Project Canterbury








The Divinity School of the Protestant Episcopal Church,
at Philadelphia














At the portals of an edifice, dedicated to the purposes of a Theological School, let us imagine an unbelieving man of the world to find himself standing, and entering. Some one of the many little currents which divert the stream of life a moment from its channel, has wafted him there; and he looks around him with a dim, strange, unfriendly perception of the employments, the tenants, and the whole significance of the place. He sees young men, not much distinguished from the class of common collegians, except by an age slightly riper, and manners somewhat more subdued. They are engaged in studies evidently grave, and acquiring an added seriousness from frequent exercises of devotion. They are laborious, earnest, humble; and often disclose the signs of self-denial, and of narrow resources sustained without discontent. He regards them as throwing their youth away on gloomy dogmas and obsolete legends of remote and uncultivated ages. An ancient and obscure volume; a belief more pure, but also more severe, than those of nations not called Christian; a history, embracing all the strifes and errors which that Christian name has covered; a course of austere observances and [3/4] abstinences; and the task of upholding all these things, with heavy resistance to the progress of human thought, and the rush of worldly interests--this seems to him the dreary occupation of these youthful minds, which might have been given to ambition and success, perhaps to eminence and glory. The gloomy library appears to him as a sepulchre of dead thoughts; the chapel, with its constant ritual, a weariness of flesh and spirit. In the future pastors he sees but busy idlers, or superfluous drones; and in the future missionaries, only eager fanatics, bent on a sad crusade. His thoughts may almost be compared with those of a traveler in China, who is brought within the precincts of a circle of Buddhist priests and worshippers, and who scarcely needs to comprehend, that he may condemn.

A part only of these thoughts, a shadow from their influence, may dwell on the minds of many who shrink from disbelieving. The studies of the divine seem heavy or repulsive. They seem to have their sphere in a region of abstraction. It is quite possible to reduce much of Scriptural interpretation to a business of minute philosophy. Systems of arranged divinity have often, except to mature and massy intellects, something of the grimness and dryness of a skeleton. The alliance introduced by the schoolmen, between metaphysics and doctrinal theology, has been fruitful in ills, and has communicated to the more august partner, not a little of the cold sharpness or speculative dreaminess of its companion. What youthful eye has ever ranged over these [4/5] manuals of ecclesiastical history, from which all details, all pictures, and almost all emotions, have vanished, and has not all but wept, that this should be the record of the Gospel in the world--this classification of errors, controversies, schisms, sects, and persecutions? Or, if we turn to the pulpit itself, there is such an interval between the grandeur of the themes and the barrenness of the discourse; the transition is so vast, from the Psalms, the Te Deum, and the Litany, to the tame, common-place hortatory repetitions of the preacher, that the sentiment of distaste but too easily springs up in minds familiar with the popular eloquence which is so often poured over the passing topics of the time. Then there may be a fashion of associating dulness with religious studies; and of preferring, in sermons, any other element rather than that which is their very vitality. The result of all is, that, even without real prejudice, the hearts of the young shall yet acquire a strangeness and a distance towards sacred learning. Though theology be still enthroned at the head of all sciences, it may be only with the kind of homage which princes have paid to the unquestioned but unenvied dignity of the Papacy; to that towering tiara amongst real, ancestral crowns; upheld as it is with solemn courtesy, humbled at pleasure, confined within a narrow principality, and there subjected to every encroachment of less unearthly authority.

The office of the Christian divine will naturally partake in the depreciation of the studies; and yet not [5/6] necessarily, nor fully, nor everywhere alike. A priest who is ill-informed, may be revered; but even this reverence rests on the supposition that there is glorious truth, of which he has officially the keys, though unable, because untaught, to open the treasure to himself or others. Much more may a Christian minister, who is honored for the sake of his commission, receive an addition of respect, if he is believed to be well versed in sacred knowledge. Learning, even when deemed useless, is nobler than ignorance. But the accumulation of a large professional knowledge, every item of which is held in low esteem, would build up no very desirable distinction; and the ministry cannot long be viewed as occupied with uninteresting and unprofitable studies, and not fall under habitual scorn.

Theology, including in that name all which belongs to the special instruction of the Candidate for Holy Orders-- theology must be exalted in the esteem of men, both that the ranks of the ministry may be replenished with generous and ingenuous applicants, and that the Gospel which is committed to the ministry may not lose its hold on the hearts of every class of hearers. Woe to the Church, and all its holy trusts, in that day when the youth who feels himself prompted by a heavenly impulse to seek the salvation of his fellow-men, and to offer himself for the work, shall be tempted to think that so great a work is to be compassed without giving attendance to reading or to doctrine! Woe, when he shall be persuaded that the best powers and parts are more in place [6/7] elsewhere, and that a pious indolence will suffice in the study of the Scriptures, and in preparation for the pulpit! An ignorant and despised clergy, in a thinking and reading age; without fellowship with the learned, without commanding influence over the uneducated, without attraction for the young, without resources for the defence of truth, without intelligent reverence for the Bible, without power to divide the heavenly food according to the needs of the household--is such an evil as even the cause of the kingdom of heaven cannot afford to endure. Christian men must rather offer any other sacrifice.

The nobleness of theological studies, you will have perceived, is the ground on which the present discourse is built. It is the ground on which arises the institution on whose beginning we seek the benediction of the Holy Ghost. When the words are pronounced, "the nobleness of theological studies," I am almost sure that the first emotion of every heart must be one of surprise that it should be needful to utter them at all. How can those studies be other than the most exalted, whose very name includes the title of Deity? They must bring the mind nearer to God. They must be full of Him, his works, his government, his word, his Church, his righteousness, his love. It must be as when the child Samuel came from the sports of childhood, to minister in the tabernacle before the Lord, girt with a linen ephod. Around must be the solemn and the joyous echoes of never-dying psalms of praise. The fragrance of [7/8] frankincense must always pervade the air. With whatsoever load of weariness it may have been possible to bear down the sacred science, when piety and sound thought have utterly lacked the glow of enthusiasm and the charm of genius; however hard, and precise, and chillingly accurate, or austerely grave, may have been the countenance of many a guide, the truth was still the truth of Him, and from Him, and concerning Him, who is the source of all light, and sweetness, and glory. The outward aspect of the Gospel has never matched its intrinsic splendor. In the Lord of life, the world saw only the son of the carpenter. His great Apostles, the lights of the Church forever, were to the earthly eye but unlearned and ignorant men, as contrasted with Jewish Rabbins or Pagan philosophers; or if a Paul had much learning, he was derided as if that much learning had made him mad. In the meanwhile, those words were spoken and written, which bring us to the gates of heaven, and bring heaven to our hearts; those words which never man before had uttered, and like to which man never since has framed; those by which the Holy Spirit still illuminates, converts, and sanctifies the heirs of salvation. We must not hold in light esteem even the earthen vessel which contains such treasures. The page least sparkling with imagination or feeling, is yet a golden page, if it teaches me anything of my Father in heaven, and of the inheritance which He has reserved for his children. Powers of intellect and graces of style are then but as the ornaments of the candlestick. My [8/9] eye is upon the light, and upon the way which the light reveals. I seem to see everywhere a beam from the reconciled countenance of God. My thoughts on the glory of his kingdom, on the excellence of his laws, and on all the disclosures of his perfect wisdom, and his all-reaching and all-penetrating love, are guided and expanded. If it be the rich reward of the pure in heart to see God, I have in these studies a glimpse of the bliss of that reward.

But sacred studies are never to be contemplated as yielding such fruit, in separation from the habits of a devout and godly life. "Bene orasse, est bene laborasse." "To have prayed well, is to have studied well." The knowledge of God and of his truth engages all the powers of man, whom he made in his image; and the intellect, singly, can make little progress in those regions. If with laborious feet it climb the mountain, yet from the summit only the wings of love and adoration can soar into the skies. "The natural man," says the Apostle, "cannot know the things of the Spirit of God: they are spiritually discerned." It would be a very interesting inquiry, were it possible to urge it to an answer, how far the devastations of unbelief and heresy, even where biblical learning has been prosecuted with much diligence, may have been connected with the absence of devotion, in form as well as in heart. The great rationalists who shook the faith of such multitudes, lived in a land where a theological professor, in their day, by no means meant necessarily a man who even attended [9/10] habitually on public worship. But the profound, believing divines of all the ages--the Chrysostoms and Augustines; the Anselms and Aquinases; the Luthers, Cranmers, and Calvins; the Taylors and Leightons; the Baxters and Owens--have been men of whom we almost think as on their knees; so much are their very thoughts and interpretations like a stream of prayer. They prayed that they might understand wondrous things out of the law of God; and when they understood, they prayed but the more. All sacred knowledge thus leads to God, by that most direct way of the heart. If the certainty that theological studies cannot be pursued with true success, unless begun, continued and ended in habitual, personal communion with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit^ shall help to hold the student to his richest privilege, that communion shall ennoble all his thoughts and ways, and make his studies, in return, a sacrifice of thanksgiving meet for the holiest altar.

While thus they lead him near to God, and bring to him that highest of all knowledge, they are also occupied with all which is best, purest, and most exalted in the history and destinies of the race of men. Is there a charm in the dim shadows of antiquity, which overhang the origin of nations? Is there a grandeur in every view which presents us as one vast family, "made of one blood," all serving one large, providential plan, and having a community of passions, sins, sorrows, and hopes? Is it a celestial satisfaction to see some portions [10/11] of that plan, as they appear, in special disclosures of a Divine judgment and mercy, presiding over all things? Hear we the groans of the whole creation travailing together until now, and waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God? Do we believe that there is any redemption from the bondage, any fulfilment of the universal longing? Or is there for the individual soul a path of salvation from sin and death, up to the brightness and purity of that city undefiled? Is it possible that one man may aid his brother to find and follow that path, until both shall rejoice together in celestial happiness? Is all this revealed; and do the destinies of this earth, the hopes of the human race, the everlasting joys of innumerable souls, thus draw us to the study of that-one book, which cries to us from every page, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world?" It is surely a test of the dignity of all human pursuits, that they more or less concern and promote the chief interests of mankind. One rises above another, in proportion as it touches a higher relation, or opens a wider prospect, or pours abroad a more gladdening light. Then, like a mountain towering up above all hills beside, must the study of the word of God, and of the way of life, tower above all other studies, which at any time may seem its rivals.

Pause yet a moment, at the mention of the life eternal. If it were a matter of science, no one can doubt, that he who should discover and establish any facts unknown until now, concerning the abodes or the nature [11/12] and character of beings higher than ourselves, and invisible to our eyes, would be viewed as occupied by pursuits far more interesting than the loftiest departments of sublunary knowledge. He who could tell us anything of the life to come, in the world to come, would be far more sought and revered, than he who should find out and explore new lands on earth, though the richest and most imperial. What has science to unfold, in comparison with one glimpse through that telescope by which the shepherds on the Delectable Mountains look over to the beautiful city and the heavenly land? It is not science; but is the process or the power less noble, because we name it Faith? Is the result less precious, because its truth is secured by the very voice of the all-wise Father of our spirits? Is the knowledge of the way less exalted, because we have obtained it not from our own discoveries, but from One who has actually trodden the way, coming from the Father, and returning to the Father? Themes so august and so absorbing are those which engage the daily and nightly studies of the Christian divine; and there is no sage or instructor in all the schools of human wisdom, who might not deem himself honored to sit at the feet of one who for the first time should bring him true tidings on themes like these.

Am I told that these studies, elevated as they are, and indeed because they are elevated, are not practical; not like the care of the health or the rights of men; not like the guidance of schools, or the administration of nations; [12/13] not like the work of feeding a people, or the discovery of secrets of nature, through which society is enriched and borne onward towards its highest civilization? Yes; but from these studies the student goes with the results to all alike; proclaims them from the pulpit to the assembled multitude; teaches them to the throng of little children; talks of them wherever an ear is found to hear in private; and pours them into the eager mind, whenever reflection, anxiety, contrition, trouble, sickness or sympathy has opened it to the only interests which outlast a few brief years. The time soon comes to every man, when the salvation of his soul is to him the most practical work within all his conception of things present or things to come. Then, the friend, the counsellor, who can spread out the Gospel, in its fulness, its tenderness, its power, and its fitting application to all his need, is the most practical person whom the goodness of God can bring to his side. If practical studies are noblest, because man and his interests are most precious to man, then are the studies which furnish and prepare the Christian pastor, noblest of all, because none others so reach the noblest interests of man, his purity, his peace, his immortality.

If we could extend and expand these reflections, without regard to the due limits of the occasion, we might speak of the absence from those fields, of all which is not holy, and just, and good, except as always the touch of man somewhat defiles that which is purest, and lowers that which is loftiest. We might linger at the [13/14] footsteps of the wisest and best amongst all the teachers of mankind. We might point to the vast and enduring impress which a single mind, illumined by these studies, has left upon the happiness of successive ages. We might represent the sanctity which theology has spread over the alliance of all sciences, in the great seats of the learned education of Christendom. We might dwell on the grandeur of that eloquence which has been trained to reason with human hearts, of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. We might vindicate the labor, the acuteness, the sagacity, the varied learning, the wisdom from above, which have been employed in securing the correctness of the sacred text, in illustrating its language and scope, and in drawing up the deep wealth of its Divine meaning. We might appeal to those great pieces of reasoning, which of old, as well as in modern times, against Paganism then, and against infidelity of late, have defended the faith on the field of evidence. We might extol the sublime place which, ever since the decline of classic antiquity, has been maintained by sacred literature, in the sphere of high education and intellectual activity; at some periods, its only light, at others, its most shining ornament, and always its purest glory.

Without passing beyond our own tongue and our own communion, we might ask how English letters or English thought could spare the march of those grand periods of Hooker; the sunbeams streaming through those richly-colored windows of Taylor; the calm, vast, reverential [14/15] survey and pause of Butler; or even the lucid elegance of Hurd, the sober dignity of Sherlock, or the sunny ease of Paley. We might dwell on the closeness of the bond which knits theology to every one else of the nobler mental occupations of the wise; to history, to philosophy, to natural science, to the truest rhetoric, to the foundation of law, to all which is most august in antiquity; and to the arts themselves, in their sublimest forms--to architecture, to music, to poetry. But what is all this to the glory of studies which converse with God and with his word; which furnish the wise master-builder, and the faithful steward of Christ; and which have their issue and fruit, as well as their reward, in the happiness of rescued souls, there where all happiness is without end.

Since such, then, is the nobleness of the sacred studies which prepare the way to the sacred ministry, let us return to the portal which, at the beginning of this discourse, we passed with the unbelievers, and ask, Who shall enter and dwell there? Who shall be given to the noblest science? Whom, then, have we sent, and wished to send, to the defence of our country? Did we collect the refuse of the land? Were we content with the puniest stature and the feeblest sinews? Did we despise intelligence, alacrity, energy, or even the more popular traits which attract the eye, and make admiration easy and association a delight? We gathered, as far as we could, all who had strength of body and honesty of purpose; but we preferred the stalwart and skilful, and we [15/16] strove to place as leaders and standard-bearers, the wisest and the bravest men whom the nation could furnish. Such be our offering to a cause even dearer. We want, under the banners of Christ, every true-hearted soldier: the frailest, the dullest, the ablest, the youngest, are welcome there. But we want, to bear and defend those banners, the choicest and the best-trained men whom the Church can summon. For the recruitment of the ministry, we are not, as in the work of preaching the Gospel, to cast forth the net, and gather in fishes of every kind, both bad and good. We need not novices; nor must we be content with persons of sincere zeal, but of feeble intellect; nor yet with those whose powers are vigorous, but whose hearts are doubtful. We must never permit the ranks of the clergy to become a refuge for such as lack the energy to succeed elsewhere. We cannot train up boys, selected to be clergymen, before their minds have been formed by education, their character tested by trial, and their souls moved towards this holy work by the Holy Ghost. It is not for us, indeed, to command, but for the Lord of the harvest to send forth true and meet laborers. But let us not deem the best, the brightest, the strongest, other than the fittest to answer to His call. Let us not lower the standard of our hopes and wishes. Let the love of Christ constrain those in whom it glows most richly, though most humbly. Let them come at every mature age, from every position, with all their gifts; and let it never enter the loftiest dream of any, that gifts of his can approach to [16/17] the dignity of these noblest studies of which the word of God is the centre and the sun.

The worthiest material should be wrought with the most careful toil, when it is destined to the holiest uses of the sanctuary. Were no more than ornament intended, yet pious love would desire to give to every marble its most perfect shape and finish. But these are living stones, meant for no passive service, but to breathe, to speak, to move, to the praise of God, and to the growth of the Church in the number of such as shall be saved, and in all things which pertain to life and godliness. That Church can scarcely care too much for the training which shall prepare those who are to be entrusted with all which her Lord has entrusted to her. It need not be always the same type; and well may we doubt whether the highest efficiency in any ecclesiastical system of large extent would not demand a far more varied and elastic rule of education, of preaching, and of pastoral practice, than that which makes of our ministry a class so uniform among themselves, and so separate from all around. Nor let us demand impossibilities. A large body of persons cannot all be able, thorough, attractive, or even free from striking faults; and it is wretched and heartless to contemn upright men, whose bodily presence may be really weak, or whose speech is contemptible; or men whose only blame it is, that they cannot fasten the attention of minds over which a succession of worldly excitements holds unbroken sway. But the instruction of those whose lips are to keep [17/18] Divine knowledge, should be that which may best prepare them for all their varied work; and we are ready to shrink at the enunciation even of these attainments, of which not one can be excluded from culture in a School of Divinity, and in days like ours.

A full and accurate knowledge of the contents of the English Bible; a memory replenished with its language; an intelligent survey of its structure, connection, chronology, history, and general characteristics; an acquaintance with its primitive languages; a power to expound its statements, to evolve its doctrines, to elucidate its obscurities, or at least to declare why its darkest places cannot now be brought into clearer light; a mastery of the ground on which the skeptic must be encountered; a strong, deep basis of Christian doctrine, arranged and fortified by much study and reflection; a large view of the Church of Christ, as it arose, expanded, triumphed, wavered, decayed, revived, and still stands and spreads itself, and reaches forward; a familiarity with the history, usages, authoritative documents, specific principles, and canonical laws of our own communion; an anticipation, not altogether without experimental trial, of the pastoral round of offices, the visit, the catechizing, the Sunday schools, prayers, exhortation, counsel, reproof, persuasion; a clear and forcible pen; an easy and manly readiness in extemporaneous discourse; a vigorous and not unadorned habit of thought; an earnest and effective elocution; and all this to be secured in the short sojourn of so few hurrying years of youth! But from this [18/19] picture what can we fairly deduct, and leave such a Christian minister as ought to emerge from a school like this? If the primitive Church needed not such training for its clergy, it was but because even higher gifts were then dispensed by the Spirit. "When the Apostles began to preach," says Bishop Horsley, "they were illiterate no longer." Much which now we know, was known without learning, in days close to those of the Apostles, and amongst men who spoke the language which the Apostles had written. If at any period less has been attempted, because the extent of the work surpassed the strength of the Church, we must not plead the inability of such times for the negligence of our own. If the Church of England has exacted less direct theology from her candidates, the failure, which has not been without its serious ills, has been partially balanced by that mental discipline by which academic training has nerved the scholar from the universities. All culture too, is a matter of degree, when it rises above the barest sufficiency. To have any knowledge of a subject, to be able to do a certain act at all, is the first necessity. Then, to extend that knowledge in every direction, and to acquire the ability to do that act with a greater and greater completeness of skill, is the remainder of education. All which we ever learn seems but the development of those elemental principles with which we began; and such must be the course of these noblest studies. It is a comfort and a glory, that, little as we can give within even the longest space, yet, within the shortest, [19/20] we can lay every part of the foundation, so that from it the whole fabric shall arise in due proportion, wherever the Holy Spirit inspires the love of the truth of God, and cherishes the earnestness of conscientious diligence. Such material, that it may be thus framed and moulded, is here brought within the precincts of a school; and yet not, I trust, where the spirit of a mere school shall predominate. A student of divinity should leave behind the peculiar traits of the college. It is not to be desired that the relationship of fellow-students should come into competition with the general claims of the Church, of society, and of human souls. The cloistered mode of life is not the very best preparation for the duties of the Christian pastor; much less that imitation of the cloister which omits its seclusion, but retains its exclusiveness. A gradual passage from the habits of academic association to those of parochial intercourse, should seem to be the character of the seminary. If its students dwell together under the same roof, and worship daily in the same chapel of their own, it is rather because such, arrangements have their convenience, than because collegiate customs can otherwise contribute to their education for the duties of the ministry amongst men. When, however, the bounty of the members of the Church furnishes the shelter, the chamber, the lecture-room, the chapel, it relieves from a burden which must else be borne. It gives the student a home; it withdraws him from many temptations; and it invites him to serve the Lord in godly quietness.

[21] Time and Christian beneficence will doubtless provide for this Divinity School in Philadelphia such an outward home and abode. Never is wealth more nobly employed than when it aids, largely and freely, in yielding to the cause of redemption and the Redeemer, noble instruments, nobly trained and received. Let all but appreciate the nobleness of the studies which are the warp and the woof in the web of daily thought; let all appreciate well the difference between one who teaches only to adorn, even the meanest topic, and one who handles the grandest, the most momentous, the most celestial, only with the rudeness of an unpractised and an unintelligent mind; and then they will hold an institution like this to be exactly that one which promises to repay most nobly the bounty which is bestowed in faith, and consecrated by prayer.

It will be remembered hereafter, in the history of this School which is now inaugurated, that it began in "a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as of the morning spread upon the mountains." One honored Seminary had bowed, at least for the time, to the sweeping storm of war; its halls were hospitals, its scholars in arms, its teachers scattered, its green hill the outskirts, at least, of awful battle-fields. At such a time arose this Institution, a child of hope--of the hope of happier days; the hope of blessings reserved for an united Church and country! May that hope never make us ashamed! In the meantime, let us go forth, weeping, indeed, but bearing good [21/22] seed with us. This work is for the ages to come. The noblest of studies will enrich, satisfy, and outlive all those ages; and the harvest of souls, ripened for heaven, shall reward successive generations of laborers, who, trained by those studies, shall bring in their sheaves, while he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together!

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