That the Ministry is a Perpetual Ordinance of Christ in the Church, and that Ministers are to be Received as the Ambassadors of Christ Now as Well as in the Primitive Times.
To the Assembly of Divines
THAT which hath long lurked in the hearts of many Atheists is now professed and argued for by that fierce furious Erastian, whose book was published the last year at Franeker. He cries out that the world is abused with that notion of a pretended sacred ministerial calling,—that though the apostles and others who first preached the gospel were indeed sent and set apart for that holy calling, which was also confirmed by signs and miracles, and they were therefore to be received and submitted unto as the ambassadors of Christ, yet ministers and pastors now are not to be acknowledged as the ambassadors of Christ, neither is there any such thing now to be acknowledged as a special distinct sacred calling, or solemn setting apart of men to the ministry of the word and sacraments, but any who is fit and gifted, though not called or ordained, may both preach and minister the sacraments, baptism, and the Lord's supper. The sect of Seekers also hold that there are not at this time, neither have been for many ages past, any true ministers or ambassadors of Christ. Now for confutation of these errors, and for the confirmation and settlement of such as are any way shaken or troubled therewith, I have thought good here, in the first place, to make sure this principle, that the ministry, as it is distinct both from magistracy and from private Christians, is a perpetual standing ordinance of Christ in his church to the end of the world.
This I prove first from, Matt. 28.19,20. That commission, Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them, &c., could not be meant of the apostles only, or other ministers of Christ at that time respectively and personally, but must needs be extended to true preachers and baptizers in all ages to the end of the world, as is manifested by the promise added, And, lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
2. From Eph. 4.11-13, where the ordinance of pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry reacheth as far as the perfecting of the whole body of Christ, and the gathering in of all the elect, and, consequently, as far as the end of the world.
3. From those evangelical prophecies and promises of pastors and teachers, Jer. 3.15; 23.4; Isa. 30.20; 62.6,7; 66.21; Ezek. 44.23, which are not restricted to the churches of the primitive times, but the true churches of Christ in all ages interested therein.
4. Christ hath appointed his gospel to be preached to all nations, Matt. 24.14; Luke 24.47; and all the world over, Matt. 26.13; and to every creature under heaven, Mark 16.15. The preaching of the gospel is the mean and way ordained of God to save them that believe, Rom. 10.14; 1 Cor. 1.23. Now although there was a large spread of the gospel in the apostles' times, through so much of the world as was then known, yet that universal commission was not then so perfectly performed and fulfilled as it shall be before the end be. And however all the elect were not gathered in at that time, but many of them to be yet gathered in, which must be done by preaching. And who can κηρύττειν but κήρυξ;—Who shall do the office of a herald but he that is an herald? The Holy Ghost's word used for preaching is borrowed from heraldry.
5. Christ hath appointed faithful and wise stewards to be rulers over his household to give them their portion of meat in due season, Luke 12.42, which was not appointed for the primitive times only, but till he come again, as appeareth by ver. 43, Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing; and ver. 45, But and if that servant say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming, &c. More of this scripture afterwards.
6. From 1 Tim. 6.14. The Apostle having, in that epistle, given direction concerning church officers, bishops, elders, deacons, with many other particulars belonging to the ministry, when he comes to the close of the epistle, he gives a strict and solemn charge to Timothy to keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; which cannot be understood of Timothy personally, but it is a charge given in his person to all the ministers of the gospel who shall live till the appearing of Christ.
7. From Rev. 2.24,25. There is a charge, That which ye have already hold fast till I come; and this is given to two sorts of persons: First, ὑμῖν, vobis, to you bishops or pastors, for there were more of them than one in Thyatira, as likewise in Philippi, Phil. 1.1; Antioch, Acts 13.2; 15.35; Ephesus, Acts 20.17,28,36,37. The like may be observed of other primitive churches. Secondly, λοιποῖς, to the rest of you, viz., of the flock and body of the church. As the charge cannot be restricted to the church of Thyatira, no more can it be restricted to the ministry in Thyatira; but in them Christ chargeth all, both ministers and church members, to hold fast the jewel of the gospel till he come again.
8. It is the privilege of the new Jerusalem which is above, that there is no temple therein, Rev. 21.22, no ministry, no preaching, no sacraments in heaven, but God shall be all in all. An immediate enjoyment of God in this world without ordinances is but a delusion. In the church triumphant prophecies shall fail, 1 Cor. 13.8; but in the church militant, despise not prophesyings, 1 Thess. 5.20.
If any object (as some fanatic persons have done), Jer. 31.34, And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, &c., 1 John 2.27, And ye need not that any man teach you,
I answer, first, These scriptures are to be understood comparatively, in the same sense as God said he would have mercy and not sacrifice, Hos. 6.6. The Spirit of illumination and knowledge shall be so abundantly poured forth under the gospel, and God shall so write his laws in the hearts of his people, that there shall be almost as much difference between those under the old covenant and those under the new covenant, as there is between those that need a teacher and those that need not a teacher.
2. As the law is not made for a righteous man, 1 Tim. 1.9, viz., to compel him as with a bit and bridle, for he needeth no such compulsion, but obeyeth filially and willingly, yet the law is made for a righteous man to be a rule of obedience to him; so believers, under the gospel, need not to be taught by men as ignorants are taught,—they are not without understanding as the horse or the mule, For they shall all know me, saith the Lord, Jer. 31.32; And ye know all things, 1 John 2.20; yet they need a teaching ministry for growing in knowledge, for their edification, building up, for strengthening and confirming them, and for putting them in remembrance and stirring them up, Eph. 4.12; 2 Peter 1.12; 3.18; Phil. 1.9. There shall ever be need of the ministry, both to convert such as are not yet converted, and to confirm such as are converted. The Apostle, 1 Thess. 3.2, thought it necessary to send Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians to establish them and to comfort them.
3. As long as we are in this world, that promise that we shall not need any man to teach us is not perfectly fulfilled; for we know but in part, 1 Cor. 13.9,12; we shall ever need a teacher till we be in heaven and see Christ face to face.
4. And thus we must needs understand these scriptures objected, unless we will make them to contradict other scriptures, Jer. 3.15; Rom. 10.14; 1 Cor. 1.23; and how can a man understand without a teacher, Acts 8.31.
Objection. 2. But if we believe the ministry to be a perpetual ordinance, and if there be a promise that Christ will be with the ministry to the end of the world, then we must also believe a succession of ministers since the apostles' days, and that in the midst of Popery itself, Christ had a true ministry.
Answer. If our believing the holy church universal, and that in all ages Christ hath had and shall have a true church, doth not infer that we must believe the church either always visible, or always pure, so our believing a perpetual ministry doth not infer that therefore we must believe either a lineal or visible succession of ministers, or their purity and preservation from error. There is nothing of this kind can be objected against our believing a perpetual ministry, but it falleth as heavy upon our belief of the perpetuity of the church.
Objection. 3. The multitude of believers are, under the New Testament, made a royal priesthood, 1 Pet. 2.9; and Christ hath made us kings and priests unto God, Rev. 1.6.
Answer. 1. Peter explaineth himself, 1 Pet. 2.5, Ye are an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. What these spiritual sacrifices are we may find in other scriptures: the mortification of the flesh and offering up of ourselves to God, Rom. 13.1; contrition, Psalm 51.17; prayer and supplications, Psalm 141.2; Heb. 5.7; Rev. 5.8; thanksgivings, Psalm 50.14,23; Heb. 13.15; alms-deeds, Phil. 4.18; Heb. 13.16. As to these, all believers are, indeed, an holy priesthood, but not as to public ministerial administrations.
2. This objection drives at the taking away of magistracy and civil government as well as of the ministry, for Christ hath made believers kings as well as priests, and if kings, then not subjects.
3. The same thing was said to the people of Israel, Exod. 19.6, And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests; yet God appointed the sons of Aaron only to be priests as to the public administration of holy things.
4. The same God who hath made Christians an holy priesthood, hath promised to the church of the New Testament, that he will set apart and take from among them, or of them (by way of distinction and special calling), priests, who shall minister before him in the holy things, Isa. 66.21; Ezek. 44.15,16, &c., whom he calleth priests, not in the Jewish nor popish sense, but for their offering up of the Gentiles to God by the preaching of the gospel, and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, Rom. 15.16. Or we may conceive they are called priests by the prophets, that they might be the better understood, speaking in the language of those times; even as for the same reason when the prophets spake of the church of the New Testament, they mention mount Zion, Jerusalem, sacrifices, incense, the feast of tabernacles, &c. But I must not forget what the Erastian Grallator, with so much spite and derision, rejecteth, viz., that there is not only a perpetual ministry in the church, but that ministers lawfully called, are to be received as the ambassadors of Christ, and as sent of God. If there must be a perpetual ministry yet, that child of the devil and enemy of Christ (for he can be no other who is an enemy to the ministry of the word and sacraments) ceaseth not to pervert the right ways of the Lord. He will by no means acknowledge any minister in the reformed churches to be the ambassador of Christ, though the apostles were. It seems he hates this name the more, because ambassadors, by the law of nations, are inviolable persons; how much more, then, the ambassadors of Christ! But let, then, us now see whether the word of God gives not as high a rise and authority even to the ordinary ministry of the gospel as an ambassador from Christ. When Paul saith, We are ambassadors from Christ, 2 Cor. 5.20, he speaks it not in reference to any thing peculiarly apostolical, or anything incompetent to ordinary ministers. The contrary is most plain from the text itself, He hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. Now if Paul was the ambassador of Christ, because he had committed unto him the word of reconciliation, then all true ministers of the gospel are also the ambassadors of Christ for the same reason; see the like, Eph. 6.20, For which I am an ambassador. For what? Not for working miracles, casting out devils, planting churches in several kingdoms, or the like; but for opening my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, ver. 19; wherein he desires to be helped by the prayers of the saints. By the same reason, all faithful and lawfully-called ministers are the ambassadors of Christ as well as the apostles. Even as under the Old Testament, the priests who were ordinary teachers, and called in an ordinary mediate way, were the angels or messengers of the Lord of hosts, Mal. 2.7, as well as the prophets, 2 Chron. 36.16. So wise men and scribes are said to be sent of God as well as prophets, Matt. 23.34. And the ministers of the seven churches in Asia are called angels, Rev. 2 & 3; and an interpreter of the word of God is a messenger, Job 33.23. Now Christ hath given to the church pastors and teachers, as well as apostles, prophets, and evangelists,—all these are from heaven, not from men, Ephes. 4.11.