THE CHOICE OF A BISHOP
Preached at the Opening of the
DIOCESE OF CENTRAL NEW YORK,
Nov. 11, 1868,
A. CLEVELAND COXE,
Digitized by Richard Mammana from a copy supplied by Meg Smith, Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, 2011
And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two Thou hast chosen. Acts i.
For the circumstances of mercy in which we are here assembled before God, His Holy Name be praised. Our great Synod has just closed its important work, with every token of the Divine blessing. From all parts of the republic, from Maine to California, from the Lakes to the Gulf, our tribes came up and were gathered together as a city at unity with itself. Our countrymen saw in that unity an example nowhere else presented in the land. An intelligent Laity representing, in an eminent degree, the piety, the learning and the social culture of the Nation, were there from every State and missionary region; men of widely-differing sentiments and antecedents, but all harmonized and working together like brothers, in the bonds of spiritual fellowship. We may well rejoice in such a Laity as was there beheld, vying with their reverend pastors not only in works of the noblest practical utility, but in the enforcement of theological principles and the maintenance of grand Catholic verities. And it was gratifying to see the Clergy, thus sustained and encouraged, meeting all the responsibilities of their position, and pressing forward the standard of their King. How remarkable the answer to your prayers, which God graciously vouchsafed. We met in circumstances of unwonted excitement, and with much to disturb all minds, and to awaken grave anxieties. Yet, never was a Council of our Church more free from everything like discord and confusion. Not one division, in either House, on partisan principles; not one angry collision; not one symptom of discord and alienation; such were our tokens of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
 The House of Bishops very wisely closes its doors against external influences, and holds its counsels in sacred fraternal confidence. Its record, however, is not secret; its acts are immediately made known. I may venture to speak of that venerable body, in those terms of respect for my right reverend brethren, with which their character and conduct impress me as a younger member of the House, and as fully sensible of my own unworthiness. I return to my diocesan duties from that august assembly, truly strengthened and refreshed. Great questions were discussed; great principles were fully examined and sustained, and a delightful harmony of feeling and of thought was impressed on all our work. The Holy Comforter was with us, according to the faithful promise of Him who has sent us, even as the Father sent the Son.
A holy Confidence possesses me, as the result; and I am inspired with fresh hope and faith that we are laying strong foundations for the religion that is to prevail in our land. Its triumphs are not to be immediate, indeed; its prevalence is to come "not with observation." To other bodies may be left the noise and demonstration of worldly success and of political power. To others we resign the temporary advantage of money and lands artfully obtained from the public taxes. It is impossible for us to contend with those who thrive by such means, so far as temporal successes and momentary gains are the result. But the green bay-tree flourishes only for a time. Let us work on for Christ, in His way and with simple dependence on His power, to crown all with His favour. When I observe the fidelity of our Clergy to principle, and their patient adherence, in hard poverty and amid manifold trials, to the grand primitive system and truth of the Gospel, I am assured that such efforts will not he in vain. As a Class, they are known and read of all men, as simply devoted to their Master's cause. With unflagging zeal they labour "in season and out of season," for the spread of a pure Gospel. They shun popular arts and worldly discussions, and are content to be men of prayer, teachers of little children, and earnest preachers of the Faith.
Alone, in a land almost entirely divorced from Catholic Christianity, they struggle on in devoted loyalty to the Crown of Jesus and to the laws of His kingdom. And Jesus is with [4/5] them; the mustard seed is becoming a tree. It has already grown beyond all the hopes that animated our brave fathers in darker days. And again, my brethren, we may take courage and go on to fresh victories in the spirit of that scripture—"In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength."
Five new Dioceses, and three organized Missions, are among the fruits of our Synodical work. Do not imagine that little was done, because so much was wisely left undone, after mature consultation. One of the most important measures of Apostolic wisdom was a negative result:—"It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden." It is a lesson greatly needed by our countrymen, that much legislation is no proof of progress. To examine all things thoroughly, and to resolve that there is no need of new laws, or new measures, is a token of health and strength. But, what has been done is in the right direction. Instead of enacting new canons, we are lengthening our cords and strengthening our stakes. You are here, today, in response to what has been done. It is a strong response. It denotes energy and action. We are moving, and we mean to be soberly and charitably aggressive. The spirit of our late council was just this: a calm and hopeful instinct of growth and wholesome development. We expect, not speedily, but ultimately, to become the religion of American Christianity. From the animating counsels of such an assembly, I come, then, to this your Primary Diocesan Council, and I find you already full grown. I greet you as a young giant, "rejoicing to run his course." It is not presumption to say that on your action, at this time, depends not only your future prosperity as a diocese, but also much of the future spiritual history of this whole region. Though the fact that I meet you as now no more your Diocesan startles me, and is not without its pain, I am so warmed and inspired by what I see before me, that I have room in my heart for little else than gratitude to God. Who that beholds this gathering can have any doubt of your right to be a Diocese and of your ability to sustain its responsibilities?
The spirits of DeLancey and Hobart seem to be with us today, rejoicing in this development of their earlier work. [5/6] And now you are about to choose a first Bishop, who is to be also your chief Missionary, for this is still a Missionary Diocese; "there remaineth very much land to be possessed." It is this fact that has called for your organization as a diocese. This region is waiting and willing to receive the Apostolic Church. Old prejudices have given way; new feelings have been inspired by actual experience of our influence. The times demand these new efforts, and you go forth to the rural districts with vast advantages from what has been already gained in towns and central missions. Your numerous cities, small, but affluent and full of enterprise, are the characteristic feature of the Diocese, and furnish a noble base for your operations. Encircling these, as centres, are great fields for missionary work, where souls shall be willing in the day of Christ's power; where they wait His illuminating beams, like the dews whose "birth is from the Womb of the morning." From the shore of great Ontario, from the Thousand Isles of the St. Lawrence to the windings, of the Susquehanna; along the bright thread of the Unadilla, and among the sparkling Lakes which give grace and beauty to your geography; from these banks of the Mohawk up to the waters of Seneca, which make not the barrier but the link between the two Dioceses that have so long been one—in all these regions there are souls unfed by grace, households not in covenant with God; yes, and villages where the sound of the Church bell is unknown, where Christ is seldom or never invited to meet with even "two or three." For these you are to choose a Missionary and an Apostle. Such is the inspiring thought by which your choice must be determined. You need a bishop filled with the primitive spirit and seeking souls for His reward. The American bishop must commend himself by tokens like these to our intelligent people. Nothing less can command their respect. It is a mistake to suppose that they are imposed upon by worldly parade and ostentation. We want no baronial bishops here. We bless God that we are not encumbered by the pomp and perils of the European Episcopate. Our simplicity is our strength. The purely primitive position of our bishops will prove to be a main element of their ultimate success; and I call you, therefore, to a review of the Scriptural [6/7] example, presented in the text, in order to qualify you for the deeply solemn responsibilities now coming upon you, as electors of a bishop in the Church of God.
The first idea with which the text must strike us, is, that God should be recognized as having already chosen for us, and that our effort should be simply to know His will. Even when inspired Apostles were the Electoral College, they submitted everything to the Divine forecast and provision. They used their own judgment only as guided by certain fixed laws. They appealed first to Holy Scripture, and they laid down the limits within which the selection should be made; and then, led by their own conscientious convictions, they settled upon two men and committed the issue to the Lord. They asked only to be taught which of the twain He had chosen.
It is probable, from the language used by St. Peter, that these two were selected from among the Seventy; and if so, we see with what prudence and discretion the character of seventy men must have been weighed and estimated. And such a Seventy! The chosen of Christ himself, at the first, and after that, for three years, companying with him and with the Twelve Apostles, "all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them."
It is true that we do not, literally, cast lots, as did the Eleven in the case of Matthias. But if we enter upon the election of a Bishop in the primitive spirit, we virtually submit all to the direction of the Divine wisdom, as they did; for, if without machinery and party measures, each man casts his vote in the fear of God, praying that the hearts of others, as well as his own, may be directed from above, and awaiting the issue in holy submission to Him who has thus been made the umpire and director of all, I ask, in what do our votes differ from the Apostolic lots? The cases would not be parallel had no element of choice and human judgment been admitted; but when the Apostles had chosen two, in the devout exercise of their own reason, I suppose they taught us, by casting lots, the simple principle of depending, after all, upon the Holy Spirit; of limiting our own choice by a certain reference of all to Him; and of refraining, in this spirit of faith and love, from [7/8] all those self-confident and worldly contrivances on which the worldly-wise rely for carrying their measures and their men.
It is not often that circumstances permit an election to the Episcopate to be made the subject of special thought in a preliminary sermon. From no other than a bishop can appropriate counsels in such a case proceed; and ordinarily, in a vacant diocese, no bishop can, with propriety, be introduced for such a purpose. In my opinion, this occasion is one on which all would concede to the preacher the privilege of speaking on this important subject with freedom and solemnity; and I accept the privilege with the greater confidence, because of the entire affection and concord which have existed between us in the relations so lately ended. I am also free in this matter from all personal entanglements. Nobody has heard from my lips any word of influence, or interference, in behalf of any man. My own wishes and desires have been kept secret in my own heart, and committed only to the Lord, in entire submission to His will. I speak then for eternal principles, and not for any man. I urge you to look at the grand considerations which ought always to govern such a work; and I commend myself, in so doing, "to every man's conscience, in the fear of God."
In the text, a human element as well as a Divine, is to be recognized, in the work of choosing a Bishop. Men must use their own reason and judgment, guided, first, by an appeal to Scripture, and second, by certain limits as to men. St. Peter referred to a prophetic psalm as bearing on the case, and he limited the range of choice to those who had been matured and qualified in the apostolic company, and under the eye of the Master. Among such, they chose two men, and then submitted the ultimate decision to the Lord.
In like manner, we are to be guided by the Holy Scriptures as to the general principles of an election; and as to the class of men among whom we are to look for the material and quality of bishops. It is evident from the context, that we are to enter upon the election as upon a religious act, from which all worldly and alien motives are to be conscientiously eliminated. Then, among the presbyters we are to look for those who have profited most in the school of Christ; who have "companied [8/9] with Him," and with the Apostles, in holy living and blessed experience of pastoral work. And we are to choose such men as were the Apostles themselves, at least in some degree; men of marked character and entire devotion, like the fishermen; or if possible, like St. Paul himself, that "vessel of election," who had profited alike in the schools of human and sacred learning, and to whose superexcellent gifts was added the humility by which he felt himself to be "less than the least of all saints."
Observe, then, this general rule, that even of deacons, it is written—"Let these also first be proved, then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless." Even for the diaconate, a man should have antecedents; they looked out men "full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom." For the presbyterate, the deacons were not judged eligible till they had "used the office of a deacon well, and purchased to themselves a good degree." If such are the safeguards thrown around the lower orders of the sacred ministry, is it not sinful to disregard them, in choosing a successor of the Apostles? Ought not the elect of a diocese to be a man of known and approved antecedents, a man found faithful in inferior ministries and commended, in some good degree, by eminent services, and by usefulness not to be gainsayed, to the love and veneration of those over whom he is to be placed in chief authority?
The three Pastoral Epistles are designed to teach bishops how to behave themselves in their office; hence they are a, guide to the principles on which bishops should be chosen. They are addressed to two of the immediate successors of the Apostles—the "angels" of Ephesus and Crete, and they contain explicit statements of the qualifications of those whom they should select to be Presbyter-bishops or Rectors under them. Now the qualifications of these Presbyter-bishops, or local pastors, are nearly identical, on a limited scale, with those of Diocesan Bishops, or Angels, that is Apostles of Dioceses, so that the Church reads, in the office for ordaining a Bishop, a passage which strictly describes the Parish-Priest. This is not because of any poverty of Holy Scripture, in teaching us what Diocesan bishops should be, for the only difficulty is of an opposite character. To learn that fully, we must read the three Pastoral [9/10] Epistles entire, besides the whole of our Lord's words to the Seven Angels of the Asiatic Churches. Taking the pastoral character, then, in its generic form, we may say that what is required of the Presbyter-bishop, in some good degree, is just what is demanded of the Diocesan bishop on a larger scale. Commentators and canonists state them generally under three heads: (1,) maturity of age, (2,) soundness in the faith, and (3,) sanctity in manner of life. In the Ordinal, these three are summed up in the single sentence: "We present unto you this godly and well-learned man to be ordained and 'consecrated Bishop."
First, then, he is to be not a novice, but a man in Christ Jesus; Second, he is to be a well-learned man; and Third, he is to he a godly man. Such were the qualifications of those primitive shepherds, who literally gave their lives for the sheep. Such the "Trim and Thummim, the lights and perfections, that glittered in their reverend persons, like the precious stones in the breastplate of Aaron. It was to the times when such bishops were called of God, without worldly and disturbing influences, that darker ages have been forced to look back in the spirit of a popular epigram:
Bishop of gold with staff of wood,
So it was when times were good:
Alas! what times we now behold,
Bishop of wood with staff of gold.
Before passing to a review in series of these points of Episcopal qualification, let me go back a little for a more general survey of the subject. May the Holy' Ghost sanctify our hearts and minds in view of the immediate practical use we are called to make of His heavenly teachings.
Haste and impatience are unfortunate characteristics of a young and impulsive nation, and Americans are in danger of suffering from these, even in the solemnity of electing a successor of the Apostles. Let us pause then to reflect upon a matter too often overlooked: that we enter upon a twofold work, in making choice of a Bishop, and that a candidate must always be weighed with reference to twofold responsibility. To elect a chief pastor, just suited to a diocese, is a grave matter far beyond what is commonly imagined, but let us [10/11] consider, also, that we are also introducing into the Episcopate of the Church Catholic, a new element, and adding to our House of Bishops a cipher or a power. This is too often left out of view, the immediate and local object absorbing the entire faculty of vision. Now the very man for a Missionary work, pure and simple, may be wholly unfit for the counsel and direction which are needed in a bishop, and which are required above all, from the rulers of the Church, in their collective authority. The American bishop must combine, in some good degree, both requisites. Unless he does so, he may be a Hooker or a Whitfield, but he is not the man for the peculiar duties of our Episcopate. Besides, we are entering on an age of greatly enlarged demands upon the Episcopal body. Your bishop may be called to a conference at Lambeth, or possibly, to important negotiations with Latin reformers or Greek ecclesiastics. Our Church is already a city that cannot be hid, and even in our own land is attracting the closest attention of keen and censorious observers, as well as of friendly but anxious ones. Surely, at such a time nobody should be added to our House of Bishops who cannot contribute something to its dignity, its learning and its practical wisdom. It is a just tribute to the Lower House, to say, that it embodies so much of varied character and attainment that it is no easy task to keep the Episcopal House at such a steady level of relative merit, as is essential to the position of Fathers in God. A dark day will it be for the Church, when only a conventional superiority shall be conceded to the House of Bishops; when it shall be "Right Reverend," only by courtesy. For the degradation of that House would be the humiliation of every priest, and of every layman, in our communion. Its decay would be the dry-rot in our hull. The moment it is felt, even if not uttered, that it embodies less of dignity, attainment, moral worth and weight of character than the other House, the relations of upper and lower will be reversed, and till, after many years, an equilibrium at least is regained, the Episcopate will be despised, and with it the Church will sink into insignificance.
In the Episcopate, according to the grand old Catholic maxim, consists the visible frame and fabric of the Church. [11/12] The Episcopate of any particular Church, therefore, is in a measure its personality; it is that Church as men see it in face and head, in its characteristic features, in its expressions of intelligence or idiocy, of moral deformity or of excellence. Where elections are free, as with us, it must be the exponent of the ideas, the ethical tone, the social culture, the spiritual life, the Church sentiment and principle, in short, of the actual condition, of the whole Church. The Savoyard sophist, [De Maistre] has remarked sharply, with his wonted indifference to the woes of the human race, that every people has just such a government as it deserves. But this is no sophism where a people has the free choice of its rulers, and it applies powerfully to our Church. In a sense every Diocese has just the bishop it deserves to have. If they choose a man whose character is known, they have their will; if they choose a man unknown and untried, it is God's wonderful mercy, if they do not smart for it. "Like priest, like people," says the popular adage; but the word of God gives it in more logical order, "Like people, like priest, I will punish them for their ways and reward them their doings."
The American Episcopate, as I have hinted, requires to be provided for as such. A very good bishop for the sixth century, is not necessarily the man for the nineteenth; and one who might have adorned an English bishopric in the days of George the Third, will not answer, in these days, for any bishopric in our Church. We are a missionary Church in the midst of an imperfectly evangelized people. Nobody is fit to be an American bishop who does not understand the American people, their grave faults as well as their remarkable and creditable distinctions. More than that, the bishop must have tact in an extraordinary degree, to meet the peculiar difficulties of his position. To be a Catholic, and yet to make everybody feel that Catholicity is irreconcilable with Romanism; to maintain a genuine sympathy with all that is genuine in the Protestantism of the nation, and yet to exhibit it in connection with principles older, deeper and more lasting than Protestantism; to be a lover of good men, and to love what is good in every sect and body of men, and yet [12/13] never to compromise the Church's living and changeless principles of order, derived from Christ and His Apostles; always to speak the truth, and yet always to " speak the truth in love;" alas! "who is sufficient for these things?" And yet such sufficiency, in a good measure, is a prime requisite for an American bishop. Grace only can give these qualifications; but, let no man be chosen, in whom Grace has not matured and proved these requisites, to some appreciable extent.
When we consider that a bishop, wherever he goes, reflects honour or disgrace, on every clergyman and layman in his Diocese; when we recollect that for twenty, thirty or even fifty years, he must be alike the mainspring and the balance-wheel of his diocese, or else, for all that time, its clog, its hinderance, its fatal impediment; when we call to mind what troubles have been entailed upon the Church by the election of one such man as Paul of Samosata; when we reflect what has grown out of venal and political elections to the great Patriarchates; when we recognize the low tone which a Hoadley infused into English churchmanship, even in the days of a Wilson and a Beveridge; while we yet smart from the wounds inflicted by him who has rendered the name of Natal a byword and a blot, and while other scars might be made to bleed afresh, by the bare utterance of names less foreign to our ears; I ask, may we not well tremble to feel that we are going to cast a vote on which depend countless blessings, or sorrows unspeakable, to the flock of Christ? Is there any one here who has failed to qualify himself by prayer, for such a responsible part? Is there an elector here who would presume to import into this sacred Work, the unsanctified motives and personal considerations which too often disgrace a popular canvass? If such there be, let him feel that, like Uzzah, he is putting an unhallowed hand to the Ark, and committing a sacrilege, at the very moment when he professes to be performing an act of religion.
1. Our first consideration is that of maturity. Not that it is so indispensable as learning and godliness, but that no mere neophyte can be presumed to have deep-rooted qualities like these. It is primary, because the material for Bishops is not to be sought, in any ordinary case, except among men; men [13/14] as distinguished from the mere youth, whatever his promise, or unripened merit. We have no right to try hazardous experiments, or to violate the plain requirements of Scripture, under the illusion of prismatic hopes and expectations, or in a presumptuous confidence that things may turn out well, notwithstanding. We are to choose among the Elders. A Presbyter, as the word implies, is one of ripe age, who has grown by experience and patience in a lower degree, that is in the Diaconate. "Not a novice," says Holy Writ, "lest being lifted up with pride, he fall, into the condemnation of the devil." If this be required of the parochial bishop, or Rector, how much more of the Father of Presbyters, the guide and pastor of pastors, the leader and ruler of a Diocese, a counsellor of the Church, and a successor of the Apostles!
Our Divine Lord continued in his obscure life, as a layman of Galilee, till he began to be about thirty years of age. One would suppose, from such a fact, that so many at least might properly be required as the years of any one admitted to the seat of the Elders. I wish it were so, and that no ministry above that of the Diaconate were ever conferred upon a younger man. Our fundamental fault is the practical lack of deacons. The Eldership, or Presbyterate, is not seen in its true distinctions; it is not earned by a proper novitiate. Let us have a genuine Diaconate, in which all ministers not yet thirty years of age, may "purchase to themselves the good degree" of the Priesthood. Let them be ready for Missionary service, like St. Stephen, and let them forbear a rash and improvident use of, their lawful right to be married. Let their admission to the Priesthood be dependent upon the result of rigorous examinations in the original Scriptures and other parts of theological science, and especially, on their record as Deacons, and their unblemished personal character. "Let these also first be proved," says Scripture. Even the Diaconate must be bestowed with caution, and after trial and proof." Lay hands suddenly on no man." When these inspired rules are reduced to system, then will the Presbyter's be a name of greater honour; and bishops will be commensurately respectable, being selected with no less care from an order of thoroughly furnished and well-ripened men.
 If the Presbyter should be thirty years old, what is maturity for the Episcopate? The Apostolic Canons prescribe fifty years. It used to be rare in the Church of England to see a Bishop under forty. This is suggested, by many considerations, as a proper medium; it is not too great an age for action; it is the earliest period of life that suggests that kind of respect which is merited by experience. Ordinarily, how is it possible for a man's character to be well known, at an earlier period? Till a man has been tried in responsible positions and has passed through the perils of early manhood, few are willing to give into his hands the more weighty temporal interests of communities, and the guardianship of great estates. But what are these to the sacred interests confided to a bishop? How can we know of a man of no antecedents, that he is not selfish, sordid, peevish, vindictive, or the like; or that he is positively judicious, patient and inflexibly just, impartial and charitable? The Episcopate is the highest trust that can be committed to poor, frail, humanity. What right have we to neglect those clergymen who have been long and usefully employed, and concerning whom the universal suffrage would be—"he is worthy;" and to select, for this tremendous stewardship, men absolutely untried; the choice of whom must shake all ideas of order and gradation, and stimulate mere boys with ambition to be rulers, and with the illicit and roving imagination that, without merit in subordinate positions, the highest honours of the Church, may, at any moment, be lavished upon them? Against what I thus urge I can imagine only two rejoinders, worthy to be called arguments.
First, it may be said, forcibly, that we have had instances of very able men advanced to the Episcopate at an early age. But I have allowed for exceptions, already. I am only arguing that the exceptions should never be so many as to become a modification of the law. I concede that we have had, in our own Church, admirable results from very hazardous experiments; but such have not always been the rewards of experiment, even in our own brief history. When a coadjutor is to be chosen to a wise but aged bishop, whose life may fairly be regarded as yet unspent, and who may live long to afford [15/16] counsel and direction; or when a Missionary bishop is needed for regions demanding the soldier qualities that are to be found, ordinarily, only in comparative youth; in these, or in like cases, the exception is made by the nature of things. But such exceptions confirm the rule. I venture to say, no competent man ever entered upon the Episcopate at thirty, who did not feel at forty that it would have been better for the Church, and incomparably better for himself, had he been allowed to gather wisdom and experience in a parochial cure, and to ripen in all respects, for five years longer, at the least. For one, I bless God, every day, that He placed not this burthen on my shoulders till I had learned what are the Presbyter's cares and anxieties, by many years of experience. Almost daily, I am obliged to draw on those experiences, in giving counsel to my brethren; and I often ask myself, how, but for long familiarity with the cases in which I am called to act as arbiter and judge, I could venture to give a decision or to expect that it should be respected? I venture to say, besides, that I thank God, every day, that He called me no sooner from the far happier portion of a parish priest; a portion and lot which no sensible presbyter will ever exchange, by his own choice, for the burden of the Episcopate.
The other rejoinder might be, that Timothy was but a young man; the Apostle said to him, "let no man despise thee," "let no man despise thy youth." This, again, is an exceptional case, which only confirms the rule. This very warning, so repeated and enforced, shows that a youthful Episcopate must be marvellously well-ballasted, not to provoke contempt. Hence St. Paul's solicitude, and hence these two Pastoral Epistles, so minute and practical in laying down the rule of the young bishop's life. But, consider, moreover, these two things: Timothy was called by prophecy, that is by a miraculous designation, unknown in these days; and he was called to be St. Paul's mere suffragan, or coadjutor. He entered on his full diocesan career, not till the death of the Apostle, and after the wonderful schooling he had received from that great Master. Remember, too, the remarkable training he had received from childhood, "knowing the Holy Scriptures," from the lips of his mother Eunice and from his [16/17] grandmother Lois. When exceptional cases like that of Timothy are seen in the Church, once more, it will be safe, no doubt, to plead the precedent. Till then, I say, the exception must confirm the rule. Miracles are not to be looked for; but God's written word enjoins us to seek for the successors of Apostles among the Presbyters who have ruled well already, and who have passed the perils of youth and of a mere novitiate. Those perils, let me add, will be greater than ever, if even the candidate for Orders is to be stimulated by visions of speedy promotion to the mitre and the Episcopal throne; if immoderate aims and longings are to displace patient labour and contented humility; or if a noble and generous ardour in the path of attainment is to be dampened and extinguished, by the frequent spectacle of honours squandered upon mediocrity, and of power lodged in hands which have achieved nothing for Christ and His Church.
2. The Bishop should be a well-learned man. This qualification is in danger of being overlooked, in a practical age, because, in public affairs, unlearned men have so often been found eminently useful and successful. But the Bishop is the guide and teacher of his Diocese, and even the Clergy must depend on him, in some degree, as a leader in opinion and doctrine. The examination of candidates for Orders, and much previous direction in their studies; the constant resolution of doubtful cases, and the prompt appeal to precedent and authority which are requisite to sustain his decision; the preparation of Charges to the Clergy, which should always be worthy of a Chief Pastor, and from which, as addressed to learned men, they have a right to expect the fruits of research and of attainment; all these requirements of his office make learning indispensable to a bishop. Besides, it is demanded of him, by Holy Scripture; he must he "apt to teach;" he must be able to "convince gainsayers;" he must be "thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
There was a time, and I well remember its effect on my own youthful mind and heart, when the bishops of our Church, though few, were a class of men universally looked up to and venerated by the popular sentiment, as persons of a superior sort, even among men of eminent sanctity and great [17/18] attainments. Perhaps some of them were overestimated, in these respects; but they had been chosen from among men of worth and learning, in consideration of something, at the least, which qualified them for authority and for leadership. They were, moreover, men who knew how to bear themselves in office, with dignity and self-respect, not inconsistent with great suavity, and consideration for others. They were men of the old-school; they bore, without affectation and without self-assertion, the great honours of their office, and they allowed no man to despise them. Ours is a more practical age, and we look for bishops among progressive and active men; but should we, on that account, make nothing of those great qualifications, and those minor proprieties of priestly character, which receive the impress of the Episcopate as something con, natural and appropriate? When I recall the saintly White, the intrepid Hobart, the fatherly Griswold, and others of their times not less worthy of their fame, I cannot but pray that from the Clergy of these stirring days, there may always be chosen for their successors men not wholly unlike them in those qualities which command respect and enforce authority, and which make all men feel that there is in the Episcopate, something which all men should reverence and acknowledge in those who are chosen to bear it.
And here let me call attention to one passage of Holy Writ, which, if applicable to any pastor, is eminently important in a bishop. "Moreover," says St. Paul, "he must have a good report of them which are without, lest, he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." As a Church, we occupy a missionary field, and are working upon the mind and hearts of those without, in order to bring them within the ark of the Apostolic Church. To thousands of our countrymen, the office of a Bishop is a thing practically unknown; to thousands it is known only through prejudice and a cloud of misapprehension. Would it be wise, in selecting our bishops, to choose those who are not of good report among "them which are without," simply because they are of no report or antecedents among ourselves? Without, are many men of learning, and sanctity, and of venerable age, some of whom are looking with great interest and with growing approbation, to our [18/19] Apostolic system. But this system must be interpreted to them by our own acts. If we show that we do not esteem the Episcopate highly, why should they? If we give it to men undistinguished among ourselves; without a history or record; without intellectual powers or Marked attainments; without abilities known and read of all men; I ask, how can we expect that "those who are without," should hear them with respect, attach weight to their opinions, or be led to covet a place under their Episcopal charge? We may assume a haughty independence, indeed, and say that all this "is nothing to them"; but such is not the spirit of the precept. "Those who are without" are the objects of our mission, and may be made the subjects of a higher illumination by our means. We cannot hide from our own eyes the fact that painful conflicts among ourselves have impaired the external influence of the Episcopate. The necessities of the times demand a work of repair and restoration, in this respect. We must give to our chief seats, "judges as at the first, and counsellors as at the beginning." It is important to our holy cause, in it missionary aspects, if in none other, that those whom we invest with the ancient and hallowed office of a bishop, whom we place in the highest authority, whom we call "Right Reverend," and address as "Fathers in God," should be men whom none can despise. It would be sad, indeed, should it ever come to such a pass, that nothing but a tinkling cymbal should be heard in response to titles so sonorous, and so full of import as to the character which alone can sustain them.
Sound learning, then, adorning the Christian character, and giving force to pastoral experience, must more and more be regarded as indispensably requisite in the material for a bishop. An illiterate Episcopacy disgraces the Copts and Abyssinians, not without some excuse; but in America, and in a Church derived from the illustrious Church of England, it is frightful even to imagine such degeneracy as possible. But I am alarmed by the downward course of things about us. Worth, learning and genuine eminence are not much thought of, even in selecting Senators, and judges, and Foreign Ambassadors. I tremble lest the spirit of the outside world should come into the sanctuary and defile us in the [19/20] choice of Bishops. True, the Episcopal office can never be degraded, not even by the unworthiness of those who may be chosen to bear it. Its origin, we believe, is Divine. It is ancient, and honourable above all human distinctions. Base men may be thrust into it; wicked men may climb and intrude into it; princes may confer it upon corrupt and servile courtiers, or a thoughtless populace may elevate to its dignities the mere puppet of their caprices; but history proves that nothing can destroy it. God, who is its author, has so ordered events that it has always been adorned and glorified by true successors of the Apostles, and so long as time shall last, a pure and faithful bishop must be a sight precious in the eyes of men and of God. How many are the illustrious names connected with this office! For eighteen centuries bishops have been foremost in the work of Evangelization and progress. Their sacred order has been made beautiful by all the triumphs of the Gospel, and in the advance of human knowledge. Martyrs and saints have borne it with "the spirit of glory and of power resting upon them." Great issues in the world's history have been controlled by their fidelity to Truth and Right; and the wisest and noblest of philosophers have acknowledged in them the guides of great nations and the lights of the world. A true bishop, then, no man can despise. Let so great an office be bestowed on the man "whom God has chosen," and God himself will shed upon him at least some of those excellent gifts which gave to the fishermen of Galilee a power over others which kings and Caesars were unable to withstand.
3. The Bishop must be a godly man. It would be a mere truism to say that, without holiness of life, the most brilliant parts and accomplishments would entirely fail to qualify a man for this office. Look you out, therefore, a man "full of the Holy Ghost," and of that wisdom which cometh only from a walk with God. The professional clergyman, though he may be able to attract crowds to hear him, and to retain the respect of a congregation, is not the man for the self-denials and missionary toils of the Episcopate. For this work, in America, we require Leightons, and Kens, and Wilsons; men of fervent zeal, and elevated spiritual affections; men of [20/21] the flaming heart as well as of the enlightened head. We need sanctity of manners, and those refined and hallowed instincts, which belong to a regenerate nature, daily renewed by the Holy Ghost. All the more important is it, that our bishops should be patterns and ensamples to the flock, in these respects, because the times are so bad; because the moral tendency of the day is downward; because, in public men, so generally, we see the reverse of a sincere regard for Truth and for the precepts of the Most High; because so few, who occupy high places in the land, take any pains to cultivate the graces of Christian character. It has often been remarked that a truly good bishop, by mere force of example, brings up, and forms to an elevated standard, the character of the Clergy over whom he presides. They, in turn, by their purity of living, sanctify the minds and morals of the Laity. A holy bishop, therefore, is of unspeakable advantage to his diocese, while he furnishes to "them which are without," an argument, not to be gainsayed, in favour of his doctrine and his Church.
Historical facts demonstrate that elevation to the Episcopate brings out whatever is most characteristic in a man. Thus, one who is essentially weak and conceited, is unable to conceal it when he is placed in an eminent position; while a truly humble and pious man becomes more so, when he feels the awful obligations and responsibilities of being placed over his brethren, and called upon to be, in all things, a pattern to those who are themselves the guides of the flock.
Now, in the Scriptural pattern of godliness, humility goes for a great deal more than is commonly credited. Genuine humility, I mean, which consists not in feigned self-depreciation, but rather in a very high standard of excellence with which self is daily and rigorously compared. It involves respect for the rights and feeling and convictions of others. Such humility is especially needed in a bishop. It is requisite, in order to moderate the use of prerogative, of which vain men are so fond, and of which a thinking people are so justly impatient. Now, true humility is not inconsistent with self-respect and sturdy independence, but it leads a ruler to respect, also, the rights of others. And this sort of godliness is requisite to a successful bishop in America. He has to deal with very [21/22] intelligent men; he presides over many who are, in some respects, his superiors; he cannot drive them; he must be patient with them, and meek even when he is firm. "To persuade when one cannot. constrain, to lead where it is impossible to drive, this is supreme ability," says a true philosopher, and to this quality in St. Louis, he ascribes his success in reforming the laws of a realm not yet freed from barbarian institutions. [Montesquieu] He adds, "Right reason has a natural sovereignty, nay, an empire that is despotic; it may be resisted, but to oppose it is to ensure its triumph; give it time, and men must return to it, and submit." Now, those qualities of strength mingled with moderation, which depend on Truth and Reason for an ultimate triumph, and hence have no tendency to an arbitrary use of authority, are essential to influence with us. Administrative skill consists in these 'qualities more than in any other, not excepting tact, which, though a natural gift, is made perfect by experience of life and knowledge of men. But it is impossible for a man to have all this, in any eminent degree, without a godly humility, that neither defies opinions and prejudices, nor permits principles to be outraged by the want of humility in others. This quality it is that best promotes judicial coolness and integrity; that moderates zeal and restrains impetuosity; that gives sagacity in enterprise, and tempers warmth with prudence; that inspires a generous love of worth in others and a hearty enjoyment of their success. It prevents conscious merit from begetting pride; and, above all things, it adorns the character to which time has set its seal, and impressed with all the dignity of an illustrious career.
As I speak such words I think of Wilson, the saint of Sodor and Man. Would you have such a man for your bishop? Choose, then, if not the greatest, yet the godliest of our "well-learned men," and the very God of peace shall "Strengthen, Stablish, settle you."
The multiplication of Dioceses will prove to be a blessing, only in proportion as the primitive spirit marks the corresponding development, in all other respects, of a primitive institution. If bishops are to be elected with little or no regard [22/23] to the injunctions of the Holy Spirit, without ordinary prudence, and with the mere formality of an appeal to Divine Providence without reference to the plainest laws of providential designation, then the working of this system will be most unhappy, until wisdom is gathered from a bitter experience. With the pompous notion that a bishop's dignity depends upon the greatness of his chief city, or the extent of his diocesan area, it is impossible for a reflecting man to have any sympathy. St. Augustine was bishop of the obscure Diocese of Hippo, which he made a lighthouse to the world; and Wilson made the little See of Sodor a beacon to Anglican Christendom, Nobody ever hears of many who have been Bishops of London, and many a Bishop of Rome has left nothing more than a name in the dreary line of its Pontiffs; but Leighton has made glorious the name of Dunblane; Bull has enriched with illustrious associations the obscure St. David's; Taylor has given a splendid prominence to Down and Connor, and Berkeley has magnified and gilded the otherwise insignificant Cloyne. Away with the thought that the diocese can magnify the prelate; it often brings out his incompetency and pettiness. It is the faith and works of the bishop that magnifies the See. Rome has often been humbled by rebukes from some poor Eugubrium, and Paris has been thrown into shade by the lustre of a great life at Meaux or at Cambray.
No diocese, great or small, will ever save an incompetent bishop from bringing contempt upon himself and temporary disgrace to his office. It is most important, that as our dioceses are multiplied, greater cautions should be observed, and new safeguards introduced, in the elections of bishops. I have felt this to be the proper occasion, therefore, for an examination of the laws of Holy Scripture and of reason or common sense which ought to regulate our action in this grave matter.
Nor have I shrunk from stating the characteristics of a true bishop in terms of excellence and perfection, because of my own infirmities in this office. I have sketched the laws as I find them prescribed by Holy Scripture and by the judgment of faithful men. If they condemn me, let me be condemned; nobody can be more sensible than I am myself, how far I fall short of that standard which the Holy Ghost and Apostolic [23/24] example have set before us, as the measure of qualifications for the Episcopate. God grant that he who shall. now be called to preside over you, may be indeed "a burning and a shining light," in whose light ye may rejoice. Remember you are choosing a successor of DeLancey and of Hobart, and not only so, but a successor of Apostles and Martyrs. Reflect what sacred interests to the souls of men, and to the Church of God, tremble upon the cast of a vote. Reflect what you are doing, and what you may undo, by the action of this day; and presume not to take part in this solemn work, except as you are prepared to give account to the Judge of quick and dead. For the future prosperity of this Diocese, I feel an anxiety at least equal to your own; and in committing you to the care of another, I think I can say in sincerity and truth, that I pray he may be such a bishop as I never yet have been: such a yokefellow as shall prompt me to a holy emulation, lest my diocese should fall too far behind the measure of this; such an example to his elder brother in the Episcopate, as may force me to new efforts and spur me to higher and holier attainments than I have ever yet been permitted to achieve. God bless the sister Dioceses of Western New York; God grant them an unbroken harmony of spirit, and a common devotion to His glory; God grant to both alike, an increase of all things pertaining to life and godliness, that when our children shall be instead of their fathers, they may look back on this day as full of blessed associations. May it give to the Church a bishop of the primitive school and model; a holy man of God, who shall bear the burden of his office in meekness of wisdom, as a follower of the Lamb. And by his blest example and faithful labours, as never before, may the Church be edified and enlarged, till there be no more among us a divided Christianity, and a gospel of confused tongues; till believers shall be again of one mind, and of one heart; till here and everywhere, souls shall fly as a cloud to the Ark, and as doves to their windows; till Thou, oh! blessed Jesus, shalt see of the travail of Thy soul and be satisfied; till Thy Church shall be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken."