THE MINISTRY AND THE MINISTER
PREACHED AT THE OPENING OF
THE CONVENTION OF THE DIOCESE OF NEW YORK
SEPT. 26TH, 1888
REV. GEO. R. VAN DE WATER, D.D.
RECTOR OF ST. ANDREW'S, N. Y
PRINTED FOR THE CONVENTION
"Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ,
and stewards of the mysteries of God."—I. COR. iv. 1.
No man who is modest would covet my manner of introduction to this convention. I owe it to myself to say, I am not in this pulpit because I ought to be, but because I am ordered to be here. However much a minister may feel, properly feel, conscious of his ability to preach to laymen, few ought to attempt, without much trepidation, to preach to his brothers in the clerical office. I may, however, at this time, cast myself upon your confidence and esteem, since it is not of my volition, but our bishop's invitation, tantamount always to a command, that I am to-day the speaker, and you the hearer.
Suffer, therefore, the word of exhortation; and let us strive, so far as we can, to be at this time all hearers, and the Divine Master alone the preacher. So shall the human ambassador endeavor to hear what himself may say, not as the words of man, but rather that which has been given in a solemn hour by the Holy Spirit to speak. Our theme is, The Ministry, and the Minister.
I suppose we will all agree that in one sense the clergy do not get to church often enough. There are few opportunities for them to sit before a pulpit that deals with them plainly, pertinently, boldly, just as the clergy are wont to deal with their people. This is one of the few occasions. The Lord help me to use it rightly.
We address two classes of men in this assembly—laymen and clergymen. The interests of Christ's Holy Church are intrusted to these, jointly. A proper understanding of each other's rights and duties, a proper appreciation of each other's functions and privileges, are necessary to the well-being of the divine organization, of which they are the guardians.
Our text refers primarily to a layman's duty. "Let a man so account of us." It asserts also the nature of the clergyman's office, in words that straightway follow: "As ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." Ordinarily, men account [3/4] of clergy in the ratio of the clergyman's ideal of his office, and his practical realization of that ideal. Be the ideal of the office high, the layman's estimate is high. Be it low, or even medium, the estimate agreeth thereto. Since the layman's accounting of the clerical office is in most cases synonymous with the Church's influence in the world, it is a matter of serious importance that his accounting be favorable. The influence the Christian Church has at any given time in the world, logically, then, depends upon the ideal of his office by a clergyman, and the faithfulness with which he works to produce it.
The apostle who tells the layman his duty, gives also to the clergyman his ideal. Brothers in the clerical office, we are ministers of Christ, and stewards of God's mysteries. Ours is the highest, and the lowest of functions. We are servants, slaves, toilers, underlings, rowers in the boat, as the original word tells us; at the same time we guard the king's treasures, we dispense heavenly blessings, we are appointed keepers of God's household. "Ministers and stewards of mysteries;" we are mere men to serve at the Master's bidding at the same time we are priests to offer the sacrifice, as real as any of the paschal feast. Such an office, brothers, is one the full dignity, the tremendous responsibility of which cannot be overestimated. He never can execute the functions of this office well, who does not magnify it.
To be fellow workers with God is no little honor. To be auxiliary in any way to the blood-shedding of Christ on the cross for man's salvation, is not a trivial task. To be an appointed officer in an army, the chief of which takes prominence at the right hand of the Father in heaven, is a wonderful thing. If I mistake not, the need of this time is to make men see what is the design of the Christian ministry; and as they come to see this, they will appreciate it. To make men see this, we clergymen must see it ourselves, and feel the consciousness of it thrill us through and through, and know every moment what is the sublime and momentous end of this function that reflects so much honor, and fastens so much importance upon it. When men come to see this end, which is nothing less, and nothing else, than the salvation of souls, they will properly account of us as "ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God," and in large numbers will come to us for admission to our order, to have a part of this sacred ministry, intrusted to us of God.
Things common or mean in themselves acquire unspeakable [4/5] excellence by association and destiny. Our office is frequently held forth in scriptures by images derived from employments more humble than glorious, but the dignity it acquires from relation and design is never for a moment lost sight of. We are "soldiers," but in "the good fight of faith." We are "fishers," but "fishers of men." We are "laborers," but "laborers together with God." We are "builders," but in "God's building." We are "watchmen," but "watchmen for souls." We are "shepherds," but of "Christ's flock." We are "ministers," "servants," yes, but "STEWARDS," too, "of the mysteries of God." More of this magnifying the office, and less of earthly agencies to create short roads and easy ones to holy orders, will give us the increase of the ministry—all the increase the ministry needs. Let a man account of our office something like this, and we call scripture to witness, it is not a false accounting. The office of a lawyer is important, because it watches over our property. The office of a physician more so, because it guards our health; more so, because "the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment." The office of a priest most so, because to the soul and eternity this office is appropriated, and the soul and eternity are of all things absolutely the greatest.
A very small and insignificant piece of paper is converted into a bank note, which by a certain impression becomes current money, and has value. A very inferior looking scroll of canvas, hardly observed by the weaver, nor missed by the vender, receives upon it the immortal tints of Raphael, and becomes the admiration of the world. And so, taking the soul of man for its subject and making eternity its aim, the office of a priest in the Church of God seems to rise into ineffable greatness. So let a man account of us as at once the loftiest and the lowliest; "Ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." Brothers in this Ministry, let us take comfort in this thought, and with St. Paul for a model, let us not fear to say, "I magnify mine office." What mission can equal that which we have received of the Lord Jesus, "to testify the Gospel of the grace of God," and to "show unto men the way of salvation"? No angel ever came from heaven to earth on so mighty an errand as ours. "I send thee," says the Lord Jesus, "to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and the power of Satan unto God." This, then, is our aim, and when all the labors of other professions are done, when so called immortal works of philosophers, legislators, poets and historians, shall be consumed, the effects of our ministrations in Christ's stead will be seen in countless numbers before the throne, and in the [5/6] reconciliation of our fellow men to God. Such is our office, and if it seem that we have dwelt too long in endeavoring to make men see what manner of function it is, our explanation is that the office is neither understood nor esteemed as it ought to be. Clergymen themselves do not appreciate what a trust they minister for God; what wonder then if laymen should fail so to account us?
Seeing then, dear brethren of this ministry, who we are, what manner of men ought we to be? We have spoken of the office: let us now speak of the man. Some of the minister's work is official, and in a sense mechanical. He conducts services, preaches the word, administers sacraments. Most of his work, however, is personal, and herein lies the extent of his influence, whatever it be, for Christ and His Church. The dignity of his office does not discharge him from all the obligations to personal purity and holiness, but it binds these obligations upon him with an increased weight, and a superadded force. That we are appointed to teach Christianity to others is an irresistible reason why we should experience and practice it ourselves. We should experience it in its fullness, and practice it in its entirety. We are called upon by the demands of our office to be deeply and habitually pious. We are to strive not to excel in any one grace or virtue, but to excel in every grace of the Spirit. Unless we are men of integrity in all our ways, cultivating a devotional spirit, neither marred by mysticism, nor by phariseeism, grave and serious, without melancholy or moroseness, cheerful without levity, above the semblance of envy, which is the vice of little minds, removed from the desire to be great in anything but the service of Christ, we cannot hope to be accounted as Christian ministers, and stewards of the mysteries of God. We are commanded to take heed to ourselves before we take heed to the doctrine, because important as the latter is, the former is more so. We are not only to shine as lamps in the sanctuary, but our hearts should be the altars where the celestial fire perpetually burns, the fire that is designed to ignite the censers of the church, before they are carried by the High Priest of our profession into the Holy of Holies. We have resting upon us not only the vow of a Christian profession, but the additional vow of a Christian minister. We have, therefore, to maintain a consistency of Christian character not only for our own sake, but because men who never read bibles read us, and are accounting of us, and to a large extent judging Christianity by us, and look upon us as examples of the flock. We have scriptural authority for the statement that what ministers are, to a certain [6/7] extent, to a great extent, their people are likely to become. In this view, in the ministerial character there can be nothing unimportant. In his general deportment, his manner, his bearing, his dress, his private intercourse, he is the minister of Christ, at all times, in all places, and as such, men are accounting of him, for good or for evil. His compositions may be elegant, his diction sublime, his rendering service passing criticism, his genius brilliant as Cicero's, his oratory more resistless than the thunders of Demosthenes: let but a single man in the corner of a pew have reason to say, "Physician, heal thyself," and what after all is our great divine but something less than "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal"? So important a factor is personal character to an efficient ministry, that too often it has happened the seed of the word has been scattered on the Lord's Day over the whole field, and in the course of the following week the sower has gone from one part of the field to another, and by a careless manner of living, by a frivolous conversation, by a worldliness of spirit, sown tares to choke the tender plants, or poisons to consume them.
Let no man here lose the effect of these words by thinking there is no occasion for them. The more we ministers magnify our office, talk about the demands of it, and strive to live up to them, the more efficient will be our ministries, the more powerful will become the Church, the more moved to godliness the community about us. Earnestness and sincerity, elements of success in any vocation, are things without which there can be no success in the Christian ministry. What do we mean by these things as here applied? We mean, dear brethren, something more than zeal, than activity, than physical energy, than mere enthusiasm.
These elements of a successful ministry have to do with root ideas and fundamental principles. There may be need of some heart searching to get at a full appreciation of their meaning.
Gathered as we are here for counsel and legislation in the interests of the foremost diocese of our great country, coming here as most of the clergy have come, fresh from a period of recreation and rest, ready now to begin another year of work in this important vineyard, and anxious to do the work well, it will do us good to think seriously what important elements in such work earnestness and sincerity are. And if in so thinking the plowshare of God's truth seem to go down deep into the soil of our hearts, do not endeavor to stop its progress, nor wish the process were different.
We are wont to judge men's work by figures, statistics, things we [7/8] can see. These are about all a convention, for example, can take account of. But there are many good things a convention cannot take account of. We are influenced, in this day more by the show of progress than by the progress itself; more by noise than by motion. It will soon be the time of the year when one can see the huge locomotive give every sign of doing its work. Its wheels will go round, the steam will escape in large quantities, the smoke will puff from the stack, and you will think what a tremendous exhibition of force there is here, but, as if fixed, there the engine stands, and for all its noise and bluster, it hasn't moved an inch. It is possible for a parish to gather about it numerous activities, to multiply its societies, and make a show of great spiritual force, and yet, so far as advance in personal holiness of the flock is concerned, stand for years as still as the locomotive on its slippery track. Earnestness has to do with something beside exhibition of Christian work. True earnestness has to do with the incentive to work. In the final estimate, the estimate that will last, and outlast time, the parish is accounted most successful whose priest is most holy. So let a man account of us.
Men of the world expect a great deal of ministers. Why shouldn't they? They do not expect too much. Think what we profess to be among men! We claim to have been called to this office of priest in the Church of God. That is a great claim in itself. Then we claim to have received unction for the work, and declare in this church we are in a direct line of succession from the Apostles. Then we go on to claim, as we have the right to do boldly, that we stand in Christ's stead, reconciling men to God. An angel right from heaven could hardly profess more for his authority. We may plead "we are but men," but men account of us as clergymen, those who have been called. No one forced us into this office. We assumed it, and when ordained we swore we had an inward call to it. We may plead "we are sinners of like passions with yourselves." All too true. But men say, "You tell us about holiness, unworldliness, peace and joy in believing, the comforts of faith, the assurance of salvation, the pleasure in following Christ, the delight in bearing the cross; if knowing nothing personally of these things you preach, or giving no evidence of your personal knowledge of these things, we are justified in declaring, 'Thou hypocrite!'" Our very assumption of the ministerial office is the declaration to the world that we ourselves have found Jesus. If we claim the right to show other men the way to heaven, they have the right to demand [8/9] that we walk in the way. Our people expect us to lead them in every good work. So, brethren, let men account of us! We who have heard all about the denunciation of the leaders of the Pharisees need not to be told that no exaltation of office can supply the lack of personal consecration to its work. This, after all, is what men about us mostly take account of. They know the environments of the clerical office are pleasant, for the most part; that taking holy orders means often taking a social position; that association with prominent people, and opportunity for a studious life, are very agreeable, and cannot be had, to so great an extent, at least, in other callings; but one thing tells with men of the world whether or not a minister is a success, and this one thing is whether or not the minister is pious. The preacher whose preaching leads men to believe in him rather than in his Saviour, instead of giving men life more abundantly, is but a saver of death unto death. Well has an Apostle said: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord."
Actors on the stage may speak falsehoods as though they were truths, but preachers in the pulpit must never speak a truth that is not truth in their lives. Having sincerity with earnestness, taking heed to ourselves and to the doctrine, men will come to account to us as "ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God."
The character of the clergy is the Church's source of life and chief element of strength in any age. In no age has it been more necessary for the clergy to take a strong stand on this ground, and hold it, than now. What the religion of Christ can do to make men better is the real test of its worth. Nowhere is the test more rigidly applied than among those who claim the right officially to declare it. Professional animosity ought have no place in our exalted office. The humblest laborer in our Lord's vineyard should have equal honor with the most eminent. Rivalry should not enter our borders, nor jealousy invade our brotherhood. The spirit of envy ought never to be seen among those who profess to be leaders in holiness.
The spirit of the body must exclude it; the moment it shows its head, crush it. They who have had holy hands laid on their heads should band together in loving fraternal intercourse, and allow no body of men to rival clergymen for mutual interest one with another. Society must come to see that Stewards of the Mysteries are leaders in goodness, in righteousness, in whatsoever things are pure, lovely, and of good report, and by one another held in high [9/10] repute. Men must not account of us as other than what we are, "Ministers of Christ." We have never been commissioned to give polish to society, to be the best men at appointed feasts, the oracles on secular occasions, the mouth-pieces on political topics. The business we are called to is to represent the Saviour to men of the world, and to be ourselves to them a pattern of holiness. Our work is to save souls, nothing else. Jesus went to a wedding feast when on earth; but why did he go? To manifest His glory in a miracle, that men might believe on Him. He never once lent his office merely to dignify a secular occasion. He dined at the pharisee's house, where opportunity was given to preach to the pharisee. He went to the Bethany Home to rest in the work of preaching to Mary, and ministering gently a rebuke to Martha; to Peter's wife's mother sick of a fever, to the daughter of Jairus, though but twelve years old and dying, to the servant of the centurion dangerously ill, to hundreds of others, Jesus went, always with the single purpose of doing his work, in his office. He seemed to be always at his work. Many attempted to engage him in useless controversy. Some said, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" To save their souls was of more importance than to gratify their curiosity. So he left that question unanswered, merely saying, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." Others wished to enthrone him a king. To escape them, he went to a mountain to pray. Some would engage him in politics. "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?" Religion was his sphere, not politics. "Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar's, and unto God the things that be God's," was his only reply. Others would tax him with speculative inquiries. "Wilt thou at this time restore the Kingdom?" To which he answered, "It is not for you to know times nor seasons." You see his work was definite, and he kept at his specific work till the end. "Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind," and let men so account of us. Let us stay where we belong. The proper work of the ministry is preaching the gospel and ministering sacraments. This work is enough to employ all our time, and exhaust all our energies. Satan does not much care what we undertake, if only he can get us away from our legitimate task. We may review books, edit classics, solicit insurance, visit the theaters, attend the operas, sell periodicals, make political speeches, vary our subjects by treatment of popular authors at the musical vespers, break the laws of the land by allowing lottery schemes at church fairs and suppers, anything that will secularize us, it does not much matter what it is, and Satan will be [10/11] happy. God give us ministers who are workmen on His Spiritual Temple the grace and the courage to say to every tempter who would induce us to descend from the lofty eminence of our office as "ministers of Christ and stewards of the Mysteries of God," what Nehemiah once said, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it and come down to you?"
If there be any theological students present, they do well to listen now, and avoid blunders that some of us wish we had not made in our early ministry.
There are things that a layman may do that a clergyman does well to refuse to do. It is not much to ask that we give up some things, even in themselves innocent, yet in their associations uncongenial to our office. Things not sinful may yet be contrary to our profession. The last of the fathers has well recorded, "Trifles of the laity may become sins with the clergy," (Nugae secularium sunt blasphemiae clericorum.—S. Bernard) and whether so or not, we may be sure that after all has been done that can be done to magnify our office in our own eyes, and make men esteem it as they should, we have done no more than is demanded to cause men to account of us as "Ministers of Christ, and stewards of the Mysteries of God."
Finally, just a word to brethren of the laity. You are the ones to account of us. You will do me justice to say I have not spared myself nor my brethren in my estimate of the clergyman's duty. Why, then, should I spare you? The Lord only knows how much trouble has come from the failure of men properly to esteem the clerical office. The text is an admonition to the clergy, but it is an injunction to you. You are to account of us as "Ministers of Christ and stewards of God's Mysteries." Give honor and respect to your pastors, recognize their official relation, and whatever their personal defects may be, regard them "as over you in the Lord." Their character and office demand, at least, that personal weaknesses, if not faults, should be overlooked. Well said Bishop Bull to his charge of St. David's, "Do not, like cursed Cham, delight to pry into the nakedness of your fathers—for the contempt of the clergy redounds to the contempt of all religion, and our Saviour says, 'He that despiseth you despiseth me, and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.'"
Sympathize with your clergy, advise them, help them all you [11/12] can, labor with them in every way possible, be intimate with them, let them understand that always in you they have a friend.
With these thoughts of mutual responsibility and relationship, with these ideas of obligation and duty, let us together, clergymen and laymen, go to the altar with this vow on our lips, and an earnest purpose to fulfill it in our lives, to "walk henceforth worthy of our vocation, adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." Then shall we be "workmen that need not be ashamed," in a diocese where with peculiar significance our work is indeed making "God's way known unto men, His saving health among all the nations."