Charles Bridges

The Divine original of the Christian Ministry has already opened a view of its dignity far above any earthly honour or elevation, and such as the infidel scoff can never degrade. An institution—introduced into the world, and confirmed to the Church, with such solemn preparation—conversant with the interests, and entrusted with the charge, of immortal souls—ordained as the main instrument for the renovation of the world, and the building up of the Church—cannot be of inferior eminence. The office of “fellow-worker with God” 4 would have been no mean honour to have conferred upon the archangel nearest the everlasting throne. It formed the calling, the work, and the delight of the Lord of glory during his last years’ of abode upon earth; and was established by himself as the standing ordinance in his Church, and the medium of the revelation of his will to the end of time. He has not indeed (as the judicious Calvin observed)—‘called his ministers into the function of teaching, that, after they have brought the Church under, they may usurp to themselves the government; but that he may use their faithful diligence to associate the same to himself. This is a great and excellent thing, for men to be set over the Church, that they may represent the person of the Son of God.’ 5 The dignity, however, of the sacred office belongs to a kingdom “not of this world.”6 It is distinguished therefore, not by the passing glitter of this world’s vanity, but by eternal results, productive, even in their present influence, of the most solid and enduring happiness.

1 For surely it is ‘the highest dignity, if not the greatest happiness, that human nature is capable of here in this vale below, to have the soul so far enlightened as to become the mirror, or conduit or conveyor of God’s truth to others.’2 The chastised apprehension of this high calling, so far from fostering a vain-glorious spirit, has a direct tendency to deepen self-abasement and reverence. For can we help recoiling from so exalted an office—from handling such high and holy things? What! We to convey life, who ourselves are dead! We, so defiled, to administer a service so pure, so purifying! “Woe is me”—said one of old, when contrasting this honour with his personal meanness—“for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips.” 3 How can we think of this vast commission—this momentous trust, except as an act of most undeserved favour?4

But let the remembrance of this sacred dignity give a deeper tone of decision to our ministrations. ‘A Pastor’—remarks Bishop Wilson—‘should act with the dignity of a man, who acts by the authority of God’5 —remembering, that while we speak to men, we speak in God’s stead.’ And this is the true Scriptural standard of our work—“As we were allowed of God”—said the great Apostle—“to be put in trust with the Gospel,” (the highest trust that ever could be reposed in man) “even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which tries our hearts.”6 Let it also connect itself with its most responsible obligations—that we do not disgrace the dignity—that we live under the constraint—of our high calling—“You are the salt of the earth. Let not the salt lose its savour. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men”—are the impressive exhortations of the Great Master.’7 “Do not neglect”—said the great Apostle—“the gift of God that is in you: stir it up”8 by the daily exercises of faith, self-denial, and prayer. Quesnel9 observes—‘What courage, what boldness, what freedom the dignity of the Ministry ought to give a bishop or priest; not for his own interests, but for those of the Church; not through pride, but fidelity; not while he employs carnal means, but while he makes use of the armour of God.”

1 ‘The moment we permit ourselves to think lightly of the Christian Ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility and relaxation remains.’2 But let the weight of this dignity be relieved by Evangelical encouragement—The ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness constitutes the chief glory of the evangelical economy. “Therefore,” says the Apostle, after an exhibition of its pre-eminent excellence—“seeing we have this Ministry”—so richly endowed, so freely granted—“as we have received mercy, we do not faint.”3

A sense of the dignity of our office—accurately formed, carefully maintained, and habitually exercised—is therefore of the highest importance. It elevates the standard of Christian consistency even in the prospective consideration and choice of the work. For what is unsuitable to the Ministerial character is obviously unsuitable to the probationer4 for the Ministry. In the actual discharge also of duty, the mind will thus be excited to a more solid and devoted consecration; and the whole man will be gradually formed in this heavenly mould—exalted, not elated. Dignity of character will thus correspond with dignity of station. The “office” will be “magnified”5 in perfect harmony with the lowliest personal humility— indeed, never more eminently displayed than in the exercises of genuine humility: the man invested with these high responsibilities sinks in the dust as an “unprofitable servant.”6

4 1Cor. 3.9. 2Cor. 6.1. This association is evidently that of a Minister with God—and not, we think (as Doddridge and Macknight have supposed)—of one Minister with another. Comp. Rom. 16.3, 9, 21. Phil. 2.25, 4.3. Philemon 1, 24. “Yet all is of God.” For this co-operation is “God working in us to will and to do.” The strength for the work is imparted—not natural; nor was there any “fellow-worker” in the first principles of strength, or in its subsequent increase. ‘Eximium elogium Ministerii, quod, cum per se agere possit Deus, nos homunciones tanquam adjuteres adsciscat, et tanquam organis utatur.’ Calvin in 1Cor, 3.9. – “Instantly, with a service clause, man thinks that since he can act by himself, God takes us dwarfs as His helpers, as it were, and makes use of us as organs.”
5 Calvin on John 3.29.
6 John 18.36

1 Burnet beautifully illustrates the honourable designations of the holy office. Pastoral Care, ch. 1. Compare also, Chrysostom De Sacerdotio, book iii. Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration, appended usually to Chrysostom, and Bowles’ Pastor Evangelicus—1665. 12mo. Pref. An old writer expatiates upon no less than forty-three Scriptural appellations of its dignity and usefulness. Sal Terras, cap. ii. by T. Hall. 12mo. Francof. 1658. Another writer counts sixty names, more or less applying to “the diversities of operations,” in the Ministry. Hottingeri Typus Pastoris Evangelici. l2mo. Basil. 1741. The remark of one of the Reformers carries with it a valuable lesson,—‘De nomine observandum—vocari Ministerium non Magisterium.’ Buceri De Vi et Usu S. Min. ‘The charge is named a Ministry, not a Magisterium.’
2 Mather’s Student and Pastor, p. 161.
3 Isa. 6.5.
4 See Eph. 3.8. 1Tim. 2.12.
5 Sacra Privata. Comp. 2Cor. 5.20.
6 1Thess. 2.4.
7 Matt. 5.13-16. See an awakening appeal in the conclusion of Bishop Taylor’s first sermon on the Minister’s duty in life and doctrine. Works, Vol. vi.
8 1Tim. 4.14. 2Tim. 1.6.
9 Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719). French Jansenist theologian (salvation is limited to those who are subject to supernatural determinism, and the rest are assigned to perdition). In 1672 he wrote Réflexions morales, which was attacked by the Jesuits. He moved to Brussels to escape harassment. Louis XIV engineered Quesnel’s arrest by Philip V of Spain, but Quesnal escaped to Protestant Holland where he lived out his life.

1 On 2Cor. 3.8. Comp. Daven. in Col. 1.1.
2 Hall on the Discouragements and Supports of the Ministry, p. 51.
3 2Cor. 4.1. – or “do not lose heart.”
4 A minister-in-training who is undergoing a trial or probationary period.
5 See Rom. 11.13.
6 The views of Philip Henry were truly worthy of his high office. Thus he wrote on the day of his ordination—‘I did this day receive as much honour and work as ever I shall be able to know what to do with. Lord Jesus! proportion supplies accordingly.’ Two scriptures he desired might be written in his heart. 2Cor. 6.4, 5. and 2Chron. 29.11. And so influential were these views in maintaining a course of deep-toned humility, ‘that he laid himself out with as much diligence and vigour,’ in a very contracted sphere, ‘as if he had the oversight of the greatest and most considerable parish in the country.’ P. Henry’s Life (Williams’s Edition) p. 38; which Dr. Chalmers has justly characterized, as ‘one of the most precious religious biographies in our language.’ Oh! for a large supply of such Ministers in every department of the Church of God!