IT is a matter of the highest importance, my brethren, that we should form a just estimate of the object for which we are gathered in this College. I have therefore thought it desirable that the Distinctive Purpose of such institutions as this, should form the subject of my first address to you.
The Universities, no doubt, do that which we cannot do here. The broader object, the consequently more comprehensive range of study, the intercourse with young men whose destination in after life is of every possible variety, these things involve a discipline and an education (I mean a great deal more than instruction) of the highest value, not to be attained elsewhere.
 But there is a work peculiar to Theological Colleges, of which I am persuaded that it is (as a general rule) nowhere else to be accomplished. To fit men, in character, and in attainments, for the highest calling on earth--for the vocation that has less of earth belonging to it than any other--is at least not equally possible in the midst of a crowd of young men whose object in life is diverse from this.
To become fitted for the work of the Ministry,--to be prepared to "stand in the House of the Lord," leading the prayers and praises of His people; to administer Holy Baptism and the Supper of the Lord rightly and duly; to preach the gospel of Christ Jesus, so as to awaken the dead in sins, and to build up the faithful; to be, whether in or out of that Holy House, wise and loving pastors, and imitable examples to the flock;--to be worthily prepared for such an office, is no light matter, no mere by-work for spare moments.
I.--First of all, and chiefest, is the matter of personal character. What your whole work is hereafter, my brethren, depends mainly on this. In schools, it is constantly observable that the children are formed in character and in life, not by what the master teaches them, but by what he [4/5] is. And so it will be in our several parishes the people will become what their Clergy are. The teaching from the pulpit will have less effect than the life of the preacher. In the long run, inferior intellectual power, if combined with deep piety, will accomplish far more real and lasting good, than the highest talents without it. There is an atmosphere of holiness about a good man, which produces a sensible effect on those who come in contact with him. They will first revere, and then try to grow like him. Very few indeed can resist this argument. A man who prides himself on his own intelligence or independence, will gainsay the word spoken, will sneer at the authority of the priesthood; but he has no answer to the unspoken language, the unassuming but constraining power of a loving and holy life.
On the other hand, it is not possible to measure the evil that may, almost must, result from an unhallowed clerical life. The better sort are distressed, and the worse emboldened; all hands wax feeble, except those of wicked men. Men hear the sermon on Sunday, and are struck with it, perhaps, and impressed. On Monday they hear their Pastor speak unadvisedly with his lips; see him self-indulgent, frivolous, eager after sports [5/6] or mere amusements; observe him keen as the keenest after worldly gain. And they are fain to conclude that unseen things are, after all, perhaps not so real as he represented them yesterday; that perhaps a man may have a portion in both worlds, and need not seek the kingdom of God quite so eagerly as they began but yesterday to be persuaded.
To us, my dear brethren, the reflections which these things suggest are painful and humiliating: to you they should be stimulating: they should quicken us all to greater efforts after a walk and conversation worthy of the vocation with which we are, and you hope to be, called.
In order to the formation of a holy personal character in the students of this Institution, there has been purposely made prominent the devotional element in your training for Holy Orders. Your condition here is somewhat exceptional. There is much to give up, very often, in a young man's life, and much to acquire, before he can, even by an indulgent judgment, be considered fit to touch or to bear the Ark of the Lord.
Moreover the life of the Clergy is to be one of great spiritual energy: they are in the forefront of the battle; they had need be men mighty in valour, and skilled in war: therefore the spiritual [6/7] life within requires great exercise, great development, before they go forth to the fight, or present themselves as leaders of the Lord's hosts. What knowledge of our own hearts, what acquaintance with the subtlety and power of the enemy, what experience in the art of overcoming the evil, what insight into the invisible world, what a consciousness and appreciation of the power of God on the soul for good; what deep draughts of the holy pleasures of the sanctuary; what a sense of the blessedness, the special blessedness of communion with the Lord at His Holy Table, ought we to acquire, and to make part of ourselves, if we are by-and-by to speak of these things to others!
It is for this reason that so many opportunities are here afforded you for united worship. After the pattern of David--evening, and morning, and at noonday, does the voice of prayer and praise go up to God from this Oratory; morning and evening in the Parish Church daily. More frequently than in most places the opportunity of Holy Communion. All day long we are invited to think of God, and to sing from time to time to Father, Son, end Holy Spirit, One God, our hymns and spiritual songs.
If they were blessed who waited round the throne of Solomon, and heard his wisdom, a [7/8] thousand fold surely must we be blessed who have such frequent opportunity of coming to the Throne of Grace--the Throne of God and of the Lamb--that we may obtain mercy for our many transgressions, and find grace to help in our peculiar time of need.
But in the use of these means, my dear brethren, let me entreat you to be true men--to be real. Your attendance is required at Morning Prayer in the Church, and at the short Evening Service here. It is also very desirable that you should be present at Evening Prayer in Church. Your absence should be the exception. And whenever you are present before God in such a special manner, it is your evident duty to be occupied with, and reverent in, the Service. But yet I do not counsel you to affect a devotion which you do not feel;--nor to force yourselves, as it were, in spiritual growth. Be as earnest as you will, when you really are fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Come as frequently as you will to Holy Communion, when you are hungering and thirsting after Christ. Nay more; aim at spiritual fervour and holy zeal. Set your heart on frequent Communion, as a thing blessed exceedingly, and much to be desired. But do not carelessly adopt devotional habits, nor hurry yourselves into a spiritual [8/9] state, which, after all, in many men is of slow attainment, and often the more abiding from the very slowness of their progress.
Further, in order to this reality, this depth and truthfulness, it is of the utmost importance that your private devotions should be intense, and not very short. The thought that naturally comes to many minds is, that if we are going to Church, or have come back from it, we need not be so long as otherwise we should in our private prayers. I am satisfied that this is a great error, and tends to formality, in which it will issue sooner or later, if not corrected. There is the more need that, if we are much in family and public prayer, we should in private hold the closest, most fervent, communion with Our Father, who seeth in secret. Never, therefore, fail to read carefully a short passage of Holy Scripture at first rising, and immediately before retiring to rest; and, having read, to meditate for a little season thoughtfully upon it; and then, with a heart full of the sound of the Voice of the Lord, pour forth before Him all your desire. Tell Him of what, alas! He knows too well, your numberless and grievous sins: do not try to hide anything from Him. Cry earnestly for pardon through the precious Blood of the Lamb. Beg for new measures of His most [9/10] Holy Spirit. This always. Then your special wants: think of what they are, and humbly spread them all before Him. He is a Father; treat Him as one: Love Him, and trust Him. He is God, and you are dust: He is the King, and you have rebelled: Be awed and abased, with fear and trembling, in His Presence.
From such humble, yet intimate communing with God, you will go forth to take part, with the utmost comfort and advantage, in the holy services of the Temple. There will be no fear, then, of their degenerating into lifeless and unspiritual forms.
There is yet one more point in connexion with the development of spiritual character of which I wish to speak. It is our earnest desire that your intercourse with us, who are "set to bear rule in this College," should be thoroughly open-hearted. Your communications will be treated by us as sacred, and you may confidently reckon upon sympathy in all your difficulties and trials, even should we fail (peradventure we may not) to impart to you the counsel or the comfort that your souls are longing for.
And, in your intercourse with one another, labour to be helpers each man of his neighbour's joy. You may hinder and mar the good work by [10/11] an idle word-- a profane, or irreverent, or impure jest; for every one of which, remember, you will have to give account in the Last Day. Or you may, as you walk and speak one with another of the things of the Kingdom, find presently, before you thought it, that Another has drawn near, and is walking with you, and making your hearts to burn within you with pure, deep, holy joy. Be sure, when it is so with you, to constrain Him to abide with you. He is no unwilling Guest.
II.--It is time that I said a few words to you about the course of study pursued here. The object at which we aim in this is not merely to qualify men to pass an examination in certain subjects; but rather, to lay a solid basis, on which they may subsequently build with advantage.
And chiefest of all, clearly, is the knowledge of Holy Scripture. This is the grand Centre to which, by way of elucidation, all our study should tend. This is the Root from which alone all truth springs forth. The man who best knows, and who best understands, what is written there, is the wisest man, and the best theologian.
But, brethren, we shall endeavour always to bear in mind, when we approach that Book, that it contains God's Word: for holy men of old spake [11/12] it as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Plainly, if we would comprehend its meaning, taking in the fulness thereof, we must seek the help of that same Spirit. You remember that it is written concerning one that believed; that the Lord opened her heart to receive what was uttered by the lips of His Apostle. It must be so now no less: otherwise, even the message of an angel may seem to us but an idle tale; or at best we may go from the hearing of it as if we had listened to pleasant music, the melody of which we may admire, and remain precisely the same in our inner heart and outward life that we were before we heard it.
And yet, whilst we thus pray for Divine teaching, we shall apply our minds also to diligent searching, and sifting, and comparing of part with part. For it was written with the pen of man, and in the languages of the earth: and therefore requires the same effort and diligence to ascertain its meaning that other books, and especially other ancient writings, do. We should be inexcusable, if, under colour of reverence, we ceased to be painstaking students of the Holy Scriptures.
Of this part of your work, more particularly, I would impress upon you that it should not be a temporary matter; but part, perhaps the beginning, of a habit for life. The careful, critical study [12/13] of the Bible in the original languages (so far as this is possible) should be part of every clergyman's daily occupation. He will neither rightly understand, nor thoroughly feel, its great truths without this:--how much less, without this, will he be an able expounder of the Word to others!
Subordinate to the study of Holy Scripture will be that of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England:--no narrow subject, when you remember that in its Services there are elements derived from the Liturgy of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, and prayers composed in the reign of Charles II. King of England; and when the exposition of its doctrine--the Creeds, and Catechisms, and Articles--touches upon the early heresies of the East, and the mediaeval errors of the West, and the later extravagances and separations of more recent times in our own country.
To this must be added (as we may be able) a moderate acquaintance with Church History, and a more particular study of some of our standard English Divines. In the case of those who are more advanced, the reading also of some of the early Christian Fathers, and the study of Hebrew.
Occasional Lectures will be given on various practical matters connected with the Ministerial office--the composition of sermons, the visitation [13/14] of the sick and others, the management of parish schools, &c. And at all times, on these and on all points, what we have gathered from experience will be made the common property of the students of the College. We shall never, I hope, be weary of imparting to you whatever it is in our power to communicate, or in yours to receive, in order to your being throughly furnished for the work of your holy calling.
Meanwhile, my dear brethren, in all your work here remember the counsel of St. Paul to Timothy,--"Meditate," says he, "upon these things; give thyself wholly to them (en toutoiV isqi); that thy profiting may appear to all."
It only remains that I remind you of our gathering for Holy Communion to-morrow. It is the highest act of Christian worship: what more solemn inauguration of our holy duties one towards another, and all towards God? It is the great channel of communication between Christ and our souls: We shall need His strength and His wisdom, all of us. It is the closest bond of union between Christian people: We shall need to have strong ties of love, one towards another, if we are to profit, and be profitable, during the time that God may permit us to be here together. Make it, dear brethren, the subject of your special and most [14/15] earnest prayer, that God would pour out the abundance of His blessing on us, and on all our whole work, to the glory of His great Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
______________________________________ R. CLAY, PRINTER, BREAD STREET HILL.