THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST:
THE ANNUAL COMMENCEMENT
GENERAL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES,
IN ST. PETER'S CHURCH, NEW-YORK,
On Friday, June 30th, 1843.
BY ALFRED LEE, D. D.
BISHOP OF DELAWARE.
WM. OSBORN, PRINTER,
EPHESIANS iii. 8.
"UNTO ME, WHO AM LESS THAN THE LEAST OF ALL SAINTS, IS THIS GRACE GIVEN, THAT I SHOULD PREACH AMONG THE GENTILES THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST."
THE Apostle seems, in this passage, to find language too poor to express his estimate of the excellence and preciousness of his Lord's redemption on the one hand, of his own unworthiness and abasement on the other. It was not enough to make mention of the treasures of grace and love garnered in Christ, freely to be dispensed to sinful and perishing men; he must express his sense of the infinitude, the exhaustless stores, the inconceivable heights, the unfathomable depths of those treasures. He turns from their contemplation to look upon himself, commissioned of God to proclaim and publish them, and he is overwhelmed with amazement, that to one, so feeble and unfit, should be entrusted so excellent an office. Of all instruments he appears to himself most inadequate and unmeet, and sinks down, not merely to be the least, but "less than the least of all saints."
We are not to suppose, from such language, that this highly gifted man was unconscious of the relative position which he occupied, either among the learned of the age, as one versed in its philosophy and lore, or among his own countrymen as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews," "brought up at the feet of Gamaliel;" or even among his brethren in the Gospel and in the ministry of the Church, as "not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles." When occasion required, he could assert, with authority and decision, his rightful standing among his fellow Christians, and claim due regard to his words as an inspired Apostle and chosen vessel of the Lord. Neither is the expression to be attributed to an assumed humility, leading him to depreciate himself that he might be the more magnified by others. Such petty arts of vainglory [3/4] he knew not, or disdained. It was, doubtless, because his mind was so possessed and filled with the magnitude of his trust, as an ambassador of Jesus, that he thus looked upon himself. There were, indeed, circumstances peculiar to the Apostle, which naturally deepened this sentiment in his breast. One of these was his previous course as a persecutor of the Gospel. "For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God." [I Cor. xv. 9.] And, moreover, to him peculiarly was committed the apostleship of the Gentiles, the publishing of that grace which had "broken down the middle-wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, for to make of twain one new man," To this, the great discovery of the age, he alludes in the context, and refers the Ephesians to his "knowledge of the mystery of Christ, made known unto him by revelation, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel." [Eph. iii.] Not only was he a herald of this Gospel, but an authorized announcer of the opening of the kingdom of heaven, to those who had been "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise." [Eph. ii.]
But while we give due weight to whatever was peculiar in the age, and in the history of him, who, under the Spirit's guidance, penned the words of our text, we yet conceive their largest and highest import to be quite independent of contemporaneous and personal adjuncts. The great subject of the Apostle's admiration is, on the one hand, the inconceivable riches of a redeeming Christ, to be published abroad; on the other, the selection of so unmeet and undeserving an agent as himself, for the carrying forward of the great and holy work. And surely, in this view, the feelings which he expresses, may apply to the ministry of reconciliation in every age. The office is no less important, the trust no less precious, the blessings to be conferred as vast, the results as far reaching and measureless, and the agents employed, truly, in themselves, more weak and inadequate. If language like this, is forced from the lips of so honored a servant of Christ, by the consideration of his ministerial charge, how much more meet is it to be used by those entrusted with the same charge, but in all other things so inferior. And, could we enter into his views of the glory and riches of Christ, and contemplate from the summit on which he stood, the dignity, the responsibility, and the results [4/5] of the Gospel ministry, we should be prepared to share his deep self-abasement and utter prostration of soul, in view of the momentous trust.
The office of preaching, declaring the glad tidings of these "unsearchable riches," is here marked by St. Paul as among the chiefest and most honorable of his apostolic duties. There would be manifest incongruity, in the mention of a subordinate part of his ministerial trust, in a connection so remarkable. And we find elsewhere the same estimate of the comparative magnitude of this portion of his work. Highly as he must have esteemed that holy sacrament which introduces us into the fold of Christ; he yet informs the Corinthians, that Christ sent him "not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." [I Cor. i. 17.] We have therefore St. Paul's authority for considering the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, as claiming an exalted rank among the duties of the sacred office. We would not restrict, indeed, the entire meaning of the phrase to the public heralding of the Gospel. The Apostle taught "the words of this life," not only publicly, but also "from house to house." Its leading truths and doctrines, were doubtless embodied in his public devotional exercises. The Gospel was exhibited before all who witnessed the celebration of that supper, wherein "Christ is set forth, evidently crucified among us," and symbolized through that washing, whereby disciples are "baptized into," and "put on Christ." Still, we cannot doubt, that the first and prominent import of our text, refers to the work of publishing to assemblies of sinful men, salvation through the blood of Christ; and declaring the way wherein it may be attained. This, therefore, we are bound to regard, brethren in the ministry, and you, beloved friends, who are looking forward to the work, as a duty second to none of those devolved upon us by our high calling. This, emphatically, is our embassy; if this be slighted, negligently or unfaithfully discharged, we may be called bitterly to mourn, when required to "give account of our stewardship."
The great subject of the teachings of the minister of the Lord, is shown us by the text, viz: "THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST." We might hesitate to venture upon further description and illustration of an expression so sublime, were it not that these riches are to be preached. It must be, therefore, the bounden duty of all, who, to the divine inquiry, "whom shall I send, and who will [5/6] go for us," respond, "here am I, send me;" to acquaint themselves with that which is to be their constant, untiring theme.
I. This theme presents itself as the subject of our present brief, and most imperfect consideration. 1. We cannot but first notice the riches of Christ, as the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity, "God over all, blessed forever." The riches of his infinite Godhead, are, indeed, inconceivable. "Canst thou by searching, find out God--canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?" Then, truly, we must admit our inability to apprehend, in the faintest degree, Christ's pre-existent glory. All that we can know, is the amazing fact, that "the WORD was in the beginning, was with GOD, was GOD." We may not attempt to grasp, but we can humbly, and with adoring gratitude, embrace the "great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh." And this mighty truth must color and pervade all our exhibitions of the gospel of grace. The Saviour, whom we preach, is no finite, created being. His glory is not derived and dependent, but that "which he had with the Father before the world was;" even all the splendors and attributes of ineffable deity. His domain is the universe--His willing subjects, angels and archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities and powers--His handiwork, creation, with all that it comprehends--magnificent, beautiful and vast. Surely, He was rich; and this untold wealth, this glory infinite, it becomes us largely to dwell upon, and declare as the sure foundation, the indispensable basis of his great redemption. Simply to announce the fact, that such a being hath undertaken the work, that such an "arm hath brought salvation," is most emphatically to deny that there is any "other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." When convinced of the proper deity of Jesus Christ, we cannot but ask, on the one hand, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" We cannot but confess, on the other, that "He is able to save to the uttermost, all who come unto God by him."
2. Connected with the declaration of the eternal glories of the Word, must be the exhibition of the riches of his condescending and suffering love, of his costly sacrifice, of his vast atonement. "Though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich." And though an angel's tongue might despair, adequately to portray the treasures of the cross, yet must they be our chosen theme. We must never weary of Christ crucified. We must exhibit the precious doctrine, as [6/7] the centre of all those converging truths, from which it may not be separated. The original apostacy of man, the resulting ruin, the spiritual and everlasting death induced, the foulness and malignity of sin, admitting no remedy but the one revealed from heaven, the unspeakable love of the Triune God for wretched and degraded man, the holy law requiring vindication, omnipotent justice demanding to be satisfied, the infinite value of that atonement, which is "a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world:" these and kindred truths, must enter into our conceptions and exhibitions of the riches of an incarnate, suffering, dying Christ: unsearchable truly, inasmuch as they are "things into which angels desire to look."
3. And from discoursing upon the treasures of His expiring love, we must proceed to those of His resurrection and exaltation. We must enter into His victory over death and hell, when he "spoiled principalities and powers," and "led captivity captive;" His exaltation with great triumph, unto "the right hand of power," and the setting up of his mediatorial throne, whereupon "He must reign, until He hath put all enemies under his feet." And how exhaustless the riches of Christ thus opened unto us! "He hath received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." [Psalms lxviii. 18.] And it is a delightful part of the office of that ministry, which is itself one of the gifts of an ascended Saviour, to recount these bestowments, and declare these treasures; to make known that dispensation of the Spirit, without which, man's depraved nature could never have been rendered meet for "the inheritance of the saints in light; that intercession of our Great High Priest, which avails for the acceptance of our own unworthy supplications;" that justification of the believing for which he has risen, and that future exalting to his glory, of those who "have been planted together in the likeness of his death."
4. We are to preach, the riches of Christ, in their wide extent of application. How unspeakable the treasures communicated to each sanctified soul! Who can say that it had not been worth a Redeemer's passion, to ransom one lost spirit from death, and exalt it to glory? But the riches of Christ are large enough for the whole apostate race of man. We proclaim a Saviour who "gave his life a ransom for many"--a Jesus who "tasted death [7/8] for every man"--a "Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world." Within no restricted limits is our atonement to be confined. "All men, every where," we may charge in God's name "to repent:" the gospel we are to "preach to every creature." The riches of Christ suffer no diminution from the multitudes that may participate in them. The fountain of living water is not exhausted, though "all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," slake at it their thirst. And does it not become us, brethren, in assenting to this unlimited extension of redeeming love, to hold it, not as a mere speculative article of our faith, a barren and uninfluential dogma, but to cherish it as a principle of expansive benevolence, as an encouragement to labor for the salvation of the perishing, abroad as well as at home, as a confirmation of our faith, in seeking to bless with the knowledge of Christ, "all sorts and conditions of men."
5. We are to preach the unsearchable riches of our crucified Lord, in their individual application. We have adverted to their wide extent and unrestricted efficacy. But it is needful for us to bring them within the reach of each of those to whom we proclaim, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" That our ministry be successful, it must, through the divine benediction, persuade sinners individually to be reconciled to God; it must meet the demands of the inquiring, guide the perplexed and direct the penitent, with distinctness and simplicity, to the Lamb of God. In our dealings with the subjects of our ministry, no one thing is more important, than clear and definite statements of the way of personal acceptance with the Almighty. If we fail here, we fail entirely. It matters not to the impoverished soul, that we declare the riches of Christ to be unsearchable, if we do not show it, without peradventure, how its own deep wants may be relieved, and itself be "enriched in every thing" thereby. It is our most important office to bring the famishing to eat of the bread of life, the thirsting to drink of the living water, the unclean to bathe in the opened fountain, the sick to apply to the Great Physician and to conduct the fugitive within the very walls of the city of refuge. On the great point of saving union with Christ, there should be no obscurity in our statements. And if we follow the plain teachings of the scripture, with which the voice of the Church entirely concurs, we shall be at no loss to answer that most important inquiry of the immortal spirit, "what must I do to be saved?" We shall be thus led to a clear and [8/9] impressive exhibition of that doctrine, which our eleventh article asserts to be "most wholesome and very full of comfort," to wit, that "we are accounted righteous before God, only for the atonement of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works and deservings." Upon this point, if we could convert the sinner from the error of his ways, if we would comfort them that mourn, and train up disciples who shall bring forth the fruits of righteousness, and be ready for every good word and work, our "trumpet must give no uncertain sound."
"Faith," saith our Homily, "giveth life to the soul, and they be as much dead to God without faith, as they be dead to the world whose bodies lack souls." [Homily of Good Works, p. 38.] "This faith the Holy Scripture teacheth us--this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion--this doctrine, all old and ancient authors of Christ's church do approve--this doctrine advanceth and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and beateth down the vainglory of man--this, whosoever denieth, is not to be accounted for a Christian man--nor for a setter forth of Christ's glory--but for an adversary to Christ and his gospel, and for a setter forth of man's vain glory." [Homily of Salvation, p. 21.]
Instructed carefully, as you have been, my younger brethren, in this important truth, we do not fear lest you give any encouragement to licentious perversions of this doctrine to allowed continuance in sin, or to such false exhibition of it, as dispenses with the need, or nullifies the obligation of the ordinances of Christ's Church. Of such abuses we suppose you to be in no danger. But it is very possible, brethren, while professedly assenting to this important article of our faith, so inadequately to apprehend its value, so imperfectly to exhibit its true features, that the effect of our ministry be weakened or paralyzed, the way of acceptance be little understood by the people of our charge, aye and those "perish, for whom Christ died."
6. In proclaiming the riches of our Lord, we are to make mention of those treasures of grace, communicated to his earthly kingdom, "the church which is his body." In all her provisions for the spiritual wants of men, we are to admire and declare the large bounty of her heavenly king. Her ministry the apostle shows to be a precious bestowment, consequent upon his ascending up "far above all heavens." "And he gave some, [9/10] apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." [Ephesians, iv. 11.] We must exhibit the sacred obligation and exceeding privilege of the Sacraments, whereby we are brought into covenant with our Heavenly Father, "the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed," and the Saviour becomes, to such as "duly receive these holy mysteries," "their spiritual food and sustenance." We are to set forth the Redeemer's church, as the spiritual home of the children of God this side the grave, the divinely provided ark of salvation, [Acts, ii. 47 I Pet. iii. 21.] the visible body and representative on earth of the Son of God, designed by her Lord to be one in faith and fellowship, in doctrine, ministry, and Sacraments. And we are to show, how the riches of Christ pervade all her institutions, and how, in all, we are to seek, pray for and expect in faith, the Holy Spirit of Christ, as our effectual helper, comforter and guide. When Christ is duly recognized in all his appointed means of grace, when the Church in every thing bears testimony to her Lord and aims only to exalt and magnify him; when the life of his Holy Spirit pervades her worship, and every ordinance is regarded in its relation to the Lord of glory, then does she indeed appear as the spouse of Jesus, surpassingly attractive to the believing heart, "all glorious within, and her clothing of wrought gold."
II. Feeble indeed, is the sketch that has been drawn, my younger brethren, of those riches of Christ, which to proclaim, is the high and blessed work of his ambassadors. For this work you have been preparing, with all the advantages of guidance and instruction, which profound learning and ripe experience can afford. It should be with sincere longing and fixed determination "to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ," and nought beside, that you present yourselves to your respective chief pastors, to answer that most solemn and searching interrogatory, "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of his glory and the edifying of his people?" [Ordering of Deacons] We cannot for a moment doubt, that such is "your heart's desire and prayer." But you must be well aware that it is possible, very possible, to [10/11] fail of this great end, and to lose your labor and your reward. By way of admonition, therefore, let me now advert to some things which may hinder the minister of the word from fulfilling this most important purpose of his appointment, which will either disqualify him for fitly proclaiming "the riches of Christ," or which will unnerve and deaden his ministrations.
1. We shall be prevented from preaching these unsearchable treasures, by not having ourselves participated in them. The riches of Christ must not only be understood theoretically, but made our own. "In every thing" we must "be enriched by him," ere we can be successful instruments in enriching others. In witnessing a Saviour's love, we must "speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen." "I believed, therefore have I spoken." However highly we value the thorough training, the discipline of thought, the range of learning, the varied acquirements of a complete theological course, we must yet insist that there is a knowledge of Christ, more needful than any other, to be gained, not from systems and lectures, but from the Lord himself. Christ must be communed with by the quickened soul. The riches of his saving knowledge and grace, must not only be heard of in the academy, but taught by the Holy Spirit in the inner chambers of the soul. From "the abundance of the heart" must the mouth speak, and the pen indite, "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord." Our own "life" must be "hid with Christ in God." When we have found in him "rest for our souls," we may hope with success to lead others to the Redeemer's feet. Were our task merely to build up an outward kingdom, to induce men to call themselves by a particular name, or to unite in the rites and ordinances of christianity, as in themselves a sufficient passport to heaven, we might dispense indeed, with this hidden knowledge of Christ, this personal "receiving of the Lord, and walking in him." [Col. ii. 6.] But inasmuch as our duty is to build upon the only foundation "a spiritual house, with lively stones, acceptable to God;" [1 Peter ii. 5.] to win the proud, stubborn, worldly heart to repentance and godliness, to call the "dead in trespasses and sins" to a new and holy life, to "warn every man and teach every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus;" [Col. i. 28.] we must ourselves "have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus." [Eph. iv. 21.] Then can we enter into the full meaning of those bursts of [11/12] thanksgiving, those ascriptions of praise, which the mention of the name of Christ calls forth continually from the inspired penmen. Then we shall not be in danger of speaking of divine things in a cold and listless manner, or of finding the preparation and delivery of our discourses a burdensome task, instead of a delightful privilege. This, brethren, we must therefore require, as indispensable to the due exhibition of "the everlasting Gospel," that ye be yourselves men of God, that "Christ dwell in your hearts by faith;" and that he be "made of God unto you, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
2. You may fail in "preaching Christ and him crucified," by becoming weary of the simplicity of the Gospel. This will be the case, if its plain and humbling verities become, in your eyes, trite, unpalatable, or inadequate, and you reach after something more recondite and elevated. There is such a thing as losing our relish for "the doctrine that is according to godliness," contemning its principles as unworthy and meagre, or confounding them with sectarian tenets or fanatical perversions. Thus may its avowed teacher become in fact "ashamed of the Gospel of Christ," and be drawn to put, in the place of its heaven-derived truths, "the inventions of men." Under the idea of depth, penetration and discernment, of superiority to common-place declamations, he may be led to eschew "the faith once delivered to the saints." On the one hand, he may substitute for it "the oppositions of science falsely so called," be himself "spoiled," and help to spoil others "through philosophy and vain deceit;" or on the other, he may be led to excessive exaltation of the ritual of religion, so as to magnify the body at the expense of the head, and to esteem the house worthy of more honor than the builder.
3. You may be prevented from preaching the riches of Christ, by neglecting their great depository, the Holy Scriptures. Our age, beyond any that has preceded it, has verified the saying of the wise man, "of making many books there is no end." Doubtless there are many advantages attendant upon the multiplication of instructive works. There are placed within the student's reach increased stores of knowledge, of criticism, of masterly thought and of full discussion upon topics of immediate interest. But we fear that the unfavorable tendencies of this state of things, equal, if they do not outweigh, all of benefit that can be [12/13] expected to result. We are tempted by the abundance of periodicals and similar publications, to spend much time in desultory reading, which can profit little. The desire to acquaint ourselves with things new and old can hardly be indulged, without drawing the mind away from the store-house of divine truth, setting it afloat in a sea of opinions, or as a remedy for uncertainty, leading it to fasten itself upon some particular master or school. It is needless to remark how unfavorable this is to the following out of the exhortation in our ordination service; "consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures," and "that by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax stronger and riper in your ministry." From the Lord's own treasury we must draw our stores of divine wisdom, that we may be able faithfully and profitably to teach others. In doing this it becomes us to use such approved helps as may be within our reach. It is the part of rash presumption, to despise and discard the light which is thrown upon the sacred page by the consentient testimony of the wise, the learned and the holy of all ages. Of course views and opinions will gather weight from the numbers, the characters, and the favorable circumstances for correct judgment, in point of time and place, of those by whom they have been advocated. The testimony of the earliest ages of the Church, will be of great interest and importance, especially respecting the original usages and institutions of the Christian body. Far be it from us to depreciate the value of the witness to apostolic practice and sound doctrine, of the burning and shining lights of the ancient Church. But is this deference to their opinions, as wise and holy men, increased as it should reasonably be by their antiquity, to become implicit submission to their authority, as the only lawful expositors of the Scriptures? Are they to be our sole interpreters? Are we to go, not to the Word itself, but to frail and fallible men for the divine will? Are the Holy Scriptures so obscure, their meaning so hidden that we may not be trusted to draw it forth ourselves, but must receive unquestioning what fathers, however venerable, assure us to be their import? Strange, if this were so, that the book itself should not caution us against presuming to read it with our own eyes. Had our Church thus judged, could she have framed articles, declaring the Holy Scriptures to "contain all things necessary [13/14] to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." [Art. 6.] And, of the authority of the Church, declaring that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's word written; neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." [Art. 20.] To turn for a moment to that depository of "godly and wholesome doctrine," the book of homilies: we are told, "Ignorance of God's word is the cause of all error, as Christ himself affirmed to the Sadducees, saying that they erred because they knew not the Scriptures. And if you be afraid to fall into error by reading of Holy Scripture, I shall show you how you may read without danger of error. Read it humbly, with a meek and lowly heart, to the intent you may glorifyGod, and not yourself, with the knowledge of it; and read it not without daily praying to God, that He would direct your reading to good effect. Presumption and arrogancy are the mother of all error; and humility needeth to fear no error." "And whosoever giveth his mind to Holy Scriptures with diligent study and burning desire, it cannot be, saith St. Chrysostom, that he should be left without help." "And in another place, St. Chrysostom saith, that man's human and worldly wisdom or science is not needful to the understanding of Scripture, but the revelation of the Holy Ghost, who inspireth the true meaning unto them that with humility and diligence do search therefore. He that asketh shall have, and he that seeketh shall find, and he that knocketh shall have the door opened. If we read once, twice, or thrice, and understand not, let us not cease so, but still continue reading, praying, asking of others, and so by still knocking, at the last the door shall be opened; as St. Augustine saith, although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the self-same thing in other places is spoken more familiarly and plainly." [Homily, “Of Reading Holy Scripture.”] Neither can we assent to the plea that doubts could be more easily solved, or disputes more readily settled by reference to any human arbitration. No language can be framed which ignorance cannot mistake, prejudice misrepresent, or which sophistry may not cavil at and evade. Do we find the result of such appeals, in that body which claims to possess a rule infallible, to be, by any means, freedom from dispute [14/15] and dissension?" ["But they say the Scriptures be dark, therefore we must seek the meaning of them in the doctors. The doctors agree not. Then must we weigh and try them by the Master of the sentences. The Master of the sentences himself, sometimes is not holden. Then must we seek further to the school doctors. The school doctors can in no wise agree. There is Scotus against Thomas; and Occam against Scotus; and Alliacensis against Occam; the nominals against the reals; the scholasticals against the canonists. The contention is greater, and the doubts darker than ever they were before." Jewell's Reply to Harding's Answer, p. 193.] Do we observe as a matter of experience, that there is less dispute respecting the meaning of fathers, or of the Church herself, than in the interpretation of the holy volume? Who has not found commentaries darker than the text, and expositions more difficult than their original subject? If asked, says Bishop Jewell, "What say we of the Fathers Augustine, Ambrose, Hierome, Cyprian, &c? What shall we think of them; or what account may we make of them? They be interpreters of the word of God. They were learned men, and learned fathers; the instruments of the mercy of God, and vessels full of grace. We despise them not, we read them, we reverence them, and give thanks unto God for them. They were witnesses unto the truth; they were worthy pillars and ornaments in the Church of God. Yet may they not be compared with the word of God. We may not build upon them; we may not make them the foundation and warrant of our conscience, we may not put our trust in them. [Treat. of the Holy Scriptures, p. 36.]
"But we say there is no case in religion so dark and doubtful but it may necessarily be either proved or reproved by collection and conference of the Scriptures. In this conference and judgment of the Holy Scriptures, we need oftentimes the discretion and wisdom of learned fathers. But notwithstanding, we may not give them herein greater credit than is convenient, or than they themselves, if it were offered, would receive. We may reverently say of them, as Seneca in the like case some time said, 'they are our leaders but not our lords.' They are not the truth of God itself, but only witnesses unto the truth." [Jewell’s Defence of Apology, p. 53.]
It may be to us, brethren beloved, cause of deep and lasting regret, if after promising "out of the Scriptures to instruct the people committed to our charge, and to be diligent in reading them," [Ordering of Priests.] it shall be found, that we have neglected to search prayerfully [15/16] and humbly this mine of pure gold, and have sought by fastening our faith upon the opinions of our fellow-men, to evade that responsibility of judgment which God had fixed upon us, and which His grace, if truly sought, would have enabled us safely to exercise.
4. Lastly, we may be prevented from "preaching the riches of Christ," by a life incongruous with our holy calling. "This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified." [Lev. x. 3.] "A minister of an evil life," says Bishop Taylor, "cannot preach with that fervor and efficacy, with that life and spirit, that a good man does; for, besides that he does not himself understand the secrets of religion, and the private inducements of the Spirit, and the sweetness of internal joy, and the inexpressible advantages of a holy peace; besides this, he cannot heartily speak all that he knows; he hath a clog at his foot, and a gag in his teeth; there is a fear, and there is a shame, and there is a guilt, and a secret willingness that the things were not true. [Sermon on Titus, Ch. II. v. 7,8.]
Not that the minister is in great danger from temptations to gross sin. Prudence and the opinion of society would be usually a sufficient safe-guard, were higher principles wanting. But that much more than mere decency of conduct befits the sacred office, that a more than common measure of holiness, a heart disengaged from the world, a relish for things spiritual and heavenly, is suitable, nay needful to our vocation, none will question. A cordial love for a hearty engagedness in our work, can only result from a disposition sanctified and congenial. What has been remarked concerning the indispensableness to our preaching the riches of Christ, of being ourselves partakers of them, will apply equally to every duty of our calling. Is it expected even by men, that the minister of Christ abstain from the frivolities of the world, so that he may be "in all things an ensample to the flock?" How important that his heart be truly weaned from its vain allurements, and his "affections set on things above," so that he do it "not by constraint, but willingly?" Is it expected that he be sober, temperate, and a pattern of good works? How needful that he cultivate that holiness which will naturally produce such fruits? Should he be found meek, patient and gentle? How important that his temper be brought into subjection to the law of christian love, so that he need no mask? Is he often called to visit the afflicted, [16/17] to counsel the perplexed, to assist the weak? And should not his be the sympathizing heart, ready to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and to weep with them that weep?" Must he often kneel beside the bed of death, and commend the departing spirit to its God? Ought he not then, to cherish such habitual seriousness as shall fit him to enter the chamber of death without violent transition from unseemly levity? Is he appointed to minister in the sanctuary, to present the sacrifice of prayer and praise, and stand at the altar of the Lord? How desirable that with a heart prepared and purified, he should engage in his holy functions? How blended will be his habitual tone of feeling with the whole character of his ministry? And it cannot be inappropriate, my younger brethren, to put you in mind of the need of a self-denying spirit in your expected work. Indolence and self-indulgence, a proneness to inquire rather for the comforts, of a proposed station, its amount of salary, its healthfulness, its social advantages, than for its opportunities of glorifying Christ, and saving the souls of men, is no favorable indication of ministerial devotedness or usefulness.
It is, my beloved friends of the graduating class, a most interesting period of your lives, at which you have now arrived. The armour, which you have been putting on, is now to be proved. Study is to be exchanged for action; the school of the prophets, for "the work of an evangelist"; the cloister, for the busy world; the study of books, for contact with human minds and hearts. As one who hath not long since stood in the same position, I can sympathize, in some measure, with the crowding thoughts and mingled feelings of such an hour; its affecting remembrances, its excited anticipations.We cannot promise you exemption, in the work before you, from trials, cares and disappointments. The rough soil upon which you are to labor, is the fallen nature of man. The world, into which you will be thrust forth, is cold, selfish and censorious. Many sanguine hopes are daily blighted by its chilling influence. Many a generous heart, longing to benefit and bless those around, sinks down in despondency, under a sense of motives unappreciated, merit overlooked, labor and talent unrewarded. If you would indeed, brethren, bear up cheerfully and perseveringly under the trials to which you will be exposed, you must expect little from man, much from God. "Your eye must be single," your heart fixed upon the great object of your calling. You must "preach [17/18] not yourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. Then shall you prove "the ministry of reconciliation," a work truly blessed; bringing with it its own constant recompense; a satisfaction and joy, than which, none more pure and reviving can be tasted this side heaven.
May it be yours to realize in that final resting place of the redeemed, the fulfilment of the "exceeding great and precious promise," "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." [Dan. xii. 3.] And the Lord of his mercy unspeakable, grant that the streams which issue, year by year, from this fountain, "may make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High."