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LETTER XI.-Of the Ordination and Duty of Ministers.


LETTER XI.-Of the Ordination and Duty of Ministers.

James Dodson

SUPPOSE a Christian shipwrecked upon a remote island, by private instruction, to convert sundry of the native Heathens to his Lord; perhaps, their election or consent might warrant him to preach, and dispense to them the sacraments. But in ordinary cases, no choice of the people, attended with as much prayer as you please, can supply the want of ordination. There is no instance of any such thing in the sacred record. Should the election of candidate comprehend the substance of conferring the office, he could only be a minister to his own congregation, who choose him; but merely a private person to such as did not. Should his people desert him; or by withdrawment of his subsistence, force him to leave them; his office should be nullified; their choice being recalled, and made void. But what more absurd, than for other men’s sins to strip the most faithful minister of his spiritual function! Election marks out the person; confers not the office; it consigns a candidate’s exercise of it, to a particular part of the Christian flock. Ordination confers the office; constitutes the candidate a minister, not merely of the congregation he is principally appointed to, but of the whole catholic church. Hence, by baptism, he solemnly admits persons members, not by baptism, not merely from his own congregation, but from the catholic church. In consequence of his ministerial relation to the whole church, he exercises his office, or any part of it, anywhere, on a proper call. Nor is he re-ordained, when he removes from one place to another. He hath not, however, an apostolic relations to the church; is not a catholic minister thereof. An apostle had an actual charge of the whole Christian church; had full power to exercise his ministry, wherever he came, without regard to any human call. The relation of an ordinary pastor, to the catholic church, merely warrants him, to exercise his office anywhere in it, providing he receive a regular call.

That ordination of pastors is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, the sacred volumes abundantly mark. Through election by suffrages, Paul and Barnabas ordained ELDERS, PRESBYTERS, in EVERY CHURCH (Acts 14:23). By Paul’s inspired orders, Titus was left at Crete, to ordain elders, presbyters, in EVERY CITY (Tit. 1:5). By the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, was Timothy himself ordained; he was apostolically authorized and directed to ordain others; and informed, that these directions are to be observed, till the day of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 4:14, 15, 22 and 6:14; 2 Tim. 2:2).

That not election, but ordination, confers the sacred office, is no less evident. It made men, DEACONS and PRESBYTERS, which were not so before (Acts 6:3; Tit. 1:5). Eleven of the apostles received their office without any choice of the people. The gift of the sacred function was given to Timothy, not by the choice of the people, but by the laying on of the hands, of the presbytery. Such as, in ordination, lay hands suddenly upon a candidate, are marked partakers with him, in his sin, if he run unsent (1 Tim. 4:14 and 5:22). The solemn nature of ordination infers the same truth. To prevent laying hands upon him suddenly, there is imported in it, a solemn, an accurate trial, of the candidate’s qualification for his work; if ought appears dubious, the ordination must be delayed till providence clear the affair. Till there be sufficient satisfaction, the presbytery cannot account to their Master, for laying hands on him; for conferring the office (1 Tim. 5:21, 22). If he is destitute of the distinguishing ministerial gift, or any other essential qualification, ten thousand elections, ten thousand ordinations, can no more render him a minister of Christ, than as many baptisms can render the Romish bells, living members of the Christian church. If Jesus withhold gifts, essentially necessary for the edifying of his body; it is plain he sends him not; how then can mortals give him a real ministerial commission? For he shutteth up a man, and there is no opening. At your and his eternal hazard, do you people choose; or you pastors ordain, such a candidate; you can do nothing against, but for the truth. Your power is given you, for edification; not for destruction (2 Cor. 13:8, 10). Solemnly tried and found qualified, he is to be set apart to the ministry, by prayer, fasting, and laying on of the hands of the presbytery (Acts 13:3 and 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14 and 5:22).

Nowhere, in the heavenly volume, do we find either precept or example, that Christian people have a whit more right to ordain their pastor, than midwives to baptize the children, they assist to bring forth. Ordination appears performed by apostles; by evangelists; and by a presbytery (Acts 6:6 and 14:23; Tit. 1:5; 1 Tim. 5:22 and 4:14); but never by private Christians. Could these ordain their pastors, or other ecclesiastic officers; to what purpose did Paul leave Titus at Crete, to ordain elders in every city? To what purpose did himself and Barnabas travel about, ordaining elders in every church (Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:21-23)? Or with what sense did he write all the rules about ordination to the evangelists, Timothy and Titus; and never a word of them to the people, in any of his epistles?

Thus regularly ordained, the Christian pastor must enter on his important work. Endowed with spiritual wisdom and understanding; possessed of inward experience of the power of divine truth; inflamed with zeal for the glory of God, love to his work, and compassion to the perishing souls of men; he is to endeavour acquainting himself with the spiritual state of his flock; feed them with, not Heathenish and Arminian harangues; but the gospel of Christ, the sincere milk of the word; diligently preaching and rightly dividing it, according to their diversified state and condition (1 Pet. 5:3; 2 Cor. 5:11; 1 Cor. 9:16; Phil. 1:24, 25). Assiduously growing in the knowledge and love of divine things, he is to instruct and confirm his hearers therein. Every divine truth, he is to publish and apply, as opportunity calls for; chiefly such as are most important, or, though once openly confessed, are in his time attacked and denied (1 Tim. 6:20 and 3:15; Phil. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:8). Painfully is he to catechise his people; and in Jesus’ name, visit and teach them, from house to house (Gal. 6:6; Heb. 5:11-13; 1 Cor. 3:1; Acts 20:20). To awaken their conscience; promote the conversion of sinners; to direct and comfort the cast down, perplexed, tempted, deserted; to ponder the scripture, his own and others experience to qualify him for this work; must be his earnest care (Acts 26:18, 19; Isa. 11:11 and 60:4; Ezek. 34:4; 2 Cor. 2:4-7). Faithfully is he to administer the sacraments, to such only, as are duly qualified; and in the simple manner prescribed by Christ (Mat. 28:19, 20 and 7:6; 1 Cor. 11:23-29). Tenderly is he to care for the poor; sympathize with afflicted; impartially visit the sick; deal plainly with their conscience; exhort and pray over them, in the name of the Lord (Gal. 2:9, 10; 1 Tim. 6:17, 18; 2 Cor. 11:29; Jam. 5:17). With impartiality, zeal, meekness, and prudence, he is to rule and govern the church; admonish the unruly; rebuke the offenders; excommunicate the incorrigible; and absolve the penitent (Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 5:20, 21; Tit. 3:10; 2 Cor. 2:6, 7). Habitually is he to give himself, to effectual fervent prayer, for his flock, and for the church of God; travailing as in birth, till Jesus be formed in the souls of men (Acts 6:2, 4; Eph. 3:14-19; Gal. 4:19). Be a man’s parts, diligence, and apparent piety, as they will; negligence in this will blast his ministrations; and too clearly mark, he is therein chiefly influenced by some carnal motive, of honor or gain. Finally, he is constantly to walk before his flock, a distinguished pattern of sobriety, righteousness, holiness, humility, heavenliness, temperance, charity, brotherly kindness, and every good word and work. Without this his ministrations appear but a solemn farce of deceit (1 Thes. 2:10).

Can the ministers accepting of a civil office, consist with their faithfulness to Christ, or the souls of men? No: it is the reverse of his blessed example, who refused to judge in a civil cause. It is contrary to his divine prohibition, to exercise any lordly dominion. It flies in the face of his twelve apostles, who averred, it was not fit, ministers of Christ should leave the word of God, and serve tables. It contradicts the famed apostles of the Gentiles, who avers, the most eminent men was insufficient for the ministry alone (Luke 12:14; Mat. 20:25; Acts 6:2; 2 Cor. 2:16). It rebels against the inspired charge to ministers, to beware of entangling themselves with the affairs of this life; and to give themselves wholly to reading, meditation, exhortation, and doctrine; to preach the word; instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 2:4; 1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:2).

Can ministers reading of sermons consist with the dignity of their office? Did Jesus, or his apostles, ever shew them an example? No. At Nazareth, when he read his text in the book of Esaias, he closed his book, and discoursed to the people. On the mount, he opened his mouth, and taught: I hear not that he took out his papers and read. In his pentecostal sermon, Peter lift up his voice, and said:—his papers and reading I hear nothing of. After reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue, of Antioch in Pisidia, desired Paul and Barnabas, not to READ; but to SAY on. Our adored Saviour knew well enough how to direct his ambassadors: yet he ordered them, Go PREACH, not read, the gospel to every creature (Luke 4:20, 21; Mat. 5:2; Acts 2:14 and 13:15). How hard to believe, he who gives gifts to men, for the edifying of his body, would send the sermonist, whose memory and judgment are so insufficient, that, from neither, he can produce an half-hour’s discourse, without reading it! How dull and insipid the manner! How absurdly it hinders the Spirit’s assistance, as to matter, during the discourse! How shameful! Shall the bookless lawyer warmly and sensibly plead almost insignificant trifles? and shall the ambassador of Christ, deprived of his papers, be incapable to plead so short a space, in favor of his Master, and the souls of men?