Introduction to "The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles" (1858)
1. THE title of this treatise is susceptible of a twofold definition. It may be taken to mean the personal ministry of the Messiah, or it may be used, as in this work, to denote that entire service which is, or ought to be rendered to him as the Author and Finisher of the Christian faith. By the phrase, the Queen’s ministry, we do not so much mean the service which she renders as that which is ostensibly rendered to her as the recognized sovereign of these realms. So, in speaking of the Messiah’s ministry, we confine not our theme to the work, office, or relationship of the Lord Jesus himself, but include therewith, all that he has instituted and required in the way of service.
2. It will thus already be apparent that our subject is a much more catholic one than that generally understood and expressed by the phrase, the Christian ministry. This might have been our title but for the modern and exclusive idea attached to it. The words themselves denote the ministry of Christians, but this is not what is commonly understood by the phrase, and while we might have employed it with this, its legitimate signification, it would not, as a title, have correctly expressed the subject treated of in these pages. The generality of readers would have taken it to refer, not to the whole of the faithful in Christ Jesus, but alone to an ecclesiastical class.
3. Regarding it as a great and first principle that there is no caste in the church of God—that all are one in Christ Jesus, and having it before us as a chief object to develop that unity, we state explicitly at the very outset, that, by the term ministry we include, as do the Scriptures, the whole body of the faithful with all and sundry the services, which, as the subjects of the Prince Messiah, he requires and expects of them.
4. That this view of the Christian ministry will prove unwelcome to many we have no doubt, but with such a work before us, it is not ours to please men. Said Paul, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. So very certain is it that to serve the Lord, either in setting forth his truth, or in any other manner of service, his will, and not the approval of men, must be the one thing in contemplation.
5. This exclusive respect, however, to the will of Christ while relieving us from the fear of man which brings a snare, by no means warrants the needless wounding of the feelings of men. An apostle has shewn that the utmost faithfulness to the Lord in all things is quite compatible with a desire to give no offence either to the Jew or Gentile, or to the church of God.
6. Yet of verity it is, that men will become our enemies if we tell them the truth. Part of the penalty is this of speaking the truth, even in love. No man had more, or bitterer enemies than the Lord himself. Yet never was the truth more graciously spoken. As it fell from his lips its graciousness seemed likely to win every heart to receive it in the love of it, but, alas, in the next hour was the Teacher exposed to death for the very words that he had spoken.
7. Nor was this opposition manifested by those so often proudly contemned as the lowest, or worst of the people. The nominal aristocracy of the day, the learned, the rich, the great, the religious—the most so, as appearances spoke, the scribes and pharisees, the clergy, the priesthood, were his foes, while the common people heard him gladly.
8. Notwithstanding that it forms part of our object to shew that the Christian ministry truly includes all the people of God, it is not meant by this to intimate that all have one office or duty. As there are many members in the one body, so there are diversities of gifts. The functions of the membership are not all alike. There are duties proper to each member of the body, and the call to every one is that he fulfil his part in the general service. And this each must do by taking part in the particular branch or branches of service for which he is fitted by gifts, talents, experience, knowledge, and opportunity.
9. We do not deny office though we seek to present it in its primitive simplicity. We seek to divest it of that modern officialism which has made it so artificial, and encumbered it with so many useless and unscriptural forms. Office--officium—primitively was no more than duty. It arose simply from relationship. The gospel introduced its recipients into the relationship of sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty. Out of this new and exalted relationship, offices, duties, obligations arose, and they were filled and fulfilled simply by the doing of the work appropriate to each member of the household of faith. But now office is an artificial thing, more honorary than real, as often a sinecure—without care as with it. Office must now be entered before duty can be begun, whereas, then it was entered by beginning to do duty; it was filled by the doing of duty, and it was fulfilled by the accomplishment of duty. Office-bearers were duty-doers: all doers of duty bore office. In brief, the modern official idea that prevents the servants of the Lord from serving him till they obtain an introduction to office by the election or otherwise of their fellow-men, did not obtain with the early church. Its caste-creating development was a root of bitterness that sprang up with the growth of the apostacy from the faith.
10. An examination of scripture terms, precepts, and facts, will put beyond doubt the correctness of the general principle which we are now barely suggesting. We find in the Christian Scriptures certain general terms of ministry applied alike to all the believing; we find precepts enjoining the various duties or services on the whole body of the disciples, and we find them acting under these injunctions, and giving practical demonstration to this grand principle of liberty and community of ministry. These we purpose to examine in detail, and doubt not the result of the examination with any candid examiner.
11. Fully persuaded are we of this, that the sacred Scriptures do contain an infallible basis of union for the Lord’s people, alike respecting matters of belief and practice. The apostolic injunctions to unity of mind and action, are proof that this basis is not wanting. They evince that it is supplied us, and that we are responsible for attaining to the unity of the faith. It is a most monstrous reflection upon the wisdom and goodness of the Author of the gospel to suppose that he purposed building a house, and left it without a sufficient basis of union. And it is most dishonouring to that Spirit of grace and wisdom, whose words the apostles spoke, to imagine that commands to union in judgment, and concert in action were given to the churches, and yet that the things commanded were unattainable, or that those to whom the commands were given were not responsible for their realization.
12. Nor is our persuasion less firm that the recognition of this basis of union is of principal importance. That a building without a foundation on which all its parts can rest and cohere, must be unstable and unsafe, none can doubt. But it is not enough that such a foundation be discovered; it must be built upon. It must be practically recognized. It is not enough that it be seen to have an existence, but the builders must rear the superstructure upon it. The builder who fails to do so, and who should seek to justify his failure by arguing the non-essentiality of such a basis, or of the coherence of each part of the building upon it, would only befool himself. Not less foolish is the argument that the union of the people of God in mind and action according to Christ Jesus, is a non-essential element in the uprearing of the Christian edifice. The Saviour himself prayed for the perfect union of his followers as essential to the conversion of the world. With an object so momentous depending on the union of the disciples, we perceive the reason of the Saviour’s urgency in his intercessory prayer, and of the apostle’s entreaty when writing the church in Rome, he said: Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another, according to Jesus Christ, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The salvation of the world and the glory of God thus depending on the union of the faithful, no one may lightly esteem their concert in either mind, or word, or action.
13. But the peace-maker is also a troubler. The Prince of peace himself said he came to send a sword and fire on the earth. If the apostolic word, ‘first pure, then peaceable,’ be correct, the advocate, in this world of error, of the heavenly wisdom which is thus characterised, must make up his mind to be hated of all men, even to the finding of his foes in his own household, so that, if need be, he must forsake father, and mother, houses, and lands, for the sake of Christ and the gospel. And all this, notwithstanding there is no personal wrath in the command, Cry aloud, and spare not! nor the least feeling of anger towards any man, on the part of those who, in faithfulness to the Lord, feel it their duty to obey. Whatever feelings these pages may evoke, it is our happiness to say that there is not a man on earth with whom we have an individual quarrel, nor are we conscious of any personal animus in saying what we have written. Charity does not consist in paring down the truth of God to conciliate even the best of men.
14. This work may be considered as a fulfilment in part of an implied promise in the preface of a pamphlet, entitled, “Inquiry Respecting the Church of Christ, dedicated to all Christians,” which we published four years ago, with the hope of eliciting the sentiments and co-operation of as many of the Lord’s people as possible, and as “a preliminary step to the advocacy of an unqualified return to the Christianity of the New Testament.” That pamphlet opened a correspondence between the author and many Christians in all parts of the country, and led in particular, to personal conference with a number of disciples in Edinburgh, who, like the author, were desirous of carrying into practical effect the church polity of the New Testament Scriptures. After several preliminary meetings to ascertain whether the brethren were fully prepared to yield their opinions, and give themselves up to God, and to the word of his grace, those so deciding, began to meet on the first of the week to continue in the apostles’ doctrine, and the fellowship, and in the breaking of the loaf, and in the prayers, after the example of the primitive church. Arrangements were then made for a place of public meeting, which was opened for the preaching of the Word, Nov. 11, 1855. Since then the brethren have gone forward happily, unitedly, usefully, and hopefully, so that between one and two hundred disciples have been gathered together in the faith and hope of the gospel, unknown by any sectarian name. Besides the oral announcement of the truth to very many, more than a million brief statements of it have been scattered over the land by means of the newspaper press; between two and three hundred thousand tracts have also been put in circulation, while a penny monthly, called “The Christian Advocate,” was commenced in January 1857, and a half-penny monthly, “The Sunbeam,” for children, was begun this year, both attaining a considerable circulation, not only in the United Kingdom, but extending to the colonies of Canada and Australia, and also to the United States.
15. We rejoice, in being able to say from the varied correspondence constantly reaching us, that there are everywhere the most hopeful indications of increasing inquiry by the pious and excellent of all parties for “the old paths.” And we here repeat what we have said in previous publications, that it will give us the utmost pleasure to hear from any who are seeking “the good way,” and the more so, if we can be of any use in leading them to “walk therein.” With this view, we have penned this work, and we affectionately counsel the reader to take heed how he reads—to do so Bible in hand, that his faith may stand in the power of God, and not in the wisdom of men. We should have gladly dispensed with the Greek characters, but with so many passages demanding reference to the original, we have found this all but impossible (editor's note: Greek characters have been omitted in this edition); and have, therefore, supplied the terms in English letter as well, so that the ordinary reader may go smoothly on. Thus commending the reader to God, and the word of his grace, we remain his servant in the gospel,
THOMAS HUGHES MILNER.
EDINBURGH, 1st November 1858.
EDINBURGH, 1st November 1858.