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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 IV. The Ministration of Doctrine, Sacraments, and Discipline.

MY Brethren in Christ,--In the Charges to those about to be ordained, with which, according to my custom, I have been wont to close our daily assemblings in this place, I have already considered the two first questions appointed in the ordinal of the English Church to be addressed by the Bishop to those about to be admitted to the priesthood. In the first of these I have endeavoured to answer that anxious question, How may I know if I am indeed called to this office by the Holy Spirit of God? In the second, I have further weighed with you the words which pledge you to undertake this office and ministry only "to the glory of God." In the third address I considered your pledge to take God's revealed Word as the one basis of all your ministerial teaching, and I endeavoured to set before you some distinct practical rules for your due employment of that general rule of your faith and teaching which God of His great goodness has given to us. I would now call your attention to the succeeding enquiry, and endeavour to ascertain in some degree what is the line of duty to which your assent to that will pledge your conscience.

Now the question is this, "Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the Doctrine and [59/60] Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church and Realm hath received the same, according to the Commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your cure and charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same?"

Now here are three distinct heads of duty; three separate charges committed to you; a threefold deposit entrusted to your faithful ministry: 1, Doctrine; 2, Sacraments; and 3, Discipline. Let us look at each of these separately, to ascertain, as far as may be, (a), our duty with regard to them; (b), the difficulties which oppose their fulfilment; and (e), the best mode by which these may be overcome.

And first, what does your pledge as to doctrine require from you? First, plainly, that your whole ministry should maintain doctrinal truth. With us, in great measure, God has lodged the guardianship of the momentous deposit of His revelation. "The priest's lips must keep knowledge." We have indeed, thank God, a fixed rule of faith in His Word; we have primitive creeds, and an orthodox liturgy; but all experience shews us that whilst these are, through God's grace, irresistible when wielded by a faithful, living ministry, they are not, without a faithful ministry, endued by God with such a self-moving energy as to keep His truth quick and living amongst the mass of men. Glosses explain away His Word; sophistry and subtilty refine upon it, and under the cloud which casuists raise, they can rend piecemeal the whole body of the truth, and having torn it up convey it secretly away. Liturgies are retrenched or disused; Creeds are forgotten, or emasculated, or [60/61] resolved into a religious sentiment which soon evaporates, and is lost utterly. The living ministry must wield the sword of God's Word, must declare the doctrine which our liturgies incorporate, and guard the deposit which our creeds enshrine. For it is by these means that the high mysteries of our faith are to be brought home in their integrity to the consciences of men: and so entire faithfulness on the part of us, the maintainers and distributors of truth, is of the utmost importance. Very slight perversions on our parts become grievous distortions of the faith to others; we are the media through which the image is cast upon the impassive eye of the multitude. It takes in and exaggerates any break or confusion in the simple lines and colours which it is our duty to transmit to it unmixed and unimpaired. The preservation of the truth in the holy severity of its own fixed proportions, is one special part of our trust. And this trust is committed to all of us alike, collegiate or parochial clergy. Somewhat different, indeed, are the posts which with various weapons we are set to guard; but our object is the same. Those to whom God has given leisure, and books, and a sharpened intellect, and converse with the ancients, have an evident commission to maintain by proof and defence, by argument and answer, to ascertain and to define if need be, that body of dogma which makes up the Church's credenda. These same truths the parochial minister has to instil into the young and rude, by catechizing and homely instruction; and into all his flock by private exhortations as well as public preaching.

Nor is it simply the integrity of the faith in direct dogma, which it is our duty thus to maintain. The [61/62] completeness of the truth depends upon the preservation of the due proportion and analogy of its several parts. We may turn God's truth into a lie, not only by introducing falsehood into it, but by giving to its different members a prominence and importance which they do not properly possess.

Further, as we have this charge over Doctrine, so have we also over the Sacraments and Discipline of the Church.

For the Sacraments, we have, in act as well as in doctrine, to maintain their place and efficacy in the scheme of man's salvation, as well as to secure their administration in their purity. This will include our taking care that in their essence they are ministered as Christ has commanded, His Word not having been added to nor diminished; that they are not burthened by man's additions nor mutilated through man's incredulity; and further, that they are administered to those for whom He has designed them, and withheld from those from whom His Word withholds them; lastly, it will imply that we restrain the right of administering them to those whom our Lord has commissioned to this work.

This, too, experience shews to be a great charge. The Church of the fifth century had the sacred canon in its fulness, primitive liturgies, and many gifts of grace; yet carelessness as to this further deposit led to the development of all those fatal errors under the power of which the essential characteristics of the Sacraments were gradually overlaid by a multitude of human inventions, until, as our Articles say, their very "nature was overthrown." The reformed communions abroad [62/63] threw off these errors, but with them lost the guardianship of an apostolical ministry, and in three centuries they have often forgotten the essentials of the Sacraments of Christ, and too many of them formally rejected the very first articles of the Christian faith.

We have also to administer the Discipline of Christ; and this again is no light charge. There is, indeed, as to this matter, a vast difference between our state and that of primitive times. How far this has been the result of past unfaithfulness in the Church, how far it is the necessary result of her wider extension, and especially of her public acknowledgment by nations, we need not now stop to enquire. We have to deal with facts, not with speculations; to administer the discipline which is committed to us, not to crave or reach forth after what is not. And more, I think, does remain than a superficial eye would note. The power of excommunication is the legitimate instrument of ecclesiastical authority; temporal loss and punishment are but earthly accidents which have grown up around, and often overshadowed the Church's discipline. The right to restrain and even to withhold the privileges of communion with the Church from those who profane them,--this is the power entrusted to her by her Lord, this is the power of the keys committed to her. Now whilst I do not deny that many anomalies, resulting from the altered and altering state of things around us as a national Church, press upon and harass us, still I believe that we are able, and therefore bound, to exercise a large share of that which is most truly the discipline of the Church.

For, first, the priest is now by law allowed, under the restraints of a reference to his bishop, with which the [63/64] Church has always limited the separate pastor's power, to withhold the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ from scandalous persons. And then, over and above this, there is a vast power of what I may call indirect discipline, which the faithful clergyman will find left to his direction. If he be felt to be indeed holy, consistent, and impartial, it will very rarely happen that he will have formally to refuse to the unworthy the administration of the Sacraments. In well-regulated parishes almost every man who, if discipline were stricter, would be cast out of communion by a formal sentence, is, through his secret deference to the judgment of the faithful, so far forth self-excommunicated. This state of things is indeed not recognised by the canon-law, which enforces on the clergy the necessity of burying any parishioner who has died without formal sentence of excommunication being passed upon him; and the variance is productive of harassing and painful cases, from which doubtless it were well that we should be [64/64] set free by an alteration of the law, if such could be obtained without the introduction with it of evils greater than those we seek to remedy, for even here the evil is not perhaps really so wide as it appears, since, in many of these cases, repentance, (which in such cases the law of charity requires us, where it is not impossible, to hope for,) and the restoration during sickness of pastoral offices, may be considered as an implicit reconciliation of the sinner to the Church. [One case which often much distresses the parish priest ought not, in my judgment, to perplex him as to the line of his duty: I mean, the being called on to bury one who has terminated his own life, but who is pronounced by a coroner's jury to have done so in temporary insanity. I say nothing here of the sinfulness of men on oath finding this verdict, if they do so in the teeth of plain evidence. But whether they do so or not is no question for the clergyman who is called on to bury the body. If the man was not in his right mind, he has not, according to the meaning of our rubric, "laid violent hands on himself," for the rubric must be understood to speak of a guilty, not of an innocent violence. The jury was the tribunal appointed by law to enquire into the circumstances of his death; and if they have declared him to have been insane, we have no more right to set up our private opinion of the fact against their verdict, than we should have to treat a man as a murderer whom a jury had acquitted.]

But allowing for all these anomalies, it is mainly left to us to maintain within our parishes that tone of Christian feeling which, almost as much as a more open discipline, forces the transgressor to perceive that from the full communion of the faithful and the covenanted grace of sacraments he is by his offence restrained. Here then are our trusts, and it is not without facing many difficulties that these great trusts can be rightfully administered. As to each one of them, there are hindrances from within and from without, which he who would be found faithful must not fear to encounter. Let us next look into these.

I. First, then, as to doctrine. Here, at the very threshold, we are met first by difficulties from within. Mere indolence is a great and perilous difficulty. He who would maintain the truth successfully must first have learned it perfectly. Now all truth is one; religious truth as much as scientific truth; and just as he who would speak accurately on the lesser and exterior parts of earthly science must first have mastered its leading laws: so must he who would, as a matter of conscience, speak truly on religious matters, have settled in his heart that great outline of the truth with which his [65/66] teaching on its several lesser points should be harmonious. But from this labour our natural indolence shrinks. It is much easier to pick up our religious opinions separately, and to hold them piecemeal; and so to save trouble at the cost of accuracy.

Again, in another way indolence withstands us. We continually come near to truths which we do not reach. We do not take the time, or the trouble, or the patient thought really to work out a conclusion, and so we get nothing more than that dangerous form of error, a half-truth; or still more, conscience forewarns us that the admission of such a truth would be troublesome to ourselves; that it would require the sacrifice of some cherished indulgence, the practice of some painful duty; that it would call for some distasteful humiliation, for some giving up of an inveterate self-righteousness; for a severer walk, or more earnest prayers, or more mortified covetousness, or a deeper self-abasement for sin; and so we dislike the truth: and more than half knowing what we do, we shut our eyes against it, through the indolent lethargy with which our natural corruption infects us.

But, further, indolence betrays us into perverseness: we are afraid of being convinced; we do not wish to undergo the labour of reviewing our opinions; we have long held them; we are committed to them; we have a great reluctance to give them up; we are therefore instinctively afraid of questioning them; and so, just in proportion to the small real reason we have for justifying our conclusions, is the obstinacy with which, wilfully shutting our eyes, we cling to them.

But indolence is far from being our only enemy within.

[67] We have all of us, from natural disposition, a bias towards some parts of the faith, and a disinclination to others; and from this tendency we are ever in danger of destroying the true analogy of its truths even when we do hold them. And this danger is above measure increased by any want of the watchfulness and care, which are essential to holy living. For sinful conduct naturally produces doctrinal error. There is the closest connection between these two forms of evil. Not more surely do certain bodily diseases affect the mind than do moral diseases pervert the faith. And then, still more, these perversions grow on evil livers as a retribution from God. He gives them up to their own deceits; yea, their own hearts make them to fall. His blessed Spirit is grieved, and leaves the man, and the lying spirit enters into him.

II. But, moreover, to these dangers from within we must add dangers from without. We are exposed to a constantly recurring temptation to lower down the truth that we may please those to whom we minister, or some whom we wish to win. The truth in its simple proportions is very rarely popular; the most needful truth is for the most part the most unpopular. Now without positively "prophesying a lie," we may easily give way to this pressing temptation,--for a pressing one it is. We have only to wrap up unpleasant truths in ambiguities of expression, or to dwell always on those truths to which there is no present objection; we have but to speak alone, or chiefly, that which does not oppose prevailing errors, or which our party will readily receive, to put the truth as effectually aside as if what we preached was no truth at all. And this temptation is all the [67/68] more dangerous because it often takes the form of our maintaining only great doctrines, or not entering upon controverted matters; whilst we are truly wandering as wide as possible from the apostle's practice, who kept back nothing that was profitable for his flock, because "he shunned not to declare unto them all the counsel of God." [Acts xx. 27.]

III. Again, in another way the temptations from within and from without run together to lead us to deprave the truth. I mean when from self-indulgence we allow ourselves in any sinful or unworthy conduct, and then are afraid of declaring truths because we secretly feel that in enforcing them we should, in the sight of others, be pronouncing and proclaiming our own condemnation.

Much the same difficulties withstand the due administration of the sacraments. For many plain reasons, all the difficulties which we have seen surrounding the maintenance of purity of Christian doctrine, gather themselves to a head around the doctrine of the sacraments. For concerning them is our main conflict of opinion, with the Church of Rome, with the various sects at home, and with the Protestant communions abroad.

Against the Church of Rome, which fiercely maintains the entangled web wherein are interwoven man's inventions, man's additions, and man's substitutions, with the simplicity and completeness of Christ's appointment, we have to make good our resolution of admitting no such human inventions, and enduring no [68/69] such human subtractions. Against her we are bound to protest, when pretending to define what Christ has left unrevealed, she subverts the very notion of a sacrament by explaining of a carnal change and a substantial presence, the inscrutable mystery of the true taking and receiving of the Body of Christ by the faithful in the holy Eucharist. Against her we must, moreover, contend by exposing that vast and subtilly contrived system of external formalism into which she has, to so great a degree, resolved the mystery of the separate works of God's converting and renewing grace in every heart which He subdues and saves.

Against the various sects and Protestant communities, on the other hand, we have to maintain the reality of Christ's gifts in the sacraments, the certainty of His presence in them according to His covenanted promise, and so their high privilege of being the direct countersign and outward instrument of His spiritual working, whereby they are distinguished from other, though most holy offices, such as prayer, or reading God's Word, which, blessed as they are, yet are not sacraments, nor possess the special honour of sacraments, namely, to be the appointed and ordinarily indispensable channels, through which, when duly administered and rightly received, the Almighty binds Himself to convey the necessary graces of regeneration and renewal.

Now as the errors both of Rome and of Geneva represent certain mental and spiritual frames and dispositions, we shall, in maintaining God's simple truth against them, surely know in their full strength, both within ourselves and amongst our people, all the [69/70] difficulties which, as we have seen, more or less beset the maintenance of all Christian doctrine. We shall have our own leanings; we shall be tempted to take up with half-truths and mutilated statements; we shall have to give up cherished prepossessions; we shall have to break through, it may be, some established formalism or some unspiritual theory which has encrusted itself on our own minds. No less certainly will difficulties from without meet us also. We shall differ from each extreme, on matters which are so strictly practical, that any difference will be sure to be keenly resented.

All this, too, will equally apply to the practical administration of the sacraments and of discipline. At any moment instances may occur in which we must stand firm, and yet where standing firm is sure to produce a sharp hostility.

And, now, how are we to resist?

I. First and before all, count on labour and opposition. The ministry is not an easy course; there is no promise that it shall be; faithful men have never found it such; lovers of ease should have nothing to do with it. You are to be yourselves not merely religious men, but theologians. This must cost you labour and toil. You are set to oppose error: you must expect resistance.

II. Weigh well the greatness of the object for which you strive. It is such as no reasonable man could hope to attain without exertion, and even suffering. It is the glory of your God and Saviour, (1,) by maintaining the Church's purity; (2,) by helping forward the deliverance of your brethren's souls; and (3,) by working out with fear and trembling your own salvation, and by winning from Him the special crown of [70/71] righteousness which shall belong in that day to them who turn many to righteousness.

III. Pray and seek for courage. Men in general think that there are but few calls for courage in the life of a clergyman; but there cannot be a greater mistake. At every turn of our lives we need courage of the highest and rarest quality; simple, calm, persevering; not that which glows only in the excitement of contest, though from contest, when necessary, such true courage will not shrink; but courage which must act in quietness, out of the sight and apart from the praise of men, for which are stored no laurel-wreaths of the earth; which must wait till the last day for its acknowledgment, and to eternity for its reward. Pray then, with all your prayers, for that gift of true courage which makes the "righteous" man as "bold as a lion."

IV. Be on your guard against private fancies: and for this end use all the helps which the providence of God has given you to keep you free from them. For instance, do not allow yourself to re-open as speculations, matters on which God's Word or the voice of the Church is clear.

I need say little as to the plain duty of acting on this rule when it is the Word of God which speaks. Its lightest sentence must be, of course, supreme; and you must be deep, constant, practical, praying students of it, if you would be sound and strong in doctrine and in discipline. It is as true now as it was in the Psalmist's days,--"Thy word giveth light and understanding unto the simple." [Ps. cxix. 130.] But remember also, that the decisions of your Church must settle the question for you as her [71/72] minister. You hold your commission of a teacher on this condition. You must, as an honest man, lay down that office if you cannot fulfil that condition. She, for instance, has distinctly condemned all the peculiarities of Roman doctrine; you have subscribed to their condemnation as the condition of receiving a commission to be one of her appointed teachers; if you now approve of what you then condemned, you cannot honestly continue to execute an office which you hold on the presumption that you are always ready, without qualification or reserve, to renew that first subscription. Again, she distinctly asserts the regeneration of all infants by the act of God in Holy Baptism, even when that Sacrament is administered by unholy hands, and though no one save that ungodly minister, and perhaps an equally ungodly witness, be present. [Compare Article XXVI., which distinctly asserts that the ungodliness of the minister does not bar the grace of the Sacrament, with the office for receiving the privately baptized into the Church, which says of every infant, though privately baptized by such a minister,--"Seeing now that this child is by baptism regenerate."] You obtained, or are to obtain, your commission as a teacher, on condition of declaring your full assent and consent to this truth. If you do not believe it, you cannot, as an honest man, apply for or hold that commission. Guard your mind, then, from the incursion of private fancies by using faithfully all these assistances; and then, next,--

V. Seek to be strong in that great security for soundness of doctrine, a holy life. As an evil life breeds heresies by a spontaneous generation in the human soul, so does a vigorous life of holiness destroy those parasitical corruptions which attach themselves to bodies [72/73] of a weaker vitality. You cannot overvalue this security; and therefore is it that prayer, and communion with God, and earnest devotions, are so closely connected with a maintained purity of faith. In God's presence all is clear: as you wait on Him, the fertilizing dew of Heaven from above falls richly on you. It was the experience of the saints of old,--"I am wiser than the aged, because I keep Thy commandments." [Ps. cxix. 100.] It is Christ's own promise to every one who sets himself indeed to walk along the narrow way,--"If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." [More properly, "willeth to do." John vii. 17.]

Such a life, moreover, will give you an instinctive love for administering the ordinances and discipline of the Church. For ourselves or others a tender conscience is the best of casuists, and a tender conscience is the blessing which God's grace bestows upon a holy life.

VI. Further, if you would discharge aright this great work, seek to hold the truth in love. Love alone can apprehend God's secret revelations; love alone can deal wisely, firmly, and yet without needless provocation, with your brethren. If you do love God truly, you will enter, as others cannot, into all the depths of His teaching. If you love your people truly, you will be as none others can be, firm, and clear, and unflinching in maintaining truth in doctrine and in discipline, and yet for Christ's sake will yield everything but truth to keep their love to you. This will save you from what is, alas! a very common danger. You will not mistake a quarrelsome temper for a courageous spirit; nor self-assertion [73/74] for the love of Christ's truth. You will be tender towards all men, not taking offence, nor giving offence, but affectionately desiring to impart truth to others, not to maintain your own position.

How many a ministry would such a temper have saved from failure and reproach! Lacking it, and the humility which it breeds, a young man goes with ardent earnestness into a parish; finds its tone as to doctrine low, and its manners as to discipline relaxed; finds, it may be, its most religious men, through past insufficiency of teaching, little awake to the special truths of our holy Church; and then, instead of seeking to win them to higher views by prayers for them, by a holy life amongst them, by building further attainments on their present religious knowledge, by gradually, in the loving and unsuspected influence of holy intercourse, raising the standard of truth in those who can endure its being raised, and then by acting through them on others--instead of this patient and humble course, he begins at once to assail the prejudices of all around him; speaks as if he was the bearer to them of another gospel; alienates them wholly from his ministry, and even from the truths which he is with so little humility, and therefore with so little wisdom, endeavouring to instil; and leaves behind him, when he goes, an angry, alarmed, disordered parish, the troubled waters of which may not lose for years the muddy turbulence which his unhappy vehemence has stirred into such fierce commotion.

VII. Lastly, my brethren, be men of prayer; be much alone with God; commune with Him in secret; open your heart often to Him; wait upon Him; draw nigh to Him through Christ the Intercessor; lie low beneath the Cross of Christ; seek to make sure for yourself of [74/75] that salvation; be not content with knowing of it, or witnessing about it; know it for yourself; seek to know what it is to have your sins washed away in His Blood, your hope firm in His righteousness, your condemnation nailed to His Cross; live much in the remembrance of the judgment-day; be contented with no half-knowledge of Him; with nothing but what will endure in that day; let Him teach you beneath His Cross your lesson. Seek there from Him, in virtue of His promise, a fuller gift of His indwelling Spirit, a more abundant Presence of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, and all will be well with you and with your ministry for time and for eternity.

Brethren, unto His gracious keeping, with an anxious but with a trusting heart, do we commend you. You are going to a dangerous struggle, with a fearful issue: heaven and hell hang for you upon the balance. But be of good cheer, He is faithful Who hath promised; make Him indeed yours; lean your difficult ministry, lean your secret burden, lean your own soul, on Him Who died for you, and He will bring you through. What our Lord said of His of old is true of His always,--"These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." [John xvi. 33.] They are His own gracious words, and all His words of precept are words of truest promise,--"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." [Rev. ii. 10.]

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