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Addresses to Candidates for Ordination
On the Questions in the Ordination Service

By Samuel Wilberforce
Lord Bishop of Oxford

Oxford and London: J.H. and Jas. Parker and F. and J. Rivington, 1860.

Address I. The Inward Call.

DEAR Brethren in the Lord,--During the last three days we have all had our attention turned to various parts of that great subject,--the ministry of Christ's Church. Within this chapel, at our Morning and Evening Services, in my addresses to you on portions of God's Word, as well as in the more formal examination by which we have been occupied, it has been my desire and endeavour to bring especially before you the spiritual character of your future office, with the necessary consequences of its perilous risks, and its exceeding blessedness. And this I have done in the firm conviction that, great as is the importance to yourselves and to the Church of your being well furnished with the pre-requisites of a liberal education, and some measure at least of theological knowledge, there is one condition of yet higher necessity, and that is the possession of a true living faith in Christ our Lord, both for your own salvation, and for all the work of His ministry to be committed to you. An ignorant Clergy is a reproach to any Church, and must injure its efficiency; but an ungodly Clergy threatens the removal of its candlestick, and the extinction of its life.

I would, therefore, before I proceed to a few [3/4] detailed suggestions, once more beg you to reflect awhile upon this momentous subject. The first question which it will be my duty to put, before God and His Church, to every one of you who apply either for priest's or deacon's orders, brings it practically before us. Of those who seek the office of a deacon, I must inquire, "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost?"--of those who seek the priesthood, "Do you think that you be truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ,"--"to take upon you this office?" and you must answer as before your all-seeing Judge, "I trust so"--"I think it."

My brethren, this question is an awful one to put--an awful one to answer. Your reply must be spoken deliberately; with the full foreknowledge that it must be rendered; with every opportunity for self-examination; after solemn prayer; in the presence of the Church; before the jealous God who smote of old with sudden death him who stretched out his uncommissioned hand to stay but the material ark; before the heart-Searcher whose invisible stroke swept instantly away those who "lied not unto man, but unto Cod."

For yourselves and for others it is of the greatest moment that you answer not this question carelessly or wrongly: for others--for who can fix limits or ends to the disastrous issue to souls for which Christ died, and to the whole Church, of the commencement of a faithless, indolent, unfruitful ministry? for yourselves--for the error is by all human means one which cannot be repaired. Your words cannot be unsaid; your vows cannot be read backward. Your ministerial character is indelible; the only reparation of which the case [4/5] admits is that you hereafter rise up to the requirements of the office which, whilst unfit to bear it, you have so unhappily assumed. And though the might of God's grace has wrought such marvels as this would be, yet who may venture to speculate upon being the subject of such undeserved mercy? Who will stake knowingly on such a hazard his own or his brethren's salvation? And, after all, such cases are not the rule, but the exception. As the rule, the ministry continues in its leading character as it commences. There is, of course, a growth in every living ministry; a growth from the weak uncertainty of infancy to the confirmed strength of perfect manhood; a growth in knowledge, comprehension, power, skill, insight, faith, and love; but whilst there is growth on all sides in a living ministry, growth is not in the dead. The increase of corruption is there the only change. This is, indeed, the enemy's sad mockery of growth; the development, within each false ambassador of Christ, of the character of Antichrist; the full ripening and perfecting of selfishness, in one of its various forms of covetousness, or lust, or worldliness, or utter sloth and carelessness; the contracting and the hardening of the soul; the dulling of all conscience, till it sleeps, to awake only in the terrible form of the worm which dieth not.

This, I say, is the ordinary law and rule of an unfaithful ministry. Instead of the man being made better, as the tempter whispers to you he will be, he is made worse by his careless rushing into Holy Orders. With them come new temptations and new requirements; new risks, that is, on both sides; and he has grace for neither; and so he falls, and falls lower than [5/6] other men; falls, as perhaps he never would have fallen as a layman--falls, certainly, into deeper gulfs of sin and woe than he could otherwise have reached. God's Word, with which he must have some familiarity, like daily handled fire, hardens utterly his soul; God's message spoken, but not listened to, makes deaf his car; the visions of judgment and of peace, on which he has gazed unfeelingly, have turned his sense of sight to blindness. And even if he reach not this depth of woe, there are many lesser woes for him who has entered with thoughtlessness upon this great charge. All--even the most thoughtful and prepared--find, it may be, as they go on, that they knew not whither they should be led, when first they began thus to follow Christ: His net caught them, and they were taken; His voice allured them, and they followed Him; but they knew not at first how verily they should be made like Him, made to drink of His cup and to be baptized with His Baptism; on to this He leads them step by step; for this, day by day, His grace enables them; and so upheld, they can endure all things. But who can paint the bitter anguish through which they must pass, who, without a full trust in Him, and well-nigh without His presence, are met by these temptations, and overtaken in this storm? It is most commonly with a heart almost broken that such men pass to life: it is as by fire that they are saved. Surely, then, this is an awful answer for any of us to pronounce; and one concerning which it becomes us to search with all diligence whether we can make it with anything of Christian confidence and truth. Let us, therefore, for a few minutes go on to the consideration [6/7] of this question,--When may we trust that we are inwardly called by the Holy Ghost to undertake this office?

Now it will help us to answer this question aright, if we first clear away some of the manifestly insufficient grounds on which men are led to make this choice. Clearly, then, it is not enough to choose it as men may choose lawfully any ordinary business or profession. It is not to be thought that a man is moved inwardly by the Holy Ghost to undertake it, when he enters upon it merely because it is an honourable profession, and has attached to it a certain rank, respectability, or endowment; or because his friends have designed him for it; still less, because he has a family living waiting for him; or has good prospects of preferment; or, least of all, because he is unfit for any other business or calling.

Of all these, though in different degrees, we may most assuredly assert, that they are not the reasons from which any man can safely gather that he is called by the secret voice of God's most Holy Spirit to be a watchman for his brethren's souls, and an ambassador of Christ. Many of them, indeed, may blamelessly come in as secondary motives. To have been educated for the work; destined to it by pious parents; led to it by the outward appointments of God's Providence; to desire rather to live moderately by the altar than more abundantly upon secular earnings,--all of these may properly come in to aid a choice, but they must not be its basis. Some desire, at least, to live nearer to Christ in employment and pursuit than worldly callings render possible; some personal sense of the deliverance brought [7/8] to the soul by His Gospel; some desire to speak His precious Name to others; some love for souls; some aptness for ministering to them; some of the desires and qualities of the Watchman, the Steward, the Shepherd, the Physician, the good Master-builder, must be certainly within us, and attest the working of the Spirit of the Lord, if we would assert safely that we act beneath His guidance. And these may, and in not a few instances, thank God, do, mount up to an earnest self-devoting love to the Lord our Redeemer; to a supreme desire and labour to live in all things for His glory; to a spirit burdened with a "woe is me," and struggling like a pent-up fire until it can witness unto others of the love of God our Father, of the power of Christ's cross, of the healing, ennobling presence of the Lord the Holy Ghost. In such instances as these it is comparatively easy to trace the presence of a call from God; but in the case of the numerous intermediate shades of character which lie between these and apathy or coldness, there may be much real perplexity in settling this important question, "Am I truly called of God to serve Him in this office?" For though an answer to this question may oftentimes be obtained by a careful sifting of our motives, yet such is the deceitfulness of the heart, that even after the belief, at least, that they have so tried themselves, some may be led without due cause either to presume or to despond. Whilst, therefore, it may be very useful to ask ourselves such questions as these,--to what do my thoughts most naturally turn in thinking over my future course? do they mainly settle upon its ease, or family enjoyment, or respectability, or, on the other hand, upon its [8/9] labours, its fellowship with Christ, its glorifying God, and its eternal crown? and though the answers to these questions may give us some insight into the state of our hearts, yet even here it will be especially needful for us to remember, that it is not of feelings one way or the other that the great question should be asked; it reaches far deeper into the centre of our being; and these lighter airs of feeling may be nimble as the gales of summer, or charged thick with clouds and sadness, when the central man is of a mind wholly other from their mutable and deceitful aspect.

Let this, then, be your question,--what am I? And how may you learn that, but by seeing what you are in act and under trial; what are your ordinary motives, what is your ordinary conduct? And examine this, not by settling what will be your conduct under imagined trials, but by seeing what it has been hitherto in actual trials. Are you living as a witness for Christ, or for Antichrist? Are you resisting sloth, the rule of pleasure and self-indulgence, or are you yielding to them? Are you now cursing your brethren, or not caring for them, or are you already blessing them? Is your Lord dear to you? have you groaned beneath the burden of your sinful being? and has He turned, or is He promising to turn, those groans to joy? Do you know anything of the sinfulness of sin, of the sharpness and hardness of maintaining a warfare with it? Is the Christian life a reality in you? Do you know indeed what it is to have a place in the kingdom of grace, and in the strength of that grace do you desire to gather in the lost to Christ, their Lord and yours? In your present position, are [9/10] you seeking to live so as to glorify God? and is it your great aim in choosing this more especial service within the courts of His house, that you may glorify Him more abundantly? This is a point on which you should obtain what certainty you can. His glory should be your great aim. In whatever measure His grace has touched your heart, in that measure it will be your aim. And if, indeed, it be so with you, surely you may hope that He is leading you on to a higher room of service; that He is calling you, and that you may dare to answer; that He is sending you, and you may go; that you shall be as a sharp and winged shaft in His quiver; as one upon whom He will bestow in that day the faithful pastor's crown, bright with a glory more intense than that of ordinary Christians.

So much, then, as to the materials for an answer to the general question, whether you are indeed moved inwardly by God the Holy Ghost to undertake this ministry. But there is a further branch of this question distinctly stated in the service for Ordaining Priests, and implied in that for the Ordering of Deacons, to which I would wish for a few moments to call your attention. The question, put in its distinctness, is,--"Do you think in your heart, that you be truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Order of this United Church of England and Ireland, to the order and ministry of priesthood?" Now, a sincere answer to this question must imply that your mind is so fully and entirely satisfied as to the orders, discipline, and doctrine of that Church whose minister you seek to be, that you have not a doubt or a misgiving concerning her character and office [10/11] as being the true branch of Christ's holy Church which He has planted in this land. The first part of the question tests your secret call to the ministry of Christ; the second, your call to minister in this branch of the Church in which you apply for Holy Orders. If you have a doubt as to her true character; if you are conscious to yourself that you are about to sign her Articles in a sense of your own, and one which really differs from that in which they are proposed to you as the rule of your teaching, and the condition of receiving your credentials, yt5u are most truly obtaining the office of a teacher under false pretences, and cannot expect God's blessing on your course. These may sound hard words, but they are unhappily necessary. So much labour has been spent, and so much perverted ingenuity employed, in mystifying the requirements of common honesty in this matter, that they who are charged to enforce subscription as a preliminary to conferring Orders, seem to me compelled to be even painfully explicit. I would not indeed strain the rule so as to require from all an absolutely passive uniformity of view on every separate proposition of the Articles, as the test of a conscientious subscription; such conduct would be very unlike the moderation and wisdom of the Church of England, which has always (witness her 17th Article) allowed a certain, nay, even a large licence to different minds; but I repeat my judgment, that unless you are honestly convinced that in the main tone and tenour of your mind and opinions you do thoroughly and heartily agree with the Thirty-nine Articles, as to what they assert and what they condemn, in the sense in which they are propounded [11/12] to you, you cannot honestly subscribe them; and I will add, that I believe you could not more deeply injure yourselves than by allowing yourselves to sign such documents at such a time with subterfuges and reservations. I am sure that a more deadly blow could not be inflicted on our Church, than that a people, of whose character, thank God, sterling honesty is the distinctive feature, should have reason to suspect that their Clergy believed one thing whilst they taught another.

And now, brethren, if these points be clear, we may proceed to a few hints which I desire to give you, for the due fulfilment of this ministry, which you will undertake with a well-informed and settled conscience.

To enter, indeed, here at length on this wide subject, would be manifestly impossible. I hope, moreover, God willing, for an opportunity of addressing you to-morrow on some of its more solemn topics: only I would now desire to suggest to you some considerations as to matters of detail, which suit the circumstances of to-day, rather than those of to-morrow. [See a Sermon preached to the candidates for Ordination, at the Ordination of Christmas, 1845-6. By Samuel, Lord Bishop of Oxford. (J. H. & Jas. Parker.)]

And, 1st, let me repeat what I have already said to you here. Make up your minds deliberately, if you mean to be faithful, to lead a life wherein hearty and venturous faith will be daily tested by calls to unflinching self-denial. Your one work is to win souls to Christ: not to produce a certain general decency and amendment in the face of society around you, but as God's instrument, and through the power of Christ's name, to work in living souls the mighty marvel of their [12/13] true conversion. How painful soever be the thoughts which it excites, never lose sight of this truth, that your ministry has failed as to every soul entrusted to you, who is not under it converted to the Lord, or built up in His holy faith. And such a work must be full of toil and self-denial. The "strong man armed" will not allow you to "spoil his house," and be free the while from molestation. And he is ever ready with his assaults and crafts; unless you slumber he will not even seem to sleep. Reckon then first on opposition.

And then, secondly, remember that in all this you have a real work to do. Let this thought be always with you. Go out to visit in your parish, not because you ought to spend so much time in visiting your people, but because they have souls, and you have committed to you (feeble as you are) the task of saving them, in Christ's strength, from everlasting burnings. "When you talk with them, beware of the dreamy list-lessness which would decently fill up some ten minutes with kindness, good words, an enquiry as to their families, their work, their health, ending possibly with a formal prayer; but say to yourself, Now must I get into this heart some truth from God. Be real with them; strike as one that would make a dint upon their shield of hardness, yea, and smite through it to their heart of hearts. When you preach, be real. Set your people before you in their numbers, their wants, their dangers, their capacities; choose a subject, not to shew yourself off, but to benefit them; and then speak straight to them, as you would beg your life, or counsel your son, or call your dearest friend from a burning house, in plain, strong, earnest words. And, that you [13/14] may be thus real, I would counsel you from the first to take as little of your sermons as possible from those of other men. Let them be your own, made up of truths learned on your knees, from your Bible, in self-examination, and amongst your people. And, to make your sermons such as this, spare no pains or trouble. Beware of giving to God and souls the parings of your time, and the ends of other employment. Beware of a pernicious facility. However poor or ignorant your people are, you may be assured that they will feel the difference between sermons which have been well digested and well arranged, and those which are put carelessly and ill together. Think your subject thoroughly over; settle, if possible, on Sunday evening next Sunday's subject. Meditate on it as you walk about your parish; pray for power to enforce it; and as you read God's Word, and go about your parish, light will break out on it, illustrations occur, applications suggest themselves; and when you write or speak, you will be full and orderly, and this is to be strong. Let every sermon be one subject, well divided and thoroughly worked out; and let all tend to this highest purpose, simply to exalt before your people Christ crucified. Deal much in the great truths which the blessed God has taught us of Himself; beware of always tarrying amongst the graves and corruption of our own fallen and tempted state, but rise up to God and Christ and the Holy Ghost, and bear your flock with you there. To lead them for themselves indeed through the Spirit, to believe in the Person of the Eternal Son, and so to stand before the Father, accepted in the Beloved,--this is life eternal.

[15] But once more, let me say, begin your ministry at once. The spirit in which yon begin it will probably cleave to you always; begin it, then, as you would wish to end it. From the first, fight against your great dangers--delay, unreality, mere professional decency, indolence, self-pleasing. Get you to the cross of Christ; look at those wounds; see in them what sin is; see in them what is the greatness of your Master's love; and, as a ransomed sinner, minister to ransomed sinners; take your censer and run in and stand between the dead and the living, for verily the plague is begun.

And to those of you, my brethren, who are to be ordained to college titles, and not to parochial cures, let me also say one word. With the same vows upon you, your duty, in some important points, differs widely from that of the parochial Clergy. Preachers of the word, indeed, when thereto licensed, you will be at once; and those who are engaged in tuition will find their flock amongst their pupils: as God's ministers, charged with the training of their fellow Christians, you must be far more than mere lecturers, or teachers of philosophy. Yet, still your duties and your temptations differ in many points from those of others. You have far more time, far fewer interruptions, than men who arc labouring to supply the pressing spiritual necessities of populous parishes. And your duty seems to be defined by these facts: you should live much in devotion; you should be to your brethren, who are labouring amongst the multitudes, what Moses was, as he prayed upon the mountain, to Joshua, as he fought upon the plain. And, further, you should be deep students of theology. It is for you to maintain amongst [15/16] us a high tone of Christian learning; and this is of moment, not only or chiefly that you may be ready to answer gainsayers, but because there is beneath all the separate facts and statements of theology a high and perfect scientific unity, the knowledge of which is most important for enabling minds which have mastered it to adjust the proportions and exhibit the relations of the different parts of truth.

And if these special duties belong to the academical Clergyman, no less marked are his peculiar temptations. First, there waits for him, in a high degree, the common temptation to a life of indolent and easy self-indulgence, whether in its grosser form of enjoying every day plenty of food and plenty of amusement, or in its subtler form of living for mere intellectual excitement. Beyond these, too, lie other dangers. They who have retired from the busy world to contemplation and a cell, have found ere now, too often, that the Satan whom they fled from in the crowd has travelled on before them to meet them in the waste. Self-confidence, fondness for speculation, love of singularity, separation from their brethren, and then the misty visions of the darkening eye, the eager throbbings of the narrowing heart, heresy, schism, unbelief, and apostasy,--these are the special dangers of the un-watchful Christian student. How, deeply, but as yesterday, some have thus fallen even by our side, is known to all of us. They are set as beacons to us, if such is our path, that we "be not high-minded, but fear;" lest like them we too be led hereafter deliberately to adopt errors which we have been permitted erewhile to expose with a clearness withheld from others; and, at [16/17] last, to fly on the wings of an unbounded scepticism into the bosom of an unfathomed superstition.

And where, my brethren, in the world or in the study, where is our safeguard? Only in His keeping, who in the city, in the wilderness, and an the temple pinnacle, alike rebuked the enemy; only in His presence with our souls, who has borne our nature and redeemed our loss; only in the perpetual guiding of His everlasting Spirit; and He will not fail one of us, if we will indeed and constantly seek after Him. Only let us ever stay our souls on Him in the simplicity of childlike trust, and His promise is our own,--"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

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