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Holiness in the Priest's Household Essential to the Holiness of the Parish.

A Plain Address to My Household.

By a Clergyman.

London: Joseph Masters, 1847.


I. WE have all some notions of what is the duty of Clergymen, but perhaps few of us have ever thought on the duties of their households. The Clergyman, it is allowed by all, should be strict and religious, because it is his profession; but beyond this, that the members of his household should be so, few have any idea.

Suffer me then as a Clergyman, as one who has made very solemn vows to GOD, at a most solemn time, to address a few words to you on the nature of those vows, as far as they concern yourselves. Perhaps you do not know that those vows extend to you, but in all truth they do, and that you do not [5/6] know it renders it the more necessary that I should set them before you.

At our Ordination as Priests, the Bishop exhorted us "to consider how studious we ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures and in framing the manners both of ourselves, and of those that specially pertain to us, according to the rule of the same Scriptures." And in still more solemn words we were asked before receiving the Priesthood, "Will you be diligent to frame and fashion your own selves and your families according to the doctrine of CHRIST, and to make both yourselves and them, as much as in you lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of CHRIST?" To this we answered, "I will apply myself thereto, the LORD being my helper." [Service for Ordaining of Priests.]

I freely confess to you that I have found this the most difficult part of my Ordination vows to fulfil; yes I difficult and weighty [6/7] as they indeed are, I have found this the most difficult and perplexing,—more sorrow, more care, more anxiety and disappointment have arisen to me from this one source than from any other. It may seem strange to you, that this should be so,—a household being so small a part of the flock under the Pastor's care, the parish so large; but the following considerations may explain it.

Much of the Clergyman's ill success in his parish arises from the unholiness of his household. I speak to a householder of his servants not attending church regularly,—he tells me that my own do not do so, or, when there, behave badly. I speak to another of his never kneeling, or his generally careless manner in church; or to a third of his habit of coming in after service has begun: If in these and like cases the person spoken to is able to refer me back to my own household, what can I do, what can I say? is not my mouth stopped? for [7/8] "wherein I judge another I condemn myself." In this and in many more ways, less obvious perhaps, but not the less fatal, does the unholiness of the Clergyman's household counteract and check him in the performance of his duties. And indeed, if these things be so, must he not sorrowfully retrace his steps, and endeavour to make the members of his household a wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of CHRIST"?

And what a task is this! it is indeed a heavy task, many things tend to make it so; disappointments from this source seem to come with a keener pang, than from any other. To return weary and dejected from the toils of the parish, to encounter fresh difficulties from that source where he looked for consolation; to see here the same worldliness and indifference which he has been elsewhere witnessing and condemning, is indeed a heavy trial, and not lessened by the fear that he is not blameless in the matter. [8/9] And then the members of his household, not having been taught, do not consider that they are in any way bound to be examples of holy living more than others are. Wages, they consider form the only bond between them and their master,—beyond this, the giving and receiving of money, what tie may be said to exist between the Clergyman and his servants? how many servants there are who only stop in their places because they get good wages, or have an easy place, or who would leave for a situation in another family, however worldly, for higher wages; can such as these be, "wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of CHRIST"? can they have any just notions of the work their master is called to? must they not regard him as one who has some business which takes him from home daily, but which does not concern them: their only care being that, when he returns home, household matters may be in readiness for him?

[10] I am far from denying that much may be said in your excuse. Your Pastor is daily brought before you in the character of master only, so that you are in danger from the very frequency of his presence of forgetting that you are part of his spiritual charge; and moreover, since the holiest men have failings,—and your master perhaps has many, you may be tempted to think less of him and his sacred office, "GOD permits the failings of good men," says Bishop Wilson, "that we may plainly see that there is no person in whom nature is not corrupted;" and these should have no other effect on you than to make you look more into your own heart, and search out what your own faults are; remembering that, whatever your master's faults may be, and however apparent to you, yet you know far more evil of yourself than you do of him, and this thought should make you humble. And these failings you should studiously [10/11] hide, and not make them known in the parish, as many servants do; for when your tale has once passed your lips you can no longer answer for it; it will pass from mouth to mouth, and grow (as tales always do) with the telling, till the original fault be entirely forgotten. And who is responsible for all this but you? Thus will your fault be far greater than the failing you condemned, "Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men's lives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not."—"Rehearse not unto another that which is told thee, and thou shalt fare never the worse." Follow this advice and spread not tales in the parish; if you think you cannot speak good of your master, refrain your tongue; do not spread the evil, that is to become worse yourself; rather pray that the fault you condemn may be overcome; who can tell whether you may not gain this by [11/12] your prayers? And which is the more blessed way? the one is good, the other evil.

Guard then against these faults, and forget not that your master is also your spiritual pastor, and that he watches for your soul as one who must give account at the final day of judgment, for you, no less than for any other of his flock. Bear in mind this special relation; think not only of the ordinary one (which is itself good and holy) but cling to this higher one, for surely it is a comfortable thought. Believe it, your Pastor has many anxieties for you, brought as you daily are under his notice, though you know it not, or think not of it. Accustom yourself to look upon him in this light; and then not only may you remove these anxieties, but you will help him in his labours, in many more ways than I can tell you, though I will mention one, which just now suggests itself. Servants of other families in the parish, though part of the [12/13] Clergyman's charge, are nevertheless seldom seen or even known by him; and yet there may be many who are anxious to know or speak with their Pastor from time to time, but do not like, or know how, to try. This desire you might strengthen, and comfort and advise such persons, (for you know their trials and their duties,) and lead them, if need be to seek spiritual counsel. Scarcely any masters would deny their servants occasional leave to speak with their appointed Pastor.

II. These remarks will prepare you to admit that, "holiness in the Priest's family is essential to the holiness of the parish." The Clergyman and his house is as it were a light placed in the parish, to which all eyes are turned for example and guidance. With what passes in an ordinary household the parishioners have nothing to do; but it is natural that they should be anxious to know what passes in their Clergyman's. They are [13/14] training by him for everlasting life, and are deeply concerned in being assured, as much as possible, how far they can confide themselves to his direction. You must therefore expect that all eyes will be turned towards the household, nor surprised at finding that trifling events you may have mentioned; and forgotten, have become important parish news. You cannot be too guarded in what you say; that which seems to you done in secret will be openly proclaimed there;—the regulations of the household, the hours of prayer and its frequency, the hours of rising and retiring, your meals, habits, tempers, conversation,—all will be known, or narrowly watched by the people till they are known; and you must not blame them, and why? because their Pastor, in his daily rounds amongst them, as well as in the pulpit, denounces sin, and insists on a blameless conversation and a life void of offence,—and if while be does so, they be [14/15] assured from their own observation, that such an, "example and pattern of holy living" as he exhorts them to, is not to be seen, even in his own household, then assuredly to him will they apply the apostolic text:, "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of GOD?" and then vain and ineffectual will be his preaching and his exhortations; almost vain will be his labours, the enemies of the LORD will blaspheme; and how much of the blame will rest on you, the judgment-day alone can tell!

Be assured, then, that it is essential to the holiness of the parish, that the Clergyman's household be, "wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of CHRIST:"—his house, his servants, as well as his dress, should be as reminders to all who behold them, that their office and their calling is not of this world. "As when we behold a church, and still more when we enter it, we [15/16] are immediately struck with the difference of its plan from that of any other building, all has its peculiar and appropriate form: the tower and spire, buttresses and pinnacles, distinguish it at once from the surrounding mansions of the world. Even so distinct and appropriate should be the character of the Christian household amid the families of the world, and such therefore beyond all others, that of the Clergyman's household. Modesty, sobriety, seriousness, regularity, tranquillity, piety, should be its cheerful characteristics: its dedication to the work of edifying neighbours, and glorifying GOD, should be indubitably and continually manifest." [Evans' "Bishopric of Souls" from whence she some of the foregoing thoughts are derived.]

To render yourself such an "example and pattern to the flock of CHRIST" as this, you must no longer look upon yourselves as a common household, but as a religious [16/17] household, as a copy and model for the whole parish; as leaven placed there till the whole be leavened; as workers together with. your Clergymen, having the interests of the parish deeply at heart, both spiritual and temporal; as yourselves doing your part by the testimony of a holy life, "so letting your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your FATHER Which is in heaven."

III. To this end, much more lies in your power than you may be aware of: all of us have abundant opportunities put in our way of doing good, if we but watch for them, and let them not pass away unobserved by us. For instance, how many opportunities have you of alleviating the sufferings of the poor and afflicted: those that seek the Clergyman's house are mostly the poor, and needy, and distressed, such as have no earthly comforter; these all want sympathy, [17/18] which you can give; they want to be treated kindly—to be welcomed—to be made to feel that some one cares and feels for them. This you can do, and surely, "you will in no wise lose your reward;" for our SAVIOUR at the Last Day will say unto you, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

Make then, all who come feel themselves at home; ask them to sit down, and be kind to them, do not speak roughly to them, as others do; there is need that I should mention this, for how often do people come from long distances and are forced to stand, because no one will have the kindness to ask them to sit down. Sometimes, too, servants refuse to take a poor person's message in to their master, or make a great favour of it, so that many are deterred from seeking the Clergyman in their distress, because of the unkindness of his servants. [18/19] When the rich come you justly show them every respect—the same is due to the poorest person, since he is made in the image of GOD, and redeemed with the precious Blood of CHRIST. S. James tells us to take our LORD as our example here, "If there come a man with a gold ring in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, stand thou there, or Sit thou here under my footstool, are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" See, then, that you fall not under his condemnation, "ye have despised the poor," but remember that, "GOD hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which He hath promised to them that love Him."

[20] Welcome them then to your table when they may be asked, and use hospitality towards them without grudging, for here too we are obeying our SAVIOUR'S commands: "When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy neighbours: lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed: for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." Yours is a blessed office, work with your Clergyman in performing it, and if it should entail extra work upon you, do it cheerfully, and spare no pains in forwarding it, "for GOD is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love: which (love) ye have showed towards His Name, in that ye have [20/21] ministered to the saints and do minister." Do it in faith, and you do it unto your blessed LORD Himself, they are His own words—"Forasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

Much also lies in your power in visiting the sick—when sent to do so, do it cheerfully; so will you make the good work your own. You should seek such opportunities by asking leave, but beware of turning such visits into gossiping visits: the sick chamber is a sacred place: GOD has withdrawn the sufferer from this outward world, that he may think more on Him, and on himself: the greater sin then will be yours if, while visiting him under the semblance of charity, you lead him to turn back to it again in his heart, by relating news of passing moment. What is the world to him, who if he be not fast passing from it, yet nevertheless [21/22] should now more than ever be convinced that it is "vanity of vanities." Though, alas! it be true that many who are withdrawn from the world by affliction, are seemingly the more anxious to hear what is passing in it, yet you must steadily resist the temptation to satisfy their curiosity, and endeavour to lead their minds to higher things. Perform this good work with this one caution, and, "the LORD will comfort you when you lie sick upon your bed, He will make all your bed in your sickness." Be thus, as in all things, "wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of CHRIST." "Pure religion, and undefiled before GOD and the FATHER, is this—to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

IV. One thing more is required of you, "to frame and fashion yourselves according [22/23] to the doctrine of CHRIST:" in few words, you must live as your Prayer Book directs you, it must be your guide: as it follows our Blessed LORD year by year, from the cradle to the Cross, so must you. You must keep the Church's Fasts and Feasts, and live in her sacred seasons.—Advent, Lent, Easter, Trinity, must not be mere names to you, but seasons which are to remind and bring home to you great events with which you are most intimately connected—the Incarnation, Cross, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Him Who is her author and finisher. Her Saints' Days must remind you of the Communion of Saints,—that you are pilgrims having here no continuing city: fellow-citizens with the Saints above. So too by keeping the Fasts and Vigils will you be the more reminded of these truths, the more purified in heart, and the better fitted to enter upon her sacred seasons.

[24] The Ember Days should be to you of all people, next to the Clergy themselves, days of prayer, humiliation, and self-examination. At this season, when by prayer for others, we are ourselves reminded of the solemn vows we took upon us at our Ordination—at this season should you too, while joining in the same prayers, call yourselves to strict account, how far you have endeavoured to live according to the doctrines of CHRIST, and as wholesome examples to the flock over which the HOLY GHOST hath made him you serve the Overseer,—how far you have obeyed his godly admonitions, followed his example, and striven with him to win to CHRIST the enemies of the Cross?—or, on the other hand, whether by an unholy life you have frustrated, or made void his ministry?

These and the like questions deeply concern you, for "if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?"—if the [24/25] Pastor's household be unholy, where shall the flock look for examples and patterns of holy living?

V. In conclusion it scarcely needs that I point out to you, how earnest and reverent should be your behaviour in church, how careful you should be never to be late for service, and how you should avoid all unseemly conduct, remembering that you are in the house of GOD.

These are weighty truths which I have set before you; great duties, which can only be attempted and accomplished by earnest prayer,—you must be frequent in prayers and sacraments, here you will find strength sufficient to your need. Not only too must you pray morning and evening in private, (as all do) but you must have your stated hours of prayer besides: I will not attempt to give you particular rules here,—if you wish advice on this point, your [25/26] Clergyman would gladly give it—I can only say how careful you should be to preserve, in the performance of your daily duties, a constant sense of GOD'S Presence; let no work so absorb your attention as to make you forget that His eye is ever on you, let all things speak to you of Him, do all as unto Him, for Him you are serving, let not your work be done "with eye-service as men pleasers, but as the servants of CHRIST doing the will of GOD from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Loan, and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the LORD whether he be bond or free." [Ephesians vi. 6, 8.]

Remember the time is short, day by day is our stay in this lower world shortening, every striking of the clock proclaims another hour taken from the sum of our life; let it be to you as the voice of GOD telling you [26/27] that the world is passing away, and offer up a short prayer for preparation. Beware of letting thoughts of business or the world get hold of your mind when you first rise, but consecrate your waking thoughts to GOD, so will you begin the day well, bear patiently throughout it all crosses and contradictions, as sent to liken you to your SAVIOUR.

Strengthen yourself at fitting time with prayer, lose no opportunity that may offer, and remember, in the words of an ancient Bishop, that, "the third, sixth, and ninth hours, (9, 12, 3,) divide the day into even spaces of time, and are therefore allotted to prayer, that while we are perhaps intent upon other business and might forget our duties towards GOD, the very hour, when it comes, may put us in mind thereof. And how can we (he continues) do less than three times in the day at least (besides morning and evening which will invite us [27/28] of themselves) fall down and worship the Blessed TRINITY, FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST?" [S. Isidore, quoted by Cosin.]

Neglect not prayer, it is your only safeguard against the power of Satan: you have a great work to do, and how much of the time allotted you to do it in have you already wasted in the nothingness of this world! how much have you left? who can answer for one short hour? at any rate, but a few years and, "our place shall know us no more;" why then live only for this world and its fleeting pleasures, which perish even with their using? No! pilgrims, strangers, sojourners, are each of us, heirs of immortality and joys that never fade. O then busy not yourselves with things here below, be not brought into bondage by them, but live as those that, "desire a better country, that is an heavenly," then will you be, "wholesome examples and patterns to the [28/29] flock of CHRIST," and "GOD will not be ashamed to be called your GOD," and CHRIST, "will confess your name before His FATHER and the holy Angels!"

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Say not the work you have to do prevents this., "They whose names are splendid with the most hallowed light have in their day moved along all paths of life. Among the saints of Christendom are men of toil and trade: the craftsman, and the merchant, the pleader, the man of letters, orators, law-givers, warriors, and leaders of mighty hosts, princes, and queens, and emperors. In all ranks, and all orbits of the civil state, men mortified in soul, as the holy Paul, have lived unto CHRIST their LORD—none fulfilled the offices and tasks of life as they—because they were above them all." [Manning's Sermons, vol. 1.]

And so may you—no work need be a hinderance to prayer; rather think under [29/30] what great hinderances (as we should think) our SAV I0UR prayed for us—think of His prayers all night, after the toil of day—of His agony in the garden—of His praying on the Cross—and be ashamed to make excuses.

The excuse that household business is a hinderance to serving GOD, has been made before, and is left on record for our warning. "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful, and Mary bath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her."

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"What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul!"

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