THE ORDER OF PRIESTHOOD A Sermon by Charles Winfred Douglas
Canon of Fond du Lac
np: nd, 15 pp
The text is written in the twenty-first verse of the twentieth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
In the exercise of the ministry, committed to me twelve years ago to-day in this house of, God, I am bidden by Jesus Christ through the voice of his Church to declare unto you the Duty and Office of such as come to be admitted Priests; how necessary that Order is in the Church of Christ; and also how you, the People, ought to esteem them in their Office.
The responsibility is a weighty one; for if I set before you any worthy conception of Christian Priesthood, it will be the presentation of an ideal which I have lamentably failed of attaining; so that at the very outset I must beseech your prayers, lest that by any means, When I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. God grant that both I myself and all other Priests, when we come to consider our high calling in Christ Jesus, may as Saint Paul says, "stir into flame the gift that is in us by the laying on of hands."
Let us first of all consider how the people ought to esteem Priests in their Office; and that we may profitably do so, let us think how men do esteem them. It requires no wide knowledge of the world to recognize that the word Priest is a perpetual storm center among men; one of the most abhorred, as well as one of the most revered terms in language. Countless thousands hate it with bitter intensity, as connoting a detestable intellectual, social, and moral despotism precisely parallel with that old tyranny of the Pharisees in Jerusalem which called forth from the just and gentle lips of Jesus Christ the awful words, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" To these men, the Priest is an enemy of mankind.
To other unnumbered multitudes, especially in our own land, the word Priest is of such vague import that probably the only feeling it arouses is one of mildly contemptuous toleration for a group of men esteemed as well-meaning, but condemned as being unequipped with either the intellectual training or the moral vigour to deal adequately with the pressing questions of contemporary life. To them, the Priest is an incompetent.
Still other thousands hear the word with superstitious awe. They think the Priest a being so endued with mighty magical powers to bless or to ban, so overshadowed with the very penumbra of Divinity, as to be above the homely interests and beyond the moral restrictions of common men. To them, the Priest is a demigod.
But scattered among the myriad parishes of the habitable world are millions of men, women, and children who hear the word as a benediction. To them the Priest is not an enemy of mankind, for he dwells among them in the spirit of Love, the only force which can possibly renovate and perfect human society: he is their shepherd who feeds them with the Bread of Life and guides them with heavenly wisdom; who seeks the lost, and comforts the sorrowful, and binds up the broken, and strengthens the weak and the sick. To them he is not an incompetent, for he lives among them in the spirit of Power, prompt to think and to act in every emergency of life, with deep hidden reserves of God-given strength which carry him calm through every crisis, and keep him steady and sane and sound in judgment amid all turmoil of external excitement. To them he is not a demigod, for he moves familiarly among them in the spirit of Sobering Discipline, sharing the interests, fighting the same temptations, learning obedience to the same Divine laws, needing the same helping grace, as themselves; yet disposing all his human effort in so sweet and reasonable an order as makes plain to them that he is not living in his own strength alone, but in that which comes from daily vital contact with Almighty God. To them, watching the results both of his hidden life and of his manifest work, he is preeminently
"The catholic man who hath mightily won God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain."
But if the good Priest be all this to his people in his personal relationship, he is much more in his holy Office; for he is the living evidence that Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and Man, is with them always, even unto the end of the world. He is the ambassador for Christ, with plenipotentiary powers; God beseeches them by him. When he instructs them, he teaches with authority, and not as did the scribes; because he does not "teach for doctrines the commandments of men," but the "faith once delivered to the saints"; "the form of sound words" which he has heard of the apostles of the Lamb; the whole truth into which the Church is being guided by the Holy Ghost; "the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him." When he declares to penitent sinners the pardon of all their sins, they know that the Priest's word on earth is ratified by the eternal Judge in the heavens, who hath committed unto his Priests the 'word of reconciliation', so that whose sins they do forgive are forgiven. When he stands before the Altar dressed in the seamless robe of Christ, and in Christ's stead dares to say the awful words, THIS IS MY BODY, THIS IS MY BLOOD, they know that again the Word is made flesh and dwells among them, though they behold not his glory. When he lifts up his hands to give the Blessing of the Lord over the whole congregation; or over the Christian pair new-pledged each to other in the life of Marriage; or over any man, sick or well, lofty or lowly; or even over the very matter of the earth itself, which God hath made of his own glory to return again to his glory; they know that whom he blesses is blessed, for he hath no power at all to say any word of blessing of himself, but only the word that God putteth in his mouth.
Thus faithful Christian folk not only honour the Priest for his life and work among them, but they also esteem his spiritual Office; nor ought they to dis-esteem him if in the exercise of that Office he shows such inevitable human flaws and defects as only prove his complete brotherhood with themselves and give them the privilege of showing him the same pardoning charity which they rightly expect of him.
If this last be the real nature of the esteem which the People ought to show Priests in their Office, what thought can so help you to attain it as that of the text, our blessed Lord's commission to all his ministers: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you"? Hear him speak to you of this in another place with passionate reiteration, "Truly, truly, I say unto you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that received me receiveth him that sent me."
Let us next consider how necessary the Order of Priesthood is in the Church of Christ.
It is a common thing to-day for men and women who account themselves religious, nay, Christian, to deny that there is any Church of Christ, or, indeed, any Christ, if that sacred title of the Lord Jesus be held to bear its actual and accustomed meaning. The word means, as you know, the Anointed One; and that anointing was the pouring forth of the whole Divinity of God the Eternal Son, with the various gifts of his Holy Spirit in all their fulness, upon the perfect human nature of Jesus; so that in every moment of his being he was and is the God-man. The men of whom I speak, many of whom are to-day teaching the youth in our universities, look upon Jesus of Nazareth as only a moral leader a little loftier than any other, self-deceived into making rhapsodical and baseless claims for himself; who founded no Church, but lived his brief life and passed away forever, leaving the world richer and better only by those few lofty discourses and maxims which the world of to-day esteems reasonable and comprehensible. To such men, whether they falsely call themselves Christian or no, the idea of Priesthood is an absurd anachronism no more suited to the life of our times than would be one of those great ungainly reptiles, huger and more futile than any living beast, who roamed the plains and foothills of this region untold ages ago, and whose monstrous bones, quarried from the rocks and mounted in our museums, mutely testify of a primitive imperfect world forever passed away.
But we believe in Christ: "We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God, and perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood.
Who although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by the taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of substance; but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ."
Thus to believe in Christ is to own the necessity of Priesthood; since that very union of two natures which constitutes him Christ makes him also a Priest. Saint Cyril says that he was called Christ, not because he was anointed by human hands, but because he was from eternity consecrated by the Father to be an High Priest over men.
The very principle of Priesthood is that it is a mediatorial agency revealing and uniting the Creator to that which he has made. It arose with the creation, and is a necessity of the creation. God the Son, as the Eternal Word, revealed the wonder of the Godhead to the created angels. Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh, was the revelation of God to man; and because all mankind had fallen away into sin, that revelation culminated in the offering of the adorable and atoning Sacrifice of Calvary, which gathers in one the priestly sacrifices of all time; and only as they are united with it enables them to avail aught for the bridging of the dread gulf of sin that lies between man and God,
Yes, my brothers, Jesus Christ is a Priest; a Priest forever after the Order of the Melchisedec; by the grace of God he hath tasted death for every man. Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the High priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; the great High Priest that is passed into the heavens; that is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; that was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin; that is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them; we have such an High Priest, who by one offering hath perfected forever them that are sanctified; and after he had offered one Sacrifice for sins forever, entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. And can we doubt that this Office is necessary to his Church, when we listen to the words which the great High Priest uttered after his Resurrection to those who were to be his Priests: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you"?
But even those men who deny the Christhood of Jesus urge obedience to his precepts; much more we who acknowledge him to be both God and Lord. Now what were his precepts concerning a Priesthood in his Church? Let us briefly rehearse both our Lord's acts and utterances regarding this ministry.
First he gathers men about him for daily converse and teaching. When, after many months of companionship and instruction, one of them utters the momentous confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," he responds with the promise "On this Rock"--the impregnable Rock of his Christhood--" I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He adds the amazing declaration afterward applied by him to all the Apostles: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
On the solemn night before his death, after the Passover supper whose prophecy was to be fulfilled next day by his offering upon the Cross the great sacrifice of himself, he gave them himself in his precious Body and Blood, that as Priests they might have a sacrificial Offering acceptable to the Father; and he bade them make that Offering till the end of the world: for he said, "As often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this Cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.
On the day of his Resurrection he gave them the next great priestly commission. "Peace be unto you," said he. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained."
Meeting them at an appointed place, a mountain in Galilee, still later, but before his Ascension, he said to them, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth; go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
Again, on the day of his Ascension, bidding them wait at Jerusalem for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit who should guide them into all truth, he said, "ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me * * * unto the uttermost part of the earth." And then he was received up into heaven and sat down on the right hand of God, leaving the earthly exercise of Priesthood to them: whom he had called, trained, ordained, redeemed, commissioned, and empowered to begin a sacerdotal Ministry in his Church that should offer sacrifice, forgive sins, and teach all nations whatsoever he had commanded; and that should last until the end of the world, by his own express promise, four times repeated while he was giving them these very powers, on the greatest and most solemn days of his earthly life.
Thus we see that the necessity of the Order of Priesthood in the Church of Christ is a necessity of Christ's own nature as regards his personal mediatorial office; and of his own ordaining as regards his ministers on earth. Every sacerdotal act which himself performed, he bade them do till the end of time. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
It now remains for us briefly to consider the Duty and Office of Priesthood before this our brother is admitted to it. The subject is vast, overwhelming. It touches all human life, for Priesthood, on its extensive side, is to teach all nations till the end of the world; while on its intensive side, it will inevitably search out the hidden things of a man and prove whether he is of God or no. But we cannot do amiss in looking to the words of the text for direction in approaching this great mystery. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." The mystery of Priesthood is then like the mystery of Christhood. As the Incarnation forever united Godhood and manhood in the mediatorial Person of Christ, making the life of the God-man eternally unique; so ordination imprints an ineffaceable character of life upon its recipient, whereby he enters into a special eternal relationship with God and a special eternal relationship with man; and these two relationships, with all their duties and obligations, are indissolubly united in the unique Office of Priesthood.
It is no mere task, or charge, or profession, to be undertaken or laid down, to produce tangible results or visibly to fail; but rather a new state of being, a spiritual condition, for the use or disuse of which the Priest will be eternally judged. The Priest is not a professional preacher, or a parish organic
izer, or a financial promoter, or a social dignitary. He is a person bound forever to use all his talents, of whatever kind they may be, in a special service of God so closely joined to a special service of man that they can never be for a single instant disunited. He no longer liveth unto himself. He is 'taken from among men and ordained for men in things pertaining to God', to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. He is to be the representative and the visible revelation of Christ to his flock, and to bear all his people before God with his voice and in his heart.
Think first of his Office on its Godward side. He must be much alone with God, in silence; in silence even from his own thoughts: just listening to hear the divine still small voice which will most surely speak each word that he needs to hear.
Again, he must be much alone with God in the glad work of praise, though often he will have the joy of leading his congregation in that angelic privilege. But day by day, sick or well, whether overwhelmed with his work in the crowded city, or exiled to a weary waiting in some remote and desolate hamlet of the plains, or amid the marvellous beauty and interest which surround us here among the mountains; twice each day of his whole life he is bound to recite the appointed offices of praise in Morning and Evening Prayer; and he will doubtless desire to lift up his heart to his heavenly Father in praise at other times, either in his own words, or in forms consecrated by the age-long use of holy men in God's Church.
And at least on each Lord's Day and each Holy Day of the Prayerbook Calendar, he must approach still closer to God; not only listening to him as do men on earth, and praising him as do the angels in heaven, but also drawing near to the very throne of God itself in the character and person of Christ, to offer the eternal Sacrifice of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. What dread awe, what deep love, what joy, what humility must accompany that service! Like Saint Mary, his word bids the eternal Word dwell among us. Like Saint Joseph, he prepares the vessels and the veilings which shelter the Son of God. Like Saint John, his hands have handled the Word of life. With what profound self-abasement should the Priests of God realize that as once with his Apostles, so even now Jesus Christ is among them as one that serveth, coming at their behest; even though their unwatchful minds wander from his sacred presence to the things of earth.
Then, as God's representative, ambassador, and prophet, in the very Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, he must speak the truth of God; not his own imaginings or theories, but the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ, unalloyed by any rationalistic sophistries, unswayed by any currents of popular opinion, unweakened by any yielding to human opposition.
He must from time to time stand and give the Blessing of Almighty God with his lips; continually he must be seeking to give the greater blessing of regeneration in the Sacrament of the New Birth to all the unbaptised he can reach; wherein, through his ministry, their sins are washed away by the infusion of God's grace; and for those who fall from that blessed state, he must, when they come to him for the benefit of Absolution, sit in the very seat of judgment, and in the place of the Son of man judge and forgive sins.
All these duties the Priest may perform, even with a good and honest intention, and yet fail grievously in his Priesthood, if he neglects to remember that his special service of God is absolutely and always bound and united to his special service to men. His Godward duties may be, and ought to be, as a foretaste of the joys of heaven to him; but every such privilege is his because he is also the representative of God to his people; and his ministering to them must be part of everything he does. The solitary meditation alone with God is not for his private delight, but that he may gain heavenly wisdom to be the shepherd of his flock; the many Offices said in seemingly lonely praise must rise to heaven for the busy, the sick, the ignorant, the sinful, and for all who are anywise kept from praising God, as well as for himself. With the holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist he must not only offer himself, his soul and body, but he must also bear with him in earnest intercession the souls and bodies of his congregation, of the absent as well as of the present; and having thus carried them before the mercy-seat of God, he must straightway go down among them to labour in a life of loving, patient helpfulness. That the Blessing of God may sound true on his lips, he will freely give out his own strength and love and toil to bless them. That he may know his ministration to the sacramental Body of Christ upon the Altar to be loving, he will be eager to minister lovingly to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoners; whom to serve is to serve the Lord Jesus. He will be very patient with the unreasonable and the ignorant; very firm with the weak and the discouraged; very earnest in his effort to gain some foothold with the sinful, chiefly by recognizing and appealing to the good that is in them. He will not limit his ministry to his own congregation, but will be equally ready to serve all men within his parish, good or bad, religious or irreligious.
The chief mark of a good Priest will be a deep desire to help souls; and he will never forget that "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
Thus the Priest ought not to be separated from men and their interests by his holy Office, as, alas, he so often is. He ought to be, and is, separated from all merely worldly activities, precisely that he may be the more closely united to all men, as well as to God.
But amid all these manifold duties of the Office one especially must never be neglected; and that is the constant preparation of the message of God which he is to deliver to his congregation week by week. To it must go his best energies of mind and heart. Woe is him, if he preach not the Gospel. No other blessing that he can give his people, save only the Sacraments, can equal this. And his chief assistance thereto must not be his reference to compendiums of theology or sermons in miniature or homiletic periodicals: but rather, "diligence in reading and learning the Holy Bible, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same." Note, that this is not reading and learning about the Holy Scriptures, but reading and learning themselves; and it ought to be daily done with earnest prayer and with scrupulous application of every power of mind and heart, until not the Priest's thought alone, but his very language is formed by familiarity with the word of God. Then may he know that the Holy Ghost is speaking through him to the souls of men, and that in his ministry of preaching also, the Divine and the human are become one.
Thus we see that as man and God are united in one Christ, so the Godward side and the manward side of the Priest's duty, perfectly united, forever stamp him as partaking the Mediatorial Office. As Christ was sent by the Father, so the Priest is sent by Christ.
My brother, now come hither to be admitted Priest, to this Office and to these duties you believe that you are truly called of God. You have been tested as to the reality of your call in the lower Order of the ministry, and have prepared with care and patience, with diligent study and with earnest prayer to receive the great Commission now to be given you. Accept it with humble awe, not with dread; for God giveth us not a spirit of fearfulness, but of Power and of Love and of Sober Discipline: and with the weighty responsibilities of Priesthood he gives the treasures of his supporting grace in the Sacrament of Holy Order.
Begin your devotional life in your new character this very day; and remember that your life as a Priest will determine to many a man his estimate of the priestly Order, for few have esteemed Priests as tyrannical, incompetent, or superstitious without the fault of some Priest's life in mind. Live close to God, but moreover live close to men; you are to be Christ to men, that you may win men to Christ; and having won them, feed and restore them with the holy Sacraments of life, and nourish them with the word of God.
And finally, whenever doubt and fear, weariness and difficulty confront you, or the inevitable anguish of body and mind which is the common lot of man, remember that you are called to share not only the Priesthood of Christ, but also his Sacrifice: and go on bravely in your ministry of bearing and doing, comforted and supported by his words daily, hourly spoken to you by the Holy Ghost, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
Fili dura, et aspera sunt, per quae itur ad Deum. Oportet te relinquere mundum et sequi christum crucifixum.