Project Canterbury





A Sermon















MARK, VI. 31.

And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.

THESE words, though having in the context only a limited and temporary application, express, I apprehend, the principle on which are mainly based such institutions as that whose anniversary we celebrate to-day. Rest awhile from the ceaseless turmoil of the world; occasional pauses even in the career of active duties and the work of doing good; self-searching seasons, when the soul may commune with itself and God; these are needs of every Christian's inner being; the fallows of the spiritual husbandry, when the dew of Divine grace falls faster and sinks deeper; the refreshment of the spiritual life, when the eye of faith clears, and the pulse of love beats more strong and healthily. And it is, no doubt, the neglect or the difficulty of securing such seasons, amidst the onward rush of the habits and requirements of our day, which starves and dwarfs the religion of many amongst us.

[4] Much gratitude does this busy, restless world owe to the Church, that still she raises her f though too often disregarded voice, and calls to her care worn children each Advent before the thanksgivings of Christmas, and each Lent before the high festival of Easter, and each recurring Ember week, at least to all of us who are ordained to minister in sacred things, "Come ye yourselves apart, and rest a while."

But more especially are rest and retirement meet and needful preparations for those greater occasions which form epochs in men's lives; before engagements in new duties and responsibilities, and the dedication of self to God; before the baptism of adults, or confirmation and the first communion; before that solemn step, which, more, perhaps, than any other earthly step (though men think not so), determines the direction of the endless future, entrance into the holy estate of matrimony; before commencing any business or profession; and notably, as well from its own vast importance both to self and others, and as being that with which we are now more particularly concerned, before admission into the order, the privileges, and the perilous responsibilities of the Christian ministry. It is at such a time especially, that the soul needs to be collected into herself, to review her motives, estimate her powers, learn her weakness, count the cost of the coming struggle, brace up her resolutions, and, above all, pray earnestly, yea, wrestle in prayer, like Jacob, before passing the boundary, over which, when once passed, there is no return. And her duty is taught her by high [4/5] precedents and prevailing examples: Moses, shrouded forty days and nights in the dark cloud which rested on Sinai; and Elijah on his way to meet Jehovah unto Horeb, the Mount of God; and the Lord of Moses and Elijah, the beloved Son, led by the Spirit into the wilderness, before He undertook the work He came to do,--the ministry which was to regenerate, and the death which was to redeem, the world. How much more needful for our poor, weak, wayward, and unstable souls, before the vows and responsibilities of God's stewards and ambassadors are on us, to go apart and rest awhile,--to commune with self and with God!

It is as affording opportunity for this rest and for its special preparation for the ministry, that Theological Colleges, as distinguished from, and supplemental to, the education of our Universities, have their character and importance. I may be allowed briefly to enumerate their advantages, which involve, of course, the duties of those who are inmates in them; and then to indicate as briefly some of the peculiar dangers to which (like all other human institutions) they are liable. My remarks address themselves mainly to those who are, or are about to be, students within these walls.

I. (1.) The primary idea, then, embodied in such institutions as this, is the coming apart to rest a while from the whirl of life,--from its secular cares and pursuits, its amusements and temptations,--in order to prepare for self-dedication to the work of the ministry, and to cultivate the habits and studies which are requisite for the work: and the [5/6] first advantage to which I would advert, is the facility thus afforded for breaking off worldly habits, and getting free from the entanglement of worldly society. I am not indifferent, Brethren, to the dangers which threaten our Church from the hostility of her political opponents, and the persevering adroitness with which they are endeavouring to undermine her established rights by the set of the current of legislation. I am painfully, and even faithlessly sensible (for, after all, the Lord reigneth) to the perils of our own internal divisions, and the party spirit, the uncharitableness, and the miserable suspicions and misrepresentations, which separate and embitter those who ought to be brethren. But I should have little fear of enemies without, and I should confidently believe that our jealousies and dissensions within would melt rapidly in the strong solvent of Christian love, if only it should please God to bestow upon us, His servants the Clergy, a higher spiritual tone of life and ministrations, and to draw us above the secular and secularizing tastes, habits, and pursuits, which still, too widely, enfeeble our own souls, dull our energies, and smite our ministry with barrenness. I am not alluding to open vice, or the grosser acts of inconsistent conduct, which shock society with an emphasis which does not belong to the same vices in the laity. These, thank God! are too rare and exceptional (how ever lamentable) to affect the estimation and usefulness of any but those unhappy men who have been guilty of them. But there is a tendency (as one, [6/7] perhaps, of the evils which alloy the far more weighty advantages of an Established Church) to drift into the ordinary stream of the society in which our office places us,--and without being vicious, or even irreligious, to become, or oftener perhaps to continue,--instead of messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord, bound to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord's family, to seek for Christ's sheep who are dispersed abroad, and to apply ourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all our cares and studies this way,--mere gentlemen and men of literature, or farmers, perhaps, or sportsmen; whose tastes and sphere of action seem to lie, not in pleading for God with souls publicly and from house to house, but in the library, the drawing-room, and the garden, if not in the ball room, at the card-table, and in the hunting-field. Such habits, while they keep our own personal piety low and lifeless, go far to evacuate our ministrations of acceptableness and power; not merely with the religious, who are distrustful, if not grieved or shocked, but even more so with the keen men of the world, who, though not religious nor loving religion, know well enough what religion ought to make those who believe its truths, obey its precepts, and feel its awful sanctions to be realities.

Now I am far from saying that such habits, and the companionships which have arisen from them or have helped to form them, cannot be, or ought not to be, broken off in the busier scenes of life--in the University or at home; nor that in doing so, under [7/8] the familiar eye of others, sincerity will not be better tested, and the earnestness of the young candidate for the honour of God's special service be more exemplary but undoubtedly in the retirement of these walls, away from the associations and many of the temptations of former years, you, Brethren, have greater facilities and fewer hindrances in disentangling yourselves from too secular tastes, pursuits, and acquaintances, and in the cultivation of a higher, purer, and more spiritual character of heart and life; and, therefore, your responsibility will be heavier, and your fault more grievous, if you do not here, in lieu of old habits, buckle on for the conflict of your future life armour of more celestial temper, and go forth hence to your posts in the Church as those with whom "old things are passed away; behold all things are become new."

(2.) Another advantage of such institutions is the opportunity they afford for special study. I need not conceal my opinion that our Universities, in addition to that general education which is in dispensable as the best substratum for all future usefulness in the higher walks of life, ought also to supply the special education which fits for the due discharge of the ministerial office. But I must confess, at the same time, that practically they do not adequately do so,--a defect which, on this occasion, I note and regret more particularly in that University with winch most of us here are most closely connected and interested. It is much, therefore, [8/9] Brethren, that you are enabled here, having already passed through the course of training, which, if duly improved, should have braced the faculties and given tension and elasticity to every muscle, if I may so speak, of your mind, to apply yourselves without distraction, and under able and judicious guidance, to those studies without which, it is little to say, we ought not to attempt to teach and guide others; but which, if not mastered now, there is small hope of overtaking amidst the cares, and duties, and distractions of a parish priest. And you will do well,--pardon the suggestion from one who has little right to offer it in the presence of many around him, but what he has derived from the anxious watching of some who have erred from the sound and primitive teaching of our Church to the right hand or to the left,--you will do well, next after the thorough and devout study of your Bible, to read, digest, and assimilate into your own mental system the standard divinity of our own Church, than which no Church in Christendom has richer stores of healthy, manly, and Scriptural theology. And when you have made your own the solid truth of Hooker and Pearson, Bull and Waterland, Field, Butler, and Barrow, you may venture without risk, and with profit, amidst the otherwise bewildering currents of patristic divinity, may cull what is precious from the prolix and often presumptuous erudition of Germany, will, be in less danger of wasting precious time on the current theology of newspapers and pamphlets, and will be enabled, by God's help,, to teach the people committed to your charge, intelligibly and effectively, doctrines which you apprehend clearly yourselves, and hold in the grasp of a vigorous and unhesitating faith.

(3.) But, perhaps, the most important advantage of this haven of rest is the opportunity it gives for self-examination and special prayer. The office of the ministry, Brethren, to be worth anything, is the sacrifice of a life, and requires the surrender of the whole self. 'En toutoiV isqi, writes the Apostle emphatically: let all your faculties, studies, efforts, hopes, ends, prayers,--your whole being,--be in the work. "We have good hope"--so our Church addresses her candidates for the priesthood by the mouth of the bishop--"that you have well weighed and pondered these things for yourselves long before this time; and that you have clearly determined, by God's grace, to give yourselves wholly to this office, where unto it hath pleased God to call you: so that, as much as lieth in you, you will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way." These things need to be well weighed and pondered; and in no case is it more essential to count the cost before we provoke the contest. There are those, I know, who have drifted thoughtlessly into Orders on the tide of circumstances, whose whole after life has been embittered by repentance: thrice happy, if timely repentance here pre vents the fruitless penitence of eternity! Deep self-searching is needed, Brethren, and honest dealing with ourselves, to ascertain whether we are prepared [10/11] to give up the world, and self, and all tastes and pursuits which do not subserve the one great object of a pastor's life, and to discover clearly, or at least hopefully, within, those purposes, desires, and aspirations "to serve God," with all the powers He has given us, "for the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people," which alone will justify the affirmative to the solemn question,--"Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration?"

And while your residence here gives the leisure and opportunity for such needful self-examination, it is no less important as inviting you to special prayer. A ministry whose entire efficacy is from above, should never be entered but with repeated and earnest prayer for the blessing of God upon it; nor should a step be taken which involves, as we have said, the dedication of a life, without seeking again and again God's wisdom, that we may see our way; God's guidance, that we may walk in it; God's strength, that we may resolutely strip off all clinging tastes and habits which would impede our efforts, and may gird on the rigid, may be, but needful armour, in which we are to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

But there is a further and weighty reason for a somewhat prolonged season of special devotion. You are about to enter on a life, Brethren, whose every day work lies in spiritual exercises, and amidst spiritual things,--prayers, and sacraments, and sick-bed visitations, and the study of God's word, and the [11/12] pleading publicly and privately with the souls of others: and as you are formed like other men, and the law of habit, which weakens passive impressions by repetition, will he acting on you, you will be in danger of hardening into formality, and deadening your own inner life by familiarity with the unfelt offices of religion, and of becoming the mere mouthpiece to others of truths and prayers which have ceased to be realities to yourselves, if you do not now form habits of closer and more sustained devotion than is usual in the world, and at your age; bringing your souls often into conscious con tact, as it were, with God, through Christ, and cultivating intimate, solemn, yet child-like, intercourse with Him. For such devotional training you will have special opportunities here; yet even here the task will be difficult to most of you, and will need earnestness, watchfulness, patient perseverance, and God's peculiar grace.

II. For it must not be thought that any time or place can give immunity from difficulty and danger, or that opportunities for good will bear their fruits without care and effort, or will even be free from tendencies to countervailing evils of their own. It would, indeed, be to make such Colleges as these exceptions to all human institutions, to say that they have not, together with their advantages, certain special dangers, one or two of which I will now briefly indicate.

(1.) It is inseparable, perhaps, from a small society, aggregated for one object, engaged in the [12/13] same pursuits, and prosecuting the same studies along the same line, that there should arise a tendency to narrow and exclusive views, to partial apprehension of truth, and to undue prominence in the character of its members of the tastes and feelings which the circumstances of the Society, or sometimes even the accidents of the time, happen to foster and exercise. This tendency, which is weakened in our Universities by the diluting force of numbers, and kept in check by the diversity of pursuits and studies that prevails there, usually concentrates and strengthens in proportion to the smallness of the Society and the greater unity of its objects and habits. To this must be added the strong influence, in a limited sphere, of a single presiding mind, especially when a mind of depth, power, and sympathy,--an influence which, though a mighty instrument of good, must necessarily, when it acts in isolation from other influences, exercise a contracting force, drawing, more or less distinctly, around the action of other minds the circle within which it habitually energises and feels itself. Under the operation of such partial apprehensions, one-sided views, and individual influences,--exaggerated especially in young minds by respect, affection, and the strong pleasure with which any truth (even though it may prove to be only half a truth) is embraced by the mind's first love,--are formed schools of thought and parties in action; hence, as these diverging forces make themselves felt, arise some real and more apparent divisions, even within [13/14] the Church's pale; and hence, too often, as the ultimate product, that curse of our time, under winch Christian charity seems withering away,--party spirit, with its jealousies, and miserable suspicions, and lying accusations,--Satan's triumphant substitute for godly zeal.

Be on your guard, then, Brethren. There are few men, probably, whom you might more safely follow than your Principal, with his balanced judgment, his practical prudence, and well-regulated zeal; yet will he be first to tell you, "Be ye followers of me, only as far as I am of Christ." "One is your Master, even Christ." Do not think that the Church is enclosed within the walls of your own Society; nor that they are to be reckoned as belonging to a hostile camp, or as untrusty inmates in our own, who have learnt to array the doctrines of the Gospel in some what different order, or to speak of them in somewhat different language from yourselves. Remember that even error can be retained by the human mind only so far as it holds in solution some small element, at least, of truth; and that it is very possible that those whose misconceptions you see and deplore, may, at the same time, be discerning more clearly, and holding more firmly than yourself, some important verity of the Gospel. Above all, be content with no system of theology less broad than the Bible itself; faithfully mirrored, as it is, in the doctrinal and devotional formularies of our Church. Be much in its pages: and as each truth is brought before you there, be more concerned to grasp it in faith's hand as a truth, [14/15] and to give it its full influence on your practice, than too curiously to debate its alleged inconsistency or its metaphysical relation with other truths, the connecting links of which we may not be able to trace, till the day when "we shall know even as also we are known." And observe how through the whole system of Bible theology runs the unfailing thread of charity; and suspect yourselves of a worse error than a misapprehension or mis-statement of a doctrine, when you feel the rising heat of party jealousy, or have allowed your tongue to attribute, or your heart to suspect, bad motives or inferences which your brother himself disclaims. "By this,"--even more than by the precious talent of an orthodox faith,--"shall all men know that ye are Christ's disciples, if ye have love one to another." [John, x 35.]

(2.) There is a kindred tendency arising from community in special studies and associations for a special purpose, to magnify unduly the object in view. Fifing for the time nearly the whole field of vision, it hides or diminishes all else besides. Now it is impossible, I suppose, to over-estimate the dignity of the Christian ministry on the side on which it looks towards God, or its importance in its bearings on men. There is no earthly honour like that of being ambassador for Christ, nor one which is so sensibly humbling in its greatness to the poor weak mortal on whom it is laid; nor is there in all the world an office of such deep and far-stretching import as that of preaching that Word, and administering [15/16] those Sacraments, which must be to every immortal soul to whom they are administered or preached the savour of life unto life, or the savour of death unto death. But it is very possible, and, alas! very easy, to magnify unduly the Order of the Christian ministry in the light of the personal claims and dignity it is thought to confer, the immunities it possesses, and the powers it bestows; to regard it as a kind of caste, broadly marked off from the brotherhood of God's lay people; to treat it as a divinely-appointed institution to stand between every soul and God, through which alone Heaven's pardon and grace can visit the penitent, or the penitent's prayers can be accepted in heaven. And such undue estimate of the Order is apt to be formed and fostered, whenever those who are admitted into it, or are preparing for it, are brought together into one isolated community, with it as their main object, and concentrating on it their thoughts and efforts, their studies and their prayers.

You will ever remember, Brethren, as no doubt you will here be taught, that the office you are seeking is a ministry,--a service,--in which you are to serve not only God, but your brethren; and in which the truest dignity is the most real and unfeigned humility that you will be not officers over the Church, but ministers in the Church; not "lords over God's heritage, but examples to the flock;" not "having dominion over their faith, but helpers of their joy;" not mediators in any true sense between your brethren and God, or between them and the only [16/17] Mediator, but ambassadors to plead with them to come to God through Christ; stewards to dispense the word and sacraments by which God ordinarily converts, and sanctifies, and saves their souls; shepherds to tend His flock, to know His sheep by name, to seek and bring back the wandering, to help the weak, to keep out, as far as may be, evil from the fold; labourers together with God in His vine yard, trying with care and patience all the arts of spiritual husbandry; stooping in order to raise suffering to be able to comfort; content to be lowly, if only you may be useful; becoming all things to all men, if by any means you may save some.

(3.) I will mention hut one more dangerous tendency--of our times, indeed, rather than of the place,--but which may connect itself with the special opportunities for devotion afforded you here, at least in minds to which they have the charm and influence of novelty--a tendency to overvalue forms, and rules, and even sensuous aids to religion.

Gathered out of the world into this quiet retreat of rest and preparation, you are called oftener, perhaps, than you were wont, with greater regularity, with more of the accessories which mark fitness of time and place, to the exercises of public and social worship. You have, most properly, their great importance duly enforced upon you; and you have leisure secured to you, and aids suggested to you, for your own private devotions. Now there is no special reason in themselves why these privileges--which, indeed, they are--should have any evil tendency, excepting [17/18] that which is common to all practices regularly and frequently repeated,--the danger of subsiding into unfelt forms, from which the spirit of devotion has evaporated, the nature and remedy of which I have briefly alluded to before. But there is undoubtedly, at the present day,--as a reaction, probably, from the slovenly indifference of the past,--a growing taste for ritual and ornament, the accessories of gesture and dress, and other sensuous aids, as they are thought to be, to devotion. This taste, contracted, may be, by some before they enter these walls, has a strange attraction for young minds; and is very apt to lay hold of and twine, as it were, and luxuriate around the observances of such a system of regular devotion as you have the advantage of possessing here. Against this--or at least against the too common weakness of indulging it--let me earnestly warn you, for your own sakes and for that of the Church. It is not a healthy religion, believe it, Brethren, which has learnt to need such helps as these. The strong man's limbs have not knit their iron sinews in swathing bands; nor is that arm fit to wield the sword which has never laid aside the crutch. True reverence may be distracted and distressed, but is not aided by decoration and dress, by bannered processions and ceremony. [As this expression has been misunderstood, it may be well to state that it was not intended to apply to the orderly proceeding of the Clergy to the church at Consecrations and other such public occasions.] True devotion has higher thoughts and more spiritual aspirations than can be [18/19] raised by, or can attend to, affected gestures and uncalled-for genuflexions. And the eye of faith--if it be, indeed, a "single eye"--"can view Christ daily," as Leighton speaks, "as hanging on the cross, without the childish, gaudy help of a crucifix, and grow in the knowledge of that love which passeth knowledge." [On St. Peter, chap. ii. v. 24.]

Even more injurious may the indulgence of such tastes be to your influence as ministers. There exists, thank God! in the great bulk of the members of our Church, a strong attachment to the principles of the Reformation, and a sensitive jealousy of anything which approaches the erroneous teaching or peculiar practices of the Church of Rome. Unreasoning this may be, doubtless, in some of its manifestations, needlessly suspicious, and consequently often unjust; but with all these evils, it is a healthy feeling in the main, the natural result of love for the deposit of truth, and not to be despised or to be provoked wantonly. Now, it cannot be denied that excess of ceremonial and ornament, novelties in dress and gesture, and the like, are associated in men's minds with tendencies to Romish error and a wavering allegiance to our own Church. Whether this wide-spread opinion has any foundation or not, it is not worth while to inquire; it is sufficient to accept the fact. And if it is the fact, it cannot be a matter of indifference to us,--rather it is pregnant with the weightiest consequences now and at the judgment day,--whether, for the sake of an aesthetic indulgence, a vesture, a posture, or [19/20] a ceremony, we offend the consciences of weak brethren, render our people suspicious of our teaching, and alienate them from our ministry, cause our good to be evil spoken of, and swell by our influence the tide of exaggerated ritualism, which, the higher it flows now, will only ebb the more rapidly and certainly back into the depths of Puritanism, if not of profanity.

But this is a danger not so much of this place as of this time; and I have mentioned it as a caution to my younger Brethren, not as being peculiarly needed here, but as being, in my own opinion, greatly needed everywhere. Against this tendency, and against the others which I have indicated, be on your guard, then, while you enjoy the privileges and improve the advantages which are here provided for you. You are resting here to prepare for labour--keeping the vigil which precedes the warfare of a life. Put off, then, all worldly habits and the clinging associations of your past life. Put on the armour of the Christian warrior,--devotion, self-denial, humility, and faith,--and grasp firmly, as the weapon you are to wield, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Go forth to endure hardness, and to fight the good fight of faith. Attack sin in its strongholds, and in God's might rescue souls for Christ. And may he grant to you, when the toil and conflict is over, and you lie down wearied, but victorious, to enter, each and all, into that endless rest which remaineth for the people of God!

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