THE great work before the Church, on the present occasion, is one relating to the highest branch of external sacred order. Nothing, therefore, can be a more appropriate subject for this discourse than an elucidation of the nature of that branch of the external appointments given to the Church--the MINISTRY.
Our text is a prophetic declaration on this subject. It asserts that, in the age of the Gospel, the Deity will take of its professors--and whether these were to be Gentiles or restored Jews we need not here inquire--and receive them into his service, as his ministry or priesthood, as Christian priests and Christian levites. "And I will also take of them for priests and for levites, saith the LORD."
We first learn from this passage, that the ministry of the Christian Church was deemed of sufficient importance, by the HOLY SPIRIT, to be made one of the subjects of prophecy. The inspired bards who hailed the approach of the good things to come, devoted their highest strains to the expected glories of the Church, and of her exalted Head. But they forgot not the sacramental "sprinkling with clean water," nor the "pure offering" of the Christian altar." [Ezek. xxxvi. Mal. i. Heb. xiii.] They forgot not "the new heart and new spirit" more abundantly to be granted under the dispensation of the Spirit. [Ezek. xxxvi.] Neither did they forget the rulers and pastors [3/4] of Zion in her new and evangelical state--her officers were to be peace--her watchmen, of exemplary fidelity, were to lift up their voices together for the redemption of Jerusalem--those who should bear the vessels of the LORD would be clean.
Such notice, beside our text, is found in the prophets, on the subject of the Christian ministry.
Our next inference from the text is that there is a priesthood under CHRIST as well as under Moses. It is true that all Christians are, in a figurative sense, termed "priests; but the addition of the word "levites" precludes that sense in the present passage: the Christian body never has the name of levites. The expression also "I will take of them," implies the separation of a part of Christians from the rest; the part are to be made priests and levites; the remainder continue in the rank of unofficial disciples of the LORD, or laity. We therefore conclude that, according to this prophetic declaration, an actual and proper priesthood exists under the Gospel. One great function indeed, that of offering expiatory sacrifices, has ceased, in all its parts; for CHRIST, "by His one offering, hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." But that was not the sole function distinctively sacerdotal; and of functions that are so, enough remain to make the Christian ministry a priesthood.
One other proposition may be founded on our text--In this Christian priesthood there is a distinction of orders. All the ministry is not of one rank and equal standing, but its members differ in their office, in their commission in their functions. Our text distinguishes two of these grades, Christian priests and Christian levites, such as are called presbyters and deacons. And any one conversant with Jewish Scriptures is aware that when the class of [4/5] priests was named without obvious restriction, it was implied, and always understood, that the high priest was included; and in the frequent mention of Aaron, as well as his sons, as being in the "priests' office," there is further proof to the same effect. In fact, no Israelite, reading the prophecy before us, would doubt, that, whenever GOD should restore the priesthood, as there promised, a high priest was also to be expected. Here then is a prediction which positively asserts that the Christian ministry would consist of more than one order, and which, according to the constant usage of Scripture (which is the law of scriptural language) makes the number of these sacred orders to be three--a high priest or bishop, priests or presbyters, and levites or deacons. The letter of the passage is, that the levitical priesthood would be restored; and in that priesthood there were the three grades of high priest, priests, and levites. The spirit of the passage applies it to the Christian priesthood; and it fully justifies the interpretation, that this priesthood also would consist of three grades, bishops, presbyters, and deacons. These orders, we know, make the form of ministry which is called episcopal or apostolical. And we think that it adds to the credentials of this sacred model of the priesthood, that it not only is sufficiently delineated in the New Testament, but is also the clear subject of prophecy.
On the subject thus introduced, we shall enter into a [5/6] somewhat fuller discussion, under the two heads:--Why should there be a ministry? Why should that ministry be divided into orders?
I. It is asked, Why should there be a Christian ministry? Why may not each one read and expound the sacred volume for himself, and for himself conduct all the affairs of his soul?
Now, there is as obvious a propriety in having a class of men devoted to the study of sacred truth, as there is in having such classes devoted to all other kinds of truth. There ought to be a distinct portion of the Christian community, who are to make it their business, first to inform themselves, and then to instruct others, in the things pertaining to the kingdom of GOD. Hence the declaration of the prophet,--"The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and the people should seek the law at his mouth." Hence also the charge of an apostle to a minister of his own ordaining,--"Meditate on these things, give thyself wholly to them." A class of men thus entirely "given" to sacred study and instruction are, by their very duties, set apart from the world.
Beside study and instruction, there are other functions appropriated to the priesthood. Scripture speaks of "the work of the ministry, as one of the purposes for which apostles and pastors were given; and of several of these it is recorded that "they ministered to the LORD." The work of the ministry or priesthood includes the performance of all holy offices not committed to the private members of the flock; public teaching and the offering of public prayers belong to the ministry, if any be present, if not, they are, at least, to be under their direction and control; the administration of the sacraments, and of confirmation, and other authoritative general benedictions, and above all, [6/7] the commissioning of others to the priestly office, belong exclusively to the ministry. For the performance of these or similar functions, adding also that of sacrifice, there has, in all religions, been a separated class of men. Under the patriarchs there were priests for such duties. Under Moses, their exclusive rights were very strictly guarded, as is exemplified in the case of Korah and his company. And to leave a warning to Christians also, the "gainsaying of Korah" is ascribed to some of their own body. We can not doubt, therefore, that there are offices in the Christian religion which may not be performed by men in general, but only by those who are set apart for such functions.
Let us, however, under the guidance of a Scripture replete with light on this subject, bring ourselves into nearer view of it. This Scripture we shall present in its various parts.
"Every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in things pertaining to GOD." We here learn that "every high priest is taken from among men." Our text asserts the same "taking" of certain persons for "priests and levites." These all, therefore, are separated or set apart; they are made distinct from their brethren, the laity. This is the first character of the ministry; it is a separated class.
We next learn the object of this separation:--"Every high priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to GOD." In things pertaining to GOD, therefore, the rule has been, and is, that men are to have a minister to act for them. In other words, there are appointed agents for men in certain of their transactions with the Deity, and these agents are the priesthood. This office, as the representatives of their flock before GOD, corresponds with their Office as [7/8] the "ambassadors of CHRIST," or his representatives with their flock.
"No man taketh this honor to himself," continues the apostle, "but he that is called of GOD, as was Aaron." This ought indeed to follow from the nature of the office; for, as none but the principal can commission an agent, it belongs to the Deity alone to accredit those of whose services he will admit; it is not in men to originate an authorized commission from him. This commission from the Head of the Church, or ordination as he has appointed it, is the "calling of GOD" intended in the passage. Aaron, after being named by the Deity, was consecrated or set apart by the solemnity of anointing, performed by Moses. And this naming, commissioning, anointing of that individual, extended to all his successors, his Sons; so that they also were, in virtue of this one act, outwardly called of God. When the Church became Christian, the apostles were called and commissioned, and in an effectively similar manner; they were designated directly by our Saviour; and he breathed upon them in order to confer on them the character of a separation or setting apart by the HOLY SPIRIT to the sacred office; which "breathing" corresponds with the ancient anointing, and was, indeed, a higher ceremony of the same import. And that one spiration extends, like the anointing of Aaron to his sons, to all the successors of the apostles; the HOLY SPIRIT ratifies their ordination; and this constitutes their outward "call from eon," or divine commission. So that, from first to last, provision is made that all who are "ordained for men in things pertaining to GOD" shall be "called of GOD, as was Aaron."
The sequel of this remarkable passage is also worthy of note;--"So also CHRIST glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but He that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee; as he saith also in another place, [8/9] Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek." Of such indispensable obligation is the principle before us, that even the man CHRIST JESUS assumed not the office of himself, but received his sacerdotal call or commission from the Father; and this is twice recorded,--"This day have I begotten thee," or conferred on thee all thy offices,--"Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek." Not of himself, but by Him who pronounced this language, was the Saviour "glorified" to the priesthood.
And when the Head of the Church declared to the eleven, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you," he deposited all that was unfulfilled of his commission on earth with his apostles, and thus opened the human channel through which this commission of sacerdotal separation should flow. When also one of his immediate successors, after having set apart his favorite son in the Gospel, desired him also to "commit" this sacred deposit "to other faithful men," it was clearly intimated that the channel of the holy commission should continue open. And when we add to this the promise of our Lord, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," we have before us the entire and connected truth,--that it is the will of GOD, that, throughout the whole period of Christianity, a priest hood be "taken from among men, and ordained for men in things pertaining to GOD."
A sufficient answer has now been given to the question, Why should there be a ministry? Such an appointment is indicated by the nature of things; since sacred study and instruction are full occupation for those who undertake them. It is also the uniform concession and practice under every kind of religion. It is required, moreover, by Scripture, which not only prescribes the religious offices of [9/10] Christianity, but commits the performance of certain of those offices to its priesthood. And Scripture yet further requires the same, in declaring this priesthood to be a separated class of men, outwardly "called of GOD," their commission coming from the Father to the man CHRIST JESUS, and by him sent downward, in and by succession, "to the end of the world."
II. Why should this ministry be divided into orders? We answer, that it is dictated by the nature and propriety of subordination--by usual practice in other bodies of men--by the concurrent usage of all religions--and by Scripture.
It is dictated by the nature and propriety of subordination, that there be a difference of rank in the sacred office, so that one chief minister be above the other ministers of a proper district of the Church. Such is human nature, that there will always be precedence among the members of any distinct class of persons. Such also is human nature, that this precedence, if not fixed, will often be disputed. Take the members of any profession, take any restricted association of men, and you see among them the "love of pre-eminence" and the competition for it. The same is true, or would, were there no preventive, be true, of the clergy. Though they have many, in general, very many, holy attainments and dispositions, they yet are "men of like passions with others;" and when there is no official superior, some individual of them gains usually more even than episcopal influence; but as he has no accredited right to it, affairs are not thereby settled. But when precedence is determined by giving the first official rank to a particular individual, these feelings are most generally diminished or subdued: the first place being appropriated, there is not much ambition to fill the second. When there is a bishop, there is seldom more than a wholesome emulation among the clergy, to feed and nourish the Church [10/11] in peace. We except of course the case of an opposition. The trouble thus occasioned cannot be remedied by any arrangement whatever. For, if it be opposition without principle, we must remember that Diotrephes would not "receive" even the aged apostle whom JESUS had loved. And if it be opposition on conscientious principle, the Arbiter of conscience is the Divine Head of the Church,--that power is delegated to none of his servants. Only let those who thus oppose themselves be first assured that their scruple is of importance enough to bind the conscience, and then remember also, that, beside a more extensive field of responsibility, conscience is equally at stake on the part of their ecclesiastical rulers. With such exceptions, however, we affirm that the distinction of priestly rank called episcopacy tends to preserve subordination and peace.
Perhaps it will be argued, that this exalting of a bishop so decidedly above other ministers is derogatory to those who are to submit to him, and is at variance with our free civil Institutions. O answer will remove the substance of this objection. The word of GOD defines and prescribes the orders of the ministry, but leaves the government of the state free to human choice the latter is wholly to be settled by the best attainable wisdom of men; the former, in its great outlines, is fixed by the wisdom of GOD, and men have no authority to change or modify it. But--to meet, not only the substance, but even the plausibility of such an objection--we advert to the fact that a difference of rank in the ministry is countenanced by usual practice, both in civil governments at large, and in most bodies and associations of men within the state. In our own country, while every man is on a level with every other, as to fundamental and essential rights, there yet are many grades of [11/12] officers in the government, many grades of magistrates. These, however, and most officers of associations, it may further be objected, enjoy their authority, not permanently, like the incumbents of the episcopate, but only for a limited season. But we answer, that in the profession devoted to warfare and defence, the commissions are perpetual, and there are many grades of them; and that there are also, on the judicial bench, grades of office, each held usually for life, or till the holder is superannuated, unless he be promoted; nor does any considerate person deem this the least encroachment on the general freedom. It is, in fact, obvious, that when the officers of a permanent body have to act together, or when there is an appeal from one of them to another, the public good requires a permanent subordination. Nor, we repeat, does this injure a single civil right. Sufficiently similar to these cases is that of the priesthood. In all civil matters, every member of the priesthood is on a level with the rest, and all are on a level with other citizens; each and all, whether clergy or laity, submitting equally to the public magistrate. But in the business of their sacred calling, the ministry has a subordination within its own body, there being several grades or commissions; and a very ample experience has shown that this internal order of the Church has never interfered in the least with the free institutions of our land; it extends only to spiritual matters, not affecting a single civil right or secular interest. We appeal, therefore, to the wisdom which assigns different grades to magistrates and to other officers within the civil government--we appeal to the wisdom which has made different grades permanent in at least two honorable secular professions, that of justice, and that of arms--and we assert that the similar arrangement of episcopacy, beside its divine authority, is wisely ordered on human principles.
 Another answer to the question, why should there be different ranks in the priestly body, is, that such has been the usage in all religions, if we revert to the patriarchal ages, we find Abraham paying tithes to Melchisedek, and receiving a benediction from him. The former was a priest as well as the latter; but the tithes given, and the benediction accepted, show that Melchisedek was a priest of more eminent rank; which indeed seems also to follow from the appellation given him,--"Priest of the most high GOD; that probably being a title of distinction, appropriated to the chief priest among the true worshippers in that country. Our Saviour also is called, not only a priest, but "a high priest," after the order of Melchisedek; which language is an intimation that there were high priests in that ancient order. Different ranks, therefore, obtained in the ministry of that patriarchal age. if again we turn to the Mosaic Church, we find exactly three ranks, corresponding with our own three orders; the high priest being first, as are our bishops; the other priests answering to our presbyters; and the levites attending to inferior sacred services, and subordinate sacred teaching, as do our deacons. And let it be recollected, that there was a high priest in Israel, centuries before there was a king there, and that, of course, the one office has no affinity with the other: while the civil government, yet under the judges, was free, as free, at least, as the then state of the people would admit, the ecclesiastical government had its three orders, one of which was above the rest; a fact which strongly illustrates the agreement between episcopacy and free civil institutions. If, lastly, we examine the several false religions, whether Pagan or Mahomedan, we almost invariably find the same distinction of higher and lower ministers. Perhaps in some small or obscure tribes there may be too few called priests [13/14] to require any systematic subordination; but in civilized and extensive Heathen domains, this subordination exists. We may justly suppose that the various false religions borrowed this feature, as they did many other things, from the true; for we have seen that it obtained both under the patriarchs and under Moses. But if we should allow that the several forms of Heathenism invented it, we then must conclude, that a system of priestly subordination which has been so universally adopted, has the best possible sanction of human wisdom. Both men and the Deity unite in prescribing an arrangement so salutary.
But we rest not in the mere precedents contained in former dispensations,--we rest not in the human sanctions to be adduced for sacerdotal subordination, assert that a similar arrangement of the Christian ministry is set forth in the Christian Scriptures. This position opening a wide field of illustration, your preacher will of course be excused from attempting to imbody much of that illustration in this discourse. Let it suffice that a few of the arguments fill up the small space that can be here allowed it. 1. The Jewish prophecies clearly relating to Christianity, have an especial right to rank with the Christian Scriptures; and we therefore appeal again to our text, as declaring that there would be established under our Saviour the two orders of Christian "priests and levites," and as implying, from the well-known extended meaning of the word "priests," that there would also be "set in the Church" the superior order of Christian high priests. This is sacerdotal subordination, or episcopacy. 2. Not only the priesthood of CHRIST individually, but that also of the whole Christian ministry, is usually allowed to be "after the order of Melchisedek." This language, under such an interpretation, implies, as one particular of its meaning, that ours is a catholic or universal priesthood, like the patriarchal; not limited to one nation, like the levitical. [14/15] But this language also implies, we think, under the same interpretation, as including the whole Christian ministry, that as there were high priests, above other priests, in the patriarchal branch of the order of Melchisedek, so there were instituted high priests above other ministers, in the Christian branch of the order of Melchisedek. And this superior grade is the essential point in episcopacy. 3. The apostles unquestionably rose to their full eminence through various degrees of sacerdotal power. There was a period during which they had the right to baptize and teach, before there was conferred on them the power of the keys. There was a subsequent period during which they had also the power of the keys, before they received the commission to ordain, in that final and full delegation of authority which was made to them by our Saviour, in the words, "as my Father hath sent me," among other duties to commission you, "even so send I you," among other duties to com mission others. This full ecclesiastical power, conferred after our Lord's resurrection, marked a third stage in the promotion of the apostles. And these three stages are obviously the three orders of episcopacy. 4. That not all ministers received this entire ecclesiastical power, but only a comparatively small number, appears from the epistles to Timothy; for these epistles, relating chiefly to sacerdotal government and discipline, and to ordination, are, in none of their parts, addressed to the ministry of Ephesus at large, but, on the contrary, record the explicit language, "this charge I commit unto THEE, son Timothy," individually. In fact, the epistles to Timothy, to Titus, and to the "angels," or chief ministers of the seven Asiatic churches, are the broad and clear record of episcopacy on the inspired page.
The present occasion, however, admits of no further enlargement on these topics. We have but time, before concluding, to advert to the crowning truth, which cannot be too often repeated--that the visible Church, and the [15/16] appointments given it by its Head, are but means for accomplishing the great end of religion. "Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed," is an apostolic maxim that should always guard us from elevating the ministry into a final, or even a distinct object of its own institution. The end, the only ultimate end of the sacred ministry is--to further repentance toward GOD, and faith in our Lord JESUS CHRIST; and wo be to those in the holy office who make it not their constant and unwearied endeavor to promote this the supreme purpose of their vocation. But it must also be remembered, that the means are "commanded," as well as the "end,"--that in striving for the salvation of souls, we must "strive law fully." Among these appointed means is a priesthood, as we have now shown, having apostolical authority, and conformed to the apostolical model of subordination.
True indeed it is, that the work of GOD may be promoted, not only by rules, but also by exceptions; and we rejoice that in every way CHRIST is preached. While also we regret that many of these ways are not the way which he appointed, we honor a sincere zeal in his service, wherever it is found. That the evil is great, however great may be the good, of the distracted and irregular, though well-meant efforts of the Christian world, we are bound to believe; inasmuch as the method prescribed by inspiration must be the best; yet, in asserting the mischief, we would be far from denying the frequent benefit, of many of these efforts. GOD will unquestionably so over-rule all derangements, from the wrath of the wicked to the honest mistakes of the godly, as to educe from them glory to Himself. This we fully believe. But we also believe, that the glory of GOD can in no way be so fully promoted, as by a strict and undeviating adherence to his method of conducting the "ministration of righteousness."
 The Church, my respected brethren--bishops elect--looks on the solemnity now before us, in which you are so peculiarly concerned, with feelings of the deepest interest. Our increasing Communion calls for your labors in the high character, and with the responsible charge, immediately to be conferred upon you. In the affairs of that Communion you are now to bear a more conspicuous and more influential part than hitherto, and you doubtless fee! the obligation to discharge, with all fidelity, the exalted duties which will henceforth devolve upon you. The Church has expressed her confidence in you, and it rests with you to fulfil the expectations implied in this confidence. A detail of these duties on your part, and expectations on the part of the Church, need not be offered to those whose character is a pledge that they already understand them; and I therefore, without enlarging on them, conclude with laying on you the apostolic injunction.
In the name of all acting and consenting in this work, "I give you charge, in the sight of GOD, who quickeneth all things, and before CHRIST JESUS, that you keep the commandment to be given you, that you fulfil your commission, without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord JESUS CHRIST; which in his times he shall show who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: To whom be honor and power everlasting!"--AMEN.