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TITUS ii. 15.
Let no man despise thee.
ON THE MINISTERIAL CHARACTER.
AT THE ADMISSION OF A MINISTER.
THE office of a minister of the gospel is, in itself, worthy of all respect and honour; and that it is not always treated with sentiments of this kind, must surely be owing to the conduct and character of those who exercise it. To preserve or recover the importance and dignity which become the pastoral office, and to rescue it from that slight and insult which are too frequently poured upon it, is unquestionably an object well worth the attention of every honest clergyman; is a duty we owe to our great Lord and Master, to ourselves, to our flocks, and to the church of which we are members. The best and most effectual means for accomplishing this valuable end, is frequently, seriously, practically to consider the nature and design of our office; that we are
set up for the sake of other men, not for our own; that it is our business to be useful to our fellow creatures, no to pursue our own private interest, at least to seek the latter only through the former. With this in our view, and a practice conformed to it, we shall assuredly stand sufficiently guarded both from ridicule and contempt.
The apostle, at the 12th and following verses, points out to his pupil and son in the faith of Jesus, the native tendency of the gospel, as "teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly
lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly "in this present world ;" and this, enforced by the powerful motives of a future judgment, the example and the atonement of Jesus Christ. "These things," says he, at the 16th verse, speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authori"ty." To which he adds, with an emphatical solemnity, "Let no man despise thee;" that is, give no man just ground of doing so-an injunction which is written for our sakes likewise, that we also may be "strong in the grace that is in "Christ Jesus;" that we also should be "blame"less as the stewards of God."
In discoursing from these words, I propose, through the divine assistance, in the
First place, To point out some of the more obvious sources from which disregard and contempt of the clergy usually proceed.
II. I shall endeavour to point out, what I take to be the most probable means of escaping treatment of this kind.
1. I begin with pointing out some of the more obvious sources from which disregard and contempt of the clergy usually proceed: and here, what must necessarily occupy the
First place, is immorality. Vice in any cha racter is odious, but in a clergyman it is detestable, it is monstrous. It raises the indignation and contempt of mankind in general, to observe men of immoral lives putting on appearances, and assuming stations and offices, which infer strictness and sanctity-the professed libertine in the common estimation is not so despicable as the unholy devotee. There is one consideration which merits our regard-the world is much more watchful over our conduct than over that of any other class of men; errors and miscarriages in us make a deep impression, especially if they are unexpected. The detection of an impostor always produces a degree of satisfaction, of malici
ous pleasure, which is ever accompanied with disdain, with abhorrence: men give no quarter to such a character, they make no allowance for it. And is not an immoral clergyman the worst, the vilest of impostors, who veils or supports vice, by the most respectable of names, the most honourable of professions? Is it possible for a person of this character to be in the smallest degree useful as a minister? How oddly will lessons of virtue and religion sound in the mouth of such an one? With what contempt will the most ordinary hearer be filled, when reproof, or exhortation to duty, is administered to him by one who evidently has no sense of his own, either as a christian or as a minister. ·
Would to God, it were improper to suppose a Minister of Jesus should be grossly immoral! Perhaps at present it is improper. I shall only add, therefore, that wherever such a character may appear, the world, bad as it is, will give its testimony against the offender; for even they who love vice themselves, commonly express the utmost contempt of those, whose station and profession are supposed to imply decency, dignity, and purity of manners, if they shall venture to take their share in the prevailing follies and vices of the age.
A second and a plentiful source of contempt, and nearly allied to the former, is imprudenceby which I mean, negligence of character, going out of it, and using improper freedoms with the world. The greatest care and circumspection are necessary, in order to preserve that blamelessness of character which is so essential to our of fice. If a minister's good name is once blown upon, all is over-error is magnified into vice, inconsiderateness into design, oversight into obstinacy. We read of a noble Roman who repudiated his wife upon a slight surmise-because, as he alleged, the wife of Cesar should not be so much as suspected. The obligation upon ministers to be jealous of their reputation, is, I apprehend, equally binding: they have the very same reason to avoid cause even of suspicion, to abstain not only from evil, but from the very appearance of it; because, as in the case now mentioned, to be suspected, is to be guilty.
I would further observe under this head, that there is, unhappily for people of our profession, a set of men in the world, of the higher stations in life, no friends to the cause of religion and virtue, who affect the company and conversation of clergymen, and caress them highly for qualities that have no sort of connection with their office.