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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 III. The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures.

MY Brethren in Christ,--In my last Charge I entered at some length into the first question of our ordinal, and was led naturally on from considering the true call to the ministry to dwell upon its general character, and upon the first and essential qualifications which must be found in every faithful minister of Christ. I will, therefore, to-day suppose you to be familiar with these great foundation principles, and proceed to the questions which follow; and endeavour, with God's help, to consider practically how you may best fulfil the engagements under which your answer to them will bring you.

The two succeeding questions in the order for the Ordination of Deacons address themselves to two matters of the utmost moment; first, your "unfeigned belief in the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament;" and next, your determination "diligently to read them to the people in the church where you are appointed to serve." These questions, then, have direct respect to the rule and character which is to mark your instructions of your people, so far as the office of a teacher is committed to you. But this may be seen even more plainly by turning to the parallel questions put to those who are candidates for the priesthood. [37/38] In the higher degree to which they are to be admitted, they will have eminently entrusted to them the power and the duty of Christian teaching; and so the tone of the question put to them is far more distinct, and its object more searching. To them the question is,--"Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? and are you determined, out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach nothing, as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?" Now the purport of this question is perfectly plain. It demands an explicit pledge from the future teacher that the whole of his teaching shall be drawn from the one sufficient revelation of God's "Will which is contained in Holy Scripture; it condemns equally the Papist and the Neologian; it admits of no developing power, either in the whole Church or in the individual intellect, to discover anything beyond what the first afflatus of the divine Spirit communicated to the minds and transmitted by the pens of the inspired writers of the Holy Scriptures. Thus, moreover, it points us to the proper mode of explaining Holy Scripture when any dispute arises concerning its meaning. Scripture must first, as our own martyr Philpot replied to his persecutors, be received according to the teaching of the primitive Church; and if the dispute be still continued concerning that, then Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture, particular texts by the analogy of faith. It is unlawful either for individuals or for the Church "to expound one place of Scripture so that it be repugnant to another;" so that hereby the paramount authority of Holy Scripture, as the rule of our belief, is absolutely asserted; to it must be the last and highest appeal of the individual conscience. ["Bp. of Gloucester. I pray you, by whom will you be judged in matters of controversy which happen daily? "Philpot. By the Word of God. For Christ saith in St. John, the Word that He spake shall he judge in the latter day. "Gloucester. What if you take the Word one way and I another way? who shall be judge then? "Philpot. The Primitive Church. "Gloucester. I know you mean the doctors that wrote thereof. "Philpot. I mean verily so. "Gloucester. What if you take the doctors in one sense and I in another? who shall judge then? "Philpot. Then let that he taken which is most agreeable to God's Word." J. Philpot's fourth Examination, Parker Society's edition, p. 29.]

But it may be objected, if this is so, what is to prevent each individual interpreting Scripture as perversely as he will, and so destroying all certainty of objective belief? The answer to this is not difficult. Every one who makes this last appeal against that which is to him the teaching of the Church, does so under awful risks. He sets his own judgment against that which is to him, prima facie, the authorized interpreter of Holy Writ. For "the Church hath authority in controversies of faith;" [Article XX.] and if he does so from wilfulness or the love of his own private opinion, he runs great risk of being cast away on some of the many quicksands of unbelief. And this risk increases with the weight of the authority against which he appeals; until, if he appeal on his own [39/40] private judgment against interpretations of the Scripture which have been assented to by the whole Church from the beginning, such as are the Catholic Creeds, how can it be that he shall escape the condemnation of refusing to hear the Church, and being to the faithful as a heathen man or a publican? Eat still, under these awful risks the appeal for every soul is to God's written Word as the Supreme authority, and the whole Church cannot, beside it, enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.

This, then, is that to which you will be bound; this is to be the rule of your whole teaching, whether in catechizing children, in visiting the sick, in your personal instruction of the ignorant, in your training of the catechumen, or in preaching in the congregation.

Next, then, let us apply this principle practically by seeing what is the character of that teaching which fulfils this condition; and as preaching is the culminating point of this part of your ministerial function, I will, for shortness, endeavour to examine what it is indeed to preach that revelation of God's Will which is given to us in Holy Scripture; what it is, in a word, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, since the errors of which we are in danger mainly spring from a neglect of that due analogy of the faith which marks its revelation to us in Holy Scripture, through our dwelling exclusively or unduly on some of the many sides of truth to the neglect of others; and since this difficulty mainly besets us in applying to the altered circumstances of an hereditary Church a rule which admitted of no uncertainty, when it was laid down for those who had been gathered by [40/41] personal conversion from the heathen; we shall, I think, most easily attain to true conclusions by putting out of sight for a time our own peculiar case, and examining what must have been the true idea of preaching the Gospel to those who had not before heard of it, and who for themselves were either to receive or reject it.

The first ruling principle, then, of such a preacher's course must evidently have been this,--that what he had to declare was most properly a theology. His business was to teach men who lay in the uncovenanted darkness of a fallen nature concerning God and their relation to Him; he had to begin, as St. Paul began at Athens, by declaring to them God their Maker and Preserver; he must shew them at once, and as the central point of His character, the Love of God to all that He has made; and he must shew them that this Love is, by its own necessary law, a principle of condemnation to every creature which has broken in on the harmony of all derived being by choosing that which is against its own perfect nature, because it is against the nature of God. This would lead him to shew, by the light thrown upon it from God's revelation of Himself, what sin indeed is. He would thus speak to the conscience of those who heard him; and that inner voice which, in tones dull indeed and inarticulate, yet still with a power as deep as his nature, does secretly shake the heart of every fallen man, would answer to him, and in the secret of the hearer's spirit re-echo his words. Thus the theology, the coming forth of an utterance concerning God, even in its first beginning, would be at the same time most truly a history of man also; and when the preacher had [41/42] awakened and defined in the hearer's heart the natural sense of distance from God and enmity against Him, with all its hopeless blackness for the future, he would proceed to declare to them God's abounding love even to such enemies; he would shew what that love must accomplish before the rebel could be saved; that it was not a mere arbitrary mercy which could forgive without punishing or save without winning; that the race which sinned must bear its punishment, and that its punishment must even consume it. And thus he would be led to speak of the marvellous Love of the Almighty in the gift of redemption, of the everlasting Son of God becoming incarnate, of his standing amongst men as Man, as the true Man; of his bearing the sinner's punishment, and dying his death. But he would not rest in that; he would shew them that He who died rose again; that He rose as Man; that as Man He was the Head of a new kingdom, a kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and grace; that in it there was full acceptance with the righteous God for each man who would for himself claim a living oneness with the Lord its head; for that such a man would stand no longer in himself, but in His head, the one righteous Man. Further, he would shew them that this was a kingdom of grace; he would open to them the mystery of the co-eternal and co-equal Spirit; of that ever-blessed and divine Person, one in unity of essence with the Father and the Son; a Person, not a power; a Person present for Christ's sake amongst the sons of men, who would dwell in each and knit together all; who would perform for each a separate work; who would begin by drawing them towards the Father and [42/43] the Son; who would cherish their awakening affections, heal their distempered wills, and work in them a growing, a daily, an increasing work of miraculous transformation, until the clods of the earth should glow as the stars of the firmament, until the children of wrath should turn into the sons of God. He would then open to them the great mystery of Christ's Body the Church, as the tabernacle for the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost; shew them the Spirit working through sacraments, Christ blessing through signs, the Father saving through instruments; so that still it would be eminently a theology, a word about God, which the preacher would be setting forth: it would be by the love of God he would hope to win souls to their salvation.

Now this, I say, would be, in the simplicity of its idea, the preaching the Gospel of Christ to those who hitherto were strangers to it.

And from this it is not difficult for us to see what preaching the Gospel must be with us. For this only is really changed; that instead of addressing an adult with a new message, in the hope that the preventing influence of the Holy Spirit may incline the hearts of those who hear to receive for themselves the message of salvation, we address those who, by God's special appointment, already are the certain subjects of this preventing grace. But in all other respects the work to be 'done by us and by the first preachers of the Gospel is still the same. We have equally, by God's power, to win over the will and affections of each separate reasonable soul to the love and service of God. We equally, with them, have, under the power [43/44] and trusting to the help of God the Holy Ghost, to draw the soul of each separate man from the rule of self-will and from the love of the world and of the flesh, to the love and service of his Maker, his Redeemer, and his Sanctifier. We, therefore, must preach as they preached, most properly and truly a theology, a word concerning God, concerning His love, concerning the burning holiness of that perfect love. We must shew them love separating the sinner from his sin, if he will be parted from it; and if he will not be parted from it, separating him from the company of the blessed, whom his permitted presence, whilst sin ruled his being, would turn into a company of the accursed. We must shew them love as kindling the flames of hell, even by the very act whereby it builds up the lightsome walls of heaven.

Further, this theology will be with us, too, a history of man; we shall shew those to whom we speak what sin is in man. We shall explain to men the enigma of their own nature by casting on it the light of God's countenance. And thus, in declaring to them the everlasting Father, and the co-equal Son, and the co-eternal Spirit, we shall declare to them, also, themselves, and all the mysteries of that kingdom of God's grace in which they are.

For we shall make them understand how man, though bearing still in every natural faculty and power the marks of God's hand, has yet every faculty and power corrupted by the presence of sin every where within him. We shall shew them that they need no less a work than to be re-made by the working of the same God to whom they owe their first creation; and thus [44/45] every doctrine of the Gospel, and every precept of the whole economy of grace, will find its own place in our scheme. We shall preach fearlessly regeneration as God's act, as that which depends on His will, as His gift through Christ, which He is ready, in the faithful use of His own prescribed means, to give to all whom He has chosen'to be grafted into His Church; to themselves and to their children; yea, to all without exception who do not, by actual unrepentance and unbelief, bar His gracious working. This first gift, we shall shew them, includes their acceptance for Christ's sake, their being freed from the condemnation of their birth-sin, and made, in virtue of their new union with the second Adam, the certain subjects of gracious influences. This, we shall explain to them, is to those who by nature were born in sin, most truly a new birth; that it is their being brought out of the dark chambers of an utter helplessness into life and the opportunity of perpetual development and growth under the new conditions of salvation; with provisions around them, and with a power working within them which will, if their operations are not marred and defeated, conduct them to perfection and to glory; in a word, that it is their first entrance into the kingdom of grace, with all its infinite blessings and its infinite risks. But, then, with this we shall preach fearlessly the need of a true conversion of the heart and will to God, being wrought by His power in every separate reasonable soul. We shall shew that this great truth of their separate responsibility is the necessary consequence of the doctrine of regeneration, when rightly understood, not an interference with it; that because in their regeneration they [45/46] are brought singly under the direct personal influences of the Holy Ghost, they must either resist that Holy One to their destruction, or yield to Him to their salvation; we shall shew them the regenerate man who will not be converted as the most fearful spectacle of obstinate rebellion which, so far as we know, the whole creation can exhibit. Thus, too, we shall be able to give them a clear idea of what conversion is: that it is God's work in man's soul; the mysterious untraceable work of His sovereign Spirit, whereby, as by the breath of the wind upon the ocean, He does by unknown ways win to Himself and salvation those separate, true, personal wills of His reasonable creatures, which Almighty power might indeed crush, but could not, whilst they remained wills, violently and by mere external force make to be that which they are not. That this, indeed, is conversion, in its essence; not of necessity sudden, or even hasty; that it is indeed so gradual in some, as to be in its separate increments imperceptible; but yet that in all who partake truly of it, it is most real. That it is the Almighty Spirit so purifying him on whom it works, that the will of the man yields itself to God, and the affections rejoice in its absolute submission. That it is, indeed, THE great change from darkness to light, when, through God's grace working in him, the man believes, indeed, in Christ the Mediator, and chooses as his portion God, instead of this present world. This, we shall shew them, is indeed, in its first measure, that living faith in Him by which alone, separate from any of those works which are to spring out of it, the believer is justified, that is, is accounted just before God. And clearness of view as to [46/47] regeneration, conversion, and justification, will enable us to be clear as to all the remaining stages of the spiritual life: we shall have a clear view of renewal, not merely as the restoration of saints who have fallen, but as the daily work of growing sanctification wrought by God the Holy, Ghost in souls yet in a state of spiritual discipline, and, indeed, under His guidance, as the fulfilment of that promise, the richest perhaps of all our inheritance to the soul which groans under the conflict with inherent evil, "Behold, I make all things new." Thus all the parts of the Church system around us will be full of light. They will be seen to be the visible veil of the invisible Presence. The Sacraments, prayer, the communion of the saints, the orders of the holy ministry, all will speak of Christ, none of themselves; all will testify of the Father; all will be instruments for the working of the blessed Spirit; earth will be but the vestibule of heaven; the clouds of our firmament will be the floor of the courts of God's glory; already we shall feel and know that we are in the kingdom of Christ. Thus we shall understand our vocation of restoring the fallen, and of building up the saints. We shall see that our "one baptism" is not, as some have seemed to dream, the sign and assurance of one single act of amnesty, but our admission into a state wherein always full forgiveness is pledged to every penitent believer in Christ; that it is our admission into a state in which we possess not A, but the, remission of sins; that inasmuch as it brings us to Christ, it secures for all who at any time look up indeed with the yearning of contrite desire to Him out of the grave and charnel-house into which sin has cast them down, [47/48] the fullest and most complete assurance of their pardon. We shall understand also that there are many measures of the gifts of grace; and that we are to strive to win for ourselves, and to lead others to aspire after, the greatest and the highest. We shall see that as the Holy Ghost advances His work, men pass from the stage of preventing influences which brooded over their regeneration, to the ascertained working which wrought their conversion; that this was carried out into their renewal, which itself passed, as God accomplished His work, into the higher stages of a confirmed love, whereupon waits the blessed gift of perseverance to the end, the white robe, and the palm in the hand, and the eye wiped from tears, the feeding of the Lamb, and the crown of life; yea, and finally the "Well done, good and faithful servant;" and then the drinking of the living fountains of water, and the seat upon the steps of the everlasting throne.

Here, then, brethren, let us for a moment pause and see the point we have gained. What I have thus far said is all summed up in the first proposition I laid before you; the whole of your teaching is to be a Theology, an utterance to man about God. It is all to be the Apostles' Creed; the declaration of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

And now, to illustrate this further, let me in a very few words contrast it for you with some of the erroneous points of teaching common amongst us. First, then, it is the opposite of a philosophy. It deals with the person of God. This, it is true, does incidentally make it the truest philosophy, but only incidentally. That which is the object of philosophy is the accident of [48/49] Theology. It does not aim at answering speculative questions, doubts, and difficulties, though it does resolve them: it reveals the person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, speaking at once to the highest reason; to that which apprehends by faith and not by the mere exercise of the logical faculty; to the will in its most secret recesses; and to all the affections in their highest sealed fountains.

Further, as this teaching is not a philosophy, so, it is not primarily a system of morality. Incidentally, indeed, it is the only real and efficient system of morality; but it is this only incidentally: moral teaching by itself, with no insight and sanctions from without, from the true fountain-head of all moral being, is, amongst a fallen race, little better than mental and spiritual anatomy; a purblind poring into the nauseous revelations of disease and death; a groping darkly into the mechanism from which life has fled. Christianity is the bringing the mighty word of the Son of Man to such an one, and saying in the strength of His Omnipotence to that dead corpse, "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise."

And this contrast between a Theology and every substitute for it we must remember throughout all our ministry, if we would have it really effective; for from this will follow such practical results as these.

1st. Our whole teaching must exhibit God; God in Christ; God by the Holy Ghost. Never, perhaps, was this caution more needed than now. The religious teaching which, from its strength and power, has of late taken far the deepest hold on men amongst us who are the most alive to religious impressions, is eminently, [49/50] and, I believe, very dangerously subjective; it is thoroughly a moral anatomy. Now it is wholly impossible for teaching to enter too closely into every turning of the heart, every form of blinding deception. Such teaching is felt to be real, and this gives it its power: too close and too searching it cannot be, but it may be all this too exclusively. It may always abide in this morbid anatomy of man; it may begin and end with man, and only speak of God as a general power, generally; instead of beginning with God, and ending with God, and in thus declaring the Persons of the ever-blessed Godhead throwing light upon man's inmost nature.

And then, next, to carry out this idea, 2ndly, our teaching must be the result of a real comprehension of God's revelation of Himself. If we merely study the details of dogma, our teaching will be confused, contradictory, or one-sided; we shall not see how the parts of God's revelation fit into one another, and we shall drop some; we shall omit from our scheme regeneration, lest it should be put instead of conversion; or conversion, lest it should gainsay regeneration; or the remission of sins, lest it should make men trifle with sin; or perseverance, lest it should make men presume; or reprobation, lest it should make men despair; or free grace, lest it should make men immoral; or the need of watchfulness, severe self-discipline, and obedience, lest they should make men legal and self-righteous. Only by knowing God can we see the harmony of God's revelation. And this I would press on you the more earnestly for two reasons: 1st, because, as God works by means and rewards diligence, we may hence gather that a ministry for which men [50/51] have not prepared diligently, by deep painstaking study, meditation, and prayer, must be most dangerous to themselves and to others. How, indeed, can any venture upon undertaking this ministry with slight preparation? They do not dare to practise the weightier callings of the world without diligent and painstaking study and labour. The ignorant smatterer whose untaught hand and unfurnished mind sacrificed the patient's life, would be felt amongst instructed surgeons to be no other than a murderer; and as the soul is more precious than the body, he is only the slayer of his brother's better life who rushes into Christ's ministry knowing not the diseases which he is to tend, or the remedies by which he is to cure them. And yet I greatly fear that at most ordinations some such untrained men present themselves, who have prepared themselves at the best for an examination, instead of entering deeply into the mystery of the revelation of the Lord. I trust that by a higher standard becoming more common, and by the increase of theological training, both in our Universities, and in Theological Colleges, this evil may be diminished. For I am convinced, as I have said already, that without greatly increased study and preparation the ministry must continue to be exhibited amongst us in a dwarfed stature and with incomplete proportions.

For this reason, then, first, would I press on you the necessity of knowing God, if you would safely undertake to be His messenger to others; and then, secondly, for this further reason, that here you may see not only what is to be the preparation for your ministry, but further, what is to be its continual course.

[52] For that which is essential to your first entrance into this ministry must still animate your soul at every after-stage of its course throughout your whole life; you must know God if you would reveal Him. And this may teach you what your daily life must be, if you would be His faithful witness.

You must live near to God, if you would know Him so as to be able to declare Him, and you can only thus live near to Him by loving Him; and love, which opens the blind eyes so that they sec Him, is His gift; it is love which places you in "the cleft of the rock" as He passes by: "He that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God, for God is love." Yes, ever remember it, love is His gift, His gift to those who wait on Him. Without it everything else is vain; and it can from its own treasures supply everything beside which you may need.

For the love of God will make you indeed know Him for yourself; and it will make you love your brother, and so know him too, for love is ready-eyed and most sharp-sighted. The loving soul will see what his brother needs, and be able to supply it; for love is quick and true in applying remedies, and has that master power which must dwell in every healer, that it draws the sufferer to itself, instead of driving him away. There is a tenderness in love which makes its touch so light that even the most deeply wounded will bear its handling: there is a reality about it which makes it go straight to the true point. And this will make all our ministry, and especially our sermons, effective. Instead of the dry, wandering, unreal generalities, the fine writing, or the unmeaning repetition of phrases which make so many sermons so absolutely intolerable, they [52/53] will be felt by those who hear them to be indeed living voices, voices about God, voices about themselves; as good news from the far land; as the message the weary soul wants. They will have abundantly that strength and blessing which the living words of men otherwise, perhaps, somewhat unfurnished, but whose souls have been full of love to Christ, have been ever found to have, piercing through the crust of carelessness and sin, and reaching home, as the very power of God, to the drowsy or the stricken conscience.

I press this the more because no one can listen carefully to the majority of sermons preached in our churches; few, alas, can closely scrutinize their own, without deep sorrow, shame, and dejection of heart. We could not, indeed, hope to make all the members of so numerous a body as the English clergy orators. But then, it is not oratory that we want. We want the plain, earnest, real, practical addresses of men who, having found Christ for themselves, long, like St. Andrew of old, to lead their brother to Him. We want men to speak closely and really of sin and of salvation, of heaven and hell, of corruption and of Christ. And how little do the ordinary run of sermons fulfil these requirements! How many sermons seem to be composed with no better idea than that they must occupy a certain time prescribed by custom, and that they must be filled with the religious phrases current in this or that school of theological opinion! Hence we find in them prefaces of inordinate length, porches larger than the buildings to which they lead; truisms repeated with a calm perseverance of dull repetition which is almost marvellous; vague generalities about the fall and about redemption, as if these awful mysteries were empty [53/54] words, and not living, burning verities. We hear, perhaps, one sermon wandering languidly over the whole scheme of theology, containing in itself a prophecy of its perpetual repetition, with an altered text, and sentences interchanged in collocation, through all succeeding Sundays; we find the faintest and most general description of sinners, such as can reach no one in particular; mere outlines of men in the abstract, not portraits of individual men, amongst which each hearer shall find himself; empty general exhortations not to sin, not revelations of sin in itself, or sin in its deceitful working; cold, heartless, unreal words about Christ the Healer, not the earnest, plain-spoken zeal of one to whom, because he believes, "Christ is precious." And, my brethren, can we wonder if, under such preaching, men slumber on unawakened; if conversions are few, if edification is scanty, if sinners abound, if saints are rare, if, though the prophet prophesy, all be still as it was of old; if there be no noise, nor shaking, nor coming together of the bones, bone to his bone? To such a dead, condemning ministry I earnestly pray God, even our Father, for His dear Son's sake, that none of you may at this time be sent forth. May He open your mouths, may He give you utterance, may He make you to "speak boldly as ye ought to speak," the mysteries of Christ's eternal Gospel.

Such messengers, once more let me remind you, you cannot be, whatever other fitness may be yours, unless your own hearts are indeed the subjects of His grace; unless in them be shed abroad the love of God, which shall surely breed within them the love of your neighbour also. For this only can make your ministry as it should be,--searching, close, nay, even startling; and [54/55] yet at the same time felt to be indeed the voice of the most real, loving sympathy with every grieved spirit. This will indeed enable you to lift up the cross of Christ; this will make you feel the importance, in every sermon you preach, of having some one fixed and definite purpose, some great Gospel truth you mean to inculcate, some gracious promise you desire to unfold; some sin you mean to expose, some definite declaration of Christ and His redemption, some special need in the flock committed to you; and such sermons cannot be unmeaning.

Much, very much, there remains for me to say, if I would fill up, even ever so rudely, this mere sketch and outline of your work. But the time warns me now to close. Only, beloved brethren in the Lord, let me once more remind you of the true greatness of the interests for the sake of which we would win you to such a life of labour and of toil. It is for your brethren's salvation; it is for your own salvation; it is for Christ's glory. Time is passing from us; God only knows how few opportunities may be left to us. Already have many whom I have sent to the work been called from it to their great account; already do several rest from their labours, or are taken from their sloth. And whose call, my brethren, may be next? Who would not, first, do in God's strength some work of God? who would not have gathered some seals to his' ministry? who would not, when his Lord cometh, be found so doing? May God, for Christ's sake, grant it to us this day.

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