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On the Reasons generally advanced to justify a Separation from the Church; and first, on the supposed Spiritual Qualification of the Party undertaking the Office of the Ministry.
HAVING dispatched the two leading parts of our subject, which respect the constitution of the Church considered as the body of Christ, and the nature of schism or wilful separation from it; we proceed to consider the reasons generally advanced to justify that separation. For at the same time that men scruple not to commit the sin, they feel unwilling to acknowledge themselves sinners; and are therefore industrious in finding out pleas, of one kind or another, which may tend, if not to do away, at least to make the sin sit easy upon their minds. Hence it is, that, in the present day, we have so many definitions of schism, differing more or less from the sense originally and properly annexed to that word, through which the definers for the most part impose on themselves and others; excluding themselves by the fallacy of words from the apparent commission of that sin, which at the same time actually attaches to their
The first and most general plea advanced upon this occasion, respects the holiness or spiritual qualification of the party who undertakes the office of the ministry. This is neither more nor less than the plea of Korah revived. The popular argument in the mouth of Korah was, that Aaron took too much upon himself, seeing that all the congregation was holy: the inference of which seems to be, that the people had no need of the ministration of Aaron, but could minister unto themselves. Upon this plea, the offspring of spiritual pride, Korah and his company gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron; and the sixteenth chapter of the book of Numbers has recorded the fatal event that terminated the contest.
But had we no lesson of experience upon this head to draw from the Jewish history, that of our Lown has taught us to view this plea with a very suspicious eye, because it has been ministerial to the greatest calamities. We remember that it was in the reign of the Saints, (as they were then called) the invaders of the priesthood in those days of confusion, that the Constitution of this country was completely overturned in the last century; when preaching, and fasting, and praying, were made use of as convenient cloaks for rebellion, sacrilege, and murder. We are therefore afraid when we hear talk of gifted men, lest an increase of their number should lead to a repetition of the same dismal scenes.
But granting that the holiness of the party, on whose account many feel themselves justified in
* Numbers xvi. 3.
separating from the Church, was really such as they think it to be, it does not authorise the possessor of it to take upon himself an office to which he has not been regularly appointed.
Our Saviour, it will be allowed, possessed holiness in a superlative degree; for to him (we read) the Spirit was not given by measure.* But our Saviour "glorified not himself to be made a highpriest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my son." "This honour no man taketh unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron."‡ Now Aaron was called by an outward call from God, communicated to him through the medium of Moses; from whom, as God's prime minister, he received a formal appointment to his high office before all the people. And from the circumstance of our blessed Saviour delivering the commission for collecting and governing his Church, not to his disciples at large, but to his eleven Apostles, purposely convened by him on the occasion,§ the conclusion may be drawn, that it was the design of the Divine Founder of the Church, that the sacred office of ministering in it, should be subject to that controul and direction, which was best calculated to give effect to his Divine institution. Upon this idea have the governors of the Church uniformly proceeded, in the discharge of that commission, from the days of the Apostles down to the present time.
Thus stands the fact; a fact not to be contro
verted; and reason teaches us, that the wisdom of God has been manifested upon this occasion.
The Church, as it has already been observed, is a society; and every society is distinguished from the general mass of the community by its order and government. To the establishment of order and government, a regular appointment of chosen men to the administration of particular offices is essential. But if any man, independent of all regular appointment, is to take upon himself the discharge of an office, for which he may feel himself disposed, or think himself qualified; the society having no longer any security for the proper management of its concerns, the end for which it has been collected being thereby frustrated, its consequent dissolution must ensue.
This mode of reasoning, so far as temporal affairs are concerned, we readily admit. Let it be applied, as it ought to be, to the case of the Church, considered as a society, formed by God under a particular government calculated to promote the end of its institution; and we shall conclude in one case, as in the other, that personal qualifications furnish no dispensation for an outward appointment to an office of trust, because this is the only security which the members of the Church can have against imposture; it being the only criterion by which they can judge, who are ministers of the Church, and who are not.
We do not say that the personal qualification of the minister in spiritual matters is not requisite to the proper discharge of his sacred office; because it confessedly is so to a certain degree, and on
that account truly desirable; but what we would be understood to say, is, that in the administration of an outward sacrament, which is to be considered as the appointed means of spiritual communication from God to man, nothing is to be regarded as absolutely necessary, but the lawfulness of the commission by which it is administered. For it is the commission which secures to us the Divine confirmation of the ministerial act, and not the personal qualification of the minister; that the eye of the faithful may be directed to the proper object, and God, not man, receive the glory.
Judas received a commission from our Saviour to baptize, no less than the other Apostles. And there can be no doubt, but that the baptism administered by him was equally effectual with that administered by any other Apostle. Yet we read that this Judas was a devil.* From whence it is to be observed, that the power of Divine grace, happily for mankind, is not limited by the poorness of the instrument appointed to convey it; and that a ministerial act performed by proper authority may be valid to the parties to whom it is applied, be the performer of it ever so unworthy.t
For this cause," says St. Barnabas, in his Catholic epistle, c. 5, « did Christ choose men who
* John vi. 70.
“Sacramentum non ex ejus manu estimandum esse a quo administratur, sed velut ex ipsa Dei manu, a quo haud dubie profectum est: inde colligere licet nihil illi afferri vel auferri ejus dignitate per cujus manum traditur."-CALV. Instit. lib.
iv. c. 15.