This sermon was published under the title of The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry, included in a larger publication, The Sermon, Delivered at the Inauguration of the Rev. Archibald Alexander, D.D. Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology, in the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, in the United States of America: to Which are Added, the Professor's Inauguration Address, and the Charge to the Professor and Students (New York: Whiting and Watson, 1812).
Copyright © 1987 by
Presbyterian Heritage Publications
Second Edition, 1994
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"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
2 Timothy 2:2
The apostle Paul received both his knowledge of the gospel, and his commission to preach it, immediately from the great Head of the church. Yet, notwithstanding the extraordinary circumstances which attended his theological instruction, and his official investiture, that "all things might be done decently and in order" (cf. 1 Cor. 14:40), he submitted to "the laying on of the hands of the presbytery" (1 Tim. 4:14; cf. Acts 13:3), before he went forth on his great mission to the Gentiles. In like manner, Timothy, his "own son in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2), to whom the exhortation before us is addressed, was set apart to the work of the holy ministry, by the presbytery in which body, on that occasion, the apostle himself seems to have presided (cf. 2 Tim. 1:6).
Timothy was now at Ephesus; and being the most active and influential member of the presbytery which was constituted in that part of the church, his spiritual father directed to him, as such (and in him to the church in all succeeding times), the rules and instructions contained in the epistles which bear his name. Among these we find the passage which has just been read: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (cf. 2 Tim. 1:6)
It is impossible, within the limits of a single discourse, to do justice to a portion of scripture replete with such various and important matters, as the slightest attention will discover in this text. Of course, much of what properly belongs to its illustration must be either wholly omitted, or very briefly noticed, on the present occasion. That the Christian ministry is an institution of Jesus Christ; that this institution is essential, not only to the well-being, but also to the very existence of the church, as an organized body; that Christ has promised that there shall always be a succession of ministers in his church, to the end of the world; and that none have a right to enter on the appropriate functions of this sacred office, without having that right formally and officially "committed" to them, by men who are themselves already in the same office; [these] are great, elementary principles of ecclesiastical order, which are all fairly implied in the passage before us; but which, I trust, it is not necessary for me to attempt either to establish or to illustrate before this audience. They are so plainly laid down in scripture, and so evidently reasonable in themselves, that I shall, at present, take them for granted.
Neither will it be deemed necessary, at present, to dwell on the numerous and important benefits of an able and faithful ministry. It may be said, without exaggeration, that every interest of man is involved in this blessing. The order, comfort, and edification of the church; the progress in knowledge, the growth in grace, and the consolation of individual believers; the regularity, peace, polish, and strength of civil society; the extension of intellectual and moral cultivation; the glory of God; and the eternal welfare of men [all] are among the great benefits which an able and faithful ministry is, ordinarily, the means of promoting; and which, without such a ministry, we cannot hope to attain, at least in any considerable degree.
If it is acknowledged that the sanctions of religion exert a mighty and most benign influence on the order and happiness of society; if the observance of the Christian sabbath is really a blessing to the world as it is to the church; if the solemnities of public worship are a source of moral and temporal benefit to millions, who give no evidence of a saving acquaintance with the power of the gospel; if the weekly instructions of the sanctuary have a native tendency to enlighten, refine, and restrain, those whom they are not the means of converting; and if it pleases God "by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21); then, it is evident, that an able and faithful ministry, next to the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit, is the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon a people. And if these great institutions of heaven are likely, other things being equal, to be beneficial, in proportion to the clearness, the force, the wisdom, and the fidelity with which they are exhibited as both common sense and the word of God evidently dictate then it is plain, that the more able and the more faithful that ministry with which any people is blessed, the more extensive and important are likely to be the benefits resulting from it, both to the church and the world. The father of a family, as well as the professor of religion, has reason to desire the attainment of such a ministry. The patriot, as well as the Christian, ought earnestly to wish, and be ready to contribute his aid, that the church may obey the precept of her Head and Lord: "the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).
I say that the church may obey this divine precept; for it is, undoubtedly, a mistake (and a very grievous mistake) to imagine, as many seem to imagine, that precepts of the kind before us are addressed to ministers alone. It is freely granted that ministers are the appointed agents for training up those who are to succeed them in this holy vocation, and for imparting to them the official powers which they have themselves received. Yet it is, unquestionably, in the name, and as the constituted executive and organ of that part of the church which they represent, that they perform this service. If, therefore, as I take for granted all will allow, the design of the precept before us did not cease with Timothy; if both its reason and its obligation are permanent, then the church of Christ, at this hour, is to consider it as directed to her. It is the church that is bound to take order that "what she has received be committed to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2).
The doctrine of our text, then, is THAT IT IS THE INDISPENSABLE DUTY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, IN ALL AGES, TO TAKE MEASURES, FOR PROVIDING AN ABLE AND FAITHFUL MINISTRY.
The great fact, that this is the duty of the church, I shall consider as sufficiently established by the plain and unequivocal precept before us; and shall employ the time that remains for the present discourse in inquiring,
What we are to understand by an able and faithful ministry? And, What are the means which the church is bound to employ for providing such a ministry?
I. WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY AN ABLE AND FAITHFUL MINISTRY?
It is at once qualified and disposed to perform, with enlightened and unwearied assiduity, all the duties whether of instruction, of defense, or of discipline which belong to ambassadors of Christ, to pastors and rulers in his church.
The general character implies PIETY, TALENTS, LEARNING, and DILIGENCE.
1. The first requisite to form a faithful and able minister is PIETY. By this I mean, that he is a regenerated man; that he has a living faith in that Saviour whom he preaches to others; that the love of Christ habitually constrains him; that he has himself walked in those paths of humility, self-denial, and holy communion with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, in which it is the business of his life to endeavor to lead his fellow men.
I shall not now speak of the necessity of piety to a minister's personal salvation, nor of its inestimable importance to his personal comfort. I shall not dwell on the irksomeness (nay, the intolerable drudgery) of laboring in a vocation in which the heart does not go along, nor on the painful misgivings which must ever attend preaching an unknown Saviour, and recommending untasted hopes and joys. Neither shall I attempt to describe, tremendous and overwhelming as it is, the aggravated doom of that man, who, from the heights of this sacred office, shall sink into the abyss of the damned: who, "after having preached to others, shall himself become a castaway" (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27). But my object is to show the importance, and the necessity, of this best of all attainments, in order to qualify any man for discharging the duties of the ministerial office. It is to show that, without piety, he cannot be an able minister. He cannot be "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, giving to each his portion in due season" (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15; Luke 12:42).
How can a man who knows only the theory of religion undertake to be a practical guide in spiritual things? How can he adapt his instructions to all the varieties of Christian experience? How can he direct the awakened, the inquiring, the tempted, and the doubting? How can he feed the sheep and the lambs of Christ? How can he sympathize with mourners in Zion? How can he comfort others with those consolations wherewith he himself has never been comforted of God? He cannot possibly perform, as he ought, any of these duties, and yet they are the most precious and interesting parts of the ministerial work. However gigantic his intellectual powers, however deep and various and accurate his learning, he is not able, in relation to any of these points, to teach others, seeing he is not taught himself. If he makes the attempt, it will be "the blind leading the blind;" and of this, unerring wisdom has told us the consequence (cf. Matt. 15:14; Luke 6:39).
It is rash, indeed, and unwarranted, to say that a man who knows nothing of the power of godliness may not be employed, by a sovereign God, as the means of saving benefit to others. God undoubtedly may, and probably sometimes does, "by way of miracle, raise a man to life by the bones of a dead prophet" (cf. 2 Kings 13:21). He may, and there is reason to believe he sometimes does, "honor his own word so far as to make it effectual to salvation, even when it falls from unhallowed lips." The ministry even of Judas Iscariot was, probably, not without its benefit to the church of Christ. But such a result is not, in ordinary cases, and certainly not in any considerable degree, to be expected. When unsanctified ministers are introduced into the church, we may generally expect them to prove not only an offense to God, but also a curse to his people. Piety, orthodoxy, practical holiness, and all the spiritual glories of the household of faith, will commonly be found to decline in proportion to the number and influence of these enemies in disguise.
And here I cannot help bearing testimony against what appears to me a dangerous mistake which, though it may not be common, yet sometimes occurs among parents and guardians of the more serious class. I mean the mistake of destining young persons to the gospel ministry from a very early period of life, before they can be supposed, from any enlightened view of the subject, to concur in the choice themselves; and before they give any satisfactory evidence of vital piety. Brethren, I venerate the parent who desires, and daily prays, that it may please God to prepare and dispose his child to serve him in "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Nay, I think that parent worthy of the thanks of every friend to religion, who solemnly devotes his child, even from the earliest period of his life, to the service of the church, and avowedly conducts every part of his education with a view to this great object; provided the original consecration, and every subsequent arrangement, is made on the condition, carefully and frequently expressed, as well as implied, that God shall be pleased to sanction and accept the offering, by imparting his grace, and giving a heart to love and desire the sacred work. But there is a wide difference between this, and resolving that a particular son shall be a minister in the same manner, and on the same principles, as another is devoted to the medical profession, or to the bar, as a respectable employment in life without recognizing vital piety, and the deliberate choice of the ministry, from religious motives, as indispensable qualifications. This kind of destination to the sacred office is as dangerous as it is unwarranted.
Let the Christian parent, however solemnly he may have devoted his child to the work of the ministry, and however fondly he may have anticipated his entrance on that blessed work; if he finds, at the proper age for deciding the question, no comfortable evidence of a heart regenerated, and governed by the Spirit of grace; let him deliberately advise though his heart is wrung with anguish by the sacrifice let him deliberately advise the choice of another profession. When young men begin to enter the gospel ministry because they were early destined to the office, because it is a respectable profession, or because they wish to gratify parents and friends rather than because they love the office and its work, and have reason to hope that God has been pleased to "call them by his grace, and reveal his Son in them" (cf. Gal. 1:15-16) we may consider the ministry as in a fair way to be made, in fact, a secular employment, and the church a prostituted theater for the schemes and ambition of worldly men.
So deeply and vitally important is piety in forming a faithful and able ministry; and so often has it appeared to be forgotten, or, at least, undervalued amidst the brilliancy of more splendid accomplishments; that there cannot be too strict a guard placed on this point, both by public sentiment, and by ministerial fidelity. Many very excellent men, indeed, have felt a jealousy of theological seminaries, as such, as if they were calculated for training up learned and eloquent, rather than pious ministers. Though I believe that this jealousy has been sometimes indulged unjustly, and often carried to an unwise and mischievous extreme; and though there appears to me no other ground for it; yet I cannot find in my heart to condemn it altogether. Nay, I trust that a portion of it will always be kept alive, as a guard, under God, against the evil which it deprecates. For I persuade myself that every minister of the Presbyterian church, in the United States, is ready to adopt the language, with a little variation, of that great and excellent man who, for nearly thirty years, adorned the American church, and the presidential chair of this college.
Accursed be all that learning which sets itself in opposition to vital piety! Accursed be all that learning which disguises, or is ashamed of, vital piety! Accursed be all that learning,which attempts to fill the place, or to supersede the honors, of vital piety! Nay, accursed be all that learning which is not made subservient to the promotion and the glory of vital piety! 
But piety, though it holds the first place among essential qualifications here, is not all that is necessary. It is not every pious man, nay, not every fervently pious man, that is qualified to be a minister, and far less an able minister. Another essential requisite to form the character of such a minister is,
2. TALENTS. By which I mean, not that every minister must, of necessity, be a man of genius; but that he must be a man of good sense, of native discernment and discretion in other words, of a sound respectable natural understanding.
When our blessed Lord was about to send forth his first ministers, he said unto them, "Be ye wise as serpents," as well as "harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). And truly, there is no employment under heaven in which wisdom, practical wisdom, is so important, or rather, so imperiously and indispensably demanded, as in the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). A man of a weak and childish mind, though he were as pious as Gabriel, can never make an able minister; and he ought never to be invested with the office at all. For with respect to a large portion of its duties, he is utterly unqualified to perform them; and he is in constant danger of rendering both himself and his office contemptible.
No reasonable man would require proof to convince him that good sense is essential to form an able physician, an able advocate at the bar, or an able ambassador at a foreign court. Nor would any prudent man entrust his property, his life, or the interests of his country, to one who did not bear this character. And can it be necessary to employ arguments to show that interests, in comparison with which, worldly property, the health of the body, and even the temporal prosperity of nations, are all little things, ought not to be committed to any other than a man of sound and respectable understanding? Alas, if ecclesiastical judicatories had not frequently acted as if this were far from being a settled point, it is almost an insult to my audience to speak of it as a subject admitting of a question.
Though a minister concentrated in himself all the piety and all the learning of the Christian church, yet if he had not at least a decent stock of good sense, for directing and applying his other qualifications, he would be worse than useless. Upon good sense depends all that is dignified, prudent, conciliatory, and respectable in private deportment; and all that is judicious, seasonable, and calculated to edify, in public ministration. The methods to be employed for winning souls are so many and various, according to the taste, prejudices, habits, and stations of men: a constant regard to time, place, circumstances, and character, is so essential, if we desire to profit those whom we address. And some tolerable medium of deportment between moroseness and levity, reserve and tattling, bigotry and latitudinarianism, lukewarmness and enthusiasm is so indispensable to public usefulness, that the man who lacks a respectable share of discernment and prudence had better, far better, be in any other profession than that of a minister. An able minister he cannot possibly be. Neither will anything short of sound judgment, a native perception of what is fit and proper (or otherwise), preserve any man who is set to teach and rule in the church (without a miracle) from those perversions of scripture, those ludicrous absurdities, and those effusions of drivelling childishness, which are calculated to bring the ministry and the Bible into contempt.
3. A third requisite to an able and faithful ministry is COMPETENT KNOWLEDGE. Without this, both piety and talents united are inadequate to the official work. Nay, without cultivation and discipline, without a competent store of facts and principles to regulate the mind, the stronger the talents, the more likely are they to lead their possessor astray, and to become the instruments of mischief, both to himself and the church.
The first ministers of the gospel were divinely inspired; and, of course, [they] had no need of acquiring knowledge by the ordinary methods. They were put in possession by miracle, and perhaps in a single hour, of that information which now can only be gained by years of laborious study. It is well if this fact is remembered and weighed by those who plead that, as the gospel was first preached by fishermen and tax-gatherers, so it may be as well preached, at the present day, by persons of fervent piety and plain sense, who have never enjoyed any greater advantages of scholastic learning than the apostles did.
The supposed fact which these vain and ignorant pleaders assume is utterly unfounded. The apostles were not an illiterate ministry. They were the soundest, and best informed divines that ever adorned the Christian church. So indispensable did it appear to infinite wisdom that they should be such, that they were thus accomplished by the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost. And we have reason to believe that men, before unlearned, were chosen to be the subjects of this inspiration, in preference to others, that the miracle might be the more apparent; that it might be the more clearly seen that "the excellency of the power was of God, and not of man" (2 Cor. 4:7). Let this inspiration, confirmed as it then was by miracle, be now produced, and we will acknowledge it as more than an adequate substitute for the ordinary method of acquiring knowledge by books and study.
But if, as we all allow, the age of inspiration and of miracle is long since past; and if it is still necessary, notwithstanding, that the preachers of the gospel possess, substantially, the same knowledge that the apostles had; then, undoubtedly, it is to be acquired in a different way from theirs that is, by the diligent use of ordinary means. If ministers must be "apt to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24), as the Spirit of God has declared, they ought to be capable of teaching. If the "priest's lips" ought to "keep knowledge" (Mal. 2:7), he certainly ought to possess knowledge. And if Timothy, though he lived in the days of inspiration and was the immediate and favorite disciple of an inspired man, was yet enjoined by that very inspired man to "give himself to reading," as well as to "exhortation;" to "meditate upon these things, and to give himself wholly to them, that his profiting might appear to all" (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13-15). how much more necessary are similar means of acquiring knowledge to those who are called to labors of the same nature, and quite as arduous, without possessing the same advantages?
But what kind, and what degree of intellectual cultivation, and of acquired knowledge, may be considered as necessary to form an able minister of Jesus Christ? That we may give a more enlightened answer to this question, let us inquire, what such a minister is called (and must be qualified) to perform. He is, then, to be ready, on all occasions, to explain the scriptures. This is his first and chief work. That is, not merely to state and support the more simple and elementary doctrines of the gospel; but also to elucidate with clearness the various parts of the sacred volume, whether doctrinal, historical, typical, prophetic, or practical. He is to be ready to rectify erroneous translations of sacred scripture; to reconcile seeming contradictions; to clear up real obscurities; to illustrate the force and beauty of allusions to ancient customs and manners; and, in general, to explain the word of God, as one who has made it the object of his deep and successful study. He is "set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil1:17); and, therefore, must be qualified to answer the objections of infidels; to repel the insinuations and cavils of skeptics; to detect, expose, and refute the ever varying forms of heresy; and to give notice, and "stand in the breach" (cf. Ps. 106:23), when men, ever so covertly or artfully, depart from "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jcf. ude 3). He is to be ready to solve the doubts, and satisfy the scruples of conscientious believers; to give instruction to the numerous classes of respectful and serious inquirers; to "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). He is to preach the gospel with plainness, dignity, clearness, force, and solemnity. And finally, he is to perform his part in the judicatories of the church, where candidates for the holy ministry are examined and their qualifications ascertained; where a constant inspection is maintained over the faith and order of the church; where the general interests of Zion are discussed and decided; and in conducting the affairs of which, legislative, judicial, and executive proceedings are all combined.
This is but a very brief and imperfect sketch of what a minister is called to perform. Now, it is evident that, in order to accomplish all this, with even tolerable ability, a man must be furnished with a large amount of knowledge. 'He must" (and on this subject I am happy in being able to fortify myself with the judgment, and to employ, for the most part, the language of the general assembly of our church),
He must be well skilled in the original languages of the holy scriptures. He must be versed in Jewish and Christian antiquities. He must have a competent acquaintance with ancient geography, and Oriental customs. He must have read and digested the principal arguments and writings, relative to what has been called the Deistical controversy. He must have studied, carefully and correctly, natural theology, together with didactic, polemic, and casuistic divinity; and be able to support the doctrines of the gospel, by a ready, pertinent, and abundant quotation of scripture texts for that purpose. He must have a considerable acquaintance with general history and chronology; and a particular acquaintance with the history of the Christian church. He must have studied attentively the duties of the pastoral office; the form of church government authorized by the scriptures; and the administration of it as practiced in the Protestant churches.
He must have become well versed in moral philosophy, as an important auxiliary in studying man, his constitution, the powers and exercises of his depraved and sanctified nature, and his duties thence arising. To all these, he must add a respectable share of knowledge in general grammar, in logic, metaphysics, natural philosophy, mathematical science, geography, natural history, and polite literature.
Several of these branches of learning are, indeed, only auxiliary to the main body, if I may so express it, of ministerial erudition. But they are important auxiliaries. No man, it is true, can be a complete master of them all; and it is criminal in a minister to attempt so much. The time requisite for this must be taken from more important employments. Of some of these departments of knowledge, general views are sufficient; and of others, perhaps, an acquaintance with nomenclature and first principles ought to satisfy the theological pupil. But so much of them ought to be acquired, as may enable their possessor the better to understand the scriptures, and the better to defend the gospel. I repeat it, every branch of knowledge is helpful and desirable to the Christian minister: not to enable him to shine, as a man of learning this is definitely beneath the aim of an ambassador of Christ but to make him a more accomplished and useful teacher of others. For it is certain that the more he attains of real, solid science, provided it is sanctified science, the more clearly will he be able to explain the sacred volume, and the more wisely and forcibly to preach that gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).
4. Once more, it enters into the character of a faithful minister that he is ACTIVE, DILIGENT, and PERSEVERING in the discharge of his multiplied and arduous duties. However fervent his piety; however vigorous his native talents; and however ample his acquired knowledge; yet, if he is timid, indolent, wavering, easily driven from the path of duty, or speedily discouraged in his evangelical labors, he does not answer the apostle's description of "a faithful man" (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2). The minister who is, in any good measure, entitled to this character, is one who carefully studies to know, and to the best of his knowledge, "declares the whole counsel of God" (cf. Acts 20:27), without fearing the frowns, or courting the smiles, of men; who shrinks not from any self-denial, labor, or danger to which the will of his Master, and the interests of religion, evidently call him; who abhors the thought of sitting down in inglorious ease, while thousands are perishing around him; who does not allow himself to be diverted by secular or minor objects from his grand work; who is "instant in season, and out of season" (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2), in all the diversified and momentous labors of his holy vocation; and the object of whose steady exertion, as well as supreme desire, it is that the church may be built up, that souls may be saved, and that "Christ in all things may be glorified" (cf. 1 Pet. 4:11).
Such is a faithful and able minister: a minister fervently pious; eminently wise, discerning, and prudent; extensively learned, especially mighty in the scriptures; abounding and prevalent in prayer; a bold, energetic, instructive, experimental preacher; a zealous, affectionate, condescending, laborious pastor; a friend to revivals of religion; a firm and persevering contender for the truth; one, in short, who devotes all his talents, all his learning, all his influence, and all his exertions, to the one grand object, "fulfilling the ministry which he has received of the Lord Jesus" (cf. Acts 12:25; 20:24).
Such a minister, to select an example, was the apostle Paul. With a heart warmed with the love of Christ; with an understanding [that is] vigorous, sound, and comprehensive; and with a store of various and profound knowledge, he went forth to meet and to conciliate the enemies of his divine Master. And in the course of his ministry, he manifested the importance of every qualification with which that Master had furnished him.
Let us follow and observe him a little in the discharge of his ministerial labors. "Now we see him reasoning with pagans, and then remonstrating with Jews: now arguing from the law of nature, and then from the Old Testament scriptures: now appealing to the writings of heathen poets and philosophers, and then referring to the 'traditions of the fathers' (Gal. 1:14), of which he had been exceedingly zealous: now stating his arguments with all logical exactness, and then exposing the sophistry and false learning of his adversaries:" now pleading with all the majesty and pathos of unrivalled eloquence, upon Mars Hill, and before Felix and Agrippa, and then instructing (from house to house) the young and the aged, with all the tenderness of a father, and all the simplicity and condescension of a babe. And what was the consequence? With these qualifications, he labored not only more abundantly, but more successfully, than all the apostles; and [he] has probably been the means of richer blessings to the church and the world, than any other mere man that ever lived.
But you will, perhaps, ask, "Ought all these qualifications to be considered as indispensable for every minister? For example, ought no one to have the ministry 'committed' to him, unless he has acquired, or is in a fair way to attain, the whole of those literary and scientific accomplishments which have been recounted as desirable?"
It is not necessary, perhaps it is not proper, at present, to give a particular answer to this question. My object has been to describe an able and faithful ministry. To my description I am not conscious of having added anything superfluous or unimportant. Such a ministry it ought to be the aim and the endeavor of the church to train up. Yet, it is certain that under the best administration of ecclesiastical affairs that ever existed, since the days of the apostles (or that is ever likely to exist), all ministers have not been alike able and faithful; and it is equally certain that cases have occurred in which individuals with furniture for the sacred office inferior to that which is desirable have been, in a considerable degree, both respectable and useful. But still a character something resembling that which has been drawn ought to be considered as the proper standard, and exertions made to attain as near an approximation to it, in all cases, as possible. And after all that can be done, exceptions to a rigid conformity with this standard will be found in sufficient number, without undertaking to lower the standard itself, in such a manner as to provide for their multiplication. But,
II. WHAT ARE THE MEANS WHICH THE CHURCH IS BOUND TO EMPLOY, FOR PROVIDING AN ABLE AND FAITHFUL MINISTRY? This question was assigned as the second subject of inquiry.
And here, it is perfectly manifest that the church can neither impart grace, nor create talents. She can neither make men pious, nor give them intellectual powers. But is there, therefore, nothing that can be done, or that ought to be done by her? Yes, brethren, there is much to be done. Though Jehovah the Saviour has the "government upon his shoulder" (cf. Isa. 9:6), his kingdom is a kingdom of means; and he is not to be expected to work miracles to supply our lack of exertion. If, therefore, the church omits to employ the means which her King and Head has put within her power, for the attainment of a given object, both the sin and the disgrace of failing to attain that object will lie at her own door.
What, then, are the means which the church is bound to employ for providing an able and faithful ministry? They are these: looking for, and carefully SELECTING, young men of piety and talents, for the work of the ministry; providing FUNDS for the temporary support of those who may stand in need of such aid; furnishing a SEMINARY in which the most ample means of instruction may be found; and, having done all this, to guard, by her JUDICATORIES, the entrance into the sacred office, with incessant vigilance.
1. The church is bound, with a vigilant eye, to search for, and carefully select, from among the young men within her bosom, those who are endowed with piety and talents, whenever she can find these qualifications united. Piety is humble and retiring; and talents, especially of the kind best adapted to the great work of the ministry, are modest and unobtrusive. They require, at least in many instances, to be sought out, encouraged, and brought forward. And how, and by whom, is this to be done? The children of the church are, if I may so express it, the church's property. She has a right to the services of the best of them. And as it is the part, both ofwisdom and affection, in parents according to the flesh, to attend with vigilance to the different capacities and acquirements of their children, and to select for them, as far as possible, corresponding employments; so it is obviously incumbent on the church, the moral parent of all the youth within her jurisdiction, to direct especial attention to such of them as may be fitted to serve her in the holy ministry. And it may be asserted, without fear of contradiction, that whenever young men are found, who unite fervent piety, with talents adapted to the office, it is the duty of such to seek the gospel ministry; and it is the duty of the church to single them out, to bring them forward, and to endeavor to give them all that preparation, which depends on human means, for the service of the sanctuary.
2. The church is bound to provide funds for the partial or entire support of those who need this kind of aid, while they are preparing for the work of the ministry. ought to feel, can feel, no pain in receiving from the hand of parental affection.
Nor is it any valid objection to the furnishing of this aid, that the objects of it may not always be found, when their character shall be completely developed, either ornaments to the church, or worthy of so much exertion and expenditure. As well might parents according to the flesh decline to provide for the support and education of their children, in early life, lest peradventure they might afterwards prove neither a comfort nor an honor to them. In this respect every faithful parent considers himself as bound, in duty and affection, to take all possible pains for promoting the welfare of his offspring, and having done so, to leave the event with God.
Neither ought the church to consider this provision as a burden, or imagine that, in making it, she confers a favor. It is as clearly her duty a duty which she as really owes her Master and herself as the ordinary provision which she makes for the support of the word and ordinances. Or rather, it is to be lamented that she has not been accustomed always to consider it as an essential part of her ordinary provision for the maintenance of the means of grace.
3. A further mean which the church is bound to employ for providing an able and faithful ministry is furnishing a seminary in which the candidates for this office may receive the most appropriate and complete instruction which she has it in her power to give. In vain are young men of fervent piety, and the best talents, sought after and discovered; and in vain are funds provided for their support, while preparing for the ministry, unless pure and ample fountains of knowledge are opened to them, and unless competent guides are assigned to direct them in drinking at those fountains. This, however, is so plain, so self-evident, that I need not enlarge upon its proof.
But perhaps it may be supposed by some, that there is no good reason why the means of education should be provided by the church, as such. It may be imagined, that they will as likely to be provided, and as well provided, by private instructors, as by public seminaries. But all reason, and all experience, pronounce a different judgment, and assign, as the ground of their decision, such considerations as these.
First, when the church herself provides a seminary for the instruction of her own candidates for the ministry, she can at all times inspect and regulate the course of their education; can see that it is sound, thorough, and faithful; can direct and control the instructors; can correct such errors, and make such improvements in her plans of instruction, as the counsels of the whole body may discover. Whereas, if all is left to individual discretion, the preparation for the service of the church may be in the highest degree defective, or ill judged, not to say unsound, without the church being able effectually to interpose her correcting hand.
Again, when the church herself takes the instruction of her candidates into her own hands, she can furnish a more extensive, accurate, and complete course of instruction than can be supposed to be, ordinarily, within the reach of detached individuals. In erecting and endowing a seminary, she can select the best instructors out of her whole body. She can give her pupils the benefit of the whole time, and the undivided exertions, of these instructors. Instead of having all the branches of knowledge, to which the theological student applies himself, taught by a single master, she can divide the task of instruction among several competent teachers, in such a manner as to admit of each doing full justice both to his pupils and himself.
She can form one ample library, by which a given number of students may be much better accommodated, when collected together, and having access to it in common, than if the same amount of books were divided into a corresponding number of smaller libraries. And she can digest, and gradually improve a system of instruction, which shall be the result of combined wisdom, learning, and experience. Whereas those candidates for the sacred office who commit themselves to the care of individual ministers, selected according to the convenience of the caprice of each pupil, must, in many cases, at least, be under the guidance of instructors who have neither the talents, the learning, nor the leisure to do them justice and who have not even a tolerable collection of books to supply the lack of their own furniture as teachers.
Further, when the church herself provides the means of instruction for her own ministry (at a public seminary), she will, of course, be furnished with ministers who have enjoyed, in some measure, a uniform course of education; who have derived their knowledge from the same masters, and the same approved fountains, and who may, therefore, be expected to agree in their views of evangelical truth and order. There will thus be the most effectual provision made, speaking after the manner of men, for promoting the unity and peace of the church. Whereas, if every candidate for the holy ministry is instructed by a different master, each of whom may be supposed to have his peculiarities of expression and opinion (especially about minor points of doctrine and discipline), the harmony of our ecclesiastical judicatories will gradually be impaired; and strife, and perhaps eventually schism, may be expected to arise in our growing and happy church.
It is important to add, that when the church provides for educating a number of candidates for the ministry at the same seminary, these candidates themselves may be expected to be of essential service to each other. Numbers being engaged together in the same studies will naturally excite the principle of emulation. As "iron sharpeneth iron" (Prov. 27:17), so the amicable competition, and daily intercourse of pious students, can scarcely fail of leading to closer and more persevering application; to deeper research; to richer acquirements; and to a more indelible impression of that which is learned, upon their minds, than can be expected to take place in solitary study.
Nor is it by any means unworthy of notice, that when the ministers of a church are generally trained up at the same seminary, they are naturally led to form early friendships, which bind them together to the end of life, and which are productive of that mutual confidence and assistance, which can scarcely fail of shedding a benign influence on their personal enjoyment, and their official comfort and usefulness. These early friendships may also be expected to add another impulse to a sense of duty, in annually drawing ministers from a distance to meet each other in the higher judicatories of the church; and, which is scarcely less important, to facilitate and promote that mutual consultation respecting plans of research, and new and interesting publications, which is, at once, among the safeguards, as well as pleasures, of theological authorship.
These, brethren, are some of the considerations which call upon every church to erect, and to support with vigor and efficiency, a theological seminary for the training of her ministry. If she desires to augment the number of her ministers; if she wishes their preparation for the sacred office to be the best in her power to give, and at the least possible expense; if she desires that they may be a holy phalanx, united in the same great views of doctrine and discipline, and adhering with uniformity and with cordial affection to her public standards; if she deprecates the melancholy spectacle of a heterogeneous, divided, and distracted ministry; and finally, if she wishes her ministers to be educated under circumstances most favorable to their acting in after life as a band of brethren, united in friendship as well as in sentiment; then let her take measures for training them up under her own eye, and control; under the same teachers; in the same course of study; and under all those advantages of early intercourse, and affectionate competition, which attend a public seminary.
In favor of all this reasoning, the best experience, and the general practice of the church, in different ages, may be confidently urged. "It has been the way of God," says the pious and learned Dr. Lightfoot, "to instruct his people by a studious and learned ministry, ever since he gave a written word to instruct them in." "Who," he asks, "were the standing ministry of Israel, all the time from the giving of the law, till the captivity in Babylon? Not prophets, or inspired men; for they were but occasional teachers; but the priests and Levites, who became learned in the law by study. Deuteronomy 33:10, Hosea 4:6, Malachi 2:7. And for this end, they were disposed into forty eight cities, as so many universities, where they studied the law together; and from thence were sent out into the several synagogues to teach the people."
They had also, the same writer informs us, "contributions made for the support of these students, while they studied in the universities, as well as afterwards when they preached in the synagogues." He tells us further, in another place, "that there were among the Jews, authorized individual teachers, of great eminence, who had their Midrashoth, or divinity schools, in which they expounded the law to their scholars or disciples." "Of these divinity schools," he adds, "there is very frequent mention made among the Jewish writers, more especially of the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Such a divinity professor was Gamaliel, at whose feet the great apostle of the Gentiles received his education."
Under the Christian dispensation, the same system, in substance, was adopted and continued. At a very early period, there was a seminary of high reputation established in the city of Alexandria, in which candidates of the holy ministry were trained up together, and under the ablest instructors, both in divine and human learning a seminary in which Pantænus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen, and others, taught with high reputation. Eusebius and Jerome both declare that this seminary had existed, as a nursery of the church and had enjoyed a succession of able teachers from the time of Mark the evangelist. Writers on Christian antiquities also assure us that there were seminaries of a similar kind very early established at Rome, Cæsarea, Antioch, and other places; and that they were considered as essential to the honor and prosperity of the church.
At the period of the Reformation, religion and learning revived together. The Reformers were not less eminent for their erudition, than for their piety and zeal. They contended earnestly for an enlightened, as well as a faithful ministry; and, accordingly, almost all the Protestant churches, when they found themselves in a situation to admit of the exertion, founded theological seminaries, as nurseries for their ministry. This was the case in Geneva, in Scotland, in Holland, in Germany, and, with very little exception, throughout Reformed Christendom. And the history of those seminaries, while it certainly demonstrates that such establishments are capable of being perverted, demonstrates with equal evidence that they have been made, and might always, with the divine blessing on a faithful administration, be rendered extensively useful.
And what have the most eminently pious and learned ministers that ever adorned the American church thought on this subject? Yes, brethren, it was because Tennent and Dickinson, and Burr, and Edwards, and Davies, and Finley, and Blair, and other champions of the cross, were deeply impressed with the truth that learning and talents, united with piety, are of the highest importance to the Christian ministry, that they labored and prayed so much for the establishment and support of Nassau Hall. May their spirit and their opinions revive; and more and more pervade our church, until the dawning of the millennial sabbath!
In establishments of this kind, in more recent times, our congregational brethren in New England, and our brethren of the Dutch and Associate Reformed churches, have gone before us, and set us noble examples. We have, at length, awakened from our sleep; and with tardy, but, as we hope, with firm, well-advised, and with heaven-directed steps, have begun to follow them. In the name of Jehovah Jesus, the King of Zion, we lift up our banner! May his blessing descend, and rest upon the transaction of this day, as a pledge that he is about to visit our church in his abundant mercy!
4. The last means of providing an able and faithful ministry, on which I shall insist, is fidelity on the part of the judicatories of the church in guarding the entrance into the sacred office. It is our happiness that, according to the truly apostolic and primitive constitution of our church, the power of licensing candidates, and of setting apart to the work of the holy ministry, is not given to any individual, by whatever name he may be called. Nay, while the church provides a seminary for the instruction of her candidates for the sacred office, she does not give even the conductors of that seminary however pious, learned, or venerable the right ultimately to judge of the qualifications of those candidates, and to admit or reject them at their pleasure. This is the prerogative of her appropriate judicatories; and the manner in which it is exercised is all -important. However vigorous and perseveringly other means for attaining the object proposed may be employed, if there is a failure here, the most calamitous consequences may be expected. If presbyteries are superficial in their examinations of candidates; if they are too ready to lay hands on the weak, the erroneous, or those of doubtful piety; or if, for the sake of attaining an occasional purpose, or meeting a temporary difficulty, they at any time suffer the barriers which have been erected for excluding the incompetent or the unworthy to be removed or trampled down, they are taking the direct course to bring the ministry and religion into contempt.
I know that, on this subject, pleas are often urged which it is extremely difficult to resist. Some good qualities in the candidates, private friendships, an unwillingness to give pain, the scarcity of ministers, and the necessities of the church, are all alternately employed as arguments for the admission of unsuitable characters into the ministry. But it is a most important part of fidelity in the work of the Lord to oppose and reject every plea of this kind. Private friendships ought not to interfere with a supreme regard to the Redeemer's kingdom. It is better, much better, to inflict pain for a time (on an individual), than to wound the church of Christ. And by introducing into the ministry those who are neither faithful, nor able to teach, judicatories are so far from supplying the wants of the church, that they rather add to her difficulties and call her to struggle with new evils. To be in haste to multiply and send out unqualified laborers is to take the most direct method to send a destructive blast on the garden of God, instead of gathering a rich and smiling harvest.
On the other hand, when judicatories, with enlightened vigilance and fidelity, guard the entrance into the sacred office; when they exert the authority committed to them, to keep out of the ministry incompetence, heresy, levity, and worldly mindedness; they obey a divine precept; they support the real honor of the gospel ministry; they constrain those who are looking toward the blessed work to take higher aim, and to seek for higher attainments; they give the church "bread instead of a stone, and fish instead of a serpent" (cf. Matt. 7:9-10); and though they may appear, to those who make haste, to be tardy in supplying the public demand for ministers, they are taking one of the most effectual methods, under God, for raising up a numerous, as well as an able and faithful ministry.
Let us now turn our attention to some practical inferences from the foregoing discussion. And,
1. If the representation which has been given is just, then our church has been, for a long time, almost entirely, and very criminally, negligent of a great and important duty. While she has directed much laudable attention to other objects, she has, in great measure, suffered the most promising means of providing an able and faithful ministry to take care of themselves. Our churches have also been guilty, in a considerable degree, of similar negligence a negligence for which, alas! our country mourns, and would mourn much more if the importance of the subject were understood and appreciated as it ought to be.
But OUR CHURCH HAS BEEN PREEMINENTLY GUILTY! Though among the largest Christian denominations in the United States; though possessing, in its individual members, perhaps more wealth than any other; though favored, in many respects, with ample means for every kind of generous ecclesiastical enterprise; and though solemnly warned on the subject, she has yet been among the very last of all the evangelical denominations among us, to commence a course of efficient exertion for raising up a qualified ministry. We have slumbered, and slumbered, until the scarcity of laborers in our harvest has become truly alarming! God grant that we may testify by our future conduct that we remember, with unfeigned humiliation, our former negligence; and that we are resolved, as his grace shall enable us, to make amends for it by redoubled zeal and diligence in time to come!
2. From what has been said, it appears that the solemnity to attend, on which we are this day assembled, is a matter of cordial and animating congratulation to each other, and to the church of Christ in the United States. We are convened, under the authority of the general assembly of our church, to organize a THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY and to inaugurate the FIRST PROFESSOR in that seminary. Though late, much later, in commencing this establishment than we ought to have been, we trust it is about to commence under the smiles of the great Head of the church; and that we may confidently regard it as a token for good to the Redeemer's kingdom.
Yes, brethren, we have more reason to rejoice, and to felicitate one another, on the establishment of this seminary, than of a great national victory, or on making a splendid addition to our national territory. It is the beginning, as we trust, of an extensive and permanent system, from which blessings may flow to millions while we are sleeping in the dust. Let us, then, "rejoice, and be exceedingly glad" (Matt. 5:12); and in the midst of our joy, let us look to the Source of blessing, who can cause the walls of our Zion to rise even "in troublous times " (Dan. 9:25). While we congratulate each other, let our petitions ascend, with our praises, to the throne of grace, that the seminary this day established, and, as we verily believe, founded in faith and prayer, may be a fountain, "the streams of which shall make glad the city of our God" (cf. Ps. 46:4); flowing in every direction, and abundantly watering the abodes of Zion's King, until all flesh shall taste his love, and see his glory!
3. If what has been said is correct, then those who are more immediately charged with conducting this seminary, whether as directors or professors, ought to consider themselves as honored with a very solemn and weighty trust. The design of the supreme judicatory of our church, in founding this seminary is nothing less than to train up an ABLE AND FAITHFUL MINISTRY: a ministry on whom piety, talents, and learning, the temporal and eternal welfare of thousands now living may, speaking after the manner of men, depend; a ministry whose character may have a commanding influence in forming the character of others, and they again of those who may successively fill the same office, until the end of time! The design is interesting beyond expression; and the task of those who are appointed to carry it into execution is serious and important to a degree which mortals cannot estimate.
When I cast an eye down the ages of eternity, and think how important is the salvation of a single soul; when I recollect how important, of course, [is] the office of a minister of the gospel, who may be the happy instrument of saving many hundreds, or thousands of souls; and when I remember how many and how momentous are the relations which a seminary intended solely for training up ministers bears to all the interests of men, in the life that now is, and especially in that which is to I come; I feel as if the task of conducting such a seminary had an awfulness of responsibility connected with it, which is enough to make us tremble! O my fathers and brethren! let it never be said of us, on whom this task has fallen, that we take more pains to make polite scholars, eloquent orators, or mere men of learning, than to form able and faithful ministers of the New Testament. Let it never be said that we are more anxious to maintain the literary and scientific honors of the ministry, than we are to promote that honor which consists in being "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 6:5), and the instruments of "adding much people to the Lord" (cf. Acts 11:24). The eyes of the church are upon us. The eyes of angels, and, above all, the eyes of the King of Zion, are upon us. May we have grace given us to be faithful!
4. This subject suggests matter for very serious reflection to the youth who are about to enter as students in this seminary, with a view to the gospel ministry. Behold, my young friends, the high character at which you are called to aim! You have come hither, not that you may prepare to shine; not that you may prepare to amuse men by philosophical discussion, or to astonish them by flights of artificial eloquence: but that, by the blessing of God, upon the use of means, you may become "faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2); that you may become "wise in winning souls" (cf. Prov. 11:30) to Christ; that you may prepare to go forth, defending and proclaiming the messages of grace to guilty men, and persuading them to be "reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). Seek to excel. It is noble to excel. But let it be always for the edifying of the church.
THIS, my young friends, THIS is the object which is recommended to your sacred emulation. We charge you, in the presence of God, to let all your studies and aims be directed to this grand object. Seek with humble, persevering, prayerful diligence, to be such ministers as you have heard described; and you will neither disappoint yourselves, nor the church of Christ. Seek to be anything else, and you will be a grief and a curse to both. May God the Saviour bless you, and prepare you to be "workmen that need not to be ashamed!" (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15).
5. From this subject we may derive powerful excitements to young men of piety and talents to come forward and devote themselves to the gospel ministry. We trust no young man will ever think of that holy vocation, until he has first given himself up a "living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Rom. 12:1), by Jesus Christ. We would not, for any consideration, be accessory to the sin of alluring into the sacred office those who know nothing of the power of godliness, and who, on the most favorable supposition, can be nothing better than miserable retailers of cold and unproductive speculations. But while we say this, and repeat it with all the emphasis of which we are capable, we assert with equal confidence, on the other hand, that wherever fervent piety appears in any young man, united with those talents which are adapted to the office of an ambassador of Christ, it is incumbent on their possessor, without delay, to devote himself to the work of the ministry.
There are only two questions which need be asked concerning any youth on this subject. "Has he a heart for the work? And has he those native faculties which are susceptible of the requisite cultivation?" If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, I hesitate not to say, that in the present state of the church, it is his duty to seek the ministry.
Young men of this college! have none of you any desire to serve your fellow men, and to serve Christ, in this exalted office? You have but one short life to live in this world; and you must, in a very little time, decide how you will spend that life. "We confidently pronounce, that it can be spent in no manner so desirable, so noble, so godlike, as in the gospel ministry. If then, you love the Lord Jesus Christ, come we affectionately invite you to come and take part with us in the ministry of the grace of God. The example of Christ invites you to come; the tears of bereaved churches, who can find none to break unto them the bread of life, entreat you to come; the miseries of wandering souls, who can find none to lead them to heaven, plead with you to come. Come, then, and take part with us in the labors and rewards of the 'ministry of reconciliation!' "
6. Finally, if the representation which has been given is correct, then the church at large ought to consider it as equally their privilege and their duty to support this seminary. If one may judge by the language and the conduct of the generality of church members, they seem to consider all regard to institutions of this kind as the province of ministers only. They readily grant that ministers ought to be prompt and willing to give their time, their labors, and, where they have any, their substance for this end; but for themselves, they pray to be excused. They either contribute nothing toward the object; or contribute in the most reluctant and sparing manner, as if they were bestowing a favor, which they have a perfect right to withhold.
My dear brethren, it is difficult to express in adequate terms either the sin or the folly of such conduct. Seminaries of this kind are to be founded and supported BY THE CHURCH, as such. It is THE CHURCH that is bound to take order on the subject. It is THE CHURCH that is responsible for their establishment and maintenance. And if any of her members, or adherents, when called upon, will not contribute their just portion of aid for this purpose, the Head of the church will require it at their hands.
Professing Christians! look upon the alarming necessities of the church; upon destitute frontier settlements; upon several hundred vacant congregations, earnestly desiring spiritual teachers, but unable to obtain them. Look upon the growing difficulty with which the most eligible and attractive situations in the church are supplied, and then say whether those who still remain idle can be innocent? Innocent! Their guilt will be greater and more dreadful than can be described. Come, then, brethren, humbled by the past, and animated by the future, rouse from your lethargy, and begin to act in earnest! Your Master requires it of you! The aspect of the times requires it of you! The cries of the neglected and perishing require it of you! Your own privileges and blessings require it of you!
Yes, you who call yourselves Christians! If you love the church to which you profess to belong; if you possess a single spark of the spirit of allegiance to her Divine Head and Lord: nay, if you desire not a "famine of the word of life" (Amos 8:11); if you desire not the heaviest spiritual judgments to rest upon you, then come forward, and act, as well as speak, like friends of the Redeemer's kingdom. Come forward, and give your influence, your substance, and your prayers, for "the help of the Lord against the mighty" (Judges 5:23).
1. "Accursed be all that learning which sets itself in opposition to the cross of Christ! Accursed be all that learning which disguises or is ashamed of the cross of Christ! Accursed by all that learning which fills the room that is due to the cross of Christ! And once more, accursed be all that learning which is not made subservient to the honor and glory of the cross of Christ!" "Glorying in the Cross," in The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon (Philadelphia: William Woodward, 1800), Vol. 1, p. 531.
2. Though a Christian would have expressed himself in different language, there is much weight in the maxim of the heathen satirist, Nullum numen abest si sit prudentia. [No wisdom is wanting when prudence is present. ] Juvenal.
3. There is no intention here to exclude daily or frequent conversations with our Lord as one important means of instruction which the apostles received. This, however, though not, strictly speaking, a miraculous mode of acquiring knowledge, was yet wholly extraordinary.
4. Constitution of the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, Article 4.
5. Stennett's Sermon Before the Education Society, p. 12.
6. Lightfoot's Works, Vol. 1, pp. 357, 576.
7. Eusebius, Lib. 5, c. 10. Hieron. Oper., 1, 105.
8. See Bingham's Origenes Ecclesiastica, Book 3, Chapter 10.
9. War had been declared by the United States, against Great Britain [in 1812], a few weeks before this discourse was delivered.
10. See Address of the Presbytery of New York, on Educating Poor and Pious Youth for the Gospel Ministry.