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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 V. The Driving away of Erroneous and Strange Doctrines.

MY Brethren in Christ,--The next question in the Ordination Service follows that which we have last considered by a most natural order. You have already pledged yourself to take God's revealed Word as the rule of all your teaching. Further, you have promised to minister faithfully and diligently "the doctrine and Sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded;" and in the very words of your promise, you have professed your belief that this Reformed Church and this Christian realm have received and do maintain His commandments; and you have therefore engaged to "teach the people committed to your cure with all diligence to keep and observe the same."

But besides this positive teaching to which you pledge yourself, you must, if you are a faithful minister of Christ Jesus, have your share in refuting error as well as in establishing truth. And so you are next asked whether you will "be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word, and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?" [79/80] To which you reply, "I will, the Lord being my helper."

Now the first point to be considered in the explanation of such a question is, manifestly, What are the errors which you pledge yourselves to combat? But to this, happily, there can amongst us be no doubt. The very words of the question itself forbid the possibility of doubt; you are to treat as "erroneous and strange doctrine," all teaching which is "contrary to God's Word." The appeal is "to the law and to the testimony." It is by the weights of the sanctuary that the gold is to be weighed. But simple as is this rule, the duty to which it binds you is one of no little difficulty. It is, in truth, a far harder task, and one requiring more temper and skill than even the direct teaching of the truth. For to oppose error successfully you must not only, first, thoroughly know the truth; but, further, you must understand the meaning and the history of the false teaching to which it is opposed; and yet more, you must thoroughly understand the nature and tempers, and temptations of the holders of error, or all your efforts against them will but stir up the angry and blinding dust of controversy, instead of leading any to see and turn from their delusions.

But difficult as is this task, a very little consideration will serve to shew us further how necessary it is. It is, indeed, one especial purpose for which the Church was founded. She is to keep the truth; to keep it from the additions and depravations, from the glosses and alloy, with which the corrupt heart of man will ever be attempting to defile its purity. Wherever the future of the Church is revealed to us in the pages of inspiration [80/81] it bears always this character, that it is maintaining a strife against false doctrine. So says our blessed Lord, "And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many." [Matt. xxiv. 11.] "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before." [Ib. 24.] And St. Paul, looking on but a few years beyond his own time, warns the elders of the Church at Ephesus of the duty of watching and remembering his teaching, because "grievous wolves should enter in amongst them, not sparing the flock. Also that of themselves men should arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them." [Acts xx. 29, 30.] And exactly similar is his charge to Timothy, whom he left at Ephesus that "he might charge some that they teach no other doctrine," [1 Tim. i. 3.] and whom he warned that so far from this strife ceasing speedily, the necessity of it would continually go on increasing, for that "evil men and seducers should wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." [2 Tim. iii. 13.] And so it will be evermore, until all "the elect shall have been gathered," and the blessed end be come. For the word of prophecy is plain: "There were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction: and many shall follow their pernicious ways." [2 Pet. ii. 1, 2.] Yea, even to the very close the picture is still the same, save that the colours deepen and darken as that long delayed end draws nigh, even [81/82] until they are all gathered into one point of blackness, in the coming and temporary triumph of the last personal Antichrist, of that "Wicked" One "whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy with the brightness of His coming." [2 Thess. ii. 8.]

Here then, brethren, is plainly the vocation of the Church at all times,--to maintain the witness of Christ in this evil world. For this we have been gathered into one body; for this we have that without which, as far as we can see, a Church Catholic could not be,--the written Word of God; of which she is the "witness and the keeper;" in which is a fixed record of all truth; from the living light of which, according to her need, shall ever flash forth to the Church, while she looks for its guidance, new illumination of the present darkness in which at any moment she is encompassed; for interpreting which, as to all its leading and fundamental doctrines, she has the aid of early Liturgies, of Creeds, (every proposition of which is a record of some old battle-field on which the faith has been first assailed, but finally maintained, and ascertained, and cleared,) and again, a still lengthening consent of all ages and all parts of her universal body.

This, then, for which she has been so furnished by God, is the special vocation of the Church; whilst, within her communion, the same office is pre-eminently the charge of us, the clergy, of those whom God's lot has taken, in order that we may guard and care for the sacred things which He has given unto us and to our brethren. To all ranks of our body this duty specially belongs. It belongs to those of us for whom God's providence has marked out as our post an academic life. [82/83] For you, my brethren, are indeed set on the watchman's tower: to your eyes lie open the distant plains: you can see, if you will, what are the dangers which are threatened in the future by the early indications of the mind of the rising generation: you have leisure and endowments, and all the accumulated stores of the past for this very purpose, that you may, whenever need is, send forth champions armed duly for the conflict from your strongholds of calm observation, of ancient truth and of Christian learning. No less truly, though in another sphere, is this the charge of every country pastor. Into every flock the false teacher seeks an entrance. Through the active working of the spirit of falsehood every seductive form of error finds its way into remotest corners with a marvellous activity, as though the restless air wafted hither and thither its countless seeds, or as though some mysterious power called them from their secret sleeping-place beneath the earth. Even so the heresies which suit the temper of the age spring up in a night in places which we might have deemed wholly sheltered from their evil intrusion; whence it follows that every one of us who would duly keep his charge, must make up his mind to have not only to instil the truth into unwilling hearts, but also to drive away and scatter the untruths to which unguarded hearts yield so ready an opening.

What plain illustrations of all this do the present times afford us. How wide spread, and how on every side self-reproduced, are the delusive doctrines of which communism and pantheism are the foremost developments, but which have really their common root in that general tendency to a disbelief of all fixed external [83/84] dogmas, which it seems plain, from God's Word, is to be the ruling characteristic of the last times. Who can say that his flock, though apparently the most sheltered, is safe from these deceits? Who may not be called on instantly, and at a moment's summons, to draw forth from the ever-full armoury of God's truth the needful weapons to repel this band of ravagers from his peculiar charge? But if it is, comparatively speaking, easy to see that this duty is ever incumbent on the Church, and that it is one of instant necessity for all those who are set to minister within it to their brethren's need, it is probably to none of us by any means so easy to see how we are to set about discharging our obligation. To this practical question, then, let us further address ourselves.

Here, then, let me say that if we would be true in this matter to our calling, we must first prepare ourselves by a diligent acquisition of the truth. We must possess an armoury stored with whatever weapons any sudden necessity may require. It will not do to be only a little way a-head of our people; to have to search for a clue when all things are entangled around us; to try to find out the way when a crowd of scattered hearts is gathered round us, looking, in their alarmed confusion, eagerly to us to point out to them the path of safety. We must not have to begin our study of the chart when the ship is already amongst the breakers. Our hearts must be beforehand thoroughly furnished. Hence the extreme importance of our being well instructed in all theology; of our having studied thoroughly the records of the former conflicts of truth and falsehood: for new heresies are, as a general rule, only the reproduction of old heresies. Hence, above all, the importance [84/85] of our knowing deeply and thoroughly that blessed Word of God in which is laid up for us all necessary learning. For a superficial knowledge of it will not serve our purpose. It is no new deceit of the enemy to clothe his lies in scriptural quotations. He tried our blessed Master with this very feint, and it is an often-recurring stratagem with him who well knows how to "transform himself into an angel of light." Almost every heresy which has infested the Church has claimed the support of some text or other of God's Word. Each successive teacher of error does more or less what Tertullian tells us Valentinus did of old, who "spared the text of God's Word from mutilation or alteration, because, inventing a meaning of his own for Scripture, he had no need to invent a Scripture for his meaning." ["Valentinus autem pepercit, quoniam non ad materiam Scripturas sed materiam ad Scripturas excogitavit."--Tertull., de Prescript. Haeret., °Ï 38.] Now to meet this form of error it by no means suffices that we should know the Word of God well enough to alledge some contrary passage: for, after all, so to answer is but to urge text against text. Really to expose such error we must be thoroughly possessed with the spirit of Holy Scripture; we must be able to shew that the alledged text is misapplied because it contradicts the analogy of the whole deposit of the faith.

Here our blessed Lord's example stands full before us. When as the Son of Man He met the father of lies in open fight, against Him, too, was quoted the letter of God's Word: "It is written, He shall give His angels charge of Thee, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone." [Matt. iv. 6.] His "It is written again, Thou shalt [85/86] not tempt the Lord thy God," [Matt. iv. 7.] disposed of the whole fabric of falsehood by alledging a great principle lying at the foundation of the relations of man to God, which at once displayed the untruthfulness of the whole pretended authority from the Word of God. And if we would from Holy Writ prevent the abuse of Holy Writ, we must copy the example of our Lord, and our "It is written again" must be no mere rejoinder of text upon text, but base itself upon some real principle of God's Word, which will fix the charge of irrelevance on the misused quotation. And thus to use Holy Scripture we must indeed have sounded its depths, drunk into its spirit, and laid a firm hold upon its principles.

Very near analogous to this preparation of ourselves is the second point I would notice to you as needful for the fulfilment of our charge in thus dispersing error. It is that we build up beforehand our people in the full range of Christian truth and doctrine. This is a very great matter. They become the prey of heresies and errors, because they have not been previously thoroughly furnished with all truth. The man whose body is of a sickly habit receives readily the passing taint of any infection; the fortress which is built on unsound foundations sinks under the first battery of its assailants; and it is because the spiritual state of our people is low and the foundations of their faith ill-laid, that they imbibe so readily those errors presented to them, and that the fabric of their belief falls so easily before the enemy. It is all-important that we remember this, because ever and anon we shall be sorely tempted to rest without [86/87] taking the amount of trouble needful thus thoroughly to ground them in the truth. Our own indolence will be ready to bribe us with soft excuses. It will suggest to us that such a flock as ours cannot be made to comprehend these great truths in all their varied relations; that it is no little success if we can teach them anything; that plain practical instruction is the utmost they can bear, and that it is better to concentrate their attention and our own upon a few main points, than to endeavour to convert our busy, or careless, or half-instructed flocks into theologians. Some excuse will always be at hand when indolence is the counsellor, and our poor hearts are the listeners; yet, depend upon it, this labour must be taken if we would guard our charge from evil. For the most part it is too late when the evil is lodged to attempt to dislodge it. Our people ought to be so trained as to refuse to listen to the first whispered falsehood, and it is this training which the Church has provided for them. This is the meaning of that wise forethought which has appointed festivals for keeping ever in remembrance those leading events and acts of our blessed Master's life, out of which all the great truths of our Creed naturally unfold themselves. This is, again, the wisdom of providing for the common use of those various Canticles in which are stored the record even of the abstruser and more difficult articles of the faith: so that truths from which, in the naked severity of a dogmatic statement, the minds of unlearned men would shrink as harassing and perplexing, may make their way into their minds, and become familiar and established inmates, through the words of some well-known chant or accustomed hymn of praise. And [87/88] if we would have our people strong in the faith, our ministry must bear this stamp; following the Church's teaching, we must endeavour to build them up thoroughly in all truth, not wearying and perplexing them needlessly with the names, dates, and narratives of past heresies; but establishing them in all the contrary truths to what have been, and so, it must be feared may again be, prevalent errors. This work must be done in our sermons, in our visitation of our people, in our catechizing, and in our schools. Especially must we labour to work into the very texture of their souls those master truths,--the personality of the all-holy, all-mighty God;--the mystery of the ever-blessed Trinity;--the fall of man, and his corruption;--the misery and defilement wrought in him by sin;--the eternal counsels of the Father's love in the Gospel scheme of salvation;--the Incarnation of the ever-blessed Son our Lord, His perfect life, His spotless death, His all-sufficient atonement;--the gift of the Holy Ghost; the calling and grace of the Church;--the presence of Christ in the Sacraments;--the need of individual renewal unto holiness; judgment and salvation, heaven and hell;--of all of these we must labour to work a right knowledge into the souls of all committed to us, as the guards against and the antidotes for the various evils by which they will be assaulted.

But, moreover, besides this general preparation, we must, if we would fulfil in this respect our duty thoroughly, be on our guard to foresee and prevent the rise of special heresies or errors. The words of the question put to you are here exactly in point. It is not only asked whether you will drive away all erroneous [88/89] doctrines, but, beyond this, whether you will be ready to drive them away; be, that is to say, on your guard; be as men are when flaming arrows are falling thick around, ready to catch them up and cast them forth before the fire has lodged and spread itself, according to its nature, on every side. This is a very special part of the Church's duty. It belongs to her as a consequence of her prophetical character; she is to be skilful in discovering the signs of the times, in seeing beforehand the indications of coming trouble. To illustrate what I mean, let me just mention what, by no dubious tokens, we may now gather to be a coming danger: I mean a general questioning of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Of what exceeding moment must it necessarily be, if such a question is before us, that we should be prepared for it; that we should have thoroughly weighed the whole matter; that we should know on what to rest our defence of this great truth; and that we should, before the storm is upon us, have gathered the flocks committed to us out of the open country, where the hail might fall upon them, beneath the appointed covers and shelters of the revealed truth of God. Now our power of thus discerning beforehand what is coming upon us will ordinarily depend on our own spiritual state. For any allowed sin, or even any habit of spiritual sloth, blinds the eyes, so that they become unfit to read the tokens which God sets in the heavens to warn men of His dealings with them. Communion with God, on the contrary, opens them, makes them observant and discerning, quick as with heavenly light, and watchful as the guard of God. All this is one great blessing of living near to Him; of prayer, [89/90] and watching, and obedience. And if we would possess it we must walk with God.

But, again, another point of great moment in the "driving away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word," is that we should understand wherein lies their strength and attractiveness; for these will, in their essence, be ever found to be closely connected with some truth. The accidents of error are, indeed, often of themselves welcome to fallen men, as its lascivious rites have often recommended idolatry to an evil generation; yet no falsehood, simply as a falsehood, has ever, or as far as we can see ever can, exercise any wide or deep sway over the minds of men. It is as a perverted truth that it has its great power. And in this the subtlety of Satan may oftentimes be very specially seen; for he well knows how thus to wrap up in falsehood the truth which at the time the accidents or circumstances of an age or people require. In such a case pre-eminently, as indeed more or less in all cases, the only effectual hindrance to the spread of the false teaching is for the Church fearlessly to supply that very truth of which this current error is the perverted image. But this course requires a strong faith and a clear single-minded uprightness. It is far more easy, instead of fully stating the truth which is allied to the error, to put it for the time out of sight, as if at that moment it was dangerous to dwell on it; and then to bring forth as all important the truth which is the direct contrary of the error which has been mingled with the perverted truth, whilst we inveigh loudly against it, and dart our thunderbolts against its maintainers. But this, though the easier, is not really [90/91] the true, and will not be the successful, way of putting down the error. For it is, after all, the disguised, altered, disfigured truth which gives the lie its power: and if it be thus opposed, it can hardly fail but that one or other of these evil consequences will follow,--either in driving out the error we shall lose the truth around [which it was encrusted, and then the Church will be hurried from one extreme of danger to the other,--too common an event in the history of doctrinal opinion; or, which happens still more frequently, we shall altogether fail in driving away the evil. For whilst we merely inveigh against the lie, even those who join us in condemning it feel that there is something in this false teaching besides that lie which they hate; and as we do not shew them what that is, they give the falsehood the benefit of this secret feeling, and so do not utterly condemn it; whilst those who have been seduced by it, having a true consciousness that there is something which our censures do not at all reach, set down all the condemnation as unjust, and through our unskilfulness hug more closely the deadly deceit. The history of all great heresies which have overspread the Church, and the history, on the smaller scale, of most successful parochial dissensions, are alike illustrations of this truth; the vibrations of heresy for the first four hundred years after Christ, which are summed up with so masterly a hand by Hooker, exhibit the first danger; [Eccles. Pol., lib. v. cap. 52.] and for the second, almost any parish in which dissent has a powerful hold might be quoted as an example.

Every age, indeed, repeats the same lesson. Thus, [91/92] for example, what truths can we name of greater importance than such as these,--that no man can enter into life unless the Spirit of God has indeed changed and renewed his own individual spiritual being; that to know God as a reconciled Father, who, in Christ, has put away our sins, and enabled us to walk as dear children before Him, is the blessed privilege of His faithful people here; that as the correlative of having a conscience, we are each one charged with and must exercise the awful right of private judgment; and again, that in the Church of the redeemed are gifts of living grace free and common to all even without the direct aid of any earthly minister; and yet that in it, too, is a ministry of absolution and guidance and consolation, to be received faithfully at the hand of Christ's appointed officer by every penitent:--what more important truths, I say, can we name than these? Yet it has been from the careless handling of these necessary truths, giving occasion to the kindred false teaching which naturally encrusts itself upon each of them respectively, that the errors of the Antipaedobaptist, the Methodist, the Latitudinarian, and the Romanist, have severally taken root in the Gospel field; and in no way can these be met successfully but by declaring fearlessly these very truths, which have been perverted, and shewing to our people that the truths themselves, and all the blessings which are to be obtained by believing them, can only be firmly held, and enjoyed in all their fulness, in the fellowship and teaching of the Church. It is not by withholding such truth, and inveighing against the erroneous exhibition of them, that we shall reclaim wanderers; the eagerness with which they are embraced shews the [92/93] acute sense which the thirsty spirits of men entertain of their necessity. It is only by freely, openly, joyfully proclaiming in its simplicity the truth which the false teacher mutilates that we can shake his dominion over our people's minds. There is hardly any rule of greater moment for delivering our people from error than this,--see what the truth is wherein lies the strength of the misleading teaching, and in the strength of that truth oppose the system which is strong by its abuse.

But there is one other rule, without which, my brethren, all will be in vain. We must resist error in a spirit of love. Here, after all, is the secret power of the wise reprover. There is nothing which love cannot say without offence, nay, with a most winning persuasiveness. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." [Prov. xxvii. 6.] Well was it answered by one holy man to whom it was remarked, "I cannot think why your people bear such plain speaking:" "It is because they know I love them." But it must be a true love of which this is the fruit. It is not the addressing them with epithets of endearment and words of tenderness which will secure it for us; it must be a deep inward love of souls learned beneath the Cross of Christ: it should manifest itself rather in the actions of a loving life than in ready and apparent demonstrations, and when it is real it will lead to the self-denying abandonment of ease, favourite pursuits, and of pleasant company, that in the morning, and at noon-day, and at eventide, whenever we can best reach them, we may be with the sick and with the whole, "weeping with them that weep, and rejoicing with them that rejoice;" [93/94] teaching the young, and comforting the mourners, and recalling the wanderers, and building up the weak. Such love as this will impart to the loving pastor a character which all can understand, and which, in the long run, few can resist. The humility and sympathy which are true love's accustomed handmaids, give grace and ornament to all its words; diligence is its offspring; public and private monitions and exhortations, both to the sick and to the whole, are its certain fruits.

But, then, if you would drive away error in love, you must pray for the flock committed to you. It is really marvellous to what a degree the constant habit of praying for our people sets the pastor in his right position towards them; how by degrees it gradually subdues any harshness of feeling in him towards the evil living, even if they are obdurate in their sin; how it teaches him the difficult lesson of "speaking the truth in love;" how it enables him to copy the example of the one great Exemplar of perfect faithfulness and perfect tenderness.

Need I say, my brethren, that if this is the way in which error must be dispelled, it is no light or easy task to which we shall be bound? Indeed it is not; it is, for such as we are, most difficult, to be thus patient in preparation; thus quick-eyed as to the future; thus discerning as to mingled truth and falsehood; thus faithful and bold in dealing with our people; above all, thus diligent and humble, because thus heartily loving, towards them, and thus abounding in supplication for them. Yet this is our task; it is this you are about to undertake. Oh! enter not upon it with vain dreams of an easy, self-sparing life; see all its burdens, that you may seek [94/95] strength for bearing them, and that you may be able so to bear them as to win its crown.

For there is, my brethren, of God's exceeding mercy, a strength which may be yours, and a crown which you may win. There are gifts of God's grace which may be yours if you will seek them, which shall make you patient, wise, bold, diligent, loving, and full of prayer. Perhaps you look into your own hearts, and see at present so little trace of these graces that you are ready to despair, although your heart's desire is indeed to set yourself with all your might to this service for God and for your brethren. Yet be not cast down. He is "able to make all grace abound," not only towards you, but within you. Trust to Him that failing heart which you know you must utterly distrust. He will shew you your Saviour's Cross, His wounds, His love. He will make you by inner experience know the power of these things; and He who will work all that inward work will fit you with all other supplies, according to your need. He will open the stammering tongue with these words of might, "Have not I sent thee?" Yes, my brethren, this must be our strength. The Christian ministry is His ordinance: and He will not forsake the work of His own hands, nor suffer His promise to fail. By our feebleness He works His purposes. Practise this truth, so full of encouragement to your weakness; use it so as to add might to your prayers: act upon it as a truth in your daily ministrations; act on it, not by putting forward great claims, however well founded, in your sermons and in your discourses, to the power vested in you by your undoubted succession from the apostles of the Lord, but by shewing forth silently, noiselessly, and without [95/96] pretension, the character which belongs to their successors. Be chief in feeding, chief in labouring, chief in praying, chief in suffering for the flock. And be not discouraged if they for whom you labour do not acknowledge your true mission. It is no new case. "Remember the word that" He "said unto" His apostles, "The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also." [John xv. 20.] But for these and all other sufferings borne meekly and humbly for His sake, there is, be sure, for every faithful man an abundant recompence; for there is for every faithful one a crown of life. Surely this, too, is of His great love. Surely it were a gift large enough for such as we are, to be but employed in His service, to be allowed to wait in His courts, and to minister to our brethren; truly it were a rich reward for such poor service as ours is at the best, to have even the occasional refreshment with which He solaces our toil, with glimpses of a future rest. But no; He giveth more than this; "unprofitable servants" as we are "when we have done all," He gives a crown, even when we have done little. They are His own blessed words,--in the fulness of grateful hearts let us muse upon them; when we faint with weariness or despair, let us stay ourselves upon them,--"They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." [Dan. xii. 3.] It is not merely that in the great day we ourselves shall be saved; that His Blood shall have washed us clean; that the pit shall not swallow us up; but further, He who bought us with His precious [97/98] Blood has given us the desire of serving Him; He has made our desire effectual, and then He rewardeth that effect. He who worketh all in all, He who hath wrought all our work in us, Who hath redeemed us from hell, Who hath cleansed our impurity and strengthened our feebleness, Who hath given us every right purpose, and hath blessed the work of His Hands, He has added, over and above all, His own sure word of abundant promise, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." [Rev. ii. 10.]

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