HOW low soever the Esteem of the Clergy may be sunk in a profane and corrupt Age, and how much soever the Errors and Disorders of Clergymen may have contributed to bring this not only upon themselves, but upon others who deserve better, but are unhappy in being mixed with so much ill Company; yet certainly if we either consider the nature of things in themselves, or the value that is set on that Profession, in the Scriptures, it will appear that it ought to be considered at another rate than it is. As much as the Soul is better than the Body, and as much as the purifying and perfecting the Soul is preferable to all those Mechanical Employments which relate to the Body, and as much as Eternity is more valuable than this short and transitory Life; so much does this Employment excel all others.
A Clergyman, by his Character and design of life, ought to be a man separated from the Cares and Concerns of this World, and dedicated to the study and meditation of Divine matters. Whose Conversation ought to be a Pattern for others; a constant Preaching to his People: who ought to offer up the Prayers of the People in their name, and as their mouth to God; who ought to be praying and interceding for them in secret, as well as officiating among them in public: who ought to be distributing among them the Bread of life, the Word of God; and to be dispensing among them the sacred Rites, which are the Badges, the Union, and the Supports of Christians. He ought to admonish, to reprove, and to comfort them, not only by his general Doctrine in his Sermons, but from House to House; that so he may do these things more home and effectually, than can be done from the Pulpit. He is to watch over their Souls, to keep them from error, and to alarm them out of their sins, by giving them warning of the Judgments of God; to visit the sick, and to prepare them for the Judgment and life to come.
This is the Function of a Clergyman; who that he may perform all these Duties with more advantage, and better effect, ought to behave himself so well, that his own Conversation may not only be without offence, but be so exemplary, that his People may have reason to conclude, that he himself does firmly believe all those things which he proposes to them: that he thinks himself bound to follow all those Rules that he sets them; and that they may see such a serious spirit of Devotion in him, that from thence they may be induced to believe, that his chief design among them, is to do them good, and to save their Souls: which may prepare them so to esteem and love him, that they may not be prejudiced against any thing that he does and says in public, by any thing that they observe in himself in secret. He must also be employing himself so well in his private Studies, that from thence he may be furnished with such a variety of lively thoughts, divine meditations, and proper and noble expressions, as may enable him to discharge every part of his duty, in such a manner, as may raise not so much his own reputation, as the credit of his Function, and of the great Message of Reconciliation that is committed to his charge: Above all Studies, he ought to apply himself to understand the Holy Scriptures aright; to have his memory well furnished that way, that so upon all occasions, he may be able to enforce what he says out of them, and so be an able Minister of the New Testament.
This is in short the Character of a true Clergyman, which is to be more fully opened and enlarged on in the following parts of this Book. All this looks so great and so noble, that it does not appear necessary to raise it, or to insist on it more fully. Indeed it speaks its own dignity so sensibly, that none will dispute it, but such as are open Enemies to all Religion in general, or to the Christian Religion in particular; and yet even few of these, are so entirely corrupted, as not to wish that External Order and Policy were kept up among men, for restraining the Injustice and Violence of unruly Appetites and Passions; which few, even of the Tribe of the Libertines, seem to desire to be let loose; since the Peace and Safety of Mankind, require that the World be kept in Method, and under some Yoke.
It will be more suitable to my design, to show how well this Character agrees with that which is laid down in the Scriptures concerning these Offices. I shall begin first with the Names, and then go on to the Descriptions, and lastly proceed to the Rules that we find in them. The name of Deacon, that is now appropriated to the lowest Office in the Church, was in the time that the New Testament was writ, used more promiscuously: For the Apostles, the Evangelists, and those whom the Apostles sent to visit the Churches, are all called by this name. Generally in all those places where the word Minister is in our Translation, it is Deacon in the Greek, which signifies properly a Servant, or one who labours for another. Such Persons are dedicated to the immediate Service of God; and are appropriated to the Offices and Duties of the Church: so this term both expresses the dignity and the labour of the Employment.
The next order carries now the name of Presbyter, or Elder; which though at first it was applied not only to Bishops, but to the Apostles themselves; yet in the succeeding Ages, it came to be appropriated to the Second Rank of the Officers in the Church. It either signifies a Seniority of Age, or of Christianity, in opposition to a Neophite or Novice, one newly converted to the Faith; but by common Practice, as Senate or Senator, being at first given to Councilors, by reason of their Age, came afterwards to be a Title appropriate to them; so the Title Presbyter (altered in pronunciation to be in English, Priest) or Elder being a Character of respect, denotes the Dignity of those to whom it belongs: But since St. Paul divides this Title either into two different Ranks, or into two different Performances of the Duties of the same Rank, those that rule well, and those that labour in Word and Doctrine; this is a Title that speaks both the Dignity, and likewise the Duty belonging to this Function.
The Title which is now by the Custom of many Ages given to the highest Function in the Church, of Bishop, or Inspector, and Overseer, as it imports a Dignity in him, as the chief of those who labour; so it does likewise express his obligation to care and diligence, both in observing, and overseeing the whole Flock, and more specially in inspecting the Deportment and Labours of his Fellow Workmen, who are subordinate to him in the constitution of the Church, yet ought to be esteemed by him in imitation of the Apostles, his Brethren, his Fellow-Labourers, and Fellow-Servants. Next to the Names of the Sacred Functions, I shall consider the other Designations and Figures, made use of to express them.
The most common is that of Pastor or Shepherd. It is to be remembered, that in the first simplicity of Mankind for many Ages, men looked after their own Cattle, or employed their Children in it; and when they trusted that care to any other, it was no small sign of their Confidence, according to what Jacob said to Laban. The care of a good Shepherd was a Figure then so well understood, that the Prophet expresses God's care of his People, by this, of his feeding them as a Shepherd, carrying his Lambs in his Bosom, and gently leading them that were with young. Christ also calls himself the Good Shepherd, that knew his Sheep, and did not as a hireling, fly away when the Wolf came, but laid down his life for his Sheep. This then being so often made use of in both Testaments, is an expression of the great Trust committed to the Clergy, which likewise supposes a great, a constant, and a tender care in looking to, in feeding or instructing, in watching over, and guarding the Flock against Errors and Sins, and their being ready to offer themselves to the first Fury of Persecution.
The Title of Stewards, or Dispensers, which is the most honourable in a Household, is also given to them. These assign to every one his due share, both of Labour and of Provision; these watch over them, and have the care and order of the other Servants assigned to them. So in this great Family, of which Christ is the Head, the Stewards are a Post of great Dignity, but also of much Labour, they ought to be observing the rest of this Household, that they may be faithful in the distribution, and so encourage, admonish, reprove or censure, as there is occasion for it.
They are also called Ambassadors, and that upon the noblest and desirablest Message, for their business is to treat of Peace between God and Man; to them is given the Word or Doctrine of Reconciliation; they are sent by Christ, and do speak in God's Name; as if God did beseech men by them; so do they in Christ's stead, who is the Mediator, press men to be reconciled to God; Words of a very high sound, of great Trust and Dignity, but which import likewise great obligations. An Ambassador is very solicitous to maintain the Dignity of his Character, and his Master's Honour; and chiefly to carry on that which is the main business that he is sent upon, which he is always contriving how to promote: So if the Honour of this Title affects us as it ought to do, with a just value for it, we ought at the same time to consider the Obligations that accompany it, of living suitable to it, answering in some sort, the Dignity and Majesty of the King of kings, that has committed it to us; and of labouring with all possible diligence, to effectuate the great Design on which we are sent; The reconciling Sinners to God: The Work having in it self a proportion to the Dignity of him that employs us in it.
Another, and yet a more Glorious Title, is that of Angels, who as they are of a pure and sublime Nature, and are called a Flaming Fire, so they do always behold the face of our Heavenly Father, and ever do his will, and are also Ministering Spirits, sent forth to minister to them that are appointed to be the Heirs of Salvation: This Title is given to Bishops and Pastors; and as if that were not enough, they are in one place called not only the Messengers or Angels of the Churches, but also the Glory of Christ. The Natural Importance of this is, that men to whom this Title is applied, ought to imitate those Heavenly Powers, in the elevation of their Souls; to contemplate the Works and Glory of God, and in their constant doing his will, more particularly in ministering to the Souls of those, for whom the great Angel of the Covenant made himself a Sacrifice.
I do not among these Titles reckon those of Rulers or Governours, that are also given to Bishops, because they seem to be but another Name for Bishops, whose Inspection was a Rule and Government, and so carried in its signification, both Authority and Labour. To these Designations, that carry in them Characters of Honour, but of Honour joined to Labour, and for the sake of which the Honour was due, according to that, esteem them very highly for their works sake; I shall add some other Designations, that in their significations carry only Labour without Honour, being borrowed from Labours that are hard, but no way Honourable.
They are often called Watchmen, who used to stand on high Towers, and were to give the Alarm, as they saw occasion for it: These Men were obliged to a constant attendance, to watch in the Night, as well as in the Day: So all this being applied to the Clergy, imports that they ought to be upon their Watch-Tower, observing what Dangers their People are exposed to, either by their Sins, which provoke the Judgments of God; or by the Designs of their Enemies; they ought not by a false respect, suffer them to sleep and perish in their Sins; but must denounce the Judgments of God to them, and rather incur their displeasure by their freedom, than suffer them to perish in their Security.
St. Paul does also call Church-men by the Name of Builders, and gives to the Apostles the Title of Master-builders; this imports both hard and painful Labour, and likewise great care and exactness in it, for want of which the Building will be not only exposed to the injuries of Weather, but will quickly tumble down; and it gives us to understand, that those who carry this Title, ought to study well the Great Rule, by which they must carry on the Interest of Religion, that so they may build up their people in their most holy Faith, so as to be a Building fitly framed together.
They are also called Labourers in God's Husbandry, Labourers in his Vineyard, and Harvest, who are to sow, plant and water, and to cultivate the Soil of the Church. This imports a continual return of daily and hard Labour, which requires both Pain and Diligence. They are also called Soldiers, men that did war and fight against the Powers of Darkness. The Fatigue, the Dangers and Difficulties of that State of Life are so well understood, that no Application is necessary to make them more sensible.
And thus by a particular enumeration of either the more special names of these Offices, such as Deacon, Priest and Bishop, Ruler and Governour, or of the designations given to them of Shepherds or Pastors, Stewards, Ambassadors and Angels, it appears that there is a great Dignity belonging to them, but a Dignity which must carry labour with it, as that for which the honour is due: The other Titles of Watchmen, Builders, Labourers and Soldiers, import also that they are to decline no part of their duty, for the labour that is in it, the dangers that may follow, or the seeming meanness that may be in it, since we have for this so great a Rule and Pattern set us by our Saviour, who has given us this Character of himself, and in that a Rule to all that pretend to come after him, The son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. This was said upon the proud Contentions that had been among his Disciples, who should be the greatest: two of them presuming upon their near relation to him, and pretending to the first Dignity in his Kingdom; upon that he gave them to understand, That the Dignities of his Kingdom were not to be of the same nature with those that were in the World. It was not Rule or Empire to which they were to pretend; The Disciple was not to be above his Lord: And he that humbled himself to be the last and lowest in his Service, was by so doing, really the first.
He himself descended to the washing his Disciples feet; which he proposeth to their imitation; and that came in latter Ages to be taken up by Princes, and acted by them in pageantry: But the plain account of that Action, is, That it was a Prophetical Emblem; of which sort we find several Instances both in Isaiah, Jeremy and Ezekiel: the Prophet doing somewhat that had a mystical signification in it, relating to the Subject of his Prophecy: So that our Saviour's washing the feet of his Disciples, imported the Humility, and the descending to the meanest Offices of Charity, which he recommended to his Followers, particularly to those whom he appointed to preach his Gospel to the World.