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NEW CONNEXION MAGAZINE.
ESSAYS, &c., ON THEOLOGY AND GENERAL LITERATURE.
THE LAY MINISTRY.
THE privilege of our embracing Christianity involves the duty of diffusing it to the utmost of our power; and what is our duty will ever be our delight if our personal religion be healthy and vigorous. The extent of our duty is prescribed by the measure of our ability, and our energy in performing it will be proportioned to the vigour of our religious life; for the love of Christ has a constraining power, and it never ceases to constrain until it ceases to live. Labour for Christ, therefore, is one visible expression of our love to him. In harmony with this there are spheres of usefulness in the church of God adapted to every grade of ability; and as there is a place for every man, so every man will find his appropriate position if he only put himself in an obedient attitude, and allow Providence to be his guide. In the economy of Methodism this principle is conspicuously recognized, and means for its embodiment are provided more amply than in any church of modern times. Among the means of usefulness the ministry holds unquestionably the highest and most important place; and as it aims at nothing less than the salvation of all men, it employs an agency of widely diversified talent, and imposes its duties on men of a secular calling as well as on those who are wholly consecrated to its work. Let no one think lightly of a separated ministry, for it is an ordinance of God; let no one grudge a competent support to its ambassadors, for its Divine founder has said "the labourer is worthy of his hire;" and let no one seek to undermine or resist their scriptural authority as the stewards of God and the chief rulers in his church, for we are exhorted "to know them who labour amongst us, and are over us in the Lord, and admonish us, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." The Divine origin of a separated ministry and the duty of its support are settled points, and the state of the world, both at home and abroad, demands a large augmentation in the number of zealous and devoted labourers. Equally Divine in its origin is the institution of the lay ministry; and it is on this we desire especially to speak at present, because it is a subject on which we think too
little is said in the present day; and there is danger, both of the office being undervalued by the people, and of its duties being too negligently performed by its agents: the one evil is indeed often the parent of the other. The fact that there are at the present period about ten lay preachers to one circuit minister in the Methodist denominations, is sufficient to impress us with a conviction of the power which is thus furnished for useful activity, and the desirableness of rendering it in the highest degree available in the aggressive and onward movements of the church. We should like to see in the people a deeper conviction of its importance, and in the preachers themselves a more powerful sense of its responsibilities, and a more enlightened, earnest, and zealous regard to its functions and obligations. With some persons there is a foolish objection to the services of a lay ministry; as if men pursuing a secular calling were out of their place when ministering the word of life. We call this foolish, because it is founded neither in reason nor the word of God, but is equally opposed to both. It is akin to the prejudice which raised an outcry against the efforts of Robert Stephenson in his gigantic schemes to intersect the earth with railways, and traverse them with locomotives, because he was an humble breaksman, and had received no professional diploma. It is like the dogma of the Papal Hierarchy which denudes the whole dissenting ministry of its status and authority, because not in the line of Apostolical succession. The economy and the history of Methodism confront this prejudice, and afford credentials for the authority of both a separated and a lay ministry, which bear the solemn impress of Jehovah's sanction, as evidently as the call from heaven which commissioned Saul of Tarsus to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. The founders of Methodism were early taught by the force of irresistible facts that some of their cherished notions on the ministry, imbibed from education, and fortified by established usage, stood in the way of the Divine purposes-that such obstructions must be swept away, so that the chariot of the Gospel might speed its course; and that henceforth their aggressive operations must not be trammelled by the official routine with which prejudice and formalism had encumbered a Divine institution, but must proceed in the simple and unfettered mode which God had marked out in his word. Methodism was the child of Providence, and so was the origination of its unpretending but effective ministry; and that Providence broke through its cumbrous restraints, for they were human, and restored a primitive agency which was Divine-and from that period until now, a regular ministry, wholly separated to the work, but largely supplemented by devoted men, who connect the occasional performance of its functions with a secular calling, has been the order of Methodism, and under God the main cause of its wide and prosperous diffusion. That a lay ministry is not a new thing under the sun, but the revival of a primitive institution, may be very easily shown.
1. It appears that originally both the priestly and the prophetic functions were exercised by men of secular pursuits. Under the patriarchal economy, each pious father was the priest of his household, connecting the highest offices of religion with the pursuits of husbandry and the usual occupations of an earthly calling; and to some of the patriarchs in those primitive times, the spirit of prophecy was imparted, under which they both unfolded the truths of a promised dispensation,
and taught and admonished the surrounding population. Enoch walked with God, and warned an ungodly world of impending judgments. Noah was a preacher of righteousness, Abraham a prophet of the Lord, and Isaac and Jacob were both the recipients and the communicators of revelations from God to man. Thus devout shepherds, husbandmen, and chieftains in those remote ages, were, in their respective localities, the priests, prophets, and teachers of mankind.
2. When the Jewish Dispensation was inaugurated in the wilderness, one tribe was selected from the twelve to be devoted to sacred service, and one family of this chosen tribe was appointed to the Priestly office. "The Lord separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord; to stand before the Lord to minister unto him, and to bless in his name." The descendants of Aaron were specially selected to offer sacrifices and perform the more sacred duties of the sanctuary; but the whole tribe of Levi was set apart to the ordinary services of religion, and their support was exacted from the people by Divine authority. Yet this separation of one tribe to the service of the sanctuary did not exclude men of secular station from functions essentially connected with the ministry. The gift of infallible inspiration is surely as sacred as the privilege of presenting sacrifices, and the office of prophet is as important and spiritual as that of priest; yet inspiration was bestowed on many who were not of the sacerdotal race, and the solemn burden of prophecy delivered by many who had no inheritance with Levi. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it is true, were prophets of the sacerdotal line; but David, Solomon, and probably Daniel and Isaiah, were of the tribe of Judah; and most, if not all the rest, of the ancient seers, were unconnected with the priesthood. Thus it is evident that God employed in the sacred functions of the ministry men of secular station, honoured them with the highest gifts of inspiration, and authorized them to reveal his will and proclaim his solemn messages to mankind. Nor did he except men in the humblest stations. Though David was a king, and Daniel a statesman, and Isaiah probably of the royal line, yet Elisha was a husbandman, and Amos a herdman, and others were men of humble condition. Nor were these men excluded from occasionally performing even those rites which peculiarly belonged to the priestly office. Samuel and Elijah offered sacrifices, Solomon presented public prayer at the dedication of the temple, and David sometimes put on the sacred ephod and inquired of the Lord. From the Old Testament, therefore, it is evident that the ministry in its largest sense comprehended both a class of men wholly devoted to the interests of religion, and others who held a secular occupation.
3. The testimony of the New Testament establishes the same principle. It clearly recognizes two classes of labourers in word and doctrine. One class to whom the ministry was their proper calling, their whole life being devoted to its sacred duties; the other, such as laboured occasionally in the ministry, connecting its duties with a secular occupation. The seventy disciples were ministers of the word, but there is no proof that they permanently relinquished their secular employment. The Deacons, who served tables, were also ambassadors of grace, and ministers of Christ. On the persecution which arose about Stephen, many Christians were dispersed, and those who were scattered abroad travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch,
preaching the word of God. There is no proof that any of these were either apostles or pastors; or that they were ever exclusively devoted to the work. Yet their labours were greatly blessed of God; for it is said "the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."-Acts xi. 19-21. The church at Antioch, it seems, was planted by the ministry of laymen, and that church was eminently distinguished for its piety, its zeal, and all the fruits of holiness and usefulness. He who despises such agency despises that on which God has fixed the seal of his approval, and which in all ages he has employed as one means to diffuse his truth and advance his glory.
4. Nor did lay preaching terminate with apostolic times. The ancient church at a subsequent period sanctioned the same practice. It is recorded that when Origen went from Alexandria into Palestine, though unordained, he was desired by the bishops of that country to preach in the churches. Alexander, the bishop of Jerusalem, and the bishop of Cesarea, in a joint-letter to the bishop of Alexandria, justify the practice of lay preaching, and maintain that "wherever any are found that are fit to profit the brethren, the holy bishops of their own accord ask them to preach unto the people." The adoption of lay preaching, therefore, by Methodism was only a revival of a neglected custom, sanctioned by Divine authority and ancient as Christianity itself.
5. Descending to the times of Queen Elizabeth in the sixteenth century, we find that many laymen were employed under authority "to publish the Gospel, whose endeavours the Lord blessed to the good of souls;" and in coming down a century later we find lay preaching extensively practised both in the army and in various parts of the kingdom. In fact, there is still extant a petition which was sent by the citizens of London and others to both Houses of Parliament to sanction the appointment of laymen to occupy the pulpits of neglected congregations, "there being many hundreds of towns and villages altogether destitute of any preaching ministers, and many others not well supplied."*
It was about this time that Bunyan, and Gifford his predecessor, both laymen, the one an apothecary and the other a tinker, were called to preach, and were rendered so singularly useful in Bedford and the surrounding country. "Gifford, before his conversion, had been condemned to death for being concerned in an insurrection against the Protector, and but narrowly escaped. He was leading a most abandoned and profligate life. One evening he lost a large sum of money at the gaming-table, and in the fierceness of his chagrin his mind was filled with the most desperate thoughts of the providence of God. In his vexation he snatched up a book. It was a volume of Bolton, a solemn and forceful writer then well known. A sentence in this book so fixed on his conscience that for many weeks he could get no rest in his spirit. When at last he found forgiveness through the blood of Christ, his joy was extreme, and, except for two days before his death, he never lost the comfortable persuasion of God's love. For some time the few pious individuals in that neighbourhood would not believe that such a reprobate was really converted; but, nothing daunted by their distrust, like his prototype of Tarsus, he Rushworth, page 841.