J. N. Darby.
I find for my own spirit that the Christian has to watch against being brought under the pressure of what is going on around, if he give heed to it, even as a part of the ways or judgments of God. We are called to heavenly things, to have our conversation in heaven, to be occupied with Christ, sanctified by the truth, in that He has sanctified Himself, that we may be sanctified by the truth. We have to be simple concerning evil, and wise concerning that which is good; a blessed and most admirable precept, such as Christianity alone can bring about. We are warned that in the last days perilous times shall come. The terrible description of that state of things morally is given; but how simple the remedy when the perception of such a state exists! "From such turn away." Turned away we are free to be occupied with Christ, and those heavenly things which sanctify us practically now and are our everlasting portion. No state of things can alter the word. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to purpose. We are purified to Christ to be a peculiar people - a people appropriated to Himself. May we remember it! With this caution, which I find needed for myself as well as others, it is well to be aware (and the Spirit of God has made us aware) that there are perilous times, and this in the last days, in which we are.
One of the great questions in these days is that of ministry, or, as I may also call it, the clergy. It may interest your readers to see how this subject is viewed by leading and intelligent dissenters. I refer to and shall quote from a book published some time ago; but which, occupied with my own labours, I had never seen before. The occasion of it was the discussion, in the Congregational Union of England and Wales, of the question of the general indifference of the working classes to our religious institutions. With many things in it I cordially agree; but there are in it the fatal and general errors of looking for good in the natural man, and looking for the development of that good by the liberty of the will. The Christian kindness, which in taking a place with the poorest - a hearty, willing, and ready place, as all alike before God and in grace - seeks to win sinners to Christ and to their own blessing, which takes this place as the very spirit of Christ and Christianity, I cordially accept and desire to walk in. We are all alike before God, and, if there be any difference, He thinks most of the poor; and so ought the Christian, and so did Christ. But to confound this with letting loose natural will is a deception denying the sinful state of man. The confusion of these two things is so common nowadays, that, where we do not keep close to Christ, there is such a pandering to evil instead of bringing good with the hope to win thereby, that it is well to note the difference.
309 Let Christians be the meekest and humblest on earth as Christ was: it is what they ought to be, and that will bring them into contact with every need as it did Christ; but let them not flatter sinful man to his ruin, and fancy that this is the same thing. The path of wisdom is one which the vulture's eye hath not seen: death and destruction have heard the fame of it; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of it, the path of Christ its perfection in this world; a new divine path He is and was, that divine wisdom in His walk here - the wisdom of God and the power of God. I have been led to say thus much in alluding to this book, as a principle needed always and especially in these days; but I turn to the book itself, to bring into notice the statements as to ministry and how scripture affects other minds too when searched into. I find a confusion (which in earlier times, I myself fell into, so that I could ill reproach anyone else with it) of gifts and ministry with elders, as if this last was the exercise of a gift; and there may be other misapprehensions such as we are all liable to. But, in the main, what brethren are so much reproached with is here admitted to be the true scriptural path; and what they are reproached with giving up is treated as one great hindrance to usefulness. The writer attacks pulpits: I would not do so, provided they are not used in what are the assemblies of the saints, properly speaking.
The gifts of ministry exist in the assembly, not properly in an assembly; and we may exercise them individually, and either evangelize or teach in our individual capacity, or as meeting in the assembly of the saints. In this last a pulpit is out of place. In a pulpit one is no longer with the saints. But when I teach as an individual (and as a servant of Christ I may do so), I am not with the saints, but teaching them according to the gift given me. The positions are different, and yet both scriptural and right. With this remark I give the quotations. They are from Mr. E. Miall's "British Churches in Relation to the British People," 2nd edition, p. 172.
310 "Next, in the natural order of the arrangements now under our review, comes ordination. If there is little in the New Testament to sanction the common notion of a ministerial order, there is less to sustain that of ordination. A few passages in which mention is made of specific appointment to 'eldership' in the churches - two or three which imply such appointment to have been expressed, as indeed appointment to office usually was in the East, by imposition of hands - and an apostolic phrase, here and there, intimating the communication of some supernatural gift at the time of this designation to office - constitute, scanty as it is, the entire sum of scriptural materials, out of which ecclesiastical ingenuity has fashioned the doctrine of ordination. I believe indeed that, to a considerable extent, the estimate now set upon the necessity and virtues of this rite by Nonconforming churches is moderate in comparison of what it once was. It is not maintained nowadays, at least by them, that ordination actually confers any right upon the subject of it which he did not previously possess, nor that it is absolutely requisite in order to ministerial character and authority. More generally, it is regarded as a solemn observance, seemly and profitably on a public entrance upon office, and well calculated to promote order in the churches. Whilst, however, the intelligence of our dissenting religious bodies thus interprets the ceremonial, the sentiment of the same bodies, more unconsciously and deeply tinged with traditional prejudice, seldom shews itself abreast with that intelligence. The young 'brother' who has been invited to take the 'oversight' of a Church, and who has accepted the invitation, does not ordinarily feel that he has ceased to be a layman, or that he may becomingly discharge all the functions of his office, until after his ordination. Many of his brethren around him, and most perhaps of the people of his charge, would be a little scandalized at his presiding at the administration of the Lord's supper, even amongst the Christian disciples whom he teaches from the pulpit, before he has been set apart in the customary manner - and much more would they object to the celebration of that ordinance by a church bereaved of its elder, conducted under the superintendence of one of its own members. In some cases the feeling excited, probably by the force brought to bear upon it by the doctrine maintained in the Anglican Establishment, is so far indulged as to condemn the exercise of this ministerial prerogative, even by those who have been admitted by ordination to the ministry, but who may have subsequently quitted office and engaged in secular pursuits. On the other hand, there is a still larger number of persons who connect with ordination an initiation of the subject of it into the sacred order, and who regard him, whether occupying office or not, as retaining until death all the special rights and responsibilities of ministers of Christ. Here, again, it will be felt, there are common notions, sometimes repudiated by the understanding, but insidiously mingling with the feelings, which give additional strength to the professional sentiment. Those imaginary lines which separate the ministerial class from the rest of the Church, and place it, as it were, in exclusive possession of the prerogatives of spiritual ruling and teaching, are deepened and rendered almost ineffaceable, partly by the rite itself of ordination, chiefly by the yet lingering superstition with which its effects are generally regarded. In a modified sense, and with a few exceptions, the ministerial character is treated as indelible.
311 "The almost universal practice - to which, however, the different sections of the Methodist body present an exception - of limiting spiritual teaching in each church, so far at least as it is stated and official, to a single individual, is another of those arrangements in which the professional sentiment finds development and sustenance. In apostolic times, there seems reason to conclude, all the Christian disciples of one city or town were united together in spiritual fellowship, and constituted the one church in that town. No evidence exists that the Christian community in any one city was divided into as many separate organizations, as there were separate places of assembly for public worship. From the intimations of scripture we may infer, with a high degree at least of probability, that the officers both of oversight and of teaching were as numerous in each church, as convenience might prescribe, or as the distribution of gifts amongst the members would allow. In the apostolic epistles, where a single church is addressed, allusion is commonly made not to the bishop, but the bishops; and when Titus is instructed by Paul to finish in Crete the work which the apostle himself had left uncompleted, he is told to ordain, or appoint, not an elder but elders in every city. From the same apostle's letter to the Corinthian church, we gather, that the gift of teaching was possessed by several of its members, and some important regulations are laid down for its orderly exercise. To some such mode of manifesting and nourishing their spiritual life the Christian churches in our land will probably return by slow degrees, as the spirit of their faith becomes purified from the dross of worldly-mindedness. Meanwhile it is but too apparent, that the needless multiplication of spiritual organizations in one locality, and the appointment of a single minister over each, but ill succeeds in eliciting either the life or the power of religious association. Our very mechanical arrangements, modelled of course in conformity with our ecclesiastical ideas, put a needless distance between teacher and taught, and exert a repressive influence upon the sympathies which should connect the one with the other.
312 "In each place of worship there stands the pulpit - a visible symbol of the monopoly of teaching - a fixed memento to the Church that it is to one individual they have to look for all those declarations, illustrations, and enforcements of the word of God, by which their minds are to be informed, their consciences stirred or comforted, or their hearts impressed and improved. From that spot, sacred to ministerial occupation, the devotions of the people are to be led by the same man who preaches the word every time the Church assembles year after year. The most seraphic piety, combined with the most splendid talents, can hardly, on this plan, prevent both devotion and instruction from becoming invested with an air of formality deeply injurious to freshness of religious feeling. The service insensibly slides into a performance which the assembly try to witness with becoming emotion, instead of participating in and adopting as their own. It is as if the voice which addresses them came from an isolated and inaccessible quarter representative of authority, instead of issuing from their very midst, conversant with their own thoughts, and warm with their own emotions. The occupant of that pulpit, who alone has right to interpret God's will and minister to His saints, and plead with unbelievers, cannot be thoroughly identified as one with ourselves; and not a little of that sympathy, with which we should otherwise listen to his statements or exhortations, is chilled and paralysed by the sensible contact into which it comes with the insulating lines of office. Oh! those pulpits - and all the influences they infer! Would that no such professional conveniences had been invented! Would that some change of feeling or even of fashion amongst us could sweep them clean away! How much they themselves, and the notion of which they are the visible expression, have done to repress the manifestations of spiritual life and energy in our churches it is impossible to calculate.
313 "The evils always attendant upon monopoly have not been wanting here; and the pains taken, but unwisely taken, to secure by means of it the best results, have produced the worst. The limitation of public spiritual service to a single functionary has greatly, and, as I think, most unhappily, favoured the diffusion of the professional sentiment amongst both churches and ministers. The attribution of a large class of duties in which the body ought to take a lively interest, and concerning which it ought to feel a weighty responsibility, to a particular order of Christian men, has been fatally encouraged, nay, rendered all but inevitable, by the arrangements to which the foregoing observations refer. The pastor and the flock alike suffer disadvantage, and it is hard to determine which is most to be commiserated. Not a few, we apprehend, in both relationships, would rejoice most heartily to go back to primitive methods. But, for the present, the tyrant custom overrules their wishes; and, perhaps, in this instance, as in others, lurking traditional feeling refuses to keep pace with intelligent conviction.
"But we have not yet exhausted the illustrations of the professional sentiment to be met with in our churches. The canon laws of an ecclesiastical Establishment, itself a re-adaptation of Papal machinery to purer doctrine, exert in some respects a more powerful influence over their views of ministerial etiquette than the dictates of common sense, and the lessons of experience, backed though they be by the sanction of apostolical example. Else, how comes it to pass that the stated discharge of the functions of eldership should be so generally regarded as incompatible with secular engagements? Doubtless it is frequently desirable that men found by the churches 'apt to teach,' should be placed in a position enabling them to consecrate their whole time to the work; and so long as the 'oversight' and religious tuition of each church are committed exclusively to a single individual, secular pursuits, even when necessary to eke out for him a scanty subsistence, will be found to preclude the profitable performance of his duties. But is it requisite, or does the New Testament give countenance to the idea, that every spiritual teacher should refrain from seeking an honest livelihood by the work of his own hands, or that upon being appointed to office he cannot continue in a worldly calling without infringing the rules of ecclesiastical propriety? Just the reverse! The case of the greatest of the apostles need hardly be cited, for no thinking mind can miss it. 'The preachers among the poor Waldenses,' says Milton, 'the ancient stock of our Reformation, bred up themselves in trades, and especially in physic and surgery, as well as in the study of scripture (which is the only true theology), that they might be no burden to the Church, and, by the example of Christ, might cure both soul and body. But our ministers,' he continues, in a strain of severity which the conditions of his times fully justified, 'think scorn to use a trade, and count it the reproach of this age that tradesmen preach the gospel. It were to be wished they were all tradesmen - they would not, so many of them, for want of another trade, make a trade of their preaching.' I have introduced this quotation, not until after a painful struggle with my own feelings; to some extent it is applicable in the present day, and the truths, thus pithily and forcibly put, deserve far more serious consideration than they have yet received. For my own part I do not believe that the ministry generally are justly chargeable with a mercenary spirit, or that gain occupies in their view so large a space as godliness; for if so, their choice of occupation has been, certainly, a most unwise one. But I wish to point out, in as vivid language as possible, the disadvantageous light in which our absurd prejudices place the ministration of the gospel of peace."
314 Again, p. 179 -
"To the foregoing illustrations I think it needful to add but one other - that presented to our notice by distinct clerical titles, official vestments, and all those external peculiarities intended to distinguish from others, the members of the 'sacred profession.' There are varieties of custom amongst different denominations in reference to these distinctive insignia of office; but the sects are very few, and the individuals are far from numerous, who treat all such outward marks as unworthy of notice. Looked at apart, they are confessedly trifles; viewed in connection with our present theme, they are not altogether matters of indifference. They are meant to express what it would be well for the churches altogether to forget - a difference of order. They indicate the existence of views respecting the sanctity of the profession, which neither scriptural language nor the genius of Christianity support. They render more visible the line of separation between the disciples of Christ in office, and out of it. They originated in times of corruption; and they serve no useful purpose which pure religion can desire. They minister to unworthy tastes. They lend a countenance to popular superstition. They are a relic, and a very absurd relic, of the old sacerdotal system, which delegated the whole business of religion to the priesthood, and which placed the efficacy of priestly mediation chiefly in a minute observance of external forms and 'bodily exercises.'"
315 I might quote a great deal more; but from my pen it might seem like an attack, which is as far as possible from my thoughts. I shew merely the effect of scripture on others when honestly looked at. The author would preserve what exists, and gradually introduce what is scriptural. Others have thought that finding it in scripture they were bound to act on it. The writer speaks of the course to be pursued thus (p. 193): -
"The tide of infidelity is swelling, the plague of religious indifference is spreading. Can we afford to give indulgence to a sentiment which, while it greatly circumscribes the number of labourers in Christ's vineyard, detracts also from the moral power of those engaged in the work? The disadvantages entailed upon the churches by the long prevalence and mighty power of that sentiment cannot suddenly be got rid of within a generation or two. But our faces may at least be turned in the right direction. We may aim to destroy the living principle of the evil by treating the ministry as an office, not an order. We may make gradual efforts to evoke and employ teaching talents, wherever they exist. And, by cautious changes, we may prepare more general and efficient instrumentality for the prosecution of spiritual objects, making the best use possible meanwhile of that which already exists."
But he pleads "conscience in giving utterance to these opinions." He has stated conclusions to which inquiry has gradually led his own mind. I can only say that, finding it in scripture years ago, I have acted on it. It is evident that a sober mind cannot call it a denial of ministry.
316 As I have spoken of these last days, let me add a word on another subject. I do not desire that Christians should be occupied with it, but get more fully their own place. I do not think that the dis-establishment of the Protestants in Ireland will much affect the state of the professing church in an adverse way. If there be spiritual energy, the contrary may be the case; but the import of it for England is that it has given up Protestantism to popery. That is the meaning of the act in Ireland - a very grave fact. If the Establishment be maintained in England, it is the maintenance of a traditional system - ecclesiasticism against dissent - not the maintenance of Protestantism. What has been done is the public giving up of that [Protestantism] by England. People must not deceive themselves. If the Establishment be given up in England, it is the country's giving up all religion - any professed recognition of God altogether. What conclusion do I draw from this? That Christians should look to the Lord only. I do not expect any great persecution or trial of this kind. There may be as much as is needed to sift Christians, and force them (alas! that it should be needed) to act on their own principles, and trust the Lord. At the beginning Christianity had no outward support, but the contrary. It made its way by divine truth and power against every adverse influence. We do not exercise the same committed power; but we have grace and truth, and the promise of an open door to a little strength, when the word of Christ is kept. The word of His patience is that in which we have to abide. Patience will have to be exercised by the presence of the power of evil; but the Lord does not let the reins out of His hand, nor is evil ever beyond His power; but to walk right we must be on the true ground of faith. Englishmen are not generally aware how much they have leant on the supports which providence has placed around them; we seldom are so till we lose them. But God can use even infidelity to check the disposition to persecute. God forbid that any one should lean on or have to say to it even as a defence. Our resource is in the Lord; but He has all things at His command. To lean on it would be to deny Him; to lean on Him is to be sure of the loving care of One who nourishes and cherishes His Church as a man would his own flesh. May His servants take the word, the scriptures, the sure and only stay and guide in the last days to guide them, and live the life of faith in Him. He is faithful. The Lord will own their path, and them too, in the last day.
317 I may be permitted to add the exhortation to shew all cordial brotherly love to every true Christian, and to cultivate the expression of it, while holding fast as a duty to Christ, separation from all that is not of Him, according to 2 Timothy 2 and 3, the great direction for these days. Let me add, in these times of general upheaval and breaking up, there is a need of recollecting that we have a kingdom that cannot be moved. Calmness is the portion of those who know this, and have the truth. "Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee."