MY Brethren in Christ,--I desire to draw your attention a second time to the first question with which the Church meets you at the solemn hour of your ordination. It is her purpose to test publicly, by her enquiries and your answers to them, your fitness for the sacred office for which you arc a candidate. That question, as you doubtless remember, is, "Do yon trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost; to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people?" Now so far as concerns the first and most direct purpose of this enquiry, the leading you, I mean, to consider what conditions ought to be fulfilled with regard to yourself to enable you to affirm with a clear conscience that you trust yourselves to be inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office, I shall add nothing to what I have already spoken in detail. But there is a second and most important part of this question at which I have as yet but glanced in passing, and on which alone I wish this evening to fix your attention. It is that which is contained in these words,--"For the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people?" It is manifest, at first sight, that these words refer to that intention of your own minds [21/22] in all you do, as to which, both in your first undertaking the sacred ministry and in all your after-life in conducting it, you have need, before and beyond everything else, of such searching self-examination, and such continual watchfulness, labour, and prayer.
In examining this subject with you, I will beg you first to consider with me some of the reasons why this is of supreme importance. And this is so, first, because the want of a right intention makes all our labour vain. To a degree we can scarcely appreciate, it does this, in the long run, as to the effect of our ministry on others. Even from natural causes this must be so. Purity and sincerity of intention impart so much of their own blessed character to the whole conduct, that every act of the life becomes instinct with an energy and force which enables it to beat down opposition, and at the same time with a tenderness and patience which give to it a most winning persuasiveness in dealing with others. And there is no counterfeit of this great gift which, in the whole bearing of a life, can produce at all the same effects. The light enshrined in the centre of the character pervades it all, and streams forth from every part of it with an ever-present radiance; so that, viewing our great work even on its natural side, no other power can compensate for the want of this in our endeavours to bring living souls to submit themselves to the yoke of our Lord. But further, if from the contemplation of this merely natural side of our ministry we turn to that presence with us of God the Holy Ghost, which, indeed, gives us all our power, the same truth is even yet more manifestly enforced upon us. For though He may be pleased to work [22/23] His wonders even by evil hands; though Saul may be found amongst the prophets; though words dropped even from unholy lips may, through the power of the Holy Ghost, be brought home with such force to the soul of the hearer that they shall awaken it from the sleep of sin, yet this is not His common course. As a general rule, undoubtedly, though the validity and effect of sacraments administered, or of other functional acts performed, by unholy men bearing Christ's commission, is not affected or lessened by the unworthiness of the appointed agent, yet does such unworthiness most deeply impair their power of ministering God's Word for the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints: first, because the power of God does not rest upon the hypocrite; and next, because in this part of our ministry God is pleased to make use of our own spiritual attainments for the edification of our brethren; and the prophet's eye is dimmed and his voice robbed of its clearness by the sins which cleave to him, and taint and darken his own soul.
But if the want of a right intention in our ministry tends thus directly to make it vain as regards others, with far more certainty and universality does it make it vain as regards ourselves. Such a ministry must be eminently provoking to God, Who searches the heart, and in Whose eyes every action takes its colour altogether from the motive from which it springs. How, then, must such a ministry appear in His sight? Remember its high dignity,--that it is to speak to men for God; that it is to bear to dying men, to men who at most have but a little span of life, which is evermore passing rapidly from them, in which they may be saved, the message [23/24] of salvation from the mouth of God; that it is to speak to such of the cross of Christ, of His precious blood shed for their redemption, of His agony and bloody sweat, of His passion and death, of these greatest and most awful realities. And what must it be to enter on such a work as this, with such a charge and such issues, as if it were a fit matter by which to make a little gain, or to display real or supposed abilities, or to indulge excited feelings, or, worse still, to win some passing applause and to gratify a miserable vanity! What deep inward degradation, my brethren, does it imply in God's messenger to barter the high aim of his Lord's honour and his brother's salvation for these sordid or paltry motives! How surely and altogether must such an one cast aside for ever the hope of those great rewards which are stored in the treasure-house of eternity for the faithful minister of Christ! Even if by his earnest exhortations sinners should be saved, what blessing will it be to him who has not taken himself the warning which he spake to others? even if he has succeeded in pointing the eyes of others to the Cross of Christ, what will it be but a deeper condemnation to him who has never fixed on it his own earnest gaze of love and trust? What will it profit him to have been the most abundant in labours, the foremost in risks, the most enduring in sufferings, to have borne rebuke and shame, and even shared the last agony of the martyr's fire, if all this was done, and ventured, and suffered for his own glory, and not offered meekly and reverently at the foot of Him who hath bought us at the price of His precious Blood? Surely as to such, these awful words of sternest irony are fearfully fulfilled,--"Verily I say unto you, they [24/25] have their reward." [Matt. vi. 16.] Think how bare such an one will be stripped in that awful day of strictest trial which is before each one of us. Think how such an outside ministry will shrivel up under the brightness of that eye of flame which will then be bent upon its meaningless, purposeless vanity. Think, before it be too late, what in that awful hour it will be to hear addressed to you in answer to the rising plea,--"Have I not in Thy name cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works?" "I never knew thee, depart from Me, thou worker of iniquity."
But this matter is of the deepest importance to us, next, because we are specially liable to this temptation; and that in many ways. For first, the very nature of our office exposes us to this grievous fall. Men who are engaged in the common affairs of this life are, comparatively speaking, little tempted to believe untruly that-they are intending God's glory in their common actions. The great mass of those around them manifestly and avowedly perform these same actions for some worldly object. They are seeking to become richer, or greater, or more renowned; to build up a family, or amass a fortune, or secure a proud name in the history of their land. Their ambition may be more or less noble or mean, but it is confessedly of the earth, earthly. It is not their temptation to suppose that they are in all this aiming at the glory of God, but to think that in the parts of their lives which are concerned with these things it is impossible to have such an aim; to suppose that their religious life is wholly separate from their daily life, and that this may be lawfully, [25/26] because it must necessarily, be aimed at other direct objects than God's glory. But this is not so with us. And here lies the subtlety of our temptation. Our actions, aye, our professional actions, arc all avowedly performed for the glory of God, and we therefore are in the greatest of danger of taking for granted that they are so intended by us, even when we have no such intention whatever. The act itself is so right, and the glory of God is so directly and immediately its true scope, that it needs a real effort of honest self-examination to discover, provided only that the act be rightly done, whether some base self-seeking motive has not utterly profaned it. And so more than other men we are in exceeding peril of becoming the helpless victims of self-delusion.
Take, for instance, the first seeking for Holy Orders,--a young man has been destined to it by his friends, perhaps by pious friends; he is naturally of a quiet disposition, has no strong passions to lead him astray, has no very robust qualities to fit him to struggle for a high place in the rougher walks of life; he is early destined for the ministry as a profession; he finds himself so destined, and he acquiesces; he grows up a thoroughly respectable young man, with no definite religious character, no strongly marked features of inward piety, no "fire in his bones" unless he bears Christ's witness, no "woe is me if I preach not the Gospel:" [l Cor. ix. 16.] but it is a mode of life which suits him; he wishes and hopes to be useful, to get his comforts round him, to take a gentleman's rank in society, and, in return for giving up the possible chance of wealth or worldly distinction, to have without much effort an [26/27] ascertained place in good society, and perhaps, if matters turn out favourably, facilities for early family life and its quiet happiness. Now all this is in itself perfectly unobjectionable. But then observe, this young man is taught to say that he "trusts that he is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to undertake this office, to the glory of God." Is this true? Has he ever thought, thought deeply, earnestly, with all his soul, as a man must think who is giving up his life to such an object, about "the glory of God" in the matter? Has he ever devoted himself, on his knees, with a true searching of heart, to the high service of his God? Has the "love of Christ" ever "constrained" him? Alas! in how many cases must we say, Never! Why then do not such men perceive the utter unreality of what they are saying? Very much, no doubt, because the act itself appears so good that they believe they may take for granted that it is done to the glory of God. It seems to them that these words are intended to describe the whole class of which they are members; they do not dream that to make them really true of themselves there is absolute need of a personal, individual devotion of themselves to God. Thus it comes to pass that they enter on their office under a delusion; a delusion which, in too many cases, is never dispelled on this side of the judgment-day. They preach, they baptize, they visit the sick, they catechize, they celebrate the Holy Communion, just as other men go to the counting-house, or the court of law, or the senate, meaning to live by it, to be respected, to be able to respect themselves; but taking for granted, without a shadow of reason for their judgment, because there is a religious aspect about [27/28] all the acts of their profession, that they arc living for the glory of God, and are on their way to receive their sure reward.
But again, even if we escape the surface form of this temptation, we are for other reasons peculiarly exposed to its assaults.
Take the case of one who has entered the ministry on really good grounds and truly religious convictions. Let him be one who has learned at the foot of his Saviour's cross to love the Lord his Redeemer, who can say truly to Him from the bottom of his soul, "Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee." [John xxi. 17.]--Is he safe from this temptation? If you would thoroughly appreciate its subtlety, follow him in thought to his pastoral work. Pie enters on his ministry really intending the honour of God and the saving of souls. He finds great interest in his work. His feelings are moved in it; and here rises his danger; for he begins secretly, unavowedly to himself, to substitute that gratification of his feelings for the glory of God as his real object. The feelings he gratifies have such a religious cast about them, that he is perfectly unconscious of his danger. The cunning enemy plies him on his weakest side, and with his strongest temptation; he craves for sympathy, for affection, and he feels that he obtains them, and these become his aim; and by degrees he preaches for them, he ministers for them, he speaks what will promote them, he is silent as to what would endanger them: they, and not the glory of God, are his object, and the life and reality of his ministry has perished.
 Or take a worse case--he has popular talents, or a power of acquiring learning, a numerous congregation gathers round his pulpit, or the learned and the pious commend his ministerial labours, and he is tempted to preach so as to increase this pleasant following, and to minister so as to heighten these judicious commendations; he is less plain and simple, seeks less for its own sake to lift the cross of Christ before his people's eyes; he studies effect, and yet it may well be that he knows nothing of the change passing on him; he thinks that he wishes to win more souls to Christ; soft excuses are ever at hand to hide from him the sin of his growing unfaithfulness; the subtlety of the devil is too great for him, and he who pledged himself to seek God's glory and the salvation of souls, becomes a mere empty unmeaning hunter after a wretched earthly popularity; a mere receiver of honour one of another, instead of seeking indeed for that honour which cometh of God only.
Or perhaps the temptation is grosser still; he began at a poor curacy; he never thought about money; he did then desire to win souls; but a benefice came; and then a better one; and prospects opened upon him of yet higher things; and he begins secretly to be careless and negligent in his service, unless he has men of influence, or education, or fashion to whom he can minister; he needs other aids than the blessedness of attending to the poor to stimulate his highest diligence; and he who of old thirsted for the favour of his Lord is now contented to receive his pay in the base earthly coin of gain, and wealth, and station.
If, then, we are so peculiarly exposed to the subtlety of this temptation, it becomes us to be specially upon [29/30] our guard against its dangers; and as to the mode, therefore, of maintaining that guard, I will say a few words before I close.
And, first, we must see our danger; for it is mainly through blinding our eyes to it, under the cloak of those religious acts which belong to our profession, that Satan triumphs over us; and we shall therefore be in the way to defeat his assaults when we have once thoroughly opened our eyes to their reality.
And, secondly, we must resist it watchfully, and nothing will more aid us to do this than the habit of solemnly devoting each day and all its actions to the glory of God. We should never rise from our knees in the morning until in our secret prayers we have earnestly asked God to keep through the day our intention pure. If our miserable self seeking, our vanity, our low aims are to be corrected or cast out, it must be under the direct teaching and aiding of God the Holy Ghost; and that teaching and aid will be given to us if we thus earnestly seek it. Thus shall we be beforehand with the enemy, and when he comes with his foul breath of temptation to whisper his poisonous suggestions in our ears, he will find us pre-occupied by the thought of God, to whose direct glory we have solemnly devoted all the day.
But then beyond this, through the day we must often, even in the midst of our busiest occupations, renew this offering of all we do or design to His glory. As much as possible we should pause before we begin any new occupation, and in a secret prayer shot up like an arrow to Him, pray Him to purify our intention in beginning it and to accept what we offer. And instead of intermitting this as to our more directly religious acts, [30/31] we should only the more diligently practise it; knowing that these are the tempter's opportunities, and our most unguarded moments; the points of the armour at which his darts can find easiest entrance. Thus before preaching, praying, celebrating the Holy Communion, visiting the sick, studying God's Word, or composing a sermon, we should lift up our hearts to Him with the secret aspiration, "Make me, Lord, in this, really to intend Thy glory, and keep me from the devil's frauds."
Further, we should, after our acts, frequently examine what has been our spirit in doing them; we should search whether we began them to please God and went on to glorify ourselves. We should see whether we can trace the little but yet easily distinguishable evidences which mark the inward swelling or restless itching of vanity; the liking, if not to talk with open and offensive vainglory directly about ourselves and our doings, yet still to hover so near ourselves that we can make secret short nights back to oar own selves, and our excellence, and our successes; or the saying what will lead others to speak well of us; or the listening with greedy ears to commendations when they come.
Further, if in these or any of the like symptoms we can find the beginnings of this sore disease, we should seek the remedies; of a deeper humiliation before God; of a full confession of our littleness and meanness; of earnest supplications to Him to keep us clear from self-seeking; and of greater watchfulness against the company, or allowance, or train of thought which led us last time into the snare. Moreover, as there is about these temptations so peculiar an aptitude to our special weakness that even to wrestle with them is dangerous, since [31/32] our deceitful hearts can suck a poisonous pleasure even out of the thoughts of self-exaltation which we face in order that we may overcome them, it is a part of spiritual wisdom to have other remedies ready for our hour of temptation. One special aid we may find here; in going straight, when the sweetness of a self-exalting thought rises in our mind under some success or some syren note of praise, to the recollection of some of our signal falls, and thinking how would these praises sound, even to those who utter them, if they had clear before them the full sight of all that inward evil of which we are conscious. Or, again, at such a time we may find help by turning straight in thought to our Lord's cross; fixing our thought steadily, if it be but for a moment, on His pierced hands, hearing His dying cry, and remembering that He bore that anguish for that sin which cleaves so close to us.
And but once more, my brethren, for the time warns me to have done; we shall find a great escape from these subtle temptations in striving to do all our acts sensibly and recollectedly, as in the sight of our Lord; to realize His presence; to remember that the gaze of His loving yet searching eye, which sees us through and through, is bent full upon us. No swellings of vanity can endure that recollection. In spite of all the delusions which our blind self-love practises upon us, we must in some degree perceive what is the utter worthlessness of that half ignorant, perhaps only half honest, praise of men as feeble as ourselves, which at other times so dangerously beguiles us when we look at the actions they are praising as being wrought under His eye.
Here, therefore, is our especial guard. We must live [32/33] more and more in secret intercourse and direct communion with Him; we must often retire, at least in thought and aspiration, from business, pleasure, nay, even from outward service itself, into the sacred shrine of His presence; in that presence the most subtle delusions of the tempter stand exposed to our gaze. We see the emptiness of all the rewards of this world and its prince, his enchantments fade away, the bewitching countenance of seeming beauty turns under the light of that eye into the hollowness and corruption of the grave; we see the worm in its loathsomeness where all looked but now enticing; and we hear the soft sounds of flattery turn into the malignant execrations of the pit.
He can save us, even from this close and most besetting danger; He will deliver from its snare each one of us who trusts in Him and watches for Him. In the sure confidence of His keeping you may make tomorrow your solemn Profession, and with the full and overwhelming sense of all your weakness, yet venture to declare that you do trust that you are moved by the Holy Ghost to undertake this office to save the souls of your brethren and to promote the glory of your God.