Imatges de pÓgina

and taught and admonished the surrounding population. Enoch walked with God, and warned an ungodly world of impending judgments. Noah was a preacher of righteousness, Abraham a prophet of the Lord, and Isaac and Jacob were both the recipients and the communicators of revelations from God to man. Thus devout shepherds, husbandmen, and chieftains in those remote ages, were, in their respective localities, the priests, prophets, and teachers of mankind.

2. When the Jewish Dispensation was inaugurated in the wilderness, one tribe was selected from the twelve to be devoted to sacred service, and one family of this chosen tribe was appointed to the Priestly office. “ The Lord separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord; to stand before the Lord to minister unto him, and to bless in his name.” The descendants of Aaron were specially selected to offer sacrifices and perform the more sacred duties of the sanctuary ; but the whole tribe of Levi was set apart to the ordinary services of religion, and their support was exacted from the people by Divine authority. Yet this separation of one tribe to the service of the sanctuary did not exclude men of secular station from functions essentially connected with the ministry. The gift of infallible inspiration is surely as sacred as the privilege of presenting sacrifices, and the office of prophet is as important and spiritual as that of priest; yet inspiration was bestowed on many who were not of the sacerdotal race, and the solemn burden of prophecy delivered by many who had no inheritance with Levi. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it is true, were prophets of the sacerdotal line; but David, Solomon, and probably Daniel and Isaiah, were of the tribe of Judah; and most, if not all the rest, of the ancient seers, were unconnected with the priesthood. Thus it is evident that God employed in the sacred functions of the ministry men of secular station, honoured them with the highest gifts of inspiration, and authorized them to reveal his will and proclaim his solemn messages to mankind. Nor did he except men in the humblest stations. Though David was a king, and Daniel a statesinan, and Isaiah probably of the royal line, yet Elisha was a husbandman, and Amos a herdman, and others were men of humble condition. Nor were these men excluded from occasionally performing even those rites which peculiarly belonged to the priestly office. Samuel and Elijah offered sacrifices, Solomon presented public prayer at the dedication of the temple, and David sometimes put on the sacred ephod and inquired of the Lord. From the Old Testament, therefore, it is evident that the ministry in its largest sense comprehended both a class of men wholly devoted to the interests of religion, and others who held a secular occupation.

3. The testimony of the New Testament establishes the same principle. It clearly recognizes two classes of labourers in word and doctrine. One class to whom the ministry was their proper calling, their whole life being devoted to its sacred duties; the other, such as laboured occasionally in the ministry, connecting its duties with a secular occupation. The seventy disciples were ministers of the word, but there is no proof that they permanently relinquished their secular employment. The Deacons, who served tables, were also ambassadors of grace, and ministers of Christ. On the persecution which arose about Stephen, many Christians were dispersed, and those who were scattered abroad travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word of God. There is no proof that any of these were either apostles or pastors; or that they were ever exclusively devoted to the work. Yet their labours were greatly blessed of God; for it is said “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”-Acts xi. 19-21. The church at Antioch, it seems, was planted by the ministry of laymen, and that church was eminently distinguished for its piety, its zeal, and all the fruits of holiness and usefulness. He who despises such agency despises that on which God has fixed the seal of his approval, and which in all ages he has employed as one means to diffuse his truth and advance his glory.

4. Nor did lay preaching terminate with apostolic times. The ancient church at a subsequent period sanctioned the same practice. It is recorded that when Origen went from Alexandria into Palestine, though unordained, he was desired by the bishops of that country to preach in the churches. Alexander, the bishop of Jerusalem, and the bishop of Cesarea, in a joint-letter to the bishop of Alexandria, justify the practice of lay preaching, and maintain that “wherever any are found that are fit to profit the brethren, the holy bishops of their own accord ask them to preach unto the people.” The adoption of lay preaching, therefore, by Methodism was only a revival of a neglected custom, sanctioned by Divine authority and ancient as Christianity itself.

5. Descending to the times of Queen Elizabeth in the sixteenth century, we find that many laymen were employed under authority “to publish the Gospel, whose endeavours the Lord blessed to the good of souls ;” and in coming down a century later we find lay preaching extensively practised both in the army and in various parts of the kingdom. In fact, there is still extant a petition which was sent by the citizens of London and others to both Houses of Parliament to sanction the appointment of laymen to occupy the pulpits of neglected congregations, “there being many hundreds of towns and villages altogether destitute of any preaching ministers, and many others not well supplied."*

It was about this time that Bunyan, and Gifford his predecessor, both, laymen, the one an apothecary and the other a tinker, were called to preach, and were rendered so singularly useful in Bedford and the surrounding country. “ Gifford, before his conversion, had been condemned to death for being concerned in an insurrection against the Protector, and but narrowly escaped. He was leading a most abandoned and profligate life. One evening he lost a large sum of money at the gaming-table, and in the fierceness of his chagrin his mind was filled with the most desperate thoughts of the providence of God. In his vexation he snatched up a book. It was a volume of Bolton, a solemn and forceful writer then well known. A sentence in this book so fixed on his conscience that for many weeks he could get no rest in his spirit. When at last he found forgiveness through the blood of Christ, his joy was extreme, and, except for two days before his death, he never lost the comfortable persuasion of God's love. For some time the few pious individuals in that neighbourhood would not believe that such à reprobate was really converted; but, nothing daunted by their distrust, like his prototype of Tarsus, he

Rushworth, page 841.

began to preach the Word with boldness, and, endowed with a vigorous mind and a fervent spirit, remarkable success attended his ministry. A little church was formed, and he was invited to become its pastor ; and there he continued till he died.”

Every one is familiar with the vicious and blaspheming course of Bunyan in his earlier years; but grace changed his depraved and rugged nature, and when converted he became a member of Gifford's church, He had not long been a member when he was called to exercise its actual ministry. “ Gifford was gone to his everlasting rest; and as a substitute for his labours, it was put upon a few of the brethren to speak the word of exhortation to the rest. Of these Bunyan was one. At first he did not venture farther than to address his friends in their more private meetings, or to follow up, with a brief application, the sermons delivered by others in their village preaching. But these exercises having afforded the utmost satisfaction to his judicious though warm-hearted hearers, he was urged forward to more public services. These he was too humble to covet, and too earnest to refuse. Though his education was sufficiently rude, God had given him from the first a strong athletic mind and a glowing heart,—that downright logic and teeming fancy, whose bold strokes and burning images heat the Saxon temper to the welding point, and make the popular orator of our English multitude. Then his low original and rough wild history, however much they might have subjected him to scorn had he exchanged the leathern apron for a silken one, or scrambled from the hedge-side into the high places of the church, entailed no suspicion, and awakened much surprise, when the Bedford townsmen saw their blaspheming neighbour a new man, and in a way so disinterested preaching the faith which he once destroyed. The town turned out to hear, and though there was some mockery, many were deeply moved. Bunyan's preaching was no incoherent rant. Words of truth and soberness formed the staple of each sermon; and his burning words and startling images were only the electric scintillations along the chain of his scriptural eloquence. Though the common people heard him most gladly, he had occasional hearers of a higher class. Once, on a week-day, he was expected to preach in a parish church near Cambridge, and a concourse of people had already collected in the churchyard. A gay student was riding past, when he noticed the crowd, and asked what had brought them together. He was told that the people had come out to hear one Bunyan, a tinker, preach. He instantly dismounted, and gave a boy twopence to hold his horse, for he declared he was determined to hear the tinker prate.

So he went into the church, and heard the tinker; but so deep was the impression which that sermon made on the scholar, that he took every subsequent opportunity to attend Bunyan's ministry, and himself became a renowned preacher of the gospel in Cambridgeshire. Still Bunyan felt that his errand was to the multitude, and his great anxiety was to penetrate the darkest places of the land, and preach to the most abandoned people. In these labours of unostentatious heroism, he sometimes excited the jealousy of the regular parish ministers, and even under the tolerant rule of the Protector, was in some danger of imprisonment. However, it was not till the Restoration that he was in serious jeopardy ; but thereafter he was among the first victims of the grand combination betwixt priests and rulers to exterminate the gospel

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in England. After being taken before a justice, he was committed to gaol till the ensuing sessions should be held at Bedford. There an indictment was preferred—“That John Bunyan, of the town of Bedford, labourer, being a person of such and such conditions, he hath since such a time devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church to hear divine service; and is a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles, to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom, contrary to the laws of our sovereign lord the King.'”*

For twelve long years this devout lay preacher and bright luminary of that age was imprisoned, and in Bedford gaol he wrote his immortal work “The Pilgrim's Progress.” In 1672 he obtained his liberty, and his friends immediately built for him a large meeting-house, where he continued to preach with little interruption till his death. Once a year he visited London, and was there so popular that twelve hundred people would gather together at seven in the morning of a winter's working-day to hear him. Amongst the admiring listeners, Dr. Owen was frequently found ; and once when Charles the Second asked how a learned man like him could sit down to hear a tinker prate, the great theologian is said to have answered, “May it please your Majesty, could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning." †

6. The holy fire of the puritan age declined, and the next century opens with a frigid apathy in the church, a cynic scepticism in philosophy, undisturbed ignorance among the masses, and a degree of brutality and licentiousness in the manners of all classes, which shocked the minds of the pious few, and extorted their bitterest lamentations over the state of the nation. But within the walls of Oxford University another fire is kindled. A few young students begin to inquire after God. The Wesleys and Whitefield are among them; and after a protracted period of anxious struggles and painful endeavours, they find the sinner's short way of coming to Christ-simple faith in the atonement brings peace with God. Now they live in a new region ; truth wears a new aspect; the love of Christ constrains them; and filled with the new-born joys of salvation, they go forth to proclaim with apostolic fervour the glorious news of the gospel to myriads of men. As if struck by an electric shock the nation is startled, and a drowsy church half opens her wondering eyes, and asks what innovation has come. It is the spirit of Christianity come once more to quicken and bless a faithless people, to give dying truth once more a living form and an omnipotent energy. Opposition arises, mitred formalism frowns, an ermined magistracy threatens, and brutal ferocity gathers in tumultuous rabbles, to mock and maim the messengers of grace. But Jehovah stands by his servants, clothes his Word with power,


many of the fiercest opponents are made captives on the spot. Sometimes religious conviction seizes on crowds at once, and scarcely has the taunting jibe or the threatening oath subsided into the penitential wail, before the joys of pardon fill the broken heart. Conversions, sudden as those on the day of Pentecost, occur, and fruits of holiness, fair as those which grew after the first showers of the Spirit in

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* Life of Bunyan, by Rev. James Hamilton.
of Ibid.

Jerusalem, sprung from the fallow ground of Britain. The work spreads, and more labourers are wanted. Societies are formed which require nourishing, and from many new scenes of spiritual destitution the Macedonian cry is heard, “ Come over and help us.

'Tis now the self-procreating and self-diffusing power of a vital Christianity is seen. Religion no sooner comes than she creates the right agency for her expansion. With but few exceptions, the Established Church refuses her help, and frowns on those that give it; but there can be no extremity with God. He now resumes his ancient and effective agency. With the return of primitive Christianity, there comes the return of primitive instrumentality—a lay ministry. When Lavington, the Bishop of Exeter, summoned Mr. Thompson, the zealous vicar of St. Ginney, into his presence, on the grave charge of his devoted labours, and his sanctioning the Methodist preachers, and threatened to strip off his gown for him if he did not cease his Methodistic practices, the zealous vicar at once disrobed himself, and casting his gown at the bishop's feet, exclaimed, “Thank God, I can preach the gospel without a gown," and instantly retired. No wonder that the mitred crest fell a few inches on witnessing this instance of religious decision and daring; but the fact symbolized a principle—that Britain should be evangelized without waiting for either episcopal authority, or being trammelled with the forms of an established ritual. At this period Providence made it conspicuously manifest that while, in general, gownsmen and mitred heads stood aloof from the gracious work, men without gowns and without episcopal ordination could be raised up to proclaim his truth-men though rude in speech, yet mighty by the power of God. While men, marshalled in cumbrous armour, stood aghast and helpless before the vaunting Philistines, striplings, fresh from the sheepfold, came forth without armour. and with nothing but the sling of truth, and the power of David's God, brought the giant down, and scattered the trembling hosts of the foe. Humble but devoted men, unpolished as the Galilean fishermen, but filled with the Holy Spirit, they utter burning words of truth; and He who called them fixed his own broad seal on their labours, and the signs of conversion and salvation follow. Some of these devout men were afterwards separated from a secular calling and wholly devoted to the ministry, but many more continued through life to labour in the double capacity as industrious tradesmen and as zealous anibassadors for God.

7. It is most interesting and instructive to mark the providential manner in which a lay instrumentality was called into exercise at this juncture; how at first it shocked the prejudices of even the Wesleys themselves, and how signally it was blessed of God in the spread and establishment of that glorious revival which now began to receive the cognomen of Methodism. The first example of lay preaching appears to have been set by Mr. Bowers, who, after Whitefield had finished his sermon in Islington churchyard, rose to address the people. He also preached in the streets of Oxford: but Charles Wesley severely reprimanded him for preaching without being ordained; and the timid man confessed that he had done wrong, and promised never to offend again. John Wesley greatly felt the need of some one to watch over the little societies, when he was absent. He accordingly sent Mr. Cennick, a man well known in the history of the revival of religion, to reside at

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