PERSONAL CLERICAL CHARACTER THE
TO THE CLERGY OF THE DIOCESE.
RIGHT REV. GREGORY THURSTON BEDELL, D.D.,
Delivered at the Sixty-First Annual Convention of the Diocese,
REV. BRETHREN OF THE CLERGY:--In the restlessness of the age, and by the inroad of false ideas, clerical Influence is threatened. The evil is felt not so much by the class immediately subject to assault, as by society itself, and in the extension of the Gospel. The counteraction of the evil becomes a subject of imminent concern, because of the immense interests that are at stake in the welfare of the country, and the salvation of redeemed humanity.
The causes to which it may be traced are by no means as important a topic of study, as the remedy. Those are only too patent. This is less observed. And therefore I have chosen a topic for my second Charge which reveals this remedy. It is understood that when a Bishop enters on so grave a duty as this, he has something to say, which, because of its intrinsic importance or of some exigency of the times, he feels must needs be said. Both reasons lead me now to speak; and these remarks will be the result of matured reflection, strengthened by the observations of years, and spoken now, because in my judgment they are timely.
While I address you as your Bishop, believe me it is as a Brother, who, learning somewhat from experience and somewhat from long observation, desires to give you the [3/4] benefit of both, whilst associating himself only the more closely with yourselves as a recipient of every counsel.
A Charge is properly addressed to the Clergy. But my Brethren of the Laity will, I trust, hearken to its suggestions, both that they may understand how difficult a task is set before their ministry by the peculiar temper of this age, and the current ideas of this community, and, that they may learn in what particulars to be helpful, and how blessedly their help will sustain those who are responsible for their spiritual care.
Personal Clerical Character is the Source of Clerical Influence.
Before presenting the topic positively, light will be thrown on it, if we consider some sources of clerical power that have been exhausted by the chains of the ages, and are now dried up.
The history of Christianity presents some curious phenomena in the progress of the search after clerical influence. For one of the earliest necessities of a ministry in an organized Church is power. Especially does the ministry of the Gospel need power, forced to a continual struggle against opposition, inborn, inbred, and cherished. So that a desire on the part of the Christian ministry to possess power, is both natural and necessary; and arises out of the very condition in which it is placed. For, a ministry of religion must possess power, in order to success.
Our Saviour's example is instructive. He needed to exhibit power, so that men might respect his mission. Nor, under the circumstances, could his moral influence alone have sufficiently enforced his claims. Therefore, [4/5] He added to it the manifestation of miraculous gifts. So the Apostles, initiating a new religious system, required and possessed miraculous powers. These tended to prepare the way for, and to enforce, that moral influence on which Christianity mainly depends for successful advancement. But near the close of the first century miraculous powers became extinct. The ministry was then left to its own internal resources. During the purer ages, that moral power proved to be sufficient, which resulted from weight of personal character and from a common acknowledgment that the ministry of Christ was divinely appointed. These gave sufficient effect to clerical instruction. Like our Saviour and his Apostles in their times, so the clergy of the earliest centuries in their day perceived no reason for separating themselves in rank from their flocks: no necessity for taking upon themselves the peculiarities of a Caste.
There is a distinction between the idea of Order and Caste. Order is a separation of office, authority, and employment, among those who, in all other respects, are upon equality. Caste is a separation of quality; an essential separation of rank; as when birth, or office, takes one out of a natural position, and places him in an artificial position, above or below those who are otherwise his equals; and thereby separates the two in habits, thoughts and feelings. Now the ministers of Christ were always an Order; and from the beginning were separated from other Christians so far as office, spiritual authority and employment were concerned; but no further. They were not a Caste; not a class distinct in all relations from other Christians. The Levites were a Caste, not merely an [5/6] Order. Brahmin priests are a Caste. Russian priests, until 1869, were a hereditary Caste. Romish priests are a Caste. The ministry is an Order.
Our Saviour, except in his official character, was one of the people; a Nazarene, a carpenter, a tax-payer, a citizen. The Apostles, except in their official position, were parts of the community; fishermen, tent-makers, working with their own hands so as not to be chargeable, dressing like the people and living among them. In like manner the clergy of the earlier Christian Church recognized no distinction in themselves from the members of their flocks, except what arose from their divine appointment as teachers. They were still a part of that community, among which they exercised spiritual gifts.
But as corruptions increased in the Church a new phase of clerical ideas arose. Perhaps as corruptions increased, the necessity for more power to contend with corruptions seemed also to increase. Most probably the thirst for authority was aggravated as the possibility of obtaining it became manifest. Such a forgetfulness of Gospel simplicity is not unnatural. The temptation always exists. The danger is always to be guarded against.
A great impulse to this perversion of clerical power was afforded by that false doctrine concerning the Sacraments, which before many ages became common in the Church. The idea of the Lord's Supper was gradually changed, in the conceptions of the Church. From a simple common feast of love following upon the commemoration of the sacrifice once offered, and having the nature of a Sacrament because it was an ordained outward sign and pledge of an inward spiritual grace received, it was changed to a [6/7] mystery, which assumed to repeat an actual sacrifice of Christ upon a Christian altar; and, pari passu with that perversion, went on the separation of the clergy, who accomplished the miracle, from the people, and their formation into a priestly Caste.
During many ages, the priests of a debased Christianity were as actually a Caste as are the priests of Hindooism. Transmission of authority among those took the place of the inheritance of authority among these. An idea of indelibility in the Christian priestly office was as effectual a security of power to them, as birthright into office is for a Hindoo. The ministry became a close corporation; perpetuated by its own officers; dependent on its own choice. The people had no part and no voice in it. Kept aloof by fear, or standing afar off in distrust, there were no common sympathies between them. It became the policy of the Clergy to encourage an entire separation of interests. They assumed a peculiar dress, resided in their own communities. Deprived of family ties, and lost to social instincts, monasticism became a natural resource. But when, under the monastic system, individual influence was gradually merged in the idea of corporate power, individual character became of minor importance. And when the influence of character, and with it its true moral power disappeared, a necessity arose for some substitute. That substitute was spiritual tyranny. At last, then, the priestly Caste became complete in all features; and, with an iron rod it ruled the Church; ruled the nations which bore the Christian name. Separated in all respects from the people, wielding by divine right a sacramental miracle, and holding the key to temporal pains and pleasures, [7/8] as well as to eternal punishments and rewards, the Christian ministry had forgotten that they were servants, whilst they assumed mastership: and the Christian family presented the strange spectacle of complete division into two classes--spiritual tyrants, and spiritual slaves.
The Reformation was a resurrection. Dormant ideas, dead thoughts, awoke to life. And though the true notion of the ministry had apparently gone to dust, sepulchred for generations among lost things, yet was it instantly revivified by returning Christian consciousness. A reaction was to be expected. A reaction occurred. Priestly Caste disappeared in the Reformation; it melted away before that truth whose beams gave light to the mind and warmth to the affections. Falsehoods upon which its ideas were based vanished. It was impossible to maintain a priestly Caste when the Sacrament had ceased to be a sacrifice; when the altar resumed its higher position as a Table for a sacrament of love; when confession was reduced to brotherly communion, and absolution was again, as at the beginning, only a preaching of the Gospel of the Lord's forgiveness.
But unfortunately this reaction did not stop at the point of truth. Human ideas, loosed from an extreme, always swing to the opposite, vibrating often between ultimates, before they assume the true poise. And so men's ideas gradually tended toward the destruction of the idea that the Christian ministry is even an Order. Happily the ministry regained its share in the sympathies of the Christian people. Entering into their life, their habits, their family relations, and social enjoyments, it became part of, and partook in, all the interests of the Christian common-wealth. [8/9] Gradually the lay people re-asserted their forgotten right to have a voice in the appointment of ministers. But gradually, and surely, the reaction progressed, swinging public opinion away from the truth that the minister is divinely appointed; and from its necessary concomitant, that such a divinely appointed ministry is an Order to be perpetuated by divine regulation. At last the Church became familiar with a new theory of Ecclesiastical Government: a last stage, Independency and Congregationalism; a theory as different from Apostolic truth on the better side, as the theory of Romanism was opposed to Apostolic truth on the worse side. Now appeared, opposite to Caste, an idea of Parity. The ministry, no longer separated from the people, having returned to their former relations among the people, were scarcely distinguished any longer, (theoretically,) even as officers, from those whom they served. All were priests, all had equal right to minister, all were equally consecrated. Only for convenience special public duties were laid upon a few. VINET clearly enough sets forth this idea--although not always quite consistent with himself. "For us," he says, "who do not receive the real presence, what remains in the minister when once the supernatural gifts have ceased? The Christian, only the Christian, consecrating his activity to make others Christians, and to confirm in Christianity those who have embraced this religion. He does habitually, what, occasionally, and in a special manner, all Christians should do. He does it with a degree of authority proportioned to what we may suppose a man has of knowledge and fitness, who has consecrated himself exclusively to that work. But he has no revelation peculiar to himself . . . [9/10] He is a steward, a manager of the common interest. If he thinks it right, according to the word of St. Paul, that believers should obey him as their spiritual ruler, the sense in which he understands this leaves intact the liberty and responsibility of those who obey." Or, as we understand this statement, the ministry is self-consecrated; its authority is derived from its own self-appreciation of knowledge and fitness, and from the consent of the people to that estimate. The ministry is no longer an Order; is no longer separated even in office; derives no authority from that office; each minister is on a par with every other Christian, even in duties, except, as weight of character, or some acknowledged fitness for the public service of a congregation, temporarily elevates him. We shall not stay to discuss either extreme of those divergent theories. It is well for the Clergy to understand, however, that this last view is the popular and prevailing idea of ministerial authority in our day.
The course of Church history reads us then an instructive lesson on the idea of clerical power. As on other topics, its examples produce a philosophy, for those who understand. The principles established and illustrated by our Saviour and his Apostles were truth. Error has vibrated between the two extremes; between Caste and absolute Parity; showing itself an error by just so many degrees as it departed from the early and scriptural standard of truth, and approached either of these erroneous notions.
The Reformation in the Church of England endeavored to strike the poise between extremes, and in most respects succeeded. But the peculiar political events which accompanied, and the political relations which followed that [10/11] Reformation, have necessarily caused some deviation from the Apostolic model. Relieved from political complications by the Revolution, our Church has realized again the primitive relations between the ministry and the people.
With us the Clergy are an Order: a rank among Christians charged with special duties; but separated from the rest only so far, and to that end. They are set apart by divine authority for the work of the ministry: and according to the divine regulation, the Order is perpetuated by a tactual succession. But this truth is not subject to any of the evils of the Caste-idea. No one rises to this ministerial Order without consent of the people out from whom he comes. By constant infusion of new elements fresh from the people, the whole Order is popularized in its feelings. But more than this, our doctrine has seized and appropriated all that was true on this topic in ideas of the Reformation: true then, because an older truth, even from Apostolic days. The ministry are in all respects part of the people; live among them, share their habits, manners, family ties, social enjoyments; eat with them, dress like them, think as they do, participate in all their ideas. It is an Order, its authority divine and its perpetuity divinely arranged; but still it is merely an Order among the people.
You will infer then that I derive clerical influence from a double source; from its divine authority and the popular estimation in which it is held. Rightly so. It has of truth both these elements of power. But in respect to the first, let us appreciate the day in which we live. Present ideas most concern us. However attractive are the relics of the past, men are not accustomed now to live in tombs [11/12] for sake of a companionship with past ideas. If this generation shall not understand or appreciate our thoughts, we will do well to lay aside all that may not be indispensable in theory, and learn to think as they do. We must be men of this day. And, consequently, I do not hesitate to impress on my own mind as on yours, that the age does not allow any particular weight to theories of divine right.
Indeed it has become popular even in our own Church, to depreciate this divine truth. It does not tally with extreme ideas of liberty in human government, which border on licentiousness. And, consequently, there is a strong temptation to desert this important verity,--that Christ has regulated the affairs of his Church, and especially the mode of perpetuating his ministry: which regulations are to be found in, and interpreted by, Apostolic precept and practice; and instead, there is a prevailing tendency to assert that the foundations of the Church were laid in purely democratic methods, upon the choice of the people, and their sense of the expediency of the system. We yield to such a theory--no, not for a moment. Our Church bases her rules upon Scripture, and upon ancient authors; upon divinely inspired directions, interpreted so far as may be needed, by the earliest Christian custom. We have no question of the truth of the Divine appointment of our ministry and that Christ himself directed the mode of its perpetuation by a tactual succession unbroken from Apostolic days. And inasmuch as it is true, it is to be inculcated. Judiciously taught it will benefit a congregation: and a right appreciation of it will also increase our solemn sense of responsibility to God, and of obligation to be faithful to souls [12/13] whom He has committed to our care. But injudiciously obtruded, tenaciously insisted on, forced upon unwilling ears, and presented in such a manner as to lead our people to think that we feel ourselves elevated by Divine intention beyond their reach and beyond their sympathies, and more especially if the cherishing of such an idea should separate us in the least degree from perfect unity of feeling with the people of our charge, this idea of clerical authority will annihilate our power. Whilst, then, theoretically, our divine appointment is an element of power; practically, under prevailing sentiments, it will not be an element of influence.
We return, then, from this negative view of our subject, to reaffirm the positive side of it; which is the special purpose of our Charge.
The Source of Clerical Influence is Personal Clerical Character.
Nothing remains from the conflicts of the clergy with past generations, but Clerical Character.
The clergy have no spiritual power apart from their moral influence; that idea has disappeared. They have no sacramental miracle by which to enforce a tyranny over consciences. That idea has been exploded. Even their divine Ordination, their right as heavenly ambassadors by virtue of office divinely bestowed, (as I have already said,) has been thrust out of sight by the hurry of new and false ideas.
So that practically nothing remains to be a source of clerical influence in this age, except individual clerical [13/14] character. Nor need we desire any other influence. Enough respect exists for the sacred duties of the ministry to give to every one whose character is worthy of it, a position in the community equal to, indeed, as a general rule, higher than his proportionate worth, and sufficiently elevated to accomplish all the spiritual ends for which the ministry was appointed.
Clerical character has relation to three great departments of the Pastoral office; namely, Instruction, Administration, and Discipline. And with respect to each of them, the bearing of each distinct element of character will be apparent, as soon as it is mentioned. For character is formed of various elements: among which may be specified for our present purpose, intellectual, moral, social, practical, and spiritual character; and the highest excellence in each element of this character is necessary in order to the highest success in each department of Pastoral life.
I speak to the Instructors of men; and that in an age noted for its intellectual achievements. The science which the ministers of Christ are appointed to develop is the most profound of all the sciences. It requires all a minister's art, to induce men to think on topics which are not attractive in their nature, and which require in them an effort to grasp, even after they have been presented in the simplest form; nor will men be easily induced to follow in thought, unless they feel that their minister's knowledge is superior to theirs, and unless they are impressed with the power of his methods. Every faculty then is to be cultivated, all brought into play, each pressed into the service of the heavenly Master. A minister's knowledge of [14/15] Theology in all its parts, in its profoundest truths, as well as its simplest exhibitions, is to be thorough, discriminating, and complete. His Theology, that is, his knowledge of divine truth, is to be systematic: the bearing of each part of truth upon the other is to be clearly appreciated, so that there shall be no confusion of mind produced by his statements of different truths. On all subjects of religion he must be prepared to give an opinion; and, on important topics, to give the grounds of his belief. I do not think that it is necessary for a clergyman to express himself positively on every theory which a parishioner may suggest. There are some topics concerning which it is wise immediately to confess that he knows nothing, even if he should not think it well to say that his inquirer is in the same category. But, on great solemn practical and spiritual truths of religion, he is expected to have an opinion, and to express it; as a guide to the ignorant, a resolver to the doubting, and a comforter of the perplexed. And in the ability to make even profound truths clear to a mind of ordinary intelligence, lies the strength of a minister's intellectual character. You will understand me to express the opinion, that our Church and the community around which regards it with respect, expect that our ministry will be something more than Exhorters and Evangelists: that they will be Instructors. Whilst capable of preaching the Gospel with the utmost simplicity, and of stirring men's souls by earnest appeals to their affections, and of leading sinners directly to a penitent faith in a Crucified Saviour, and from that faith into union with Christ's Church, our ministry is expected to be capable of holding converted men in their place as [15/16] professing Christians; instructing, watching, guiding, and influencing them, in such manner that they will be able to give a reasonable account of their belief, and will cling to it through temptation and trials. It is the function of our Church, and its glory, to possess a definite creed, and to expound it. The community which understands us relies on our ministry to explain and defend that creed. And the intellectual character of this ministry is determined by, and depends upon, its fidelity in this instruction. In this respect I think that a Pastor must be equal, if not superior, to every person in his parish. He is to retain that mastery of minds, which in accepting a Pastorship he asserts. To lose it ever is at once to sink below the level of legitimate influence. But when the intellectual character of a minister holds the rank which has been described, he wields a measure of influence which is power.
I speak to those who are to teach men the morals of the Gospels; instruct in principles of virtue; form men into a higher style of neighborly character than that which a sinful world exhibits. All relations of life are within the guardianship of a minister's warnings, advice, or reproofs. His own morality must therefore be without reproach.
He is to lead men to Christ. Wandering sinners, astray without consciousness of it, often without thought, sometimes far gone from right, are to be led to Christ by the tones of a Pastor's voice, the tenor of his experience, and the words of his Gospel. I speak advisedly; for in this matter of preaching from experience, the Gospel preached becomes one's own Gospel; just that which he has appropriated to his own use.
 Theory is not enough. Without doubt, the Devil is an able Theologian. But a clerical character which has power must add to a mind furnished, trained, and developed, a heart thoroughly placed under the power of these truths, and a will as thoroughly sanctified. A minister whose character in the pulpit will move and hold men, will have experienced, in his own religious history, the power of truths which he applies. Those truths are to work not alone upon the intellect of men, but always also on the affections; and in general chiefly upon the affections. But one can never learn from books the way in which truth deals with a soul. Each teacher of it needs his own experience of it. We need to have felt the influence of divine things. We need to have known the power of the law in exposing our own sin; the depth of that sin; the entireness of our depravity which it exposed; the corruption which had seized and affected every part of our nature; the helplessness of our condition, when, abandoned by our self-sufficiency, we became conscious of trembling before the terrors of Divine abhorrence of iniquity. We need to have experienced the sweet compulsion of the Spirit, drawing us willingly, unwilling, towards the Cross of Christ. We need to have felt the inrushing sense of a Saviour's love, and the outgushing rush of affection, and desire, and devotion, and self-abandonment, and self-consecration; all mingling in the single act of faith towards Him, by which we are forever bound to Him, share His life, and become partakers of life hidden with Him in God. From our own blessed experience we apply such truths to the experience of other men. And further, sinners who are saved are to be led on by our [17/18] ministry to the highest degrees of Christian excellence; up to the full measure of perfect men in Christ Jesus. Consequently our preaching is to breathe a true spiritual-mindedness. Words will fall from a minister's lips with power, when they are evidently uttered as the experience of a spiritual man; a man who has made good progress in the Christian life; who has learned by experience to understand the usual methods in which God graciously deals with his children; has cultivated many graces; overcome in more than one conflict; and reached stability. The minister deals with souls who are at every stage of spiritual education: and he cannot gain the method of it except by personal religious experience. Yet his character as a Teacher will be measured, as all teachers are, by his aptitude for every emergency. But when--for every emergency, both in meeting the necessities of a varying religious experience, and meeting the claims of the world's strict measure of Christian morality, and meeting the exactions of an age which under all its pretensions does show a real thirst for knowledge and a habit of thinking--when a minister has secured a character for information and mental force which will meet every emergency, he becomes a leader of men, and is a power. He does not need to ask for influence. His clerical character is power.
Strong personal character is equally valuable, nay is indispensable, in the department of Administration. Here success depends entirely on personal influence. Just as other men exert influence in the arena of human activity, a minister influences his people. As an administrator of a parish, and its executive head, he comes into immediate contact with men. In these relations being removed [18/19] from the conventional and proper influence of the pulpit, he is necessarily measured by the world's standard. This standard, in reference to administration is no longer that which sufficed for him in the pulpit: that is a theological, or a churchly, or a merely experimentally religious standard. As an administrator he faces the world, and is judged by the world from its own outlook. A minister who is merely a theologian stands little chance. Such a man is supposed to be dwelling either in the depths or in the clouds, far beyond ordinary reach or common human sympathy.
The successful administrator will therefore be a theologian who has added to knowledge of divine truth all other knowledge possible to him; and if from want of books or opportunity, he may not be able to pursue investigations in mental, moral, and physical sciences, he will at least have become conversant with human nature as he finds it in the open books of human hearts, and characters, and lives around him. He will be a man whose eyes are open, and his ears quick, to receive every information which is afforded by the world of men, of events, or of nature. And his mind, thoughtful and acting on these topics, will be equal to any conflict within their range.
For influence, in this relation, it is not necessary that he should become a philosopher in physical sciences. Perhaps there is a danger in attempting it, for few men can be great in more than one department. The plane of scientific investigation may run parallel with the higher plane of theological and spiritual study; but the two do not coincide. The one deals with physical, the other with psychical phenomena. The scientist is not capable from his physical investigations to draw conclusions in [19/20] spiritual science; nor is the theologian capable from his religious phenomena to determine the value of physical deductions. The spheres are separated and dissimilar. "Sutor ne supra crepidam." But clerical influence is very much increased by breadth of culture. Every additional investigation, in any direction, of which a minister becomes master, gives him new insight of difficulties which assault some souls, or new means of meeting objections to Christianity, or fresh methods of illustrating the Gospel. And every advance in true knowledge is an advance in power.
A character for earnest piety adds greatly to his force as an administrator; because it establishes confidence. And on the confidence of his people his administrative influence must depend. Yet he must be more than holy and devotional. Unless his piety have a practical character it will not tell on his influence. Piety which sheds no light except on the person who possesses it, is a beautiful, but a cold image, whether in a clergyman or a lay person. It has much the effect of a statue. One admires but is not drawn towards the silent, emotionless, unsympathetic image. There is nothing in it to be imitated. But that piety which shows itself in practical labor, skilful in charities, suggestive of plans of usefulness, able in direction, abundant in benevolence, anxious for the growth of holiness in others, is the piety which tells upon the world. And this sort of piety in a minister is that which gives him influence as an administrator.
So also in the administration of a parish, both the church and the outside world are very observant of a minister's moral habits. His moral principles were learned from the forth puttings of the pulpit; but as an administrator his [20/21] people learn, by the daily contacts of life, whether those principles bear the test of trial among temptations such as other men are obliged to stand.
Still further, for full success as an administrator, a minister must be a practical man; and his success will vary much in proportion to the real value of this element of his character. Men with whom he deals are practical. Theorists are few; and fortunately they are generally so much absorbed with their own fancies, that they do not often interfere with the current, either of clerical or lay life. The men or women with whom a minister comes really in contact are dealing with the facts of life. It is a hard life. He who is to influence them, to guide, or counsel, or help them, must himself be practical, a living man; a working man. He must not be too readily imposed upon. With all his Christian generosity in business affairs, he must be a man of business tact. He must know how to make a bargain, yet he must never be a hard man. He will know how to do things. And if he does not lay his hand to the hammer or the plough, at least he will be capable of it.
A temptation arises out of this very disposition, and out of each of our specially practical aptitudes. Seeing a frequent lack of it in others, a practical clergyman is sorely tempted to substitute his skill for theirs; or, by sympathy, he is induced to add to admiration of a parishioner's practical habits, too constant association. In this way he is in danger of losing by familiarity what he has gained by talent. For it cannot be doubted that somewhat of that divinity which hedges a king because of his isolation, is necessary to clerical influence. It may not be right, but [21/22] nevertheless it is true, that a minister's association with trifles, and especially if in those trifles foibles be observed, destroys in many minds the idea of his power to deal with the great things of God's law. Seclusion is as grave an error on the other side. But there is a happy medium between too great isolation and too great familiarity, which increases, nay which is indispensable to, a full development of clerical influence.
So in social life, a minister will exhibit the virtues which produce domestic happiness, and the sympathy which makes home and the fireside. And here is his chief field for direct spiritual influence. As he goes from house to house, and from heart to heart, he will carry everywhere the impression that he is a man of God. As a counsellor, a friend, a guardian, a comforter, admitted to the intimacies of the life of his flock, a high toned honor and a high toned spirit, (which indeed in a minister are to be part of each other,) will give his people that confidence in him, out of which his usefulness arises.
Still more potential is personal character for the exercise of Discipline.
In the absence of personal character ministerial discipline falls to the ground. The pastor who can firmly maintain the integrity of his flock is he, and he only, who can look every man in the face without fear of human censure. If only his own morality be pure and his piety respected, he may stand immovably beside the principles of justice, and apply them under the law of Christian charity, with inflexible nerve. If beyond that he be well considered for intellectual strength, and for acquirements more than are needed in his own line of study, but which mark a man of [22/23] breadth of culture, if he be a man of practical wisdom, and if he fill a high social position secured by the affections of his people, the reins of right discipline lie in his hands by willing consent.
Thus personal clerical character in all its parts is the basis of clerical influence. It is the secret of pastoral power.
In confirmation of the general truth of these positions, it would be easy to show by example that in all departments of human activity, the weightiest and most steadily effective influence--certainly that which is to be most thoroughly relied on--is character. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN attributed his success as a public man, not to his talents or his powers of speaking--for these were moderate--but to his known integrity of character. "Hence it was," he says, "that I had so much weight with my fellow-citizens. I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my point." It was said of the first Emperor ALEXANDER of Russia, that his personal character was equivalent to a constitution. During the wars of the Fronde, MONTAIGNE was the only man among the French gentry who kept his castle gates unbarred; and it was said of him that his personal character was worth more to him than a regiment of horse. Character is power, in low estate as well as high: in private life as well as in office. An old writer calls truthfulness, integrity, and goodness,--which are the essence of manly character, "that inbred loyalty unto virtue which can serve her without a livery." But it is in misfortune that the character of the upright man shines forth with the greatest lustre; and, [23/24] when all else fails, he takes his stand upon his integrity, as on an everlasting rock."
My brethren, I beg you then to observe, that personal clerical character is not a gift, and is not an indefeasible possession. Like all other characters it is worked out, and it is retained by the same processes by which it is acquired. Orders will not produce it. Although the minister may trace back his succession by indisputable line through Augustine of Canterbury, Irenaeus, and Polycarp, to Saint John himself, there will have been no grace communicated by ordination which can give personal character. Under a minister's robes may sometimes be a fool or a knave. And if there be, the people will soon find it out. And the moment they discover it, his influence is gone; gone forever. It can never be recovered. Character in a clergyman will not bear a taint or even a reasonable suspicion.
Therefore the horrible cruelty, the unspeakable maliciousness of those, who, without just cause, breathe a word of suspicion against a clergyman's character. He is a mirror in which men are to see the reflection of Christ Jesus both in principles and conduct. A foul breath of a lying spirit on the fair surface of that mirror distorts the Christ image, as surely as a fracture. And therefore it is the uppermost duty of a people to uphold their pastor's fair fame. Not only should a whispered falsehood find no echo, but it should be openly reproved. The wise man writes that "death and life are in the power of the tongue." Being so, the tongue of the slanderer should be cut off from the congregation.
That gossiping spirit which makes free with a pastor's [24/25] instructions, or the manner of them, or his personal habits, either by direct word, or by indirect, or by the false story of the slanderer, should be at once exposed, and thrust out of the Christian society. A trusting people will speak out their trust. Many a character has been ruined by the silence of those who had entire confidence in their minister. A pastor's influence is too delicate a thing, and too precious to his people, to be trifled with. Those who trust him, and depend on his reputation for their own spiritual profit, must protect that reputation. The esprit du corps of a Christian brotherhood should feel, and reprove, and shrink from, the slightest suggestion of suspicion which would lower their pastor in the estimation of any one, either as to his intellectual, moral, social, practical, or spiritual character.
But what shall I say when clergymen are found to assist in destroying each other's fame? The ministry is not seldom its own worst enemy. I desire to impress this thought on the minds of all my brethren; my brethren not only in the ministerial office, but those who stand in the responsible position of lay members of the Church. Character is not a gift. It is worked out by long, hard toil, by patience and labor. Some Christians seem to think, and it may possibly be true sometimes that even Christian ministers think, that character is the result, and the necessary result, of conversion and regeneration. It is a great mistake: and sometimes fatal. That blessed spiritual work, the divine renewal of nature, leaves individuality untouched. It Christianizes the man, but it does not make him a saint, nor change his natural qualities. After that divine renewal has been accomplished a long process [25/26] of sanctification is required to discipline him; is his school in life; is the divinely ordered mode of preparing him for heaven. Every renewed man still has before him the personal work of forming a new character. That is to be accomplished by laborious working at habits, by acquisition of knowledge, training of mind, establishment of principles, cultivation of affections, practicing of graces, and influencing men. Consequently, for the preservation of personal character in any position, and (considering the topic with which this Charge has been engaged, I may say) especially for the preservation of personal clerical character, it is necessary for every one of us to work. Character will not sustain itself. In a perfect moral condition, such as the life of heaven, with heavenly example and heavenly society, and heavenly employments, and the absence of all deteriorating influences, character may be self-sustaining. But not in this life. We must work to retain what we have worked to gain. Mental training lays grand foundations, but they are to be builded upon. Habits of study will not keep themselves up, and yet our intellectual position among our people will depend upon the perpetuation of these habits. So in every other respect.
A character for wisdom is not retained by haphazard acts or ventures on speculation. It is retained, as it is gained, by slow degrees, by years of watchful prudence during which we do not make one serious error or mistake. Wisdom is not gained by prayer, or being holy. They will help us mightily: for faith which works by love, serene confidence in God which looks to Him for help and expects it, and holy obedience, are a great part of [26/27] wisdom. But they are not all of it. God means that the most prayerful and most holy minister shall become influential by means of habits of prudence and common sense. So, to gain and retain an absolute morality, a strong firm conscientiousness, a habit of doing right because it is right, a life approving itself to God on the one side, and our neighbor on the other, requires unremitting labor; watchfulness against temptation, resistance of evil, guard over temper, the deliberate choice of the purest principles and modes of life and the deliberate following of them. These are the means to be employed. It is not easy always to forsake the guidance of expediency, and to act only as in God's sight. It will only remind us that we are human--if we sometimes fail in our gradual approaches to this standard. But the manly minister will rise again and steadily pursue his end, until he possesses it. And the successful pastor is the man whose moral habits are without rebuke.
And so, finally--for we can enter into no more detail on a subject which is inexhaustible--our character for piety is to be the result of years of discipline and struggle. The piety that tells on the world is not the piety which talks, but that which lives. And the piety which lives, is that which is formed and perpetuated by endurance of temptation, by strife against and conquering of self, by deep humility, by long communion with the God of all grace, whilst He is teaching us our need of the principles and virtues of the Christ life, and revealing more and more the fullness of his love in that all-sufficient Saviour.
It is a strengthening thought that the personal character of each minister of Christ is precious to that Saviour. [27/28] He is interested in our success. With what loving force, with what inimitable tact, with what gracious persistency, he helped Peter to recover; and aided him to form a character which thenceforth he retained as unchangeably as a rock. That steadfastness of character was important to the cause in which our Lord himself was engaged. And therefore in that interview after the resurrection, on the memorable sea shore of Tiberias, the probe thrice employed; the earnest inquiry thrice addressed, not for information; the loving reproachfulness, not for rebuke, because Peter was already repentant, but thrice pressed to the heart, because he meant that nothing should thenceforth come between that heart and Him. And so the personal character of every one whom Christ has called to the holy ministry is dear to the Lord. He watches, strengthens, and applauds, every right personal effort. We are working under a grateful sense of the loving helpfulness of that dear Christ. And so, for the formation and the maintenance of a personal clerical character which shall be a power, I commend you each to the guidance of the Blessed Spirit, and the effectual sympathy of our all gracious Saviour. Brethren in a common need, in a common work, in a common hope, brethren in the same faith, brethren in the same household, my brethren in the Lord, we place our cares together at the feet of that beloved Master. The times are evil, but He is King. The signs are ominous, but He is sovereign. The ministry is feeble, but we serve Him who is supreme. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. The kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ: and our ministry shall see its grand [28/29] purpose fulfilled, for He shall reign forever and ever. Amen and Amen.
And now unto thee King eternal, immortal, and invisible, the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and honor, might, majesty, and dominion, world without end. Amen.