BIBLE preparation is followed by Church preparation. It is
no reflection upon the Bible that it requires commissioned teachers, and
no disparagement of the Church that Christ’s messengers should bear a written
message, for the same Lord Who has “caused all Holy Scriptures to be written
for our learning” has also “sent His messengers to turn the hearts of the
disobedient to the wisdom of the just,” and the written message is nothing
less than the preaching and teaching of the earliest messengers.
If any say, “We have the Bible and do not need the Church,” they are
content to look at truth through one eye when God has given them two eyes.
They forget that, though we live in the age of books, teachers, schools,
and universities are none the less needed. The New Testament everywhere
assumes the previous work of the Christian ministry, and represents the
secondary teaching of the primitive Church. It is for the most part the
book of the baptized and instructed Christian who has ceased to need to
be taught “the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.” To discard
the teaching of the Church is therefore to have missed primary truth and
not to have begun at the beginning. Such a Christian is like a musician
who is not sure of his notes, or a scholar who halts in his grammar, or
a painter deficient in the technique of his art.
Such a view as we have given of the Church as the primary and the New
Testament as the secondary instructor can hardly be held to disparage the
latter. “The Church to teach and the Bible to prove” is surely the obvious
order, and it must be ever remembered that we were baptized into the Church
and not into the Bible.
THE EPISTLE. I COR. iv. 1.
S. Paul here teaches the dignity and responsibility of the ministerial
He views this high calling in a double aspect; first in its relation
to Christ, and then in its relation to other Christians.
A. In relation to Christ they
They are not their own masters, but the servants of Christ. They are
sent to do His business in the world, and not their own. To Him alone are
they responsible. They are not ministers of congregations, but ministers
of Christ, and of men for Christ’s sake. This truth rebukes alike those
who unduly magnify or unduly depreciate. Your vicar is only a minister,
therefore he is not to be thought of beyond his due; but he is Christ’s
minister, and there. fore not to be despised, for “his Master’s feet are
B. In relation to Christ’s people
they are Stewards.
The treasure which they are called to dispense is not their own. The
pardon they announce, the Gospel which they preach, the sacraments they
are called to administer are effective only by Christ’s commission and
authority. Only their faults are their own, and for these they are responsible
to Christ alone. What matter who condemns if Christ approves? or who approves
if Christ condemns? Faithfulness is the one duty of stewards, and of this
their Master is the one Judge. It is their duty to keep their conscience
clear, and “to know nothing against (R.V.) themselves,” but the final arbiter
is not conscience, but Christ. We are, therefore, “to judge nothing before
the time until the Lord come.” The work of the clergy is not only to prepare
others for the Advent of Christ, but themselves to be prepared, and to
heed their own message.
THE GOSPEL. S. MATT. xi. 2.
This is a Gospel of much comfort, and teaches that the faithful ministers
of Christ have to do with a faithful Master.
A. A Faithful Minister.
Such was S. John the Baptist, the messenger sent to prepare the way
of the First Advent. His faithfulness to duty had caused him to be
“in the prison”; but here faith wavered. The strongest are at times
weak, and the brightest faith is at times clouded, and the most earnest
and sincere have their dark seasons of apparent failure and discouragement.
B. A Faithful Master.
“If we are faithless yet He abideth faithful.” Our Lord’s treatment
of S. John Baptist is a strong encouragement to His ministers.
(1) As an Example of Patience.
Christ was content to be judged by His deeds, and this will ever be
the best answer to those who doubt our sincerity. The only word-answer
which Jesus gave was contained in the gentle reproof, “Blessed is he whosoever
shall not be offended in Me.” The blessedness of faith is its best argument,
and the misery of doubt its own condemnation. Very foolish are the stumbling-blocks
over which some allow themselves to stumble, e.g., the imperfection of
the Church and the faults of Christians.
(2) As an Example of Generosity.
If our Lord spared blame, He lavished praise. Christ will ever praise
in His ministers the same qualities which He found to praise in S. John
the Baptist. He will praise their firm steadfastness. He would not
have them “as reeds shaken in the wind” of popularity or unpopularity.
He will praise their self-denial. He would not have His ministers
men of self-indulgence and soft luxury.
He will praise the true prophet who declares His will, and the true
messenger who prepares His way. He would have all His ministers true
John Baptists, and such may rely upon His faithfulness. Oh! to be
such that our Lord can praise us!
The line of thought is briefly this—Christ, Who has shown that it was
His will to prepare for His first Advent by means of a faithful messenger,
is preparing for His second Advent in the same way.
We pray, therefore, that those who now are Christ’s ministers and stewards
may be equally faithful with His first messenger in “turning the hearts
of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” We pray that they may meet
with such success that the second Advent may find us an acceptable people
in the sight of God.
The best way of ensuring faithful work in our clergy is faithful prayer.
All such prayers are according to the will of Christ, Who has appointed
divers orders in His Church.