Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

tute of the

THE ministry of the Christian Church is unique. BOOK I.

It is a teaching and educating ministry. All The instireligions have had their priesthoods, but none Christian

of them can be said to have been teaching ministry is priesthoods. Certainly none of them have been such at all after the Christian manner. The priesthoods of Egypt and of the Asiatic empires, though the depositories of the learning and science of their time, hoarded those treasures as the wealth distinctive of their caste. They believed in the maxim that knowledge is power, and they monopolized the knowledge that they might monopolize the power. Their knowledge was made to manifest itself in architecture, and decoration, and ceremonial pomp. But in all that, the intention was not so much to teach the ignorant, as to awe them into subjection. The mass of the people were slaves, and their religion, in common with their diet and their outward garb, was adapted to their condition. Even the people who were free, but who were occupied in the labour and common traffic of the world, were left to

Priests and

Heathen-
dom.

men.

BOOK 1. the low routine habit of thought in regard to religion

which was supposed to be natural to them.

If we pass from East to West, the aspect of matters philosophers in in this respect, though considerably different, can hardly

be deemed an improvement. Among the Greeks and Romans priests were always an insignificant order of

Not a name from that class comes into any prominence in their history. The Italians, like the Athenians, were prone enough to superstition. But this feeling never led them to vest any great power in a priesthood. If their priests were teachers at all, it was as holding out the terrors of their religious system in favour of some of the political or common duties of life. To uphold temples, to conduct ceremonies and processions, and to regulate holidays, seem to have been their great business. The philosophers, indeed, who taught everything, taught something about religion. But their teachings on this subject, as on the rest, were restricted to the upper and well-to-do classes. To become teachers of the crowds to be seen in the theatres and market-places was not their mission. Most of those men, we have reason to suppose, had little faith in the popular mythology. But they left the people to their belief in it, evidently concluding that to attempt to raise them to a higher theism would be worse than useless. So in the old world, man as man was left almost untouched by instruction concerning religion, either from priests or from philosophers. The wisest seemed to have despaired of raising the common mind about them into sympathy with any of the higher forms

of truth, purity, and nobleness. Religious Of course in the Hebrew nation we see some exception

to this course of things. But even there the teaching

1

teaching among the

a

man

power in action was of a much more limited description CHAP. II. than is commonly imagined. It is observable that in a Hebrews

a

the priest. system characterized by the minuteness of its directions concerning everything to be done in connection with religion, we find no rules laid down to settle when, or where, or how the priest should acquit himself as a teacher of the people. The reason of this omission is not difficult to discover. Men who came to the office of priesthood among the Hebrews came to it as a kind of birthright. Being of a particular family, unless some very special reason interposed, a passed to the function of a priest, as a matter of course. But from this circumstance it would follow that the number of priests gifted with an 'aptness to teach' would be few. Hence, to lay down rules concerning the duties of priests as teachers would be useless, or something worse. There were, we can suppose, priests who did teach. But all service of that nature seems to have been left to be prompted by individual feeling, and by a consciousness of fitness for it.

In the office of the prophet we find the teacher. But the proeven here the function of the teacher was occasional, rather than permanent. The prophet was moved to deliver his message, and having done that, his work for the time was done. The prophets were not men taking their position as teachers in given places at given times. With them, as well as with the priests, the degree in which they should become instructors of the people, was left to be determined by the impulses of their own mind. Through the long interval which preceded the Babylonish captivity, the work of religious instruction seems to have devolved mainly on the Hebrew

phet

BOOK I.

The syna

gogue.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

parent.* One of the happy effects of the chastening influence which came with the captivity appears to have been, that it awakened in the mind of the people a feeling of want in regard to something more settled and recurrent in the form of religious service than they had hitherto possessed. From this time the synagogue becomes a conspicuous institution in their history. We do not learn that the synagogue owed its origin to any command from the magistrate, or to any exhortation from the priest. Oriental history had never seen any institution of this nature. Where everything else was governmental, we here find a very remarkable growth which is, in the strictest sense, spontaneous, voluntary, and independent. The people give it existence, and they retain possession of it—a self-governing and an independent possession of it. The elders and rulers in the synagogue were laymen, and their teaching was, no doubt, for the most part, very elementary. But it was teaching widely diffused, and it recurred with the constancy of the Sabbath-day. It is the nearest approach, in the times preceding the Advent, to the institution originated by our Lord, when he said—“Go, preach the Gospel to every creature-go, teach all nations. The apostles so entered into the spirit of these injunctions, that everything seemed to drop into insignificance in their history in comparison with teaching. Nor was it enough that they should teach ; they were to deposit their lessons with faithful men, who should be able to teach others.† So the great mission of the Christian ministry is, to set the world right in its religious thought, its religious ways, and its religious life. The power among men which the Christian ministry

[ocr errors]

† 2 Tim. ii. 2.

* Deut. vi.

CHAP. II.

Historical

was thus destined to become, it became, and has continued to be. The early fathers vanquished the religion position and philosophy of the old world. In the middle age, Christian the great depositories of knowledge were the Christian ministry. clergy. During the Reformation era, princes were strong, but preachers were stronger. Since the middle of the seventeenth century diplomatists have not had so much to do with religion; and in the public affairs of Europe the statesman has taken a precedence of the divine which he is not likely to lose. But the Christian minister is still potent. He is so, in some connections, as allied with the State; in others simply from acting as an educating influence on the mind of the people. In this last sphere the office retains the power proper to it.

With the fall of the Roman empire came the ascend- Impress of ency of men bearing the office of the Christian ministry. gence on From amidst the ruin brought upon the old civilization those men build up a hierarchy, a scheme of doctrine, and a form of power, which is to retain its place unshaken by the changes of a thousand years. a new thing in European history to see the ministers of religion potent for anything. It was eminently a novelty to see them thus potent. Dynasties come, and pass away ; states are divided or consolidated ; whole peoples are vanquished or displaced; but amidst all these revolutions this creation of ecclesiastical intelligence continues stable, expands, grows, and seems to make all change tributory to its own identity and authority. The mind visible in this achievement may be, in our estimation, to a large extent misguided. But who will question its genius for organization, its sagacity in adapting means to ends, its concentration, its power? It was not thus, indeed, that He who ordained his ministers to become

its intelli

the middle age.

It was

« PreviousContinue »