Series of Tracts
THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY;
PREACHED IN ST. PAUL'S CHURCH,
AT THE ORDINATION FOR THE VACANT DIOCESE OF MARYLAND,
On the 23d Sunday after Trinity, November 3, 1839.
BENJAMIN T. ONDERDONK, D. D.
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF NEW YORK, AND PROFESSOR OF THE NATURE,
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST
Published by the Prot. Episcopal Female Tract Society of Baltimore.
To be had at D. BRUNER'S, N. Charles Street,
J. D. TOY, PRINT.
Text courtesy of Margaret B. Smith, Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut
1335 Asylum Avenue; Hartford, Connecticut 06105
To THE friend of my youth, and my brother in Christ, beloved the Rev. WILLIAM E. WYATT, D. D. Rector, of St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, at whose request this sermon, preached at the ordination of his son, is published, it is affectionately dedicated, with cordial congratulations on the happy event on which it was delivered, and my sincere supplication for the grace of God, that the prayers, counsels, and example of the father may be richly blessed to the son.
BENJAMIN T. ONDERDONK.
'Take-heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord.'
Colossians iv. 17.
THIS was St. Paul's exhortation to Archippus, a minister of the Colossian church. The word translated 'take heed to,' means more literally look at, see, observe well, and suggests the duty of attentively considering the ministry, calling seriously to mind its character, duties, and responsibilities. If such an exhortation is, as it truly is, a most wholesome one to all who are invested with the high, holy, and momentous character of the christian ministry, it possesses a peculiar interest to those who are candidates for either grade of that station of unequalled dignity and difficulty, and unless most carefully entered, and faithfully and conscientiously filled, of unequalled danger. Then, especially, it behooves to take heed to the ministry, to look well to its character, and weigh seriously its duties and responsibilities.
Such persons are now present. He to whom they look for the accomplishment of their wish to be admitted to different orders of the ministry, knows no exhortation more justly expressive of the feelings with which he would proceed to the discharge of the duty, than is contained in the few words, 'take heed to the ministry'--look well to it, in all its momentous connexion with the character with which it demands compliance, the obligations which it imposes, and the duties which it requires.
The appointment, indeed, of the present occasion is evidence of confidence cherished in the candidates--the result of canonical inquiry and examination--that they have well weighed these things, and have sincerely determined, by God's grace to live and act conformably. Still the duty is never unseasonable, to provoke one another to love and to good works. I purpose, therefore, now briefly considering the nature of that ministry into different grades of which these persons come to be admitted, and the duties connected with it.
 They, indeed, will possess the chief interest in the prosecution of this design. And in consideration of the peculiar interest which they, too, always have in the solemn theme, I would affectionately invite--not insensible, I trust, of its claims on my own most solicitous regard--the especial attention thereto of my reverend brethren present. It is wisely ordered, however, by the church, that there should be, on these occasions, a notice, not only of 'the duty and office of such as come to be admitted deacons, or priests, and how necessary that order is in the church of Christ'; but 'also, how the people ought to esteem them in their office.' For the elucidation of this last point, therefore, which naturally grows out of the previous considerations, and which is so intimately connected with the best feelings of our nature, with social happiness, and with the substantial interests of religion and the church, the congregation will feel that they, too, have a near concern in the proposed course of remarks.
The offices to which these persons are now to be admitted are the second and third of the three grades in which it has pleased the Divine Head of the Church to organize the ministry of His appointment.
The first idea, therefore, which suggests itself as to the office of a deacon or priest, is, that it is invested with the commission of the heavenly ministry. When one receives, by authority transmitted in regular succession from Christ, the ordaining, laying on of hands, his situation is precisely the same as if then a voice from heaven were to designate him as chosen to be sent an ambassador from God to man.
This view of the christian ministry enforces upon every one who is admitted to it, the momentous inquiries, who am I, that I should be invested with a commission from the LIVING GOD? What manner of person ought I to be, that I walk not unworthily of such a vocation? The thought of the divine authority by which he is sent, and the divine commission which is entrusted to him, should be ever in his mind, and as a call, a warning, and an encouragement, be allowed its full influence in the regulation of his heart and life.
The office of a deacon, it may be farther observed, is to be viewed, not only as a grade, but also as an inferior grade, of the gospel ministry; and as one of trial, wherein satisfaction is to be given to the church of meetness for the higher ministries, before authority to exercise them is imparted.
 This view of the diaconate particularly enforces the modesty and humility of ministration which best comport with the holding of an inferior office, and that constancy, fidelity, and ready will to observe spiritual discipline, which are the best recommendation to advancement to the priesthood.
The view of the divine commission under which the Christian ministry performs its high and holy functions, should ever be in the minds of those to whom that ministry is sent, as the rule and measure of their estimate of their character who are over them in the Lord. The ministry of Jesus has received the well meant honour of the world, by being ranked among the learned professions; and this doubtless has led to an extending of its good and proper influences over the various departments of society. It is not, however, unaccompanied with the danger of limiting within altogether too narrow bounds, the estimate formed by the people of the clerical office. In availing themselves of the functions of that office, they are too prone, it is to be feared, to regard it in its connexion merely with the man who holds it, and their gratification with his services, to the exclusion of due reflection on the high and heavenly source whence only can come authority to execute those functions; and to set their minds on the natural moral influence of clerical ministrations, rather than on the momentous truth of their being the appointed medium of communication between man and his maker, whereby we are to approach to Him in the required homage at His throne, and He to extend to us the sanctifying and saving influences of His grace. The pastor is not only the chosen guide and teacher of his flock, but he comes to them vested with a heavenly commission to perform offices which God is pleased to constitute means of their spiritual and eternal welfare. He is over them in the Lord; and they should measure their reverence for his office, by that which is due to Him in whose name he comes, and whose commission he bears.
With a just view of the high and holy character of the ministry, and in an humble, faithful, and docile frame of mind, attained by those influences of divine grace, whence only they can flow, the christian minister should commence and prosecute a course of diligent application to the duties of his office.
Among the chief of these, is admitting men, by baptism, into Christ's church; that is, into that covenant with God through him, in which the blessings of sanctification and salvation [5/6] are conveyed to a fallen world, by virtue of his all-sufficient mediation. Standing, in so momentous a transaction, in the place of God, answering for him, and pledging him for his part in this gracious covenant, is so high an act of authority, and an exercise so peculiarly demanding a special commission, that we should cherish the most profound reverence for an office which embraces them; and they who hold it, should take good heed, lest they incur the tremendous guilt of disgracing it by personal unworthiness; and, while they make others the children of God, and engage him to be their Saviour, become, themselves, children of the devil, and insensible to so powerful a call to reflect on their christian obligations, become more and more hardened in that iniquity which must end in utter perdition.
A priest is also invested with power to represent the Saviour of the world in preparing and administering that holy sacrament which sets forth, in lively commemoration, and with divinely appointed symbol, the offering of the great sacrifice for sin. When he ministers in this function, his office appears in its highest sanctity and dignity. In the symbols chosen and hallowed to that end by his divine Lord, he presents, as an object of faith to the redeemed, and as a plea for mercy to the Almighty Father, the stupendous mystery of Jesus slain a sacrifice for sin; and extends to the subjects of this unspeakable love a divinely appointed pledge and mean of the grace which it purchased to renew and sanctify their hearts, to strengthen their faith and piety, to carry them onward in their christian course, and to keep them unto salvation.
Be ye clean who bear the vessels of the Lord, was the wise counsel of the prophet; and powerfully should it go home to the hearts of all who, in the high and holy function of the eucharist, stand and minister in the name of the Lord their God. Let those hands be pure, which consecrate the emblems of the body and blood of the Redeemer. Let, nothing that defileth, proceed from that mouth which utters the powerful words that raise earthly elements into so high and holy a character. Let not his heart be estranged from the renewing and sanctifying influences of divine grace, who extends to others their most efficient and interesting means. Be not he unused to holy spiritual communion with his God, who offers its highest privileges to his fellow-men.
A christian minister is also called to conduct the public service of the church.
 This is not merely that leading of devotions to which every christian is competent, but a legitimate exercise of the ministerial office, by virtue of which the minister appears at the head of an assembly of worshippers, an accredited ambassador of the Great Power at whose throne they present themselves, specially authorised by Him to act in their behalf; and, as their representative, to offer, together with his own, their common prayers, praises, and thanksgivings. Ever, therefore, in this solemn exercise, the pastor should keep this idea in view. Duly entertained, it will excite and cherish feelings of awe, humility, and devotion. The momentous fact, that not only he, but in him, the portion of the church, at whose head, and in whose name, he is authorized to perform this service, is therein deeply interested, presents a tenfold motive to cultivate those affections and dispositions of heart, and that propriety of manner, which are meet for an offering to the Lord of Hosts.
Reading the Holy Scriptures in the church is another part of the minister's, priest's, and deacon's duty.
Here, too, he should not dismiss from his mind the idea that he acts by virtue of a divine commission. His authority emanates from the same source as did that of the prophets, evangelists, and apostles, who penned the sacred pages which he reads in the ears of the people. It is to them as if the prophet, evangelist, apostle, or even Christ himself, were again speaking the words of eternal life.
Surely, no more powerful appeal can be made to the christian minister, in behalf of the character which he should sustain, and the efforts which he should make, that this important office fail not of due effect through his fault.
Instructing the children in the catechism, and the familiar religious instruction of young persons of maturer age, are other branches of a pastor's or deacon's duty. And when he considers the infinite importance to himself, in time and through eternity, to society, and to the church, of the religious instruction of the young, these duties must commend themselves to his most careful and diligent attention.
The notice of this point naturally brings to view that extensive department of catechetical instruction which is comprised in the Sunday school system. The pastor should never dismiss from his mind a solemn sense of his responsibility for the correct operation of that system within his cure. Each scholar is one of his catechumens, and it is his duty to see that he be truly fed with the sincere milk of the word. [7/8] The teachers are catechists, acting under his authority for carrying out his plans for the religious culture of the lambs of his flock. His, therefore, should ever be a most solicitous supervision of the whole operation, and that devotion to it of his own time, and personal attention, which the proper balancing of his various duties and responsibilities will admit.
Preaching the gospel also appertains to the ministerial office.
This duty demands the most solicitous attention that it embrace such matter as will make it, in sincerity and truth, the preaching of the gospel, allowing nothing to be added thereto, or taken therefrom, no sacrifice to popularity, no mere desire to please, no affectation to be thought liberal, no wish or effort to make religion easier, or its requisitions less, than God himself has made them.
And in order to fidelity in this department, the Holy Scriptures must be diligently studied, and faithful application be given to all branches of knowledge which tend to a due understanding of them, and especially must there be an habitual seeking, by prayer, of the illuminating influences of divine grace, that the preacher may be well instructed, and properly furnished, for his work.
To manner, too, that degree of attention should be given which is prompted by an ardent desire to do the greatest good, properly to recommend and enforce the truths delivered, and to guard against hindrance to their due acceptableness and effects.
In adverting to a special act of public ministration, distinguishing the two higher from the lowest order of the clergy, it is with the view of calling your attention to the fact of the church having transferred, to the solemn service this day to be celebrated the memorable words used by our Lord in investing His apostles with their ministerial power and prerogatives, 'Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.' Grievous as may have been the errors, and gross the corruptions, to which the depraved and disordered mind of man has abused the blessed words of Holy Writ, that precious volume loses, nevertheless, none of its sanctity, its importance, and its unquestionable claim to our assent to every point of truth and duty therein established. In the light of that knowledge of divine things, and that ability to judge of the divine writings with which God may bless us, we should strive to clear His Holy Word of all the false glosses, and all [8/9] the unhallowed corruptions, with which human weakness or wickedness may have enveloped it; but never, because of those glosses and corruptions, suffer ourselves to shrink from the responsibility of sustaining, in all its legitimate bearings, every jot and tittle of that divine volume. And surely the truths and precepts which we thence derive can never be more correctly expressed than in its own terms, however, by others, those terms may be misunderstood and misapplied.
These remarks are applicable to the great doctrine, and the high commission, contained in the before recited words, wherein the Saviour gave the power of absolution to His apostles, and wherein the church provides that her ordaining officer should transmit the same power to those who are raised to the office of the priesthood--'Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.'
The great source of the misunderstanding and misapplication of this, as well as other passages of Scripture, is taking them in their insulated form, and not applying to them that rule of construction, sound in itself, and essential to the doing of full justice to any writing, comparing them with other passages having a bearing on the same subject, and drawing a connected and consistent view from the whole.
Now, with regard to the forgiveness or remission of sins, there are no truths more clearly revealed, and more strongly founded in Scripture, and none more closely interwoven with the whole scheme of revelation, than that none can forgive sins but God; and that they only will enjoy the benefit of forgiveness, who possess true penitent hearts and lively faith, a circumstance that can be surely known only to God. All offers of the remission of sins, therefore, and all appointment of means and conditions of so great a mercy must be understood to have a reference to, and an inseparable connexion with, these fundamental truths. With such reference, however, and in such connexion, those means and conditions should be conscientiously and practically regarded in their appointed character. The fear of being thought to raise an external ordinance to too high a value and importance, should not deter us from maintaining the divinely established connexion between baptism into Christ, and all the rich spiritual blessings flowing from forgiveness through His merits. Nor should any erroneous views to [9/10] which our Saviour's granting to His apostles the power of remitting and retaining sins may have led, produce the least hesitation in humbly and gratefully admitting that that power was mercifully given, as a part of the ministerial commission, and that the solemn recognition of it is rightly retained by the church.
But how are we to do this? In what sense are we to understand the terms thus used by our Lord, and from Him by the church?
We regard them in their necessary connexion with the great truths above mentioned, that none can forgive sins but God, and that none but the truly penitent and believing will have their sins forgiven. Hence it follows, that whatever apostles or succeeding ministers, or any creature, however exalted, can do in the imparting of the absolution and remission of sins, they can, by no means act as principals, but solely as instruments and agents. God only can forgive sins. But in this and all other acts of grace toward man, He is pleased to operate through means. When, then, our Divine Lord gave this high prerogative to His apostles, He appointed, as a mean of His granting absolution, that it be pronounced authoritatively in His name, by them. It would be an obvious departure from the legitimate bearing of the strong and peculiar terms then used by Christ, to lower them into the mere comfortable assurance which one christian may give another, that if he truly repent and believe, God will forgive his sins. And it is among the many evidences of the adherence of our church to pure Scripture doctrine, distinguished alike from superstition on the one hand, and laxity on the other, that she gives such prominence to the gospel principles, that there is, in the ministry of Christ, a power to declare authoritatively, in His name, God's absolution and remission of the sins of the penitent and believing, and thus be the instrument and channel through which that blessing is conferred on those thus prepared. We believe, therefore, that this act of the priesthood is a mean whereby absolution is extended to all true penitents and believers; and that by the terms on which authority to exercise it is given, and which are fairly announced in the forms of absolution provided in our church, the sins of those who do not repent and believe, are retained, or unabsolved.
Remarks somewhat similar might be made of the analogous sacerdotal function of benediction. Performed by one authorized to stand and bless in the name of the Lord, and [10/11] received in penitence and faith, we should not doubt that it will be ratified by that great and good Being, and made the channel of His blessing.
These acts of the christian priest--absolution and benediction--are of so high and holy a character, that while they cannot but be allowed an important influence in regulating the degree of estimation in which all good christians should hold that office, so also, should they read a most serious lesson to those sustaining it, respecting the purity and piety of personal character which should be connected with such official prerogatives. Most solicitously should they take heed to themselves in the exercise of these ministries, lest they be guilty of the awful profanation of defiling by impiety, immorality, worldly mindedness, or spiritual hardiness and indifference, that channel through which divine pardon and blessing are appointed to flow, and being themselves estranged from God, while in the very act of extending His reconciliation and favour to the penitent and believing.
In addition to the public duties of the christian minister, all the branches of parochial duty, are important parts of his holy functions. In these, and especially in visiting the sick and the afflicted, much of the faithful pastor's work is to be discharged; and much of the fruit of his ministry, in this world and the next, to be secured. Therefore, the pastoral functions, in all their variety of constant labour, and deep and sacred interest, should engage the solicitous and faithful attention of all who are called to that office.
And since, my brethren, it has pleased God to send among you His ministers, vested with authority to perform these various functions appointed by Him for your spiritual and eternal good, you surely must recognise the correspondent obligation, on your part, humbly, faithfully, and devoutly to avail yourselves of this so great mercy, by waiting with all diligence, and christian preparedness of mind, on their ministrations. What is neglect of this but incurring the dreadful sentence which the Holy Ghost, by the pen of Solomon, pronounced on all who fail duly to improve by the merciful overtures of divine love! 'Because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded: but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity: I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh [11/12] upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer. They shall seek me early, but they shall not find me. For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would none of my counsel. They despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.'
By His holy ministry, God is, all the day long, stretching forth His hand to His people, that He may bestow upon them the abundance of His spiritual mercies, and guide them in the way that leadeth unto life. In the more private pastoral functions of that ministry, he provides for them friends and counsellors to whom they may always have recourse for guidance and for consolation; while in its public duties, the King of kings receives into His more especial presence those who would render Him that homage, seek His favour in those services, and derive from His ambassadors that instruction, which He has been pleased to make means of their spiritual and eternal good.
And when thus the Great God himself condescends to make appointments for us, who are we that we should neglect or refuse them, or make our will and convenience the measure of their observance? Oh! brethren, if we estimated aright the immense value and importance of the ministry of reconciliation, and the unspeakableness of that mercy which has appointed it, our duties thence arising would be ever foremost in our thoughts, and in our regards. No excuse would be admitted for failing to wait on the services of God's holy day and house, which would not be equally available in reference to any object, however nearly connected with our highest worldly joy, or our most important worldly interests; we would see in the ministers of heaven those by whom God makes to us the overtures of grace and mercy, and admits us to the highest and holiest privileges of which our nature is susceptible; and by this measure we would mete the importance of waiting on their ministrations with all constancy and fidelity, lest, at the great day, they rise up in dreadful judgment against us.
It may, lastly, be stated, as a duty incumbent on all the ministers of the church, that they qualify themselves for bringing to any share to which they may be called in her counsels, and in the direction and management of her concerns, minds enlightened, and hearts interested, in those scriptural and primitive principles and views which tend to the preservation of her unity and purity, and the advancement [12/13] of her prosperity; and that, cherishing the most heartfelt and disinterested love for the church, they bestow as circumstances may allow and require, their willing and faithful efforts, within their proper sphere, for the promotion of her interests.
It would be wrong to close this view of the nature and duties of the clerical office, without again calling the attention, particularly of the Rev. brethren and candidates present, to the momentous truth, that our ministry, to be acceptable to God, and present a reasonable prospect of usefulness to man, must be the offering of a willing and devoted heart. It must show its fruits in our lives. Its doctrines and precepts must subjugate our passions, control our affections, dispositions, and conduct, and sanctify our whole character. We should be much in prayer, and very diligent in our efforts, that through divine grace, this may be the blessed effect of our ministry, to the strengthening of our faith, and to our advancement in all righteousness and true holiness. This will be one of the most effectual means of usefulness to our fellow-men, and our only security against the dreadful condemnation that awaits that worst of all hypocrisy which is manifested by the unholy minister of heaven.
As our guide in this momentous department, we should take the Holy Scriptures, and their best interpreter, the principles and practice of the primitive church. These teach that true piety which, while it enlists in the cause to which he is devoted all the zeal, ardour, industry, and unwearied perseverance, of the minister of God, chastens and directs them by love of order, deference to authority, and willing observance of discipline. And as these are inseparable from the due influence of evangelical piety, so are they essential to the unity, purity, and prosperity of the mystical body of Christ, objects which should be dearly cherished by every true christian, enlist his most devoted efforts, and be the subject of his constant faithful prayers at the throne of grace.
Brethren, the present candidates: [Thomas J. Wyatt, candidate for deacons’ orders, and the Rev. Orlando Hutton, candidate for the priesthood.] let me now exhort you to take heed to the ministry which you have come hither to receive in the Lord. Mark it well in all its holy and momentous features, responsibilities, and obligations. The subject, I trust in God, is far from being new to you. You have given such evidence of having well-weighed it as can be submitted to human cognizance.
 Man, however, can look but on the appearance. There is One only who sees the heart. Think you that our judgment is His also? Do you think, in your heart, that you are truly called, according to his will, to the offices into which you now seek admittance? As you will answer to Him at the last day, is it your one and only object to devote yourselves, soul, body, and spirit, with all their powers and faculties, to Him and to His service, in the various functions of the ministry? Are His glory, and the spiritual and eternal good of your fellow-men, the great end and aim you have in view, to the utter sacrifice of whatever in either your personal or official character and conduct, may militate against them?
If, having bestowed much prayer, and much most serious, solicitous, and impartial consideration, on these momentous points, you can, in humility and sincerity of heart, think and profess all this--and not otherwise, far better were it, even now, to draw back from the momentous professions, and irrevocable vows of ordination, than make them without a good and truly Christian conscience--but if this is so, come forward, and in the name of God, in reliance on His grace, and in the strength of true faith in Him, enter into the required pledge of all your hopes of salvation through the atoning sacrifice whose memorial is now to be celebrated, for the faithful fulfilment of the duties, obligations, and responsibilities of the ministry. And may God, for Christ's sake, make you fruitful in every good work appertaining to that holy calling, and abundantly bless your ministry to His glory, and to the salvation of your own souls, and the souls of many others!