Church, College, and Confession
If you want a title it is Church, College and Confession. If you want a text it is 2 Timothy 2:2: And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Preaching from this text at the installation of Archibald Alexander as the first theological professor at Princeton Seminary, Samuel Miller expounded "the duty of the Church to take measures for providing an able and faithful ministry" (David Calhoun, Princeton Seminary. Faith and Learning 1812-1868, p. 33).
The Church is a divine institution
The Church is not a humanly devised organisation but a divinely originated body. It manifests its existence, divine commission and love to God and men in "first, the true preaching of the Word of God, in which God has revealed Himself to us, as the writings of the prophets and apostles declare; secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, with which must be associated the Word and promise of God to seal and confirm them in our hearts; and lastly, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly administered, as God's Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished" (Scots Confession, XVIII). The Church which God has instituted is not only a spiritual entity "which consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all", (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV. 1) but a visible organisation (which "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children, and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (W.C.F. XXV.II)). It has ordinances, officers and structures determined by the Word of God. The distinction between visible and invisible aspects of the Church is essential and useful but is not to be interpreted so as to allow us to divorce the two or be indifferent to the significance of the Church we see in the world. The Church with all her defects is precious to Christ and should be precious to His people. Christ and His Church are one. The study of the doctrine of the Church is important to the candidate for the Church's ministry.
James Bannerman stated at the opening of New College in 1850 that, in studying the doctrine of the Church, we go beyond "a theology realized and embodied in the personal faith of the Christian to a theology realized and embodied in the existence, powers, ordinances and government of the Christian Church. The faith given to the believer to hold for the salvation of his soul is not a faith to be hidden within his own heart. It binds him both in spiritual and outward fellowship to his brother in the same faith; and the multitude of believing men form one society whose Head is in heaven, but all whose members on earth are both one with him and one with each other".
Bannerman proposed to consider: "What is the character of this Christian society; what is its connection with Christ in heaven and his Spirit on earth; what are its relations with the world in which it is found and to which, notwithstanding, it does not belong, what are its institutions, its laws, its outward form, and its inward authority; to what end it has been appointed, and for what purposes it exists on earth, who are its rightful office-bearers, and what are their duties and privileges; in one word, the Church of Christ, in its nature, powers, ordinances, offices and members" (Inauguration of the New College of the Free Church, Edinburgh: November MDCCCL. With the Introductory Lectures on Theology, Philosophy and Natural Science, pp.111, 112).
The search for, and implementation of, Biblical beliefs on these matters is no merely theoretical pursuit but one with which the glory of God on the earth is closely connected. "The spiritual tendencies of the age, and the prevalent errors now abroad on church questions, too ominously speak of threatened danger and coming trial to the truth of God... And now, when the enemy is anew coming in like a flood, and the danger to the freedom and privileges of the body of Christ is at once instant and great, from what quarter shall we expect deliverance to come, except from the revival in the midst of us, in all their spiritual might and virtue, of the church principles of the Reformation - those principles which are peculiarly the inheritance of Scotland, and have been so gloriously illustrated and embodied in the history and testimony of the Free Church of our Fathers?" (James Bannerman, Inauguration, p. 120).
The ministry of the Word and sacraments is of divine institution
That the Gospel ministry is of Divine institution is evidenced clearly in Scripture - and ministers and people need to be clear on the Biblical warrant for setting men apart to this unique function. To the Church Christ has given "the ministry, oracles and ordinances of God, for the ingathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, to the end of the world; and cloth by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto" (W.C.F XXV.3). The Biblical truth of this statement is illustrated by the specific appointment of temporary and permanent ministries, the commissioning of men to preach the word and administer the sacraments for the ingathering of disciples to the end of time, the concern of the apostles to ordain men who could teach and guide the Church after their demise, the names, duties and qualifications ascribed to these men and the directions given congregations as to how they should regard and respect them.
Ministers of the Gospel are uniquely appointed and sent by the Head of the Church to proclaim the Gospel authoritatively in His name. As the Church "is the communion of saints, gathered out of a lost world ... the business of the minister is to apply the saving gospel to lost men for their salvation from sin — from its guilt and from its corruption and power" (B. B. Warfield, 'The Purpose of the Seminary', in Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1, p. 376). In Thornwell's words, "it is the prerogative of God, and of God alone, to select the men who shall be invested with authority in His Church, and the validity of this Divine call is evinced to others and rendered satisfactory to ourselves by the testimony of our own consciences, the approbation of God's people and the concurrence of God's earthly courts" (Collected Writings, Vol., IV, p.24).
Our view of the ministry will determine our view of the training required for it and a high standard of ministerial training will not long survive the emergence of a low concept of ministerial calling and function.
In his Greeting to Entering Students at Westminster, 1944, Professor Murray said: "You have come here, we trust, because of divine compulsion. You believe that you have been called by God to prepare yourselves for the gospel ministry. You are under the compulsion of a divine call to the greatest vocation upon earth.... You are performing ... the highest ministry that can be rendered. For you are preparing yourselves in pursuance of a divine call for the ministry of the Word without which the whole world perishes in sin, in misery and in death" (Collected Writings of John Murray, I, p. 105).
The training of the ministry within the Church is a Biblical requirement
The schools of the prophets, the training of the Twelve, the preparation of the apostle Paul, the instructions given regarding the commitment of truth to men able to teach others and the experience of the Church through two thousand years suggest that the burden of proof lies on those who maintain that no special education is necessary for ministers of the Word of God. The minister must be taught of God and must also secure much of his training in the school of experience and in the fellowship of the ministers and people of God — and this is presupposed. The function of a College in the preparation of men for the ministry is precise and limited. It is only one aspect of the training required by God and the Church. But its place in providing specific ministerial training by those who have experience of the ministry is important. Certainly, as Principal Macleod put it, "there are more schools in life than the graduated system which reaches its culmination in the university; and men who have been trained in other schools and whose proficiency in the practical knowledge of Christian Truth and whose promise of usefulness is uncommon, should be treated as their case calls for" (The Work of a Theological College, Opening Address, 19th October 1927, Monthly Record, November 1927, p. 268).
But, as he also said, "The Reformed Churches felt that they needed a learned ministry mighty in the Scriptures, that could expound the Word of God and that could stand up in its defence. Thus the needs of the Church shaped the course of study that came to be the accepted preparation for the work of the Christian ministry" (The Work of a Theological College, p. 267). And as he wrote again, "the demand for a Ministry that is equipped for the work of teaching the faith of the Gospel is one that is coeval with the Christian Church... The Universities were rooted in the life of the Christian Church and they were meant to minister to its need for an educated ministry... Confronted with the domestic need within their own borders of contending for the purity of the Faith the Churches felt that the call for a Ministry well grounded in the Faith had not become less as the years went by. The teaching of sound Theology tended rather to call for a greater place and this was reflected in the division of labour which increased the number of Theological Chairs" (John MacLeod, Our College: Its Place and Purpose in Our Evangelical Heritage: The Work and Witness of the Free Church, 1938, pp. 141, 143, 144).
In 1900, "the Free Church asserted that in the past it (the numerical strength of the teaching staff) had been established and maintained according to the standard and range of education adopted, and not to the number of students under training, and that the principle was sound and must continue to be observed" (A. Stewart & J. K. Cameron, The Free Church of Scotland. 1843-1910. A Vindication, p. 359).
The state of the Church largely determines, and is in turn determined by, the character of its ministry. As Nathanael Paterson, Moderator of the 1850 General Assembly, asked at the opening of New College: "What (is) so vital to the wellbeing of the flock of God as the godly training and the spiritual fitness of those who are afterwards to feed them — of those who will soon be all that this church will have for dispensing the ordinances of that grace which bringeth salvation!" (Nathanael Paterson, Inauguration, pp, 27, 28).
The preparation of the ministry is therefore of the utmost importance. Most important is the preparation only God can give. "The characteristic qualification for the ministry, the unction from on high, is the immediate gift of the Holy Ghost, and cannot be imparted by any agency of man. Human learning is necessary — the more the better; but human learning cannot, of itself, make a preacher. Discipline is necessary, but discipline is not Divine power, and is only an incidental help. The whole routine of theological education supposes a previous fitness in the subject, which it may aid but cannot impart... This fitness is not simply piety, for men may be both godly and learned, and yet utterly unqualified for the sacred functions of the ministry; it is a Divine, a heavenly gift, which can be stirred by diligence, study, prayer, meditation and discipline, but which God alone can communicate" (Thornwell, Collected Writings, Vol. IV, p. 28).
But means for stirring up the gift of God cannot be ignored. "We assert that this training will be, to any man, gifted above his fellows or not, an important means of still greater efficiency, correctness, authority and wisdom, in saving souls, and that the lack of it will entail on any pastor a considerable (comparative) liability to partial error, mistakes and injury of the church and of souls" (R. L. Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, Vol. 2, p. 659).
Theological schools evolved to meet this need. There were intellectual and spiritual advantages - for pastors and students - in the system (found in England and New England and among the old Scottish Seceders and the Free Presbyterians today) whereby men received their training for the ministry from ministers in pastoral charges who acted as their tutors. While some have maintained, with the Calvinistic Baptists of Maryland, 1832, that theological schools reflect "upon the faithfulness of the Holy Ghost, who himself leads his disciples into all truth" and that "from the school of Alexandria to the present, theological schools have been a real pest to the churches of Christ" (Quoted, Tom Nettles, Shepherding God's Flock, p. 225), the Free Church has opted for a college-trained ministry. Within days of the Disruption the Assembly approved the appointment of a Committee with reference to the College and Theological Education (Act VI, 1843) and instructed the Committee "to sketch out a plan for the institution of a College ... to appoint Professors of Divinity and secure accommodation for giving lectures" (Act XV, 1843).
The theological school model draws men aside for several years from the ordinary course of life to prepare for their lifework and it must seek to conserve the basic principle that ministers are educated in the context of the Church by men who are passing on the truth which they themselves were commissioned to preach.
Ministers should be educated in the context of the Church.
An institution educating men for the ministry must function as an arm of the Church, supported and controlled by the Church.
When the Commission of Assembly in October 1850 arranged the opening of New College for 6th November that year they appointed the Moderator of the previous Assembly to preside on the occasion and "to address the Principal and the Professors, and, in the name of the Church, to commit to their care the education and oversight of the students who may enroll themselves in the New College" (Inauguration, p. vi). In his address the Moderator, Dr Nathanael Paterson of St Andrew's Church, Glasgow, said: "We entertain no good hope either of school or college that is dissevered from the church... And ... we have no hope of the church herself, except through that promised grace, by which, when it is sought, imparted and improved, she becomes 'the ground and pillar of the truth' a witness for it and the means of extending the knowledge and the love and the power of it amongst all her people" (Inauguration, pp.25,26).
It was Paterson's contention that "one of the worst evils that could threaten the church's prosperity would be the dissociation of her educational institutions from her paternal vigilance and from her responsible control". The Church College will to a large extent reflect the state of the Church, whether good or bad. When it is well with the Church the fact that the College is part and parcel of the Church promotes the safety of both, and, after all, "God has given such promises to His church as He has not given to anybody apart from it" (Nathanael Paterson, Inauguration, pp. 26, 27). "The church may not divest herself of this care, because, being a corporate body having a succession of generations, she is answerable for what is necessarily laid upon her, in reference to that succession; and because colleges, however excellent they may at any time be, are not to be left to their natural tendencies" (Nathanael Paterson, Inauguration, p. 28) - natural tendencies such as a scholastic approach to truth and a pride in human learning with the associated dangers illustrated in the Free Church Colleges last century.
Ministers should be educated by the Ministry of the Church.
While the standard of the theological college should compare favourably with that of other educating institutions its ethos is to be sacred rather than secular. The subjects of the curriculum are taught, as Warfield affirms, "not for themselves, but for the aid they bring (the candidate for the ministry) for understanding the gospel better for himself, and for commending it more powerfully to others.... What we need in our pulpits is scholar-saints become preachers. And it is the one business of the theological seminaries to make them" (B.B.Warfield, The Purpose of the Seminary, in Selected Shorter Writings, Vol, 1, p. 378).
Teachers in theological seminaries seek to make themselves and their students as competent in their subjects as possible but they are not teaching 'subjects' so much as trying to help prepare pastors and preachers. That is why ordained ministers rather than career academics are appointed to teach in the College. Having some experience of the responsibilities and privileges, the joys and sorrows, of the Gospel ministry they are entrusted with providing candidates for the ministry with "the specific training which is peculiar to them as ministers... What precisely must be taught in a theological seminary will be determined by our conception of the ministry for the exercise of the functions of which it offers preparation. And that will be determined ultimately by our conception of the Church" (B. B. Warfield, The Purpose of the Seminary, in Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1. p 375).
If we are to justify the time and the expense and sometimes the domestic upheaval of securing three or four years theological training we must maintain a high view of the ministry and its qualifications. We must function in organic connection with the Church and seek the promotion of learning which is allied with piety.
The Assembly Committee which proposed the founding of Princeton Seminary desired to make it, "under the blessing of God, a nursery of vital piety as well as of sound theological learning, and to train up persons for the ministry who shall be lovers as well as defenders of the truth as it is in Jesus, friends of revivals of religion, and a blessing to the church of God" (Princeton, p. 30). It was to be "a seminary dedicated equally to 'piety of the heart' and solid learning..." (Princeton, p. xxii).
The 1900 men shared this vision, "There is to be no lowering of the standard of education, but the aim of the Church will be to make learning the handmaid of the Gospel; to lay the supreme emphasis on the equipment of the Spirit; and to secure that once again, as in other days in Scotland, scholarship shall go hand in hand with reverence, and culture shall acknowledge the restraints of loyalty to the mind of Christ" (A. Stewart & J. K. Cameron, The Free Church of Scotland 1843-1910: A Vindication, pp. 403-404).
One of Samuel Miller's resolutions on going to teach at Princeton was: "I will endeavour, by the grace of God, to set such an example before the candidates for the ministry committed to my care, as shall convince them, that, though I esteem theological knowledge and all its auxiliary branches of science very highly, I esteem genuine and deep piety as a still more vital and important qualification" (Princeton, p. 73). Dr John Duncan's gravestone testifies to his qualification in this respect: "An Eminent Scholar and Metaphysician, A Profound Theologian, A man of tender piety and of a lowly loving spirit... A man of profound genius and vast learning, he was, by God's grace, the humblest of Christians, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and desiring above everything else to be found in Him, clothed with His righteousness, and filled with His Spirit, accepted in the Beloved" (Rich Gleanings after the Vintage from 'Rabbi ' Duncan, p. 15).
Charles Hodge once wrote: "It seems to me that the heart more than the head of an instructor in a religious seminary qualifies or unfits him for his station" (Princeton, p. 111). He "claimed that 'holiness is essential to the correct knowledge of divine things and the great security from error'... 'When men lose the life of religion they can believe the most monstrous doctrines and glory in them"' (Princeton, p. 123). The purpose of his inaugural address at Princeton was "to illustrate the importance of piety in the interpretation of Scripture" (The Life of Charles Hodge, p. 94). On his fiftieth anniversary he claimed with pleasure that 'Princeton had never been charged with originating a new idea'. "This to his mind was a high distinction. It was mind that has made Princeton a synonym for greatness, but it was mind that feared God and never dared to originate what He had not taught" (W. M. Paxton in The Life of Charles Hodge, p. 594)
The daily College act of worship should simply focus and feed the spirit of devotion to God and commitment to our calling which should characterise all our study. While the College is primarily for the improvement of the mind it should go about its business as a worshipping community. The Spirit whose presence we crave at worship and in the meetings of the Church we should seek in classroom and in study. The model and context is that of the Church rather than the University.
A common commitment to the Church's confessed faith is a divinely ordained method of securing the interests of both
"And the things that thou halt heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9).
The Church has confessed her faith in terms which make clear her understanding of, and submission to, the Word of God and which provide her with a basis of union, a standard of teaching and orthodoxy and a testimony to others. We have a Confession which all our office-bearers have owned as the Confession of their faith. We have a form of worship and a system of church government and discipline which, along with the doctrine of our Confession, we are persuaded, are founded on the Word of God and agreeable thereto. The theological school is a servant of the Church, preparing men to preach the truth which called the Church into existence, nurtures it and is confessed by it. "There can be no sense in having one set of principles for a church and another for school or college" (Nathanael Paterson, Inauguration, p. 31).
According to The Plan of a Theological Seminary (Appendix I of Princeton) a purpose of the Seminary "is to form men for the Gospel ministry, who shall truly believe, and cordially love, and therefore endeavour to propagate and defend, in its genuineness, simplicity and fullness, that system of religious belief and practice which is set forth in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Plan of Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church, and thus to perpetuate and extend the influence of true evangelical piety, and Gospel order. It is to provide for the Church an adequate supply and succession of able and faithful ministers of the New Testament; workmen that need not to be ashamed, being qualified rightly to divide the word of truth" (Princeton, p 416).
How can the Church ensure that along with the highest academic standards her ministry will obtain a solid grounding in the truth? The commitment to the Confessional doctrine and ecclesiastical practice of the Church as doctrine and practice grounded in the Word of God which is required of teachers and taught, combined with watchfulness on the part of the Church, is necessary if a College is to serve the legitimate interests of the Church and enjoy all the academic freedom desired by those who recognise the supremacy of Divine revelation. Let me sum this up with two final quotations from Principal MacLeod.
First, with regard to the teachers: "The Schools of the prophets are meant to equip for the work of the Christian ministry, and the outcome of the Theological course will manifest itself in the life of the Church as that is affected by the men who are taught in our colleges. The attitude of the ministry to the Word and its message is reflected in the lives of their hearers. The calling of the Church to be faithful to the Truth entrusted to her finds visible expression by way of obedience in the obligation laid upon and accepted by her teachers. They in particular, as her recognised representatives, are bound to hold the Truth... Here comes in the right on the part of the Corporate Church to require the acceptance of a Confession of Faith. Beyond all others it is but fair in regard to those to whom the instruction of the rising ministry is committed that there should be no haze of suspicion or cloud of doubt as to their personal loyalty to the Faith that they are set to defend and to expound" (John MacLeod, The Work of a Theological College, p. 268).
Second, with regard to the taught: "faithful men are called for, that is men who already believe the Christian verities. The Theological course is not meant to furnish an open forum for the irresponsible exhibition of freedom of thought... It can hardly be said to be one of the highest attainments of a Christian man or a Christian Church to be ever learning yet never coming to the knowledge of the Truth... The studies of this place should equip the student for an appreciation of the teaching of our venerable Confession" (John MacLeod, The Work of a Theological College, pp. 268, 269, 270).
We have much reason to thank God that in our diminished and declining circumstances it still pleases Him to raise up faithful men — believing men committed to the truth — to whom the sacred trust of Gospel ministry and Gospel rule may be committed.
We thank the Church for entrusting us with the privilege of learning and teaching here and appeal for the Church's prayerful and financial and watchful support, reminding the people of God that the future welfare of the Church among us is largely bound up with the Church being able to practise the principle of 2 Timothy 2:2:
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses,
the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.