Project Canterbury






OCTOBER 3, 1809.


Bishop of said Church.




No. 160 Pearl-street.



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008


ACTS xix. 8.
And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months,
disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

THESE words of the sacred historian refer to the Apostle Paul, the eloquent advocate of Christianity, in opposition to the perverseness of Jewish and the subtilty of Gentile disputants. This zealous messenger of the Lord Jesus, having passed through the upper coasts of Asia, came down to Ephesus; where, as his custom was, he seized every occasion of propagating the Gospel of his Divine Master. From time to time he went into the synagogue of the Jews, and the [3/4] manner of his address is declared in the words which I have just recited: he spake boldly; he disputed; he persuaded; and the subject of his discourse was the things concerning the kingdom of God.

In this procedure of the holy Apostle we have an excellent model for the imitation of all the teachers of Christianity, in every subsequent period of the world. It cannot be supposed, therefore, that a Discourse on this subject is inapplicable to the present occasion. The Ministers of the Gospel are still encompassed with subtil and obstinate opponents. Much instruction, as well as great encouragement, may be derived from a serious consideration of the manner in which the learned and eloquent Apostle of the Gentiles executed the task that was assigned him. Thanks be to God! in this part of the world, the adversaries of the Gospel are not armed with power to accomplish their malevolent intentions: they cannot brandish the scourge, and point the dagger of persecution, so as to render it necessary for the Priests of the Most High God to resist unto blood, striving against sin. But still, the [4/5] enemies of our holy Religion are numerous and active. The advocates and defenders of this heavenly institution have need to take unto themselves the whole armour of God. While they are clad with the helmet of salvation, and the breast-plate of righteousness, let them also wield the sword of the Spirit. Let them follow the steps of Jesus in the path of holiness, and strive to imitate the example of his wise, and zealous, and successful Apostle, in extending the knowledge of the blessed Gospel to a gainsaying world. For this purpose, the words of the text will furnish us with much useful instruction. I shall first consider them, in the order in which they lie before us, as they more immediately relate to the teachers of Christianity; and then draw from them some practical observations, in which are concerned Christians of every class and denomination.

And, 1. It is said, St. Paul, in the course of his teaching, "spake boldly." Hence we may infer, that the Ministers of the Gospel, in the discharge of their sacred duty, must always stand forth with becoming confidence. [5/6] Let then consider the dignity of their office, and the importance of the business which they have to transact with their fellow men. Their authority is derived not from man, nor from the will of man: It springs from a higher source: It comes from that Divine Personage who is constituted the Head over all things for his Church: They are stewards of the mysteries of heaven: They are the messengers of the Most High God: They are the ambassadors of Christ, in whose stead they are beseeching a rebellious world to be reconciled to their Creator and Lord. And, however lowly their opinion of themselves may be, when considered as men and as sinners, surely they ought ever to be inclined to magnify their office, and, addressing their fellow mortals in the name of their heavenly Master, speak boldly of the great things concerning the kingdom of God.

2. The Ministers of the Gospel must be prepared to dispute, on all proper occasions, for the support and advancement of our holy Religion. For this purpose, let them be studious to collect knowledge of every sort; [6/7] to store their minds with arguments sufficient to refute the objections of infidelity, as fast as they arise. It is pleasing to observe with what strength and acuteness St. Paul disputed, whatever the nature of the controversy might be; whether his opponents were Jews or Gentiles; whether he addressed Agrippa or Felix armed with power, or vindicated the cause of truth against the philosophers of Greece furnished with all the arts of sophistical disputation. Let the messengers of Christ, in all succeeding ages, emulate this bright example. His Ministers of the present day are assailed from every quarter. In order to frustrate the wiles, or to repel the violence of the adversary, they have need to take unto themselves the whole armour of God. Various are the objections which infidelity makes to the truth of the blessed Gospel. These objections have been repeatedly made in former days, and have as often been confuted by the defenders of Christianity. Still, they are brought forward with confidence, as if they were entirely new; and must still be met, with the same arguments, by the advocates of truth.

With respect to the faith of Christians, it may with confidence be asserted, that we have not followed cunningly devised fables. The evidences of the truth of our Religion have been found sufficient to produce conviction in the minds of men long accustomed to weigh the force of evidence with dispassionate attention, to reason with acuteness on every subject, to draw just conclusions from well-established premises. Let us not, then, be intimidated and overborne by the confident pretensions of those whom the Apostle styles, "the disputers of this world." Let us rather adopt the sharp language of Job, "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you: I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as thee?" The service of Christians is a reasonable service. They can give a sufficient reason for the hope that is in them. Passion and prejudice may, for a time, prevail. The light of the understanding in wicked men may be obscured by the corruptions of the heart. But let not the messengers of Christ be discouraged. Let them [8/9] continue to state, with calm confidence, the external and internal evidences of our holy Religion; and they may rest assured, that truth is mighty, and will eventually prevail.

But, my Brethren, as Ministers of the Gospel of Christ, we are called upon not only to dispute with infidels in defence of Christianity in general; we are frequently placed in situations where it is necessary to defend our own particular religious denomination against its various assailants. Just before our Lord's departure out of this world, he presented this fervent petition for his disciples, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are one." But, such is the infirmity and corruption of human nature that, in process of time, this unity among the professors of Christianity has been miserably impaired. We have reason to address the throne of Grace continually in the language of our Liturgy; "More especially we pray for thy holy Church universal, that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may [9/10] be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life." By one sect we are told, that there is no necessity for a particular order of men exclusively appointed to minister in the Church of Christ, and that the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper ought to be entirely discarded; by another, that Infant Baptism ought not to be tolerated among Christians; and, by a third, that a perfect parity subsists among the Ministers of the Gospel, that forms of prayer are useless, and that an established Liturgy tends to damp the spirit of public social worship. Now, the Clergy of our Church should never shrink from disputing on these subjects, but be prepared, on all proper occasions, to maintain, that the same Gospel of Salvation through a Redeemer is preached in both the Old and New Testament; that there is the same necessity for a Priesthood now, as subsisted before the coming of Christ; that the sacraments rest upon divine authority; that through the instrumentality of outward means God is pleased to convey his inward and spiritual [10/11] grace; that the infants of believers, at this time, are equally entitled to admission into the covenant of mercy through Christ, as they formerly were under the patriarchal discipline and the economy of Moses; that our Church speaks the truth when she declares in the preface to her Ordination Service, "It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which offices were evermore had in such reverend estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by public prayer, with imposition of hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful authority:" and, finally, that as to the propriety and utility of prescribed forms of prayer, we have both the precept and example of our Lord himself. For the purpose of maintaining what he conceived to be important truth, it is said in the text, [11/12] "that St. Paul went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months"--he went into the synagogue, although he well knew that by so doing he threw himself into the midst of an host of virulent opponents. It is not our duty to rush heedlessly into subjects of disputation; but, surely, this example of the holy Apostle may at least stimulate us never to abandon truth, from the apprehension of undeserved censure, or from excessive desire to obtain a reputation for what the world is too apt to call liberality of sentiment. Whatever the subject of dispute may be, let it be always conducted in the meekness of wisdom. Under the influence of this spirit, we shall be ever disposed to adopt the language of one of the most candid and able disputants [* Daubeny] of the Church of England: "Controversy in itself is certainly useful: when properly conducted, nothing tends so much to the elucidation of truth. But when it is made more subservient to passion than to reason; when prejudice is suffered to hold the scale of judgment, and railing is substituted [12/13] for argument, we deprecate the use of it, from the consciousness of its abuse; and are contented to forego the advantage that may be derived from it, rather than purchase it at so dear a price as that of charity." None of us can fail to remember with what strength and beauty of expression our zealous Apostle describes the properties of this charity; this disposition of love and unity which all the true members of Christ's mystical body, the Church, entertain towards each other: "Charity suffereth long and is kind. Charity envieth not. Charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things; endureth all things." Under the influence of this heavenly principle we shall correct the errors of our neighbour with freedom, but treat his person with all due respect; we shall condemn his faults only with the view of promoting his temporal and eternal welfare.

3. The Ministers of the Gospel, after they have enlightened the understanding, and convinced the judgment of their auditors, [13/14] must imitate the zealous Apostle, by employing all the topics of persuasion which appear to be most effectual to induce men to practise what they know. How many striking instances of this persuasive mode of address occur in the history of St. Paul's ministry, and in the Epistles which he wrote to the Churches planted by him in various parts of the world! To those who read the Bible with due attention, it will not be necessary to specify particular instances. Well might the great critic, [* Longinus] who was perfectly acquainted with the sublime and beautiful, introduce the name of Paul of Tarsus among the most celebrated orators of antiquity. And here I cannot but observe, that even if we were not to take into the account their divine authority, the Holy Scriptures must afford to every man of true taste the most affecting historical narratives, the most convincing and persuasive specimens of oratory, and the noblest flights of sublime poetry. The Christian orator is furnished in the book of God with all the topics of persuasion which can touch every spring of action in the human [14/15] soul. Let him, by his whole life and conversation, convince his auditors that he speaks in the sincerity and godly simplicity of his heart; and then he may alarm their fears, by presenting to their view the awful scenes of a future judgment, when indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish will be inflicted upon every impenitent sinner; he may awaken their hopes, by offering to their acceptance a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; he may call for their love and gratitude, by representations of the wonderful love of Christ in the great work of their redemption; he may excite their detestation of sin, by calling to their remembrance the humiliation and sufferings of their Redeemer, who was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; he may urge the absolute necessity of living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, because unerring wisdom has declared, "without holiness, no man shall see the Lord in his kingdom of glory."

4. It is said, St. Paul was employed in disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. Hence, we may again [15/16] observe, that the Preachers of the Gospel, in the course of their public instructions, ought not to wander into the discussion of subjects foreign to their holy profession. Metaphysical disquisitions, and political harangues are with great caution to be introduced; and even when social duties are more particularly inculcated, let moral precepts always be drawn from Christian principles. The great subject which should ever command our chief attention, is the kingdom of God--his kingdom of grace, on earth; and that of glory, in another state of existence. From the writings of St. Paul may be drawn a comprehensive scheme of Christian doctrine. In almost every page we read of the original depravity of human nature; of the absolute necessity of a Saviour to make atonement for sin; of the union of Christians as members of one body, of which body Christ is the head; from whom proceeds that Holy Spirit which is the principle of life and activity in all the members. But, while we are attempting to derive instruction from the writings of St. Paul, let us carefully attend to the main scope of his argument, [16/17] and not from detached passages, make him deliver sentiments entirely foreign to his design. Had this precaution been steadily kept in view, we should never have heard his Epistle to the Romans alleged as sufficient authority for the doctrine of an absolute, unconditional election of a particular number of mankind to eternal salvation, while the remainder are suffered to go on to perdition without a Redeemer, without any means provided for them by which they may avoid the condemnation that awaits them. In other places he asserts, "that Christ gave himself a ransom for all; that he tasted death for every man;" and, in this very Epistle to the Romans, he makes the redemption through Christ co-extensive with the effects of Adam's transgression; "As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." We are all redeemed; we are all placed in a salvable state; but our final salvation is suspended upon certain conditions. Would St. Paul have asserted that Christ gave himself a [17/18] ransom for all, if it were true that this ransom was given only for a few? that he tasted death for every man, if in reality he died to make atonement only for a particular number of men? We cannot suppose that the Apostle is chargeable with such gross absurdity and contradiction. No whenever, in the course of this Epistle, he speaks of the election of grace, or uses other equivalent terms, his meaning is, that God had elected the Gentiles to a participation of the grace of the Gospel, in contradiction to the opinion of the Jews, who wished to confine his peculiar favours entirely to themselves.

After what has been said, I cannot do better than conclude this part of the subject in the words of one of the most eloquent preachers [* Dr. Rennell] of the present day: "In Paul of Tarsus were combined tempers and dispositions which we seldom find compatible with each other; all conspiring, by their very contrast, to give efficacy to his efforts in the great cause he was called to support. An exuberancy of affection, joined to a masculine understanding; a splendid eloquence, [18/19] aided by the most vigorous argumentative powers; an heroic zeal, directed rather than bounded by the nicest discretion; a conscious and commanding dignity, softened by the meekest and most profound humility; a severity, and even sharpness of reproof, in which the tenderest regard to the object of it was clearly discernible; a pure, fixed, and apostolical serenity, joined to a fervid, and even impetuous temperament, despising every danger, and bearing down every obstacle; all these rare gifts and graces, as they rendered this chosen vessel the great instrument of the conversion of the Gentiles in that his day, so do they exhibit to all those who are dedicated to the same ministry, the most sublime and captivating pattern for their imitation, and the most pregnant documents for their instruction."

Let me exhort you, my Clerical Brethren, studiously to draw instruction from this source, and with a noble emulation to imitate this captivating pattern: I may then address myself to my Brethren of the Laity with more freedom, and with better hopes of success.

[20] Brethren, while you are attending upon the ministrations of the Clergy of our Church, always bear in mind what manner of persons they are; by whose authority they speak and act in the discharge of their ministerial duties. In one sense they may truly be denominated your servants in Christ Jesus; but in another view, they are to be considered as the messengers of heaven, as ambassadors from Christ, as stewards of the household of God. It is your duty, then, to listen to their message with profound attention; to comply with the terms proposed, when they are beseeching you, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God; to receive with gratitude the bread of life dispensed by the stewards of the household, so that you may be nourished with all goodness, and grow up to the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus.

When you are addressed by the Minister of Christ, what is the design of all his arguments and persuasions? Does he wish you to incur any grievous danger, to forego any rational enjoyment, to relinquish any real permanent good? On the contrary, he is endeavouring to convince you of the truth [20/21] of that assertion, "Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." He speaks of the things concerning the kingdom of God, in order to induce you to seek that kingdom as the first and most important object of human desire; to prevail upon you, so to pass through things temporal, that you may finally obtain the happiness which is eternal. And is not this a most benevolent employment? Is there not abundant cause to beseech you, Brethren, to know them which, in this manner, labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake?

Since Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity; since he instituted his Church upon earth that he might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works; be it your hearty desire to comply with his benevolent intentions. Hear his word with becoming reverence; observe his sacraments; let that day be hallowed which he has reserved to himself to be devoted to holy purposes. If you [21/22] employ in a proper manner the provision that is made for you in your own Church you need not wander abroad in quest of better sustenance. You are abundantly furnished with all things necessary to a life of godliness. Holding the head, from which all the body, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered and knit together, you will increase with the increase of God.

Always remember, that there is an unity in the Church of Christ, although one part of that Church be militant here on earth, and another triumphant in heaven. Of him the whole family in heaven and earth is named--it is but one family, although the members of it in their Father's house inhabit different mansions. Christians, even in this world, are said to have "come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of Angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant." The proper [22/23] inference, therefore, is--walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called; let the same mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; even while you remain on earth, have your conversation in heaven. So will you be prepared to join with Angels and Archangels, and all the company of heaven, in lauding and magnifying his glorious name for ever.


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