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and act, as if joining in forms of devotion were the sole end of assembling publickly for religious purposes: and they consider the publick preaching of the doctrine of Christ to be nearly, or wholly superfluous. But if the professed minister of God neglect this grand means of saving sinners, he will be liable to condemnation for disobeying his orders, and his other services will be generally useless and often mischievous. They, in every station, who would do good to mankind, by rendering them more sober, righteous, and godly; and yet do not consider the preaching of the gospel as the grand means of. effecting their purpose; need not wonder to find that their endeavours are not crowned with much success. And the man who would seek the edification of his own soul, or who desires that his children should fear and serve the Lord; and yet neglects to attend on the preaching of the gospel when he has opportunity, or to bring them with him, has no reason to expect a blessing; because he sets up his own will and wisdom, in opposition to the authority and appointment of God.
No doubt other means are often blessed for all these purposes; and the doctrine of salvation is disseminated by the reading of the scriptures, and other good books, by letters, conversation, and in various other ways; but these are principally useful, in first exciting men's attention to divine things, when the preaching of the gospel, in its genuine purity, is not vouchsafed; not where it is proudly, contemptuously, indolently, or timidly neglected: for that constitutes a direct refusal to recognize the Lord's right to appoint his own means; after the example of Cain, who may be supposed to have preferred his own devices td God's express institutions.
VI. Connected with this, we may observe, that the Lord has a right to nominate his own ambassadors, or messengers to mankind: as well as his vicegerents in the government of the world. The latter are the ministers of his providence, the former the ministers of his word, and the stewards of his mysteries: thus far there is a coincidence: but one remarkable difference must be noticed. Every man who is established iii authority is, for the time, the Lord's vicegerent. "The powers that be are ordained of God;" and we are not cautioned in scripture against corrupt rulers, or required or even allowed to disregard them. But we are instructed by the same word, not to look on every man, who has an outward appointment to tho ministry, " as the messenger of the Lord of hosts:" on the contrary we are directed to distinguish between true and false teachers; and "to beware of false pro"phets—for by their fruits we may know them." It should therefore, be first seriously and candidly enquired, whether the person in question be indeed the Lord's ambassador to his sinful creatures? or whether his spirit, conduct, and doctrine wrarrant a persuasion, that he is a servant of Christ, employed in teaching men the way of salvation? When this is determined; we shall perceive that the Lord's right to appoint his own messengers implies many essential duties, obligatory upon ail men: "for he that receiv"eth whomsoever he sends receiveth him."
There have been times, in which nominal ministers of religion, without proper discrimination of charac. ter, were superstitiously venerated, and lavishly provided for; and too great cause has been given for exclamations against priestcraft, and spiritual encroachments or usurpations: nor can it be said, that at present, the funds, which have long been appropriated to the support of the clergy, are unexceptionably applied. But superstition seems on every side to give place to impiety and infidelity: all ministers are considered by numbers as useless or mischievous; no discrimination is made between the exemplary pastor, who labours in the word and doctrine, and men of a contrary description; no medium seems to be thought of, between superstitious veneration and profane contempt; and there is ground to apprehend, that it will, ere long, be the prevailing idea, that ministers of all kinds, sentiments, and characters, should be cashiered, left to indigence, or driven to secular emplo) ments: the consequences of which would be, a gradual, and not a very tardy, destruction of all religion.
It is, therefore, proper to enter a protest against tins flagrant violation of the rights of God; as well as to call men seriously to reflect on the consequences of such a measure: and it may suffice to propose a fewquestions on the subject. Has not the great Proprietor of the earth a right to prescribe what rules he pleases, in respect of the use, that he would have made of that proportion, which he allots to nations or individuals? Is it not reasonable, that we should honour Him with our substance; and, that we should consecrate a portion of it to his immediate service, in any way he sees good to appoint? Can his worship be conducted, or can persons be qualified to lead the de
votions of others, or instruct them in his truths and will, and be employed in this manner, without a considerable expence? Hath he not a right to demand a proportion of men's property for this purpose, as well as to pay tribute to support the expcnces of civil government; as both are his ordinances, for the benefit of mankind? Does not the whole scripture require this from the professed people of God? And is not the title of ministers to a decent subsistence inseparable from the divine authority of revelation, and confirmed by every external and internal argument adduced in support of it? Would not then, depriving them of their maintenance by a national act amount to a national renunciation of christianity, and apostacyfrom . God and religion? And finally, do not all those, who want (not to regulate or'alter the method of their maintenance, or to proportion it in another manner, but) to get rid of the expence of it altogether, evidently shew their aversion to religion, their contempt of God, and their idolatrous love of the world, and the things of the world?*
But whilst such questions may very properly be proposed, in the present state of human affairs: yet the friends of religion need be under no alarm on this account. The promises, which secure the church against the assaults of every enemy, ensure also a succession of faithful witnesses: and the Lord will most certainly provide for them, and also teach them to be well satisfied with their scanty subsistence:
* Mai. iir. 8—10'.
whilst the interests of the covetous, the ambitious, the ignorant, or profligate clergy of any denomination, are comparatively of little consequence.
We have allowed, that men should judge who are, and who are not, the Lord's ambassadors or stewards: but it must be added, that the determination ought to be made, by the rules of his word, and not by the maxims of a vain world. "We have this treasure in "earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power "may be of God, and not of us." Many are sent and owned of Him for great usefulness, who appear very despicable to the self-confident and carnally minded. Perhaps they are deficient in learning or other admired accomplishments; they are not distinguished by superior abilities; they have manifold infirmities; or the rank in life, whence they were called, was low and obscure: and on such grounds they are slighted, as well as for the subject of their preaching. But the Lord sees good to employ such servants in his work, " that "no flesh should glory in his presence,"* and to shew that their doctrine is made effectual, not by the excellency of man's speech, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has a right to appoint whom he pleases to his work; and they who deride, oppose, or neglect them on that account, exclude themselves from the blessing, which more humble and teachable persons appropriate.
The ministers of God may in very many things be inferior to their auditors; but they must magnify their
* 1 Cor. i. 29—31. Vol. III. Rr