THE question which follows in our Ordinal that which we last considered, is equally addressed to the candidates for the orders of deacons or of priests. It is this: "Will you be diligent to frame and fashion your own selves, and your families, according to the doctrine of Christ; and to make both yourselves and them, as much as in you lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ?"
This question borders closely on that which precedes it. For the answer to this will bind you to a life framed and fashioned according to the teaching of our Lord, whilst the other leads you to pledge yourselves to a life which should be marked by prayer, by the constant reading and weighing of the Word of God, and by abstinence from the study of the world and of the flesh: and these are the very conditions of a life of holiness; conditions so essential that it cannot exist without them, and so certain in their operation that it must, through God's mercy, grow out of their daily exercise. Here, then, these two questions seem to run into each other; yet there is a distinction to be traced between them. The former question pointed especially to the interior springs of the new life; this, to its external body and manifestation. That addressed itself to the inward life of devotion to be nourished and maintained by secret prayer [207/208] and hidden communings with God; this, to that life of watchfulness, and resistance of temptation, and holy obedience, and high-souled purity which God's servant must lead, even before the eyes of men, in his day of outward trial and visible conflict with evil. And so this question passes from yourself to others, asking you not only whether you will diligently labour to maintain communion with God in your own soul, but also whether you will let your light shine before men, making your life, and the life of your family, an example and a pattern to the flock of Christ.
On this side, then, the enquiry leads us into some new and most important matters. It sets before us this great truth, that the conduct which we and those closest to us exhibit before the eyes of men becomes a pattern for them to follow; that this must be so; that from the nature of the case it is inevitable: that whether for good or for evil, the lives of ourselves and of those round us must be so mixed up in men's esteem with our doctrine, as to be taken by them to be exponents of it; and so that our life must have an effect on others, either lifting them up by our example to a likeness to Christ, or drawing them down by our unworthy living to a wider distance from Him. This, indeed, in its measure, is the necessary law under which all of us spend our lives upon earth. As the light and heat by which life, and beauty, and increase are maintained in this world, stream always noiselessly, yea, and imperceptibly, from that mighty luminary which God has set in the heavens to rule the day, so is there ever flowing forth from every true Christian man an animating and pervading influence of good, which affects all others who come within [208/209] the sphere of its action. "Ye are the light of the world." Every earnest, devout, humble, truthful, self-denying man is thus daily penetrating others with the brightness of his own life; and in this way, probably, he is doing far more good than even by his more direct attempts by conversation or by action to benefit others. For this influence is unceasing, whereas his direct and conscious efforts must be numbered. Against these last, moreover, men harden themselves; they have time and notice to resent and to reject the interference: but the secret influences of a holy life steal upon them as the early dews of morning, or the fragrance of incense coming they know not whence, and seizing upon the open sense before it has time to close itself against them. Such a man moves about amongst his fellows with an unconscious influence for good, which, like "the very shadow of St. Peter," heals some of those he passes by. And as it is with good men, so is it with the evil. As in some fearful stages of malignant fever men bear about them an atmosphere of pestilence which, without their design or privity, imparts itself by a secret approach to the receptive faculties of others, so is the selfish, or lewd, or careless, or ungodly, or indevout man an ever-present centre of destructive influences. Even when he least desires it, he is poisoning the moral atmosphere around him. Men who would reject his whisper are imbibing unconsciously the taint of his example. Like those miserable beings in fable, who are doomed to bring all who love them to destruction, such men infallibly draw down, by the pestilent contagion of their life, those around them, even when they would fain set no bad example. As the serpent in the Eastern tale destroyed unawares the child it loved [209/210] by the intenseness of its venom, so do evil men, even when they strive most to be innocent, as, for instance, in the presence of their children, shed a deadly influence of debased instincts, looks, and words unknowingly around them.
All this, which is true of every man, is most true of those who would be teachers of others. Such men have no privacy. Their life is ever teaching one way or the other, far more eloquently than their direct words or formal exhortations. Even a heathen philosopher could say,--"Longum iter est per prseeepta, breve et efficax per exempla." [Seneca]
But this must be more specially true with us, from the very nature and constitution of our office. It follows necessarily from that appointment of our Lord which has committed the great work of converting and building up souls to a living human ministry. His word indeed is "the sword of the Spirit;" but it is to be wielded by the hands of His servants, and we are those servants. His message is sent not by angels, but by men; by those who share in every respect the nature, infirmities, temptations, sins and supports of those to whom they speak for God. And God works through this unity of nature between those to whom He sends His message, and those whom He employs as His messengers. He reproduces His work in others from those in whom He has wrought it Himself, and whom He is using as His fellow-labourers.
So it has been from the foundation of this ministry. The apostles of the Lord first imbibed this life themselves, and then, in the power of His grace, imparted it [210/211] to others. And so it is ever to be. "The Husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits." So our blessed Lord taught us that it must be, when He spake of Himself) the Great Exemplar, as the Good Shepherd who, "when He putteth forth His own sheep, goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him." And this, no doubt, was one principal reason for the order of those repeated exhortations of St. Paul:--"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers;" "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine. Meditate upon these things: give thyself wholly unto them; that thy profiting may appear to all." And what he thus enjoined on others he, for the same reason, practised diligently himself. For he could say to his Ephesian converts, "Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations." And again, to the flock at Thessalonica he could say, "Ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail. . . Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves amongst you that believe." Who can doubt but that the rhetoric of this eloquent life was one of the very chiefest means whereby, through the blessing of God on his ministry, souls were won to Christ. What without that would have been his persuasive tongue, or even his power of working miracles? As it was with him, so it must be with us. Men are still won, through God's grace, to Christ, by their [211/212] brethren who have found Him for themselves. It is now, as it was of old in Galilee, when Andrew, through the teaching of John Baptist, had followed Christ. "He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus." [John i. 41, 42.]
We, if we would succeed in our ministry, must enter on it as our own George Herbert did on his, determining "above all" to be "sure to live well, because the virtuous life of a clergyman is the most powerful eloquence to persuade all that see it to reverence and love, and, at least, to desire to live like him. And this," he resolves, "I will do, because I know we live in an age that hath more need of good examples than precepts . . . And I beseech God," he adds, "that my humble and charitable life may so win upon others as to bring glory to my Jesus, whom I have this day (of my induction) taken to be my Master and Governor." [Walton's Lives, p. 359, 4to.]
But it is not only the constitution of the Christian ministry, but also the nature of those amongst whom we minister, which makes our example so effectual for good or for evil. To see this more clearly, let us endeavour to trace out what must be the effect upon our people, I do not say of a bad example in us, but of a life which falls in any respects below our ministerial teaching.
First, then, see how it must affect the evil livers in our parishes. To prove the faith of Christ to be a cunningly devised fable is the interest of every man who is living in sin; for that faith condemns and threatens him, and he has a voice within himself which, in [212/213] spite of all his efforts to drown it, continually repeats, and points against himself its denunciations. Now what argument against Christianity can be comparable in force to this, that they who teach it manifestly disbelieve their own doctrine? What, therefore, can more help such an unhappy man in his work of self-destruction than our inconsistencies? For whatever we may think, such an one is sharp-sighted to detect them, and from them he gathers readily that our sermons and our teaching are nothing better than professional declarations, the hollowness of which we feel secretly, and therefore manifest in our lives.
The same effect, too, in its own degree, is produced on others also by a careless ministerial life. It must certainly harden in sin that large number in every parish who entertain no doubts about the truths of Christianity, but are ever trying to combine enough of it to quiet their consciences with an earthly, irreligious life. For if at any time our words awaken apprehension or thought about their souls in the minds of such, the sight of our own life quiets them again. They always expect rather more of us than they think themselves bound to render; and if the spot of allowed worldliness or irreligiou appears in our life, they can readily excuse its stain in theirs.
Again; such a life in us, whilst it furnishes arguments against the truth of our holy faith to those who wish to disbelieve it, and a positive excuse for sin to irreligious men, acts fearfully in keeping back those who are striving to serve God. For they are, of course, daily surrounded by temptation. Their natural infirmity exposes them to the danger of allowing themselves freely [213/214] in acts or indulgences which are not positively wrong, hut which are inexpedient, and so are hurtful to the soul, and our conduct, if it errs on the side of licence, almost certainly decides theirs. Thus self-indulgence in us keeps them positively back; we help them to fall down to, or to form, or to keep a low and uncertain standard of obedience, faith, love, and victory over the world.
This danger, moreover, is increased both for ourselves and for our flock by the fact that, so far from such a life alarming our people or repelling them from us, it will frequently minister rather to our immediate popularity. Open iniquity in us would shock and disgust them. If we yielded to gross sins, we should forfeit the character of spiritual guides; we should be no pattern at all: we might harden the infidel, but we could hardly mislead or depress the feeble but struggling Christian. But if we are respectable enough to serve as a pattern, and yet sufficiently worldly to be an easy pattern, we may almost certainly secure a great amount of general favour. For the world loves that easy and respectable worldliness in us, which, so far from stirring consciences and awaking souls, makes it more easy for its votaries to veil over the sharper and severer truth of Christian faith, and to combine a decently religious appearance with an inveterate and absorbing love of the things of this present time. So far, indeed, may this be carried, that a man may preach to the most worldly-minded congregation almost any amount of Christian truth without stirring up any opposition from them, if only he will let his life exhibit the union of this theoretical excellence with their own merely decent commonplace [214/215] behaviour. For our life excuses their lives; and they will gladly let us preach as we like, if we will let them live as they like. Whilst such a life in us does more than let them so live, it positively helps them in their evil course. Our example stands between them and the thunders of God's Word, which must sometimes reach their souls; it saves them from those occasional starts to which the lives of the most easy are from time to time exposed.
We may, perhaps, see this most clearly if we look at it in one or two details. Let us, then, suppose that we have in our parish some of those many families in which a certain regard for religion is combined with an easy, luxurious life of self-indulgence, or of display, or with the continual accumulation of increased and undistributed riches. Now, if we preached honestly and truly against such a selfish and unchristian abuse of God's gifts, and added to our sermons the example of large charity, frequent self-denial, and the joyful abandonment of superfluous luxuries, in order that we might with our substance promote the cause of God, we should, no doubt, be thought fanatical, and classed amongst some of those inconvenient over-religionists for which every age and generation has its own names of reproach. But if, though we preach precisely the same words, we live as they do, and shew in our conversation and behaviour in society that, whilst in the reading-desk and pulpit we hold a high professional tone, we are in our life just what they are, inasmuch as that life of ours which ought to be their reproof is turned into a soothing assimilation to their conduct, we shall, instead of bearing Christ's rebuke, be almost certainly encouraged and caressed. [215/216] Thus a free line on our part as to those amusements of the world, or those sports and pastimes which, though not actually wrong, are yet manifestly unsuitable to our office, becomes a ready excuse for an unspiritual, and even--as men always take on the side of indulgence more than is given to them--for a decidedly sinful life in others.
Take, again, another example from a different class of subjects.
The habits and manner of the pastor may be traced in the long run markedly repeating themselves in the whole devotional tone of a parish. If, whilst we are ministering in the congregation, we have a careless and irreverent manner, if we drawl out the service with a languid affectation, or if we hurry it rapidly over as if we were mainly anxious to complete a certain fixed amount of recited offices, we shall surely form amongst our people habits of the like languid inattention or hasty irreverence.
This, again, had not escaped the notice of George Herbert; and as, perhaps, there never was a time when there was more need of reminding men of his words upon this subject, I will give them to you here. His pastor, then, "when he is to read divine offices, composeth himself to all possible reverence, lifting up his hands, and heart, and eyes, with all the gestures of a hearty and unfeigned devotion. And this he does, first, as being truly touched and amazed with the majesty of God, before whom he presents himself; and secondly, that being affected himself, he may affect also his people, knowing that no sermon moves them so much to reverence as a devout behaviour in the very act of praying. [216/217] Accordingly his voice is humble, his words treatable and slow; yet not so slow neither, as to let the fervency of the suppliant hang and die between speaking, but with a grave liveliness between fear and zeal, pausing yet pressing, he performs his duty." [Country Parson, chap. vi.]
The principle which I have sought to illustrate in these details may easily be transposed to all parts of the Christian life. In all, alas! it is alike true that the infirmity of our fallen nature leads us to seize readily upon any excuse for low attainments and an easy, self-indulgent practice; as to all, it is certain that few excuses are more readily adopted than the easy pattern set before us in the life of a decent but unspiritual pastor.
All that I have said hitherto applies, as you will see, to the direct effect of our example in raising or lowering the tone of holy living around us. But there is an entirely different set of dangers connected with the duty of our being ensamples to the flock, as to which I must say a few words to you. It is not only, then, by setting a low standard before others that you may fail of being, as you ought to be, living copies, in your several spheres, of the great Exemplar, but that you may, by want of wisdom and by degrees of self-indulgence, far less marked than those which I have glanced at, endanger or destroy wholly the influence of what is, on the whole, a good life. We all of us, I suppose, know instances in which mere eccentricities of manners have sufficed to destroy the moral weight and influence in society around him of some man of acknowledged power and goodness. Now this should lead us to watch ourselves closely, lest through [217/218] indolence, or carelessness, or indulged mannerism, any of the little infirmities or blemishes in behaviour which destroy men's influence should grow upon us. We must often bring our mere deportment in society under review, if in this matter we would be blameless.
This will apply, of course, to such matters as the allowance of spirits which, perhaps, flow with a high tide of reaction after hard work or long repression, and which, though perfectly innocent in themselves, may appear to others inconsistent with the higher tone of the ministerial life, and so may blight its power of influencing others. A holy, self-restrained, cheerful deportment, without the painful presence of a mask-like, assumed gravity, is that at which we should aim, and for which we should pray. Even beyond this, too, there is much as to which we should he careful. Slovenly habits at meals, inattention to neatness and perfect cleanliness in dress, a careless neglect of the true delicacy which marks good society, want of sympathy with those in whose company we are, idleness as to joining modestly in cheerful and rational conversation. All of these things will seem important to one who is indeed watching himself carefully lest in his person "in anything the ministry" should "be blamed," and his own power of witnessing for Christ be lessened.
Far beyond this, again, there is a yet more subtle form of self-indulgence against which we must be upon our guard. If personal habits which bespeak carelessness or ill-breeding may thus destroy our influence, far more may any which suggest to our people, it matters not with how little foundation, the suspicion of yet deeper evils. Now we live at a time when the [218/219] miserable defection of many members of our body from our own reformed Church, and their deadly fall into the corruptions of the debased communion of the Papacy, have necessarily awakened a suspicious habit of mind amongst our people as to any tendency in their spiritual guides to this fearful apostacy. It is the character of such suspicions to be vague, unreasoning, and often most unjust. They may attach themselves to us from some mere accident, or from our resolving to abandon no truth because it is unpopular, or from our honestly and honourably refusing to persecute others from whom we ourselves differ, but to whom we will not be unjust. When these suspicions are thus awakened, deeply as we must lament them, we cannot blame ourselves for their existence. We must maintain truth at any price: we must not be unjust to others,--even to weak and foolish men,--in order to purchase for ourselves immunity from damaging suspicions. Such trials we may indeed take as persecutions for righteousness' sake, and humbly hope that our Master's " Happy are ye" may reach to us; and that these seeming evils shall in the end, through His grace, turn out rather to the furtherance of His Gospel. But these suspicions often arise from a widely different source: and as to such, those on whom they fix are by no means the guiltless victims. If, for example, the wearing a particular dress, the addiction to unusual forms or modes of conduct in or out of our churches, will almost certainly arouse such suspicions, how can we be blameless, if, because they are more suitable to our own feelings, we adopt them, and so place stumbling-blocks in the way of weak brethren for whom Christ died? I will not enlarge upon this head. [219/220] A mere hint will suffice to suggest to you all that I would say. But let no man suppose that his conduct as to such matters can be trivial. The common impassive eye of society is caught far more readily by such external badges than by the far deeper realities of doctrine. Many a man who might, without raising one suspicion, have won a parish by a holy example and sound teaching to the true tone of our reformed Church, has marred all his usefulness and destroyed all his influence by the suspicions which his dress or his manners have most needlessly but inevitably awakened. Nor is this suspicious habit, most injurious as, alas! it is, either wholly unreasonable in itself, or wholly misplaced in attaching itself to these external indications of a supposed inward unsoundness. The colours and devices of the army's banners do but indicate to the eyes of all to which side it appertains, and men will naturally think that, except as signs and badges of a party, such trifles could not seem important in the eyes of men set to deal with the salvation of souls and the issues of eternity.
As to these matters, then, as deeply affecting your power of influencing others by your good examples, I earnestly entreat you, my brethren, to seek as in God's sight to be found blameless.
All this, moreover, which applies so forcibly to the effect of our own lives on others, belongs also in no small degree to the lives of our families. For what a man really is himself underneath the veil of professional formalities, is often most openly declared by what those are who stand nearest to him. And even where this is not so, the pastor's usefulness is fearfully marred, be he [220/221] himself what he may, if the pattern of his family be of this world, and not of that which is to come. Surely, then, the ordination pledge must bind us so to choose the partners of our family life, and to seek so to rule our families, as that in all things God may be glorified in them as well as in ourselves.
For to set an evil example here is no slight guilt. Nothing under the old dispensation awoke more loudly the thunders of God's denunciations than when His prophets, from their love of money, or ease, or other worldly indulgences, led His people into sin. It was the guilt, and it became the condemnation, of Eli's miserable sons,--"Ye make the Lord's people to transgress." And doubtless this is still a fearful sin when tried by the laws of that spiritual kingdom which knows not time or change. What an account, my brethren, must be rendered at the last day by the careless pastor, whose worldly, unspiritual example has been continually drawing down to hell souls for which Christ died, and which He committed to the charge of this unfaithful guide. Surely we can see that in that awful hour it had been better for him that a millstone had been hanged about his neck, and that he had been cast into the sea, than that he should have thus made these little ones to fall. How widely spread, moreover, and withal how unsuspected, may be such an evil influence. Who can tell, until that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that he is altogether free from this guilt. Who may not by some self-indulgence, some unmortified temper, some doubtful habit, be lowering the tone of spirits which he was set to raise, and clogging with earthly incumbrances souls which he ought to [221/222] have borne up with himself on the wings of faith to the brightness of the beatific vision.
Surely the mere possibility of such a danger should lead us to a closer watchfulness and a more practical self-suspicion. Surely it should lead us to see how all our ministry, from first to last, needs evermore to be sprinkled with the blood of atonement, lest it condemn us utterly. Surely it should shew us the great peril of this our undertaking, the risk to ourselves and others which must attend our venturing upon a charge which too many carelessly assume without one thought of holy dread. Surely it should lead us to seek diligently to see how we may most safely fulfil these solemn and enduring engagements.
This question I will now, in conclusion, examine with you as to this special promise.
First, then, I would say, let it be our habitual care to be at all times setting the example we have promised. Let there be no intervals of conscious self-allowance, no earthly parentheses in our ministerial life. Let us remember that always we are the messengers of Christ; that all our life, and every part of it, is embraced in the wide-spreading engagements of the Christian ministry. For always we shall have watchful eyes fixed upon us: and one passionate exclamation, one covetous device, one scheming, or vainglorious, or unjust, or harsh action may cast a blighting glare of hypocrisy over the most zealous services in the more direct work of our ministry.
This first; and then next, in order to keep up this continual watch, let us often pause and remind ourselves of the risk which we are herein running. Let us break through that crust of professional decency which forms [222/223] so rapidly around us, and ask ourselves, not what do men think of our course, but how will it shew in the great day of trial? Is it tending to raise all around us to a higher and severer standard, or is it helping to give currency to those mutual concessions to each other's ease, and worldly interest, and immediate indulgence by which the rule of Christian duty is so soon and so fatally debased? Let us force ourselves to remember what must be the horror of that day, if then we find that, contenting ourselves with coldly pointing out a road we did not tread, we have lost our own souls, and dragged down with ourselves a multitude of others, to plunge us by their ruin into a deeper gulf and blacker pit of everlasting shame and anguish.
So again, thirdly, let us seek to form our rules of living not by men's opinion, but by God's Word and the Church's laws. This is our only safeguard against having our own estimate of right so continually lowered that we may grow well contented with ourselves when we ought to be fullest of vehement indignation at our unworthy conduct, and of holy revenge upon our easy life.
Fourthly, let us seek by all means for a deeper and keener insight into ourselves. Let us use all lawful means to know ourselves: as well by direct self-examination, as by that often useful means, the weighing other men's opinions of us against our too easy judgments of ourselves; nay, let us not refuse or slight this aid, even when those judgments are manifestly suggested by malice and exaggerated by falsehood. For even such malignant falsehoods may guide us to some truth we know not of ourselves, of which they are the [223/224] distorted figure. He was a shrewd judge of character who said, that a weak man more easily reads a wise one than a wise one reads himself, and who added that he had himself got many of his best hints about himself from snarling people. Their words made the sore smart, but they taught how to heal it.
Lastly, and above all, let me say, Remember the wide difference between trying to set an example, and living so as to be an example. The difference is, indeed, unspeakable both as regards others and as regards ourselves. The acts which we do directly to set an example, and the words which we speak to enforce it, are comparatively few and powerless when set beside the multitude of daily acts, looks, and words affecting others which, as I said at first, are always flowing forth on others from our spiritual and moral being. Our real influence on them for good depends on the spiritual efficacy of this perpetual, unconscious exhibition and imparting of ourselves to them. Nor is the difference less as it regards ourselves. To seek to be indeed a saint and so to bless others, will lead to our salvation; to seek to seem to be a saint even for the holiest purposes, is pretty sure to end in our damnation. For to frame your outward conduct with a view to affecting others is the sure way to become a mere delusion, a moral sign-post, a deceived hypocrite. This wretched device is the secret of an outside professional religion which soon fails to deceive any one but the miserable soul it ruins. It is not to this you are called: but in very deed so to frame and fashion your own inmost life in God's sight, that it may become, by the brightness of the renewed nature, a beacon-light to others. And to win [224/225] this blessing you must learn to be a true servant of God. Depend upon it, as the most certain truth in spiritual ethics, that you can only raise other men's devotion by being, not by seeming to be, devout; you can only quicken their zeal by winning from God a life which bursts forth into natural and real acts of love to Him. Secret self-denial must deepen your character; hidden communion with God, tarryings on the mount, hours of secret prayer,--these must make your face to' shine so that, though you know not of it, men shall read its brightness. You must for yourself have wept for sin; for yourself have laid down its burden at the foot of your Master's Cross; for yourself have stooped to His yoke as if there were none but He and you in all this wide-spread world: you must for yourself have learned His lesson, and rejoiced in His salvation, and carried His cross, and then your life will, with no self-consciousness in you, be quickening and raising others
Blessed is that man whom his Lord, when He cometh, shall find so doing. Oh blessed end! Oh glorious consummation! when the humble saint of Christ who deemed most meanly of himself, shall find that through God's grace he has been the means of saving others; and that the end of his life of humble obedience has placed him suddenly amongst those truly wise "who shall shine as the brightness of the firmament:" amongst those who, having "turned many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever."