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Published by glennpease
By Inge, William Ralph, 1860-1954

"Stewards of the mysteries of God." — 1 Cor. iv. 1.
By Inge, William Ralph, 1860-1954

"Stewards of the mysteries of God." — 1 Cor. iv. 1.

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Published by: glennpease on Nov 14, 2013
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THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE LAITY. By Inge, William Ralph, 1860-1954"Stewards of the mysteries of God." — 1 Cor. iv. 1. THE Collect and Epistle for the third Sunday in Advent invite our attention to the ministry of the Church. The week which begins to-day is one of the Ember Weeks, which immediately precede ordinations. In a few days another set of candi- dates for Holy Orders will have been admitted to the diaconate, and a nearly equal number of deacons will have been made priests. The Ember Days are ap- pointed to be observed by the Church at large as days of intercession for those who are about to under- take the heavy responsibilities of the diaconate and priesthood, and the Collect for the Sunday extends this period of intercession over the whole week. If we search the ew Testament for passages bear- ing on the duties and privileges of the ministry, we shall find that the inspired writers are not at all afraid of magnifying their office as ambassadors of God, while at the same time they humble themselves as bond-servants of men. They are " ambassadors, but in bonds," not only when they are suffering perse- cution, but at all times, inasmuch as they are the bond- servants of their flocks, for Jesus' sake. The contrast 200 FAITH AD KOWLEDGE between these two aspects of the ministry, the one so exalted, the other so humble, is drawn out in those famous verses of 2 Cor. vi., in which the Christian minister may see, as in a mirror, the ideal of the
priestly life. In 1 Cor., St. Paul describes himself and his helpers as " God's fellow-workers " — an honour- able designation indeed for any man to assume. In to-day's Epistle he speaks of their position under a somewhat different aspect — " Let a man so account of us as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." What are we to understand by " stewards of mysteries " ? The word " mystery " in the ew Testament is always used of the revelation of some hidden truth : it means something explained symbolically, not something wrapped up and concealed. And so this verse lends no support to the practice of reserve in imparting religious truth, nor to any claim to occult or magical powers on the part of the priest- hood. The "mysteries of God" are the message of salvation in Christ, and the duty of the " steward " is to keep safe and hand on unimpaired this sacred treasure. The Christian priesthood is quite unlike the Jewish, and it is not till long after the apostolic period that the Greek words for " priest '' and " altar " are applied to Christian ministers and the Holy Table. But neither can it be questioned that St. Paul regards the clergy as a distinct class or profession, specially called by God to a special work, which carries with it a peculiar authority as well as peculiar obligations. Though we are all servants of God, the clergy are so THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE LAITY 201 in a peculiar sense, just as our soldiers are said to " serve the Queen," or " to serve their country," in a peculiar sense. Their professional work is the ad- vancement of Christ's kingdom on earth, just as the professional work of the army is the extension and protection of the British Empire. The parochial clergy are bound to be " professional " ; their pastoral duties are the business to which they are called. And, as the officials of a divinely ordered society,
they are in a sense the channels through which the graces promised to the society are conveyed to the laity. Those who wilfully break away from the Church order, founded by Christ and organised by His apostles, must do so at their own risk. We know that as a consequence of the increased activity and spirituality of the Church of England within the last fifty years, public opinion now demands a much higher standard of clerical life and work than was formerly the case. A hundred years ago absentee rectors were common ; and it was regarded as quite natural that a bishop should provide comfortably for his children, or even try to " found a family," as it was called. But now, if a high-placed ecclesiastic happens to have inherited a private fortune, he finds it necessary to explain publicly that he did not save it himself. And any signs of covetousness or selfish intriguing on the part of a clergyman are condemned with extreme severity. ow in many ways this exacting spirit shown by the laity towards the clergy is a very good sign. It 202 FAITH AD KOWLEDGE shows that the public is interested in religion, and is determined that its " servants " in the ministry shall give it good work, and set a good example. Moreover, it is a new thing in England, and a thing of good omen, that any man, whether cleric or lay, should have to apologise for being rich. But there is another side to it which is not so good. There are two ways of combating what is called sacerdotalism. One is by belittling the office of the clergy, the other is by magnifying the office of the laity. The latter is the true method. The " priesthood of the laity " is a phrase which has the authority of Scripture ; and it

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