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Christian Ministry - Its Present State

By J.B. Stoney


      I propose to take a view of christian ministry in the present day, wherever it is found. I shall consider first christian ministry with ordination, and secondly, without ordination.

      Christian Ministry With Ordination

      First, christian ministry with ordination embraces all christian ministers, whether episcopalian, presbyterian, or dissenters.

      These ministers preach the gospel - that a soul is saved not by works, but by faith in Christ, the only sacrifice and ransom for our sins. They themselves have faith in His blood, and they one and all preach this, though some do so more fervently and effectively than others. They generally have but two great objects before them in their ministry; one that the soul should be saved, the other that the converted one should be a good citizen of the world. There cannot be any higher practical life flowing from it than this; for if the sum of Christ's work is only to save me from judgment which is still future - for however truly assured I am of it by the word of God and the work of faith in my soul, yet it is future, and at best I can happily contemplate the future - the only gain I have in the present is that I am not afraid of the future, and the conscience is at rest so long as the law is kept in the eye and judgment of man.

      The fruit or disciples of this ministry enjoy neither Christ in heaven nor the Holy Spirit on earth. They have not His comfort and support, and but rarely the sense of the relationship which He expresses. The christians under this ministry necessarily do not go further than the Jews in the millennial day - clear of judgment, because the blood of Christ has availed to ransom them; their duty being now to walk here according to the law, the law the rule of life. Hence, according to their means, and as the providence of God has blessed them here, they are good members of society, and faithful supporters in word and deed of the church or system to which they belong, which in a great measure defines and constitutes their testimony. In a word, they are good religious worldly men; this is the fruit of the ordained christian minister.

      Christian Ministry Without Ordination

      Now the christian ministers who refuse all formal ordination, I divide into four classes.

      The First Class

      The first in simple devotedness go forth preaching the good tidings that the blood of Christ is the only means of safety, that he that looks lives.

      It is simply the greatness and freeness of the grace of God, and many are rescued from destruction through this instrumentality. But these preachers, while they earnestly and zealously rescue souls from the judgment due to sinners, have no light as to the order and edification of the saints on earth. Though beyond the ordained ministry in the matter of ordination, they have, as it were, no pasture, church order, or discipline for those converted by their means. This class, the broadest section of lay preachers, has nothing of a church or a congregational testimony with which they would connect their converts. Hence the fruit of their ministry are extremely lax respecting all forms of church order, and as a rule are quite as much mixed up with the world as the fruit of ordained ministers. It could not be otherwise, because they do not hesitate to employ and press into their service every human expedient of position and natural influence; and, in every way they can, they bring themselves and their work before the eyes and ears of the multitude, using their name and position to create an impression. They are so earnest, so true as a class, that I should not say a word to detract from their service, were it not necessary that I should do so, to give any true view of christian ministry as a whole, as we see it now.

      The Second Class

      Now the next class of unordained ministers surpasses the preceding one in knowledge, if I may so say.

      They understand in word the scriptural idea of the church of God; at least, they hold the fundamental truth that "where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them". This is the foundation principle which these avow, and they assert that they meet according to it; but in practice they do not support their assertion, because they do not hold themselves responsible to exclude every believer, at any and every distance, who is knowingly in contact, directly or indirectly, with doctrine or morals dishonouring to Christ. Now the ministry in this class extends beyond the mere gospel to sinners, though for the most part it is confined to that.

      There is in their meetings, besides a measure of light on Scripture, a general knowledge of the dispensations, and often zeal and earnestness in pressing faith and confidence in God, with practical brotherly love. The disciples or adherents of this class, though avowedly separate from systems and the world, are really defective in the mainspring of all godly separation. They do not understand the unity of the Spirit; they are not really in the known leading and power of the Holy Spirit; they seek and insist on the unity of believers, but the unity of the Spirit, which they must uphold were they walking in the Spirit them-selves, they cannot enter into, and therefore they cannot keep it. They never understand the true place and portion of the saints on earth, and even though godly, they are not in heart and spirit weaned from the world; and their chief service, as I have intimated, is not to the saints, because they have not the truth which would edify them. Hence their zeal and energies are directed to the unconverted, and thus they relieve their consciences of the service and edification which should be rendered to the converted. They are true plants, but, like forest trees in a flowerpot, never grow to any stature, though apparently right in outline and purpose.

      The Third Class

      The next class to this are quite clear as to the unity of the Spirit, and hold in a very uncompromising way decided separation from everyone who, directly or indirectly, by contact or otherwise, is indifferent to the name and honour of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are zealously true to the principles of the church of God on earth. But though they enjoy and help on the worship in the assembly, and delight in the saint's growth in deliverance and peace, they are more evangelical than simply for the church; and hence in the assembly their teaching has as a rule more of an individual than a corporate character. The gospel is before the church in their heart, though they know church truth; and their care for the saints is more as individuals than as either the house of God on earth or the body of Christ. If I am alive to the magnitude of the church as the dwelling-place of God through the Spirit sent down from heaven, then, if I labour in christendom in the gospel, I come forth to so-called christians conscious of the support and of the co-operation of the Holy Spirit. But if I do not start from this, I shall not be wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit, and shall drop into the use of means and human expedients in order to obtain a hearing; and the moment I do so, and the more I do so, I not only lose sight of the support and co-operation of the Holy Spirit, but I am sensibly diminishing my own confidence in Him and consequently my individual benefit from Him. I most freely own that God has blessed the labours of these ministers; but as there had been human means mixed up with the work, it is seldom that the fruit of their labours are led out into a decided spiritual prominence.

      For though the converts and disciples of this ministry accept the truth concerning the church of God, and are clear of man's systems, they rarely get clear of the human element, there is a half-and-half way about them; they are strict and correct in attending the breaking of bread, but generally indifferent to other meetings, except the preaching of the gospel. Almost all children betray the defects of their parents more conspicuously than their perfections, and so it is with the disciples of any ministry. The ministers of this class doubtless enjoy more than they speak of, but they seldom present the heavenly portion of the saints; their teachings are generally Christ's present care of His people, and how faith in Him is needed for everything here, and marvellously answered. Many of them are bright examples of the truth brought out in the epistle to the Romans. They know the truth of Ephesians, but it does not appear to be their line or aim.

      The Fourth Class

      Now the last class, for explanation's sake, I divide into two sections; one, the well-informed, the other, the spiritual.

      Not but that the two qualities may be, and are, found combined in the ministers of this class, but often where the former is most prominent, the other is not. This class of ministry combines the light and truth in any and all of the other classes; and however far any of us may be from it, it is only in this class of ministry that the great principles of the truth of God in the church are upheld. It is here that the presence of the Holy Spirit is insisted on as the only means of testimony for Christ on earth.

      The Fourth Class:

      1. The Well-Informed - 2. The Spiritual

      The characteristically well-informed section of this class may sometimes be induced to use other means besides the distinct intervention or cooperation of the Holy Spirit; but none of the spiritual could lend themselves to any line of action which would in any way call in question the inexhaustible resources and appliances of the Holy Spirit. His hand is not shortened. He has His own mode and manner of action; and He would lead us, if subject to Him, to carry out His will. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the church on earth; union with Christ in heaven; our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit; these are truths on which the spiritual will more effectively insist. When I am spiritual, I make the most of my knowledge; when knowledge or the accuracy of it is too exclusively relied on there is less power, though there may be clear and useful instruction. These ministers, as they are gifted, preach the gospel, but in doing so they rely on the power and virtue of the word of God, instead of any accompaniments in their style and delivery; and the fruits of their preaching, though not so numerous, are characterised by a deeper though a slower work in souls, which eventuates in a greater decision for the Lord. Their teaching is marked by the presentation and unfolding of Christ, the one great central object, whatever be the subject.

      With the Father in heaven we are there as Christ is; and be it our walk here, or our relation to the saints or to man, the standard is to "walk, even as he walked", for our state is, "as he is, so are we in this world". It is not this or that particular promise or precept of Scripture which is insisted on, but Christ Himself, the ground and display of all the heart of God; Christ Himself, the impersonation and expression of every beauty in the eye of God, to Himself and to man. The disciples of this ministry have spiritual tastes, though they may grow slowly and often fail; but in the end the Spirit of God, having been honoured by these ministers, honours them by leading the souls under their care, like the Corinthians, from their unjudged levity into renewed zeal and vigour of life.

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