Neither Papists nor Quakers
While the Roman Catholic religion (and, to some degree, Lutheran churches) elevate pastors to the level of priests, others diminish the office and even reject it. Neither are biblical. The pastoral office is scriptural, good, and honorable.
While we refuse to allow that a sacrificing priesthood has any warrant of Scripture, let us beware in these days that we do not rush into the extreme of undervaluing the office which the minister of Christ holds. There is some danger in this direction. Let us grasp firmly certain fixed principles about the Christian ministry, and, however strong our dislike of priesthood and aversion to Romanism, let nothing tempt us to let these principles slip out of our hands. Surely there is solid middle ground between a grovelling idolatry of sacerdotalism on one hand, and a disorderly anarchy on the other. Surely it does not follow, because we will not be Papists in this matter of the ministry, that we must needs be Quakers or Plymouth Brethren. This, at any rate, was not in the mind of St. Paul.
(a) For one thing, let us settle it firmly in our minds that the ministerial office is a Scriptural Institution. I need not weary you with quotations to prove this point. I will simply advise you to read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus and judge for yourselves. If these Epistles do not authorize a ministry, there is, to my mind, no meaning in words. Take a jury of the first twelve intelligent, honest, disinterested, unprejudiced men you can find, and set them down with a New Testament to examine this question by them selves: ‘Is the Christian ministry a Scriptural thing or not?’ I have no doubt what their verdict would be.
(b) For another thing, let us settle it in our minds that the ministerial office is a most wise and useful provision of God. It secures the regular maintenance of all Christ’s ordinances and means of grace. It provides an undying machinery for promoting the awakening of sinners and the edification of saints. All experience proves that everybody’s business soon becomes nobody’s business; and if this is true in other matters, it is no less true in the matter of religion. Our God is a God of order, and a God who works by means, and we have no right to expect His cause to be kept up by constant miraculous interpositions, while His servants stand idle. For the uninterrupted preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments, no better plan can be devised than the appointment of a regular order of men who shall give themselves wholly to Christ’s business.
(c) For another thing, let us settle it firmly in our minds that the ministerial office is an honourable privilege. It is an honour to be the Ambassador of a King: the very person of such an officer of state is respected, and called legally sacred. . . . But how much greater honour is it to be the ambassador of the King of kings, and to proclaim the good news of the conquest achieved on Calvary! To serve directly such a Master, to carry such a message, to know that the results of our work, if God shall bless it, are eternal, this is indeed a privilege. Other labourers may work for a corruptible crown, but the minister of Christ for an incorruptible. Never is a land in worse condition than when the ministers of religion have caused their office to be ridiculed and despised. It is a tremendous word in Malachi: ‘I have made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways’ (Malachi 2:9). But, whether men will hear or forbear, the office of a faithful ambassador is honourable. It was a fine saying of an old missionary on his death-bed, who died at the age of ninety-six, ‘The very best thing that a man can do is to preach the Gospel.’
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 380–382.
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