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LETTER IX.-Of The Qualifications of Church Officers.

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LETTER IX.-Of The Qualifications of Church Officers.

James Dodson

WITHOUT some proper furniture, it is absurd, to imagine any should be sent of God, to the ministerial work. When the ascended Jesus gave to church, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers; he gave gifts unto men. Who, saith he, goeth a warfare at any time on his own charge (Eph. 4:8, 11; 1 Cor. 9:7)? What is the furniture, the qualifications prerequisite, according to the sacred word? A blameless conversation; a good report; experience of the self-debasing work of the Spirit of God; compassion to the souls of men; a fixedness in the Christian doctrines; a disposition faithfully to perform his vows; an aptness to teach the ignorant, and convince gainsayers (1 Tim. 3:1-8; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5-9). Knowledge of languages, knowledge of the history and sciences of this world, are useful handmaids to assist us in the study of divine things. To preach from the oracles of God, without capacity to peruse the originals, especially if versant in romances and plays, I abhor; I detest. This aptness to teach, however, consists not chiefly in any of these; but in a capacity to conceive spiritual things, and with some distinctness express their conceptions to the edification of others; in that energy and life, whereby one, as affected himself, declares the truths of God, in a simple, serious, bold, and conscience-touching manner (1 Tim. 2:7; 1 Cor. 12:8; Col. 4:3, 4; 1 Cor. 4:19 and 2:4; 2 Cor. 2:14; 2 Tim. 2:15; Isa. 50:4; 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; Acts 24:25). The difference of this from human eloquence, loud bawling, and theatrical action, is evident. These may touch the passions, but affect not the conscience; they may procure esteem to the preacher, none to Christ; these are the product of nature or art; this the distinguished gift of God, without which in a certain degree, none can have evidence, he was divinely sent to minister the gospel of Christ.

No appearance of furniture, real or pretended, can warrant a man’s exercising the ministry, unless he have a regular call. That ALL may prophesy one by one, is indeed hinted in the sacred records: but there it is evident, inspiration treats of what pertains to extraordinary officers in the church; hence there is mentioned the gift of tongues, extraordinary Psalms, revelations; the ALL that might prophesy are therefore, not ALL the members of the church; not women, who are forbid to speak in the church; but the ALL extraordinary officers called prophets (1 Cor. 14:31). The ALL, that were scattered abroad from Jerusalem, and went about preaching the gospel (Acts 8:2, 4), could not be ALL the believers; for there remained at Jerusalem a church of believers for Saul to make havoc of. It must therefore have been ALL the preachers besides the apostles. To strengthen this, let it be observed, that the word here rendered PREACHING, is nowhere in scripture, referred to one out of office: that everyone of this dispersion, we afterwards hear of, are represented as evangelists, pastors, or teachers (Acts 8:3 and 9:1 and 11:19 and 13:1). Parents and masters convey the same instructions that ministers do; but with a different authority: not as ministers of Christ, or officers in his church. If either gifts or saintship entitled to preach the gospel; we would be unto every gifted person, every saint, that did not preach it (1 Cor. 9:16, 17). If our adored Redeemer refused the work of a civil JUDGE; because not humanly vested with such power (Luke 12:13, 14); will he allow his followers to exercise an office far more important, without any regular call? His oracles distinguish between the mission of persons, and their gifts, sometimes called a receiving of the Holy Ghost, John xx. 21, 23. Isa. vi. 6, 7, 9.

To render the point incontestably evident, he demands, how men shall preach except they be sent? declares, that no man rightly taketh this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. I sent them not, therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord (Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:6; Jer. 33:21, 32). The characters divinely affixed to ministers, preachers, or heralds, ambassadors, stewards, watchmen, angels, messengers, brightly mark their call and commission to their work. The inspired rules for the qualifications, the election, the ordination, of ministers, are divinely charged to be kept till the day, the second coming of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:1-8 and 5:21, 22). For intermeddling with the sacred business, without a regular call, has the Almighty severely punished numbers of men. Witness the destruction of Korah and his company; the rejection of Saul; the death of Uzza; the leprosy of Uriah; the disaster of the sons of Scheva (Numb. 16; 1 Sam. 13; 1 Chron. 13; 2 Chron. 26), &c.

To rush into it, if gifted, or imagine we are so, at our own hand, introduces the wildest disorder; and the most shocking errors; it did so at Antioch, and the places adjacent; where some falsely pretended a mission from the apostles (Acts 15; Gal. 2:5). This too was its effect with the German Anabaptists; and with the sectaries of England. Aversion at manual work, pride of abilities, a disturbed imagination, a carnal project to promote, prompts the man to be preacher. Such ultroneous [spontaneous, or voluntary] rushing is inconsistent with the deep impression of the charge; and the care to manifest their mission, every where in scripture, obvious in the ministers of Christ (2 Cor. 3:5, 6; Jer. 1; Ezek. 3; Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:15, 16; John 3:27, 28). However sound his doctrine; great his abilities; warm his address; where is the divine promise of God’s especial presence, protection, or success, to the ultroneous preacher? Where is his conduct commanded, commended, or unmarked with wrath, exemplified, in the sacred word? How then can the preaching, or our hearing, of such, be in faith? How can it be acceptable to God, or profitable to ourselves? For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin (Rom. 14:23). Falsely this preacher pretends a mission from Christ; wickedly he usurps an authority over his church (1 Thes. 5:12; John 7:28); rebelliously he deserts his own calling, and attempts to void the office, his Saviour has appointed; to frustrate the dispensation of the gospel committed to his faithful ambassadors. For, how can they fulfil their ministry, if others take the work out of their hand? How can they commit it to faithful men, if, not waiting their commission, men rush into it at pleasure?

In vain, pleads the ultroneous preacher, that a particular mission to the office of preaching and dispensing the sacraments was only necessary, when the gospel was first published to the heathen. From age to age, it is as new to children, as new to such as never heard it. Nor, when hunting the necessity of a mission, does the inspiring Spirit make any distinction, whether the gospel be newly dispensed, or not: “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” In vain, he pleads an immediate commission from God: in his infallible statutes, having fixed standing rules of vocation to the ministry, by the mediation of men; God gives us no command, no encouragement, to hope for an immediate call, till the end of time. Absurdly then, we allow any to have such a call, till we see the signs of an apostle wrought in him. It is not sufficient he be sound in his doctrine; exemplary holy in his life; active in his labor; disinterested in his aims, seeking not his own, but the honor of Christ; not his own carnal profit, but the spiritual welfare of men: every ordinary preacher is, or ought to be so. But, to this claimant of a mission uncommon; working of miracles, or such extraordinary credentials, must demonstrate, he hath not run unsent.

In vain, the ultroneous preacher boasts of his feelings, his success; his moving his audience; his reforming their lives; as if these demonstrated his call from God. On earth, was ever delusion carried on without pretence to, or without appearances of these? Let those, who know the history of Popery, of Mahometanism, Quakerism, &c. say if they were. Who knows not, that Satan may, and has oft transformed himself into an angel of light; his ministers into the form of the inspired apostles; and his influences, almost indiscernably similar to these of the Spirit of Jesus Christ? Who knows not, how oft vain glory, proud and false extolling of himself and party, in their number, their spiritual experience, and high advances in holiness, mark the distinguished imposter? how oft his sermons are larded with these?

No more, Amelius, tell me, if the sermon be good, you do not regard who preach it. If God has prescribed a method of call; has stated the qualifications of the candidate; has warned against preachers unsent; has oft marked their guilt with visible strokes of his wrath; be ashamed to talk, at so arrogant, so careless a rate. Lay it not in the power of the Mesopotamian wizard? Lies it not in the power of Romish Jesuit; nay, if permitted of Beelzebub; for a time to preach you many truths of the gospel, in the warmest strains, the loftiest language? Would you, my friend, acknowledge the THREE, for honored ambassadors of Jesus Christ? Tell me not, your preacher is wonderfully pious and good; perhaps you have only his own attestation; where better known, he may be a drunkard, a swearer, a villain, for you. Suppose he were pious: so was Uzziah; yet it pertained not to him to execute the priests office. Say not, he is wonderfully gifted; speaks like never man: perhaps, so was Korah, a man famous, and of renown: such, perhaps, were the vagabond sons of Scheva. Say not, his earnestness in his work marks his heavenly call: no, such were the Satanic exorcists just mentioned; such was Mahomet, the vilest imposter. To abolish the idolatry, and various other abominations of his country, he exposed himself to cruel reproach, to manifold hardship, and hazard of life: about fourteen years almost, unsuccessful, he persevered in this difficult, but delusive attempt. What hunger! what cold! what torment and death! have some Jesuitic, and other antichristian missionaries undergone, to propagate the most ruining delusions of hell! all under pretence of earnestness to gain sinners to Christ and his church! In the view of eternity, ponder, my friend, the scripture nowhere saith, How shall they preach except they be gracious? except they be gifted? except they be earnest? but, How shall they preach except they be sent?