his first care. And then out of that and after that he will be able to speak to his people, and to correct, and counsel, and take care of them. In Thomas Boston's Memoirs we continually come on entries like this: 'Preached on Ps. xlii. 5, and mostly on my own account.' And, again, we read in the same invaluable book for parish ministers, that its author did not wonder to hear that good had been done by last Sabbath's sermon, because he had preached it to himself and had got good to himself out of it before he took it to the pulpit. Boston kept his eye on himself in a way that the minister of Mansoul himself could not have excelled. Till, not in his pulpit work only, but in such conventional, commonplace, and monotonous exercises as his family worship, he so read the Scriptures and so sang the psalms that his family worship was continually yielding him fruit as well as his public ministry. As our family worship and our public ministry will do, too, when we have the eye and the heart and the conscience that Thomas Boston had. 'I went to hear a preacher,' said Pascal, 'and I found a man in the pulpit.' Well, the parish minister of Mansoul was a man, and so was the parish minister of Ettrick. And that was the reason that the people of Simprin and Ettrick so often thought that Boston had them in his eye. Good pastor as he was, he could not have everybody in his eye. But he had himself in his eye, and that let him into the hearts and the homes of all his people. He was a true man, and thus a true minister.
2. Both Boston and the minister of Mansoul were well-read men also; so, indeed, in as many words, their fine biographies assure us. But that is just another way of saying what has been said about those two ministers over and over again already. William Law never was a parish minister. The English Crown of that day would not trust him with a parish. But what was the everlasting loss of some parish in England has become the everlasting gain of the whole Church of Christ. Law's enforced seclusion from outward ministerial activity only set him the more free to that inward activity which has been such a blessing to so many, and to so many ministers especially. And as to this of every minister being well read, that master in Israel says: 'Above all, let me tell you that the book of books to you is your own heart, in which are written and engraven the deepest lessons of divine instruction. Learn, therefore, to be deeply attentive to the presence of God in your own hearts, who is always speaking, always instructing, always illuminating the heart that is attentive to Him.' Jonathan Edwards called the poor parish minister of Ettrick 'a truly great divine.' But Law goes on to say, 'A great divine is but a cant expression unless it signifies a man greatly advanced in the divine life. A great divine is one whose own experience and example are a demonstration of the reality of all the graces and virtues of the gospel. No divine has any more of the gospel in him than that which proves itself by the spirit, the actions, and the form of his life: the rest is but hypocrisy, not divinity.' Let all our parish ministers, then, give themselves to this kind of reading. Let them all aim at a doctor's degree in the divinity of their own hearts.
3. We are done at last, and we are done for ever, in Scotland, with patrons and with presenters; but I daresay our most Free Church people would be quite willing to surrender their dear-bought franchise if the old plan could even yet be made to work in all their parishes as it worked in Mansoul. For not only was the presented minister in this case a well-read man; he was also, what the best of the Scottish people have always loved and honoured, a man, as this history testifies, with a tongue as bravely hung as he had a head filled with judgment. In Scotland we like our minister to have a tongue bravely hung, even when that is proved to our own despite. When any minister, parish minister or other, is seen to tune his pulpit, our respect for him is gone. The Presbyterian pulpit has been proverbially hard to tune, and it will be an ill day when it becomes easy. 'Here lies a man who had a brow for every good cause.' So it was engraven over one of Boston's elders. And so is it always: like priest, like people in the matter of the hang of the minister's tongue and in the boldness of the elder's brow.
'Bravely hung' is an ancient and excellent expression which has several shades of meaning in Bunyan. But in the present instance its meaning is modified and fixed by judgment. A bravely hung tongue; at the same time the parish minister of Mansoul's tongue was not a loosely-hung tongue. It was not a blustering, headlong, scolding, untamed tongue. The pulpit of Mansoul was tuned with judgment. He who filled that pulpit had a head filled with judgment. The ground of judgment is knowledge, and the minister of Mansoul was a man of knowledge. It was his early and ever-increasing knowledge of himself, and thus of other men; and then it was his excellent judgment as to the use he was to make of that knowledge; it was his sound knowledge what to say, when to say it, and how to say it,--it was all this that decided his Prince to make him the minister of Mansoul. How excellent and how rare a gift is judgment--judgment in counsel, judgment in speech, and judgment in action! 'I am very little serviceable with reference to public management,' writes the parish minister of Ettrick, 'being exceedingly defective in ecclesiastical prudence; but the Lord has given me a pulpit gift, not unacceptable: and who knows what He may do with me in that way?' Who knows, indeed! Now, there are many parish ministers who have a not unacceptable pulpit gift, and yet who are not content with that, but are always burying that gift in the earth and running away from it to attempt a public management in which they are exceedingly and conspicuously defective. Now, why do they do that? Is their pulpit and their parish not sphere and opportunity enough for them? Mine is a small parish, said Boston, but then it is mine. And a small parish may both rear and occupy a truly great divine. Let those ministers, then, who are defective in ecclesiastical prudence not be too much cast down. Ecclesiastical prudence is not in every case the highest kind of prudence. The presbytery, the synod, and the assembly are not any minister's first or best sphere. Every minister's first and best sphere is his parish. And the presbytery is not the end of the parish. The parish, the pastorate, and the pulpit are the end of both presbytery and synod and assembly. As for the minister of Mansoul, he was a well-read man, and also a man of courage to speak out the truth at every occasion, and he had a tongue as bravely hung as he had a head filled with judgment.
4. But there was one thing about the parish pulpit of Mansoul that always overpowered the people. They could not always explain it even to themselves what it was that sometimes so terrified them, and, sometimes, again, so enthralled them. They would say sometimes that their minister was more than a mere man; that he was a prophet and a seer, and that his Master seemed sometimes to stand and speak again in His servant. And 'seer' was not at all an inappropriate name for their minister, so far as I can collect out of some remains of his that I have seen and some testimonies that I have heard. There was something awful and overawing, something seer-like and supernatural, in the pulpit of Mansoul. Sometimes the iron chains in which the preacher climbed up into the pulpit, and in which he both prayed and preached, struck a chill to every heart; and sometimes the garment of salvation in which he shone carried all their hearts captive. Some Sabbath mornings they saw it in his face and heard it in his voice that he had been on his bed in hell all last night; and then, next Sabbath, those who came back saw him descending into his pulpit from his throne in heaven.
'Yea, this man's brow, like to a title-page Foretells the nature of a tragic volume. Thou tremblest, and the whiteness in thy cheek Is apter than thy tongue to tell thine errand.'
If you think that I am exaggerating and magnifying the parish pulpit of Mansoul, take this out of the parish records for yourselves. 'And now,' you will read in one place, 'it was a day gloomy and dark, a day of clouds and thick darkness with Mansoul. Well, when the Sabbath-day was come he took for his text that in the prophet Jonah, "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy." And then there was such power and authority in that sermon, and such dejection seen in the countenances of the people that day that the like had seldom been heard or seen. The people, when the sermon was done, were scarce able to go to their homes, or to betake themselves to their employments the whole week after. They were so sermon-smitten that they knew not what to do. For not only did their preacher show to Mansoul its sin, but he did tremble before them under the sense of his own, still crying out as he preached, Unhappy man that I am! that I, a preacher, should have lived so senselessly and so sottishly in my parish, and be one of the foremost in its transgressions! With these things he also charged all the lords and gentry of Mansoul to the almost distracting of them.' It was Sabbaths like that that made the people of Mansoul call their minister a seer.
5. And, then, there was another thing that I do not know how better to describe than by calling it the true catholicity, the true humility, and the true hospitality of the man. It is true he had no choice in the matter, for in setting up a standing ministry in Mansoul Emmanuel had done so with this reservation and addition. We have His very words. 'Not that you are to have your ministers alone,' He said. 'For my four captains, they can, if need be, and if they be required, not only privately inform, but publicly preach both good and wholesome doctrine, that, if heeded, will do thee good in the end.' Which, again, reminds me of what Oliver Cromwell wrote to the Honourable Colonel Hacker at Peebles. 'These: I was not satisfied with your last speech to me about Empson, that he was a better preacher than fighter--or words to that effect. Truly, I think that he that prays and preaches best will fight best. I know nothing that will give like courage and confidence as the knowledge of God in Christ will. I pray you to receive Captain Empson lovingly.'
6. The standing ministry in Mansoul was endowed also; but I cannot imagine what the court of teinds would make of the instrument of endowment. As it has been handed down to us, that old ecclesiastical instrument reads more like a lesson in the parish minister's class for the study of Mysticism than a writing for a learned lord to adjudicate upon. Here is the Order of Council: 'Therefore I, thy Prince, give thee, My servant, leave and licence to go when thou wilt to My fountain, My conduit, and there to drink freely of the blood of My grape, for My conduit doth always run wine. Thus doing, thou shalt drive from thine heart all foul, gross, and hurtful humours. It will also lighten thine eyes, and it will strengthen thy memory for the reception and the keeping of all that My Father's noble secretary will teach thee.' Thus the Prince did put Mr. Conscience into the place and office of a minister to Mansoul, and the chosen and presented man did thankfully accept thereof.
(1) Now, there are at least three lessons taught us here. There is, to begin with, a lesson to all those congregations who are about to choose a minister. Let all those congregations, then, who have had devolved on them the powers of the old patrons,--let them make their election on the same principles that the Prince of Mansoul patronised. Let them choose a probationer who, young though he must be, has the making of a seer in him. Let them listen for the future seer in his most stammering prayers. Somewhere, even in one service, his conscience will make itself heard, if he has a conscience. Rather remain ten years vacant than call a minister who has no conscience. The parish minister of Mansoul sometimes seemed to be all conscience, and it was this that made his head so full of judgment, his tongue so full of a brave boldness, and his heart so full of holy love. Your minister may be an anointed bishop, he may be a gowned and hooded doctor, he may be a king's chaplain, he may be the minister of the largest and the richest and the most learned parish in the city, but, unless he strikes terror and pain into your conscience every Sabbath, unless he makes you tremble every Sabbath under the eye and the hand of God, he is no true minister to you. As Goodwin says, he is a wooden cannon. As Leighton says, he is a mountebank for a minister.
(2) The second lesson is to all those who are politically enfranchised, and who hold a vote for a member of Parliament. Now, crowds of candidates and their canvassers will before long be at your door besieging it and begging you for your vote for or against an Established church. Well, before Parliament is dissolved, and the canvass commences, look you well into your own heart and ask yourself whether or no the Church of Christ has yet been established there. Ask if Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, has yet set up His throne there, in your heart. Ask your conscience if His laws are recognised and obeyed there. Ask also if His blood has been sprinkled there, and since when. And, if not, then it needs no seer to tell you what sacrilege, what profanity it is for you to touch the ark of God: to speak, or to vote, or to lift a finger either for or against any church whatsoever. Intrude your wilful ignorance and your wicked passions anywhere else. March up boldly and vote defiantly on questions of State that you never read a sober line about, and are as ignorant about as you are of Hebrew; but beware of touching by a thousand miles the things for which the Son of God laid down His life. Thrust yourself in, if you must, anywhere else, but do not thrust yourself and your brutish stupidity and your fiendish tempers into the things of the house of God. Let all parish ministers take for their text that day 2 Samuel vi. 6, 7:--And when they came to Nachon's threshing-floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.
(3) There is a third lesson here, but it is a lesson for ministers, and I shall take it home to myself.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH