KING & BAIRD, PRINTERS, 9 SANSOM STREET.
MY BRETHREN OF THE CLERGY--
Among the duties imposed, by the Church, on her Bishops in this country, is the grave and responsible one of addressing a Charge, as often as once in three years, to the Clergy within their jurisdiction. I have delayed entering on this duty, somewhat beyond the period fixed by the Canon, partly because of other urgent duties, but more especially because I have desired that, when once begun, it might be prosecuted at intervals less rare than the Canon seems to contemplate, and with some degree of method. [Canon XXVII. of 1832] It is my purpose now, should life and ability be given, to offer to you, from year to year, a series of connected counsels on some of the most momentous of our common duties as Ministers of Christ. Waiving topics of a more transient nature, I propose to bring before you a few of the great principles, which ought, as it seems to me, always to be kept in view, while we labour at the twofold work assigned us by God, of saving ourselves [3/4] and saving them that hear us; and I shall endeavour, while presenting these principles, to indicate how they ought to be modified in practice, according to the state of the world at large, and especially according to the condition of our own country and Church.
The great secret of all ministerial usefulness must be found, I conceive, in ministerial self-culture--in the careful cultivation, with the aid of God's grace, of our whole nature--spiritual, moral, intellectual and corporeal. We work on others, mainly, through the personal endowments which we have received from Heaven, or which we have acquired by culture. Even those Divine and supernatural truths and offices, which we dispense to men, must reach their great end, for the most part, through our zeal, our integrity, and our wisdom. The word preached, for example, is it not usually effectual in proportion to the clearness, the fervour, and the logical power of those who preach it? The prayers offered--do they not bear the hearts and consciences of the people towards Heaven, according as the Minister's own heart is exalted by faith, warmed with love, subdued by penitence? So the sacraments administered become channels of grace to the souls of men, in proportion as those souls have been previously touched through faithful appeals and instructions from the Pastor, and in proportion, too, as these holy mysteries are dispensed in a reverential and edifying manner. No matter, indeed, what be the mean of grace--be it truth or sacrament--be it prayer or thanksgiving--be it [4/5] fasting or alms, it will be apt to prove all but powerless, if its significancy be obscured, or its grand aim decried, by the evil example of him who is its appointed Minister. The Spirit of God acts on men in good part through his anointed Ambassadors; and He acts therefore feebly, if those Ambassadors interpose between his grace and the souls that he would visit, their own ignorance, levity or impiety. He rarely acts at all, if they are morally reckless, or corrupt. The great law, which makes thought and emotion in those who speak, the condition of awakening kindred thoughts and emotions in those who hear, is not annulled by the supernatural grace of the gospel. On the contrary, the renewing and saving energies of the Holy Ghost so concur with the natural powers of its earthly Minister, that whether in moving others or in rousing himself to duty, that Minister must work--must work with all his heart and strength, and must never forget that he who would be a blessing to others is to begin by winning spiritual blessings for himself.
The improvement of the people, then, is conditioned on the improvement of the Clergy. All the world over, and through all time, the state of the Church reflects, in a great degree, the state and character of her Ministers. Make the one more wise, laborious and earnest, and you cause the other to be more given to every good word and work. So in respect to any congregation; we can hardly pray more devoutly and fervently in our closets--we can hardly watch more carefully over our [5/6] own hearts, or ply more diligently our studies at home and our labours abroad even for a few months, but God will vouchsafe us some sign that our prayers are remembered in Heaven, and our generous self-sacrifice made honourable on earth. [If God suffers even a holy pastor not presently to see the fruits of his labours, it is to convince him that the success of his labours belongs to God;--and he ought to humble himself, and pray much, and fear lest the fault should be in himself.--Bishop Wilson, Sacra Privata, p. 103.] And to what purpose, as Ministers, do we live, if this be not always our aim? We open our churches--not merely that the seats may be filled,--not merely that confiding and admiring throngs may be gathered to hear us, but that the people may give heed to the word spoken. We open them that there may be an active, an ever-extending and an ever-progressive piety--extending, that new hearts may be reached--progressive, that all may advance in religious knowledge and in personal holiness. Ministerial self-culture therefore, in all its branches, is the subject to which I would ask your attention--comprehending within this term whatever can contribute to a clergyman's improvement, and keeping steadily in view the great truth, that it is through such culture, constantly maintained and pressed forward, that we are to win at last from our Master's hand--for ourselves, a worthy crown--for our people, an abundant entrance into his kingdom and glory. As preliminary, however, to this subject, there is another which demands a brief discussion, and that is the [6/7] precise position which a Christian minister now occupies in this land and in our communion. Every profession has its own peculiar advantages and disadvantages, and by those who embrace it, these should evidently be well understood and well considered. Again, the different positions in a profession, whether we consider it in respect to time, or in respect to place, or in respect to other circumstances, will have each its distinguishing characteristics; and it is plain that these too should be carefully studied, if we would make the most of our powers and opportunities. And then, again, each individual clergyman has his idiosynocracy from nature, and his peculiarities--corporeal, mental, and spiritual, superinduced by education and by habit, and it becomes him to remember and appreciate these also, if he would be a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. Self-knowledge is the one grand condition of self-culture, and that alone is self-knowledge which combines, with a correct appreciation of our personal character and capacities, a just estimate of our position--
I. As ministers.
II. As ministers of religion.
III. As ministers of the religion of Christ.
IV. As ministers of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
V. As ministers of this Church, in the nineteenth century.
VI. As ministers of this Church, and of this century, in the United States of America.
 I. We should understand our position as MINISTERS, i.e. as officers, stewards who are clothed with a delegated trust, so that we act not merely for ourselves, but for others also. We have a twofold character, the one personal--the other official, and of course we have a twofold responsibility. We are to take heed to ourselves; we are to take heed to those over whom we are overseers. For the present, I put the religious character of our office out of the account. I call your attention to the simple fact that we are not only men, but officers. It is a fearful thing to be a man,--for to man alone, of all the living multitudes that roam over land, or that swarm through air, and stream, and sea--to man alone attaches responsibility--a sense of accountability within, which is but the faint echo (as he well knows) of a yet graver accountability without. To man alone, belong powers capable of an endless and sublime progression,--powers which he cannot employ aright, without unspeakable benefit to others and to himself,--powers which he cannot misemploy, without unknown but deplorable ills alike to his neighbour and his own soul. Social always, always active, always responsible, it is indeed a fearful thing to be a man.
How much more fearful to be not a man only, but to be at one and the same time a man and a minister; to have entrusted to us not our own welfare only, but the welfare of others also--to have it entrusted to us, too, in a representative capacity, so that in respect to many, very many perhaps of those around us, we act for [8/9] them, we act through them, we act upon them, not merely in virtue of the social ties that bind each to the other and all to us, but we apply to them the different and the higher agency, which belongs to us as trustees at once of an earthly power, and of a heavenly sovereign. In the course of ten or twenty years, what a number, brethren, of our fellow beings, within and without our own congregations--within and without our own communion, too, must come directly or indirectly, under our official influence; and each one of these, remember, carries through all his mortal sojourn, and into the very presence of his Judge at last, some trace--some tint of light or hue of darkness--that we, because of our official authority, have cast perhaps unwittingly upon him. Is it fearful to be a man then--how much more fearful to be both a man and a minister, and to be, as in our case, ministers as well as men for life; to bear upon us a commission which may never be revoked, which always charges us with work to do, and which confers dignity, and exempts from punishment only as that work is done with our might, so that to whatever of official duty we are at any time equal, to so much of official duty we are then commanded. There is no discharge in this war. To be faithful soldiers and servants, unto our lives' end--always to give our faithful diligence in the work of our ministry, and in framing and fashioning our own selves and our families so as to make both wholesome examples to the flock, these are the terms of our enrolment in the sacramental host. Our weakness, then, as well as our [9/10] strength--our age as well as our youth, are to be given to our work. He that hath much, let him give plenteously; he that hath little, let him do his diligence gladly to give of that little, for so shall he gather to himself a good reward in the day of his necessity.
II. But we are to understand, again, that we are MINISTERS OF RELIGION. In one sense, whoever holds an office, intended to promote human welfare, may be called a Minister of God; since some purpose of God is to be promoted through his official and proper agency. But we are God's Ministers in a sense more specific, and far more sacred; since to us have been committed the interests of his religion. The recognition and worship of some superior Power, invisible--yet present and supreme, is the dictate of Nature as well as the command of Revelation. Everywhere, and in all ages, man's heart has yearned after the unseen God, and has trembled before his anticipated judgments. Everywhere, too, this spiritual or religious element in our existence is felt to be paramount in dignity and importance; so that they who stand forth before men, as its representatives and Ministers, are held to be the special Ambassadors of Heaven, and to bear about them a peculiar sacredness.
In some lands, and at some periods, this sacerdotal office, through a misguided reverence, has been allowed to supersede or to swallow up all others; so that a corps, perhaps a caste of well-disciplined and unscrupulous priests, alike jealous and tyrannical, have taken to themselves the entire government of society, civil no less than sacred. [In the latter case the office is hereditary; in the former it is elective. The distinction is fraught with most important consequences, some of which are noticed in Guizot's Modern Civilization, Lecture 3d.] It was thus in ancient India and Egypt, and to some extent it was thus, too, in Mediaeval Europe--the office being debased and ultimately weakened by the very means which were taken to strengthen it. At other times, or in other lands, the theocratical power in the state has been content to yield a nominal precedence to monarchy, to aristocracy, or even to democracy, provided, however, that these last would constitute themselves its nursing fathers, and would, at the same time, profess to receive from it (in whole or in part) as a gracious boon, their right to reign. Again--and through how long a period even of Christian history do we find the temporal and the spiritual authority engaged--now in an ignoble contest for civil supremacy,--now in a league not less ignoble, to trample down the liberties of the people, and to build up a twofold despotism--the one over opinion, the other over will and act. At one period, all without the Church being ignorance and anarchy, ecclesiastics became the master-spirits of the time, and priestcraft was too often but another name for almost all government; at another, royalty being needed to centralize interests hitherto separate, and to harmonize discordant powers, the crosier was compelled to succumb before the sceptre, and the edicts of a king became supreme, even in matters that touched only the Church's faith, discipline or worship.
 How large a share of the world's history, both ancient and modern, is occupied with these multiform and often stormy attempts to adjust the social and legal position of the Ministers of religion, to their true character and functions! And what does that history prove? It proves, in the first place, how firm and unyielding is the hold on the human mind of religion and its Ministers; since no violence from without, though all the other powers of society be leagued against it,--no errors or corruptions from within, be they never so flagrant, have sufficed for its destruction. Cast down, and to all appearance destroyed to-day, religion rises with renewed and resistless vigour to-morrow. This same history teaches, too, that when different forms of religion come into conflict, all must at length yield before that which springs from the simple and positive command of God. Never, for instance, in ancient times, did Judaism and Paganism meet in fair and open field, that it was not soon seen how powerless are the inventions of man, when arrayed against the teachings and institutions of the Most High.
But the lesson which I would especially commend to your notice, as deducible from the religious history of the past, is, that the Ministers of God never go forth in the simple majesty of truth--cementing no alliance with thrones--courting no friendship with the world, that they do not quickly triumph. How was it in the first centuries of our own era, when the Missionaries of God's last dispensation to man--though few in number [12/13] and humble in rank--had to encounter a world in arms? Strange, that the fact then made manifest, was so soon forgotten. Strange, that men who had filled the earth with their doctrine--men who with no help, except from God and their own brave hearts, had won to their standard the talent, the learning and the wealth that rule mankind--strange, indeed, that they should have superseded so soon the simple instruments of such a victory by corrupting alliances with unhallowed passion and with worldly power. But so it is. From the reign of Constantine down to the landing of our fathers at Jamestown and at Plymouth, through more than a thousand years of strife, and toil, and bloodshed, even Christian Europe was slowly working its way towards that truth, which to us seems written as with a sunbeam on all the teachings of Christ, and on the triumphant mission of his Evangelists. That the Ministers of religion are Ministers of religion, that their functions are simply spiritual--that on the one hand they have no concern (except as they act on the great fountains of human opinion) with civil legislation, and that, on the other hand, that legislation has no authority over them, except as they are men and citizens,--that the Church and the state are independent but co-ordinate powers, the one having cognizance of things temporal, the other of things spiritual--and that the one only appropriate weapon of God's Ambassadors is TRUTH--truth in doctrine and truth in life--truth warning every man, truth teaching every man, truth rebuking every man, with all [13/14] long-suffering, and yet with all authority--this is a principle which may be familiar to us as household words, but which to the world at large, and even to Christendom itself was long unknown, and which at this very hour is to most of Christendom but imperfectly unfolded.
And is this our province? Is it religion, as contra-distinguished from all the arts and professions of civil life, and from all the functions of civil government? It is religion, too, as an all-comprehending and all-pervading power--one that can penetrate, hallow, and bind together the humblest and the highest interests. Hence nothing is beneath his notice or sympathy, who is wise to win souls. Does he look for example on industry, on the arts that sustain and gladden our material life?--He can see there a power, which properly directed must contribute beyond measure even to man's intellectual and moral elevation; and hence as a minister of God, he would, in his appropriate sphere, and by appropriate means, at once promote and sanctify those arts. Does he look again on science and literature, with their handmaids the press and general education?--There, too, he sees forces, mighty for good, if wisely controlled, but almost omnipotent for evil, if loosed from the sovereignty of conscience and the fear of God; and hence he would pour into these well-springs of the world's hope salt from on high. Or does he turn to the philanthropic movements of our own time--movements that would smoothe one and another visage of human woe, and [14/15] spread over earth the sunshine of a higher and more joyous life--these the minister of God would keep from perversion and from decay, by infusing into them the divine life of faith, and imposing on them the holy restraints of law. He knows that the Cross won its most memorable victories over the hearts of men, when its apostles were most intent on assuaging human sufferings, and on subserving even here on earth the utmost happiness of all. And in all past time, it has been the glory of that Cross, that its heralds have gone through the world as the leaders of a true civilization, no less than as the leaders of a true faith. Even when the bands of society were loosed amid the darkness and chaos of the middle ages; when the clergy had become invested, through the force of circumstances, with too much of worldly supremacy, and were devoted too exclusively to the interests of their own order, even then they were the world's best temporal benefactors. But for them, Europe must have fallen back, during that awful period, into the barbarism of her Vandal invaders. It was in their monastic retreats, that the almost extinguished fires of learning were kept alive with pious care; and that all the arts of peace were fostered with a wisdom and munificence, worthy of undying remembrance. [Henry's history of England contains valuable notices of the agency of the Mediaeval Clergy in promoting Agriculture, Horticulture, and various mechanical arts.] Never be it otherwise. When we strike at the ignorance and corruption of men, we strike at the great root of all social evils; and when we labour to regenerate [15/16] the spirit of society, we are then labouring most effectually for the regeneration of its forms and institutions. But let our labours be guided by an enlarged and enlightened spirit. Whatever makes man more thoughtful, forecasting, or even more decorous, makes him more open also to the appeals of religious truth. Hence, though divorced from all the employments and dignities of the world, we should still bid God speed to whatever can lift our race to more of physical comfort, or to more of intellectual and moral dignity. We should cling to our spiritual functions, and thank God that we are neither burdened with the cares, nor perilled by the fascinations of earthly power; but we should be known, at the time, as the friends of a comprehensive and true-hearted philanthropy. Our ear should be quick to hear the wail of the oppressed; our eye should be clear to discern the iron that enters into a brother's soul; and our heart should beat in ready and responsive throbs to every pulsation of bleeding humanity. Never may the cause of charity and true brotherhood be monopolized by men, who think to bless the world without glorifying God. As charity must be spurious, where there is no faith, so faith will be but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal unless it bring forth the fruits of a large hearted love for mankind. Let the power and worth of our ministry be seen then, as in earlier days, in the broad sympathies, with which it animates our studies and our labours. That day, in which the clergy cease to be among the foremost in efforts to ameliorate the [16/17] condition of mankind, will be a day dark indeed for the prospects of the world--nor of the world alone. The church itself must suffer in the same proportion, since she can truly prosper, under the smiles of her Great Head, only when she fulfils her mission as His Minister for good to men.
III. But we are not only ministers of religion; we are ministers of the RELIGION OF CHRIST. Ours is not a religion of types and prophecies like that of Israel; nor is it an engine of state like that of ancient Rome; nor is it tributary to a refined but voluptuous taste like that of ancient Greece. It is neither encumbered and made oppressive through ceremonies, like the law of ordinances; nor is it destitute of all positive institutions and precepts, like the religion of nature. It reveals to us the Word made flesh, and in thus bridging over the mighty void between the human and the Divine, it lays the axe to the root of Deism with its doctrine of fate, and to that of Pantheism with its notions of Divine Impersonality. It solves the awful question which, for four thousand years, had pressed on the minds of all reflecting men, and which had often wrung misgivings and anxious forebodings even from the unreflecting, "wherewith shall man the sinner come before God the Just?" In the great expiation which it offers to us, there is peace for the true penitent; and in the ministrations of the Comforter with his gifts of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and ghostly strength, there is abounding [17/18] succour for all that would live soberly, righteously and godly. In Him who is the High Priest of our sanctuary--the Author and Finisher of our faith, we have the only faultless specimen of human wisdom and goodness that the world has seen, while in the evangelic records this model of a perfect and now glorified humanity is ever kept before us. And then, in its word read and preached, and in its ordinances duly given and received, Christianity has definite and simple channels, through which its divine and regenerating influences can flow down on the human soul--quickening the dead spirit into life, enlightening the eye of faith, warming the heart of devotion, deepening and hallowing the sigh of penitence, kindling the flame of love towards all mankind, and pouring a soothing and strengthening cordial into every fainting heart. Ours is not a religion that has its esoteric and its exoteric system. It has no gross conceptions and imposing pomp to catch the vulgar; it has no decent skepticism to conciliate the proud and self-styled wise. With inflexible constancy, it proclaims to all the same gospel, it exacts from all the same faith, and the same obedience; and yet with a wondrous adaptive and plastic power, it can adjust itself to every state and condition of human life. It has, too, an all-comprehending, reconciling spirit, through which it harmonizes the most opposite and seemingly incongruous principles of man's nature, affording food both for reason and for imagination--for conscience and for the affections, conciliating the love of man with the love of God, and [18/19] making both consistent with the love of ourselves. Finally, it has a zeal for God's honor, and for the redemption of mankind, that makes it aggressive towards every form of error, sin and suffering, and that can never rest till the triumphs of righteousness and peace have overspread the globe. And when it goes forth to achieve this moral conquest, how does it eschew all the weapons employed by the religions and the governments of man's device, applying no constraint but TRUTH, offering no attraction but LOVE.
Is this Christianity, brethren? and what then is their duty, who are its Ambassadors and Ministers? It is plain. Their duty is to render their preaching and their practice definitively Christian. It is to remember, always and everywhere, that the dispensation they proclaim is a remedial dispensation, that their grand work is first to bring men to a proper sense of their sins, and then to bind up, with balm from Calvary, the wounds that have been opened at the foot of Sinai. In enforcing duty, too, their appeals are to be drawn from the cross--from Christ's constraining love, as at once the source and the centre of the Christian's inner and outer life. And ever in their own lives should they recommend the meek, the condescending, the gentle, the forgiving, yet the uncompromising spirit of their Master. The religion they preach is a religion that teaches by example. It is a religion for sinners. It is a religion for the tempted and the weak. It is a religion for the poor, the afflicted and the oppressed; and God grant that to [19/20] the sinful, the weak, the tempted and the sorrowing our thoughts and efforts may always be directed.
May I not add that inward sanctity--holiness of heart, is pre-eminently the duty of a Minister of Christ. He is to seem holy, that his conduct instead of countervailing, may enforce his precepts; and he is to be holy, lest the coldness or corruption of his own heart obstruct the movements of that Spirit, who through him, would brood, with recreating power, over the hearts of others. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord, was the injunction even of a ceremonial dispensation; how much snore of a spiritual and soul-renewing one. It is the glory of the religion of Christ, that it indissolubly binds together religion and morality; making them identical in principle, adjudging each to be worthless, unless it spring from an honest and true heart, and decreeing that he only can share in the grace of God, who is willing to love his neighbour. Before the Saviour, too, there is little of that distinction, between personal and official sanctity, which the imperfection of human tribunals sometimes compels them to make. Christ holds no one faithful as a Minister, who is delinquent as a man; nor any one innocent as a man, who is derelict as a Priest. His religion blends, and as it were fuses our personal and sacerdotal characters into one; so that the individual is to account for the acts of the officer, and the officer is to stand dishonoured by whatever would stain and disgrace the individual. Serving near the Holy of Holies, that becomes criminal in us which might be [20/21] allowed in others. Though our personal sins may not invalidate, in respect to others, the force and virtue of our official acts on earth, they often must do it in Heaven; and always our official character goes to aggravate our personal transgressions, since on us--the anointed of the Lord--rests a peculiar obligation to be holy as our Master is holy. And when we go before that Master to render in our last account, office and dignity will all drop away from us, and nothing can remain but our character and our responsibility. Be these, then, the object of our supreme concern!
IV. But we are Ministers of Christ IN THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH. We owe allegiance to that branch of the visible Body of Christ, from which we derive our external commission. We owe allegiance both to its Protestant, and its Episcopal or Apostolic character.
As Protestant it honours the Reformation. That great religious revolution, like all others directed by human and uninspired agency, was doubtless marred by errors of judgment, and by infirmities of temper and motive. But we must be recreant (it seems to me) to our trust, as guardians of the Bible and of religious liberty, if we do not commemorate, with ever-recurring gratitude, this memorable reaction towards the primitive faith. The indefeasible right of the people to the Bible in the vernacular tongue, which was then asserted and maintained--the adjourning of all questions, that [21/22] touch an article of faith, to that one Book, as the only Divine and infallible arbiter--the distinct and effectual protest then made, against the arrogant assumptions of foreign Bishops and foreign churches to exercise jurisdiction beyond their proper sphere--the restoration to the adorable Trinity of that homage which had been divided between the Virgin, and Angels, and Saints, and Relics, and Images, and Pictures--the lifting to its proper place of the One Oblation, once made by Christ, for the sins of the whole world--the downfall, wherever the Anglo-Saxon race dwells, of a superstition which enabled Priests to tyrannize over conscience, and even to invade the prerogatives of civil magistrates and the sanctity of private families--what were all these but a blessed boon alike to the Church and to mankind? And the fact that at this day there is most of domestic purity, most of general intelligence and enterprise, most of public spirit and public virtue, where the faith of the Reformers is held in its integrity, does not this show that that faith has been approved of God, and is entitled to be embalmed in our fond and reverent remembrance.
Be it ours, then, to cling to that faith. We are Protestants by name, and we are Protestants in principle. We protest against the domination of foreign Bishops, and against assumptions of infallibility by any council or metropolitan, living or dead. We protest against all attempts to shut out God's word from the people, or to fetter the human mind in reading and thinking, so long [22/23] as it inquires with becoming modesty and reverence. We protest against an intolerance which would visit aberrations of opinion with fire and sword, or with any penalties, save such as imminent and unquestionable danger to social order may demand;--and that intolerance we abhor alike when displayed by those who hate the Reformation, and by those who profess to honour and adore it. We are protestant in regard to some things which obtained even in the Church of the first three centuries, but which were either plainly transient in their nature, or which experience shows are unfriendly to a simple, heart-transforming, conscience-soothing faith. The twelve centuries, which rolled away from Cyprian to Luther, we are far from denouncing. We recognize with thankfulness, the enlarged and dear-bought experience which the Church then gained; and we would profit by that experience. Errors which were committed unconsciously, and therefore innocently, then, it becomes us not to repeat now. Accretions which the Christianity of the New Testament gathered from various concurring causes, and which were made to further for a time the advancement of society, would now be only incumbrances. We are therefore not to covet them--innocently we cannot strive to restore them. We are not to forget the fate of those who have undertaken to unprotestantize the Church of our fathers. We are to remember how wide is the gulf that separates that Church from the one she has renounced; and that if union is to be effected--[23/24] coalition achieved, it must not be solely through concessions of ours. It must be union on principles common to both. When the rulers and doctors of that communion shall seem willing even to consider a plan of comprehension--when, for instance, they shall incline, though in the least, to regard as loyal sons of theirs those who would subscribe to the doctrinal statements of our articles, it will then be early enough to ask whether those same articles may not, by some means, be translated into the dialect of Trent, and the creed of a persecuting Pope be made to express the faith of his martyr victims! Until then, it rather becomes us to gather warning from the errors, and instruction from the vicissitudes of that great power. Towards her children and her ministers, we are to cherish only feelings of good will. We are always to remember that, as citizens and Christians, their rights before the law are equal to our own, and that as moral and social beings, with palpitating human hearts like ours, they can be sooner won by kindness, than by railing or by scorn. It is against her too prevalent spirit, that we are to guard, even more assiduously than we guard against her rites and her external regimen;--for that insidious spirit, alas! lives and reigns in many a Protestant heart, in the administration of many a Protestant function, and when thus disguised, it only merits our intenser abhorrence.
But if we are protestant, so also we are Episcopal or Apostolic, holding not only the Apostles' fellowship, [24/25] but also the Apostles' doctrine and prayers. Ours is an historical religion. We make no attempt, in our reverence for the Scriptures, to ignore the wisdom and accumulated experience of the past. Those who went before us, in the Church, lived, and laboured, and suffered, not for themselves alone, but for us also; and we have entered into their labours. To cast all these contemptuously from us, to launch on the great ocean of Scripture truth, without chart, compass or fixed star, to forego all the contributions to the meaning of the Bible, that have been supplied by the toilsome studies and the eventful vicissitudes of eighteen hundred years, would be a thankless return,--alike to God who made us children rather than fathers in the Church, and to those who have thus bequeathed to us the fruits of their suffering and laborious lives. To attempt to construct for ourselves, unaided, a system of Bible truth, is not, after all, to honour the Bible,--for he who goes to the study of it, goes, almost inevitably, with some preconceived judgment of its import; and unless he have, rare candour and force of mind, his prepossessions will be sure to colour its declarations, and will urge him to seek, in Scripture, rather for his own opinions, than for truth. He who would gather from the sacred page the mind and will of God, must have a humble, teachable, truth-loving heart; and with such a heart, no man, it seems to me, can hastily reject the helps that have been provided for him, in the creeds and liturgies of the ancient Church, in the decrees of her councils, and the writings [25/26] of her fathers. Her pealing anthems, her humble, penitential litanies, her prayers, which first broke from lips hallowed by eminent grace, and mellowed by a wisdom above this world--her creeds, which have borne towards Heaven in every Christian age the confessions of her noblest martyrs and her truest saints--these are the Church's glorious commentary on the Bible. These form her traditionary testimony to its received meaning, and to the faith of those who lived nearest to her days of inspiration. When to all these you add the writings of her greatest doctors, and of those especially who wrote when all around them was toil and danger, you have a mass of venerable lore to which it becomes us all to give heed.
But then the inevitable question presents itself--which, among all this mass of multifarious and sometimes contradictory opinion, is to be regarded as primitive, or Apostolic? To this question, it is obvious, that the whole genius of our Church suggests one answer. We are not to lean, too hastily, to our own judgment. We are to defer to their judgment who were called to consider this great question in the sixteenth century; who considered it amid trials that were fitted to tax to the uttermost their wisdom and their faith; and who have embodied the result of their deliberations--a result which they cheerfully sealed with their blood--in our liturgy, articles, homilies and polity. I am far from holding that no man may go back of these;--but I do hold, that he who does so, and he especially who would [26/27] set them or any material part of them opprobriously aside, should weigh well the responsibility he assumes. He, with a limited range perhaps of reading; ere he has reached, it may be, the meridian of life; when he has done little or suffered little for the cause of Christ--he would replace, by his individual dicta, the deliberate decisions of his Church, and the combined opinion of men venerable alike for age and for services--for sagacity and for learning. For the Apostolic or Catholic system, as defined by such minds and with such authority, he would substitute opinions, gleaned, it may be, at will and under the influence of an exalted and over-fond imagination,--from the vast mass of literature that the Christian writers of the middle ages have left behind them. Is this reverence for authority? Is this modesty? Is it thus that we shall inculcate the duties of meekness and obedience? Is it by such a procedure, that we are to incite our people to respect the constituted authorities of the Church and the land, or are to do our part towards building up, throughout a world convulsed by anarchy, the dominion of law!
Be it ours then, brethren, to remember our mission as ministers of a Church, which is at once protestant and apostolic. We are to be the friends of liberty, but we are not to be the enemies of order. We are to concede to all--ministers and people--the privilege of reading and thinking; but we are to enjoin on all alike, reverence and self-distrust. We are to catch the catholic comprehensive spirit of our baptismal office, which [27/28] makes belief, in the articles of the Christian faith as contained in the Apostles' creed, the sole dogmatic test for admission to our fold. We are to uphold, and by our practice, recommend those admirable provisions by which, in our system of polity and worship, we combine the sober with the earnest--the fixed with the variable--the material with the spiritual--the corporate with the individual--the traditionary with the philosophical. We should be sober, because we are always to proceed by rule; we should be earnest, because a large part of our services is uttered in the burning language of Scripture. For the conservative principle we have security in our liturgy and sacraments; for the progressive in our preaching legislation, and pastoral care. Material symbols we employ and value; but their end is the renovation of a mind enlightened by faith, and their efficacy is made contingent on the humility and true contrition of those who receive them. The corporate relations of the Christian to the Church we insist on as a great and indispensable duty and privilege; but not in such sense as to make that Church his Saviour, nor in any proper sense his Mediator. We may hold to tradition, because our province is to teach no new commandment or gospel; but we are not therefore to scorn philosophical theology, for we are to vindicate the hope we cherish to every man's reason, while we subject all opinions and all systems to that only safe criterion of experience, which is thus set forth by Coleridge, "No article of faith can be truly and duly preached [28/29] without necessarily and simultaneously infusing a deep sense of the indispensableness of a holy life." [Table Talk, part ii. p. 4.--Am. Ed.]
V. But again, we are not only ministers of Christ, and of his religion as set forth in a Church at once protestant and apostolic; we are ministers of this Church in the NINETEENTH CENTURY. The onward flow of time has brought us to a position, unlike any occupied by our predecessors in the sacred office. We live when, with the many, there is more of intelligence and thoughtfulness; but not perhaps when, with the few, there is more of high sagacity, or far reaching faith. We live when industry has vindicated for itself a new and more commanding place, among the powers that direct the legislation and opinion of the world; but not when the toiling millions it employs are always admitted to a corresponding elevation. We live when there is great activity, and in some sense great and almost universal earnestness; but not when that activity is always tempered by forecast, nor that earnestness duly subdued by religious feeling. 'We live when there is more of Christian faith than there was in the eighteenth century, and more of Christian toleration than there was in the sixteenth; but alas! it does not become us to boast that even now a practical and life-transforming faith or sincere toleration in the heart is very abundant. We live when despotism of every kind, civil and religious, has much to fear; but not when legitimate authority, be it [29/30] the authority of law, or the moral sway that belongs to age, wisdom, or parental power has every thing to hope. Practical and all-embracing charity is more active than it once was; but it is not always more wise, or more patient. Institutions, usages, opinions, all are arraigned with a free and bold hand, and to all is applied the salutary test "by their fruits ye shall know them;" but the trial is not always conducted with caution or discrimination; and there is too little care to conserve the good, while we eradicate the ill.
Such I conceive, are some of the features of the age in which we live. Beside those which affect all classes of men, there are some that bear, with peculiar effect, upon our own profession. The clergy are no longer the peculiar guardians and dispensers of knowledge. They are no longer clothed with the exclusive privilege of legislating for the Church, nor even of teaching it. They are no longer an independent corporation, sovereign over the law, or exempt in good part from its jurisdiction. There was a time, when they owned hardly any but an ecclesiastical superior--when they could successfully claim a control over the property and persons even of laymen--when they could, almost at will, summon all the powers of the state to do their bidding--when the absent husband could hardly correspond with his wife, except through the clerk in orders--when all laws were drawn up, all treaties reduced to form, all deliberations of cabinets, and even of parliaments aided and guided by ecclesiastics--and when they held possession [30/31] not only of cathedrals, churches, convents, and monasteries, but of all colleges and schools of learning also. How different is it now, when they are merged, by law, into the one class of citizens,--amenable to the same laws, mere sharers in the same intellectual and social privileges, and left to contend on less than equal terms for the direction of public opinion! I say less than equal, not so much because of the political disabilities under which they sometimes labour, as because I fear, that the growing and almost morbid jealousy of interference, on the part of the clergy, in things secular, excludes them too much from that promiscuous commerce with men, and from that free conflict with the difficulties of life, which seems almost essential to the utmost force of character, as well as to the highest degree of culture.
And what is the duty of the ministers of Christ in such an age? Is it to denounce it? Is it to shut out from our hearts all respect for it--all sympathy with it? Is it to dwell exclusively on its defects, and bring these into exaggerated contrast with the fancied glories of some age that has gone by? Is it to war only against the outward forms which have been assumed by the social intellectual or religious spirit of the time, while we overlook or take perhaps into our very heart, the worst elements in that spirit?--Or, is it our part, on the other hand, to idolise the age, to seize upon some of its grosser achievements, and to set these in array against all the past? Is it to regard the spirit of the age as a Divine [31/32] Inspiration, which has only to move on unobstructed and unopposed, to accomplish, for the man, the most beneficent results?--Or, in fine, is it our province to regard the characteristics of our age as inevitable effects from causes that have been at work heretofore, and to conceive that the vicissitudes of the future, like those of the past, must be governed by a blind and uncontrollable destiny?
Neither of these courses, I should suppose, was the dictate of true wisdom. We are placed here as teachers and guides of our time. To fulfil that mission as we ought, we must, in the first place, understand our age; we must, in the second place, sympathise to a certain extent with it; and we must, in the third place, be resolved that we will, God being our helper, do something to improve it. We must understand our age, in order to be understood by it. We must so far sympathise with its great movements, that they who are borne along by them will not be disinclined to listen to us; and improvement we must believe to be possible, or we shall not be induced to attempt it. But how can one understand his age, unless he be willing to see and to admit both its merits and its defects;--or, how can he have due sympathy with this or with any period of history, unless he remember that, in all periods, the same corrupt heart of man holds sway; and that hence the same essential evils, however differing in shape or in degree, must prevail in all. And he who, with a right good will, would labour to exalt and bless mankind, must [32/33] surely have faith in the efficacy of right efforts rightly applied; and he must go forth hopefully, in the strength of God and of a good cause, to his work. He must be neither a fatalist nor an optimist. Both the form and the spirit, the body and the pressure of the time, he is to accept as facts--facts which he cannot set aside though he may leave them out of view; and he is to consider that it is through these facts, and in the light that they cast upon his path, that he is to labour for the service of the Church of God. These facts he would study and analyse by the aid of a high scriptural philosophy; and he would study them, not for purposes of speculation, but that he may the better help to guard whatever of blessing we inherit from the past, and to compass whatever of blessing is possible in the future. Could we but station such minds, vigilant, large-hearted, forecasting, hopeful, at the great reservoirs of human opinion and influence, what a benign change might be wrought even in a single generation on the moral habits of mankind! The faithful and enlightened student of history finds, since the flood, no age or civilization that he would willingly reproduce, even if he could; and he knows full well that there is none, though ever so much desired, which could be reproduced; since the forces that now mould societies and nations are not the forces that they once were. He turns therefore to the Present, as an inevitable yet ever changing, and ever to be modified fact; and he would so work that this great fact shall be [33/34] the harbinger of one brighter and more blessed soon to succeed it. The blessings that the world has gained, he would remember and own that he may be contented and thankful; the blessings that the world has till, through God's help, to achieve, he would never forget, lest he be tempted to indolence or to self-complacency.
Finally. We are AMERICAN Ministers of Christ's Protestant and Episcopal Church in this the nineteenth century. The state and institutions of our country are peculiar; and hardly less so is our own position as members and clergymen of this Church. We should be surely unworthy of our place, in one of the most prosperous and peaceful lands on earth, if we were not devoutly thankful for the plenty, the equality, the intelligence and the freedom that surround us. As Christians, too, we should rejoice in the nominal regard for our religion, which obtains throughout the land; and as Churchmen we may well congratulate ourselves, that our ecclesiastical system is to win its way from a position of comparative weakness, to one of general consideration and confidence, beneath the mild sway of equal and tolerant laws.
On the other hand, we may well mourn that with all our blessings as Americans, there is still so little of true contentment among us. We may well mourn, that there is sometimes so much impatience of the restraints of law, and always such overweening national [34/35] self-esteem, combined with a tone of detraction so ungenerous and undistinguishing in respect to the institutions and condition of other lands. We may well be saddened, when we observe how much of our philanthropy is spurious and superficial; how much of our zeal for the public good is but another name for selfishness and ambition. And for the future of our land, may we not sometimes tremble, when we see how the bands of parental authority and domestic affection are relaxed; how much insolent contempt is expressed for the wisdom of the past;--how the religious world is swayed to and fro between dogmatism on the one hand and mysticism on the other; and what a fearful divorce often obtains between the profession and the obligations, the faith and the moralities of the Christian life?
Under such circumstances what is our duty? It seems to me to be obvious. It is to remember that we are Americans, and that both our form of government and the characteristic features of our social system are fixed--fixed both in the habits and in the affections of the people. Our duty is, to guard against the tendency of studies, which lie much with the past, to disaffect us towards the faith and civilization of the present. We should consider, too, that the traditionary beliefs and practice of nine-tenths of the American people are at variance with our own; and that if we would gain a hearing for our cause it must be done through kindness, courtesy, and a blameless Christian life. We [35/36] must beware, too, of the fatal mistake of confounding the essentials of our Church-system, with the abuses in civil or ecclesiastical administration, which have been sometimes associated with it in our father-land; and never should we be led to speak or act as if we were the champions, the defenders, or even the apologists for despotism. We must also struggle against the somewhat provincial reverence for the current theology and literature of our Anglican mother, which even yet keeps our Church mind too much in vassalage, and which is so apt to embroil us in controversies, or charge us with sentiments alien to our true mission as American Episcopalians. We must, for ourselves, resort to the great masters of ancient and modern theology, and substitute them as our manuals in place of the extracts, abridgements and superficial treatises which too often engross our time. We must strive, too, to lay the foundation of a more stable faith, and of a higher Christian life among our people, by working out thoroughly the principles of our system in regard to the training of the young--whether at home, at school, or at church. And in fine, we must cultivate in our hearts, and in the hearts of all our people, a generous and enlightened interest in whatever can benefit our country, and our whole country--in whatever can purify morals, or raise the tone of public intelligence and public taste--in whatever can promote a healthy feeling of Christian brotherhood among all classes, and in all that can invest our own communion with a more benign [36/37] and powerful influence in dealing with the prevailing disorders of society, or with the current errors in Christian doctrine and practice.
I have thus sketched, too briefly for the subject, but too much at length for the occasion, some of the main features that characterise our position as Ministers of Christ. As Ministers or stewards it is required that we be found faithful; as stewards of the mysteries of God, that we be about our Master's business; as Ambassadors of Christ, that we know nothing save Christ and him crucified;--and as Ministers here and now--in this church, at this time, in this land, that we be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Fulfilled in its true spirit, with a large, enlightened and earnest mind, no calling can be nobler than ours. We deal with the highest sentiments of man's nature, and with his most momentous interests. We go with him from his birth even to his death, and never do we leave him till we give back, embalmed with words of hope and promise, his inanimate clay to its last earthly rest. We are with him in his hours of deepest sorrow and of liveliest joy; and if we cleave, in our Master's spirit, to our Master's work, we must wrest from every ingenuous mind its warmest affection and regard. Speaking the truth of God in the name of God; constituted dispensers of his peculiar grace, our words, if meetly chosen and meetly uttered, must go winged with more than earthly power. An unction from the Holy One waits to invest them [37/38] with a regal authority, and to mark both Minister and people as the chosen of the Lord. Take heed, then, O man of God, to thyself and to the doctrine.
Ye who your Lord's communion bear,
His way of mercy to prepare,
Angels he calls you; be your strife
To lead on earth an Angel's life.
Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up and ply your heavenward feet,
Is not God's oath upon your head,
Ne'er to sink back on slothful bed?
Never again your loins untie,
Not let your torches waste and die,
Till when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master's midnight call.
Keble's Christian Year. (2d Sunday in Advent.)