Project Canterbury


Attendance on Prescribed Duties:





The General Theological Seminary,












So much has been said and published lately about the services and order of the Seminary, that the acting Dean has ventured on his own responsibility to print a Discourse which he delivered, when requested by a resolution of the Faculty to bring the subject of Attendance before the students: that the Trustees may judge for themselves whether the Faculty is solicitous to promote good order, and whether their treatment of their young friends is imperious or paternal; and that by this very familiar discourse, addressed to the students, themselves the only audience, with several of their instructors present; and that, weeks before any articles appeared in print upon any of the topics touched upon, they may discover better than they could by any formal statements made in answer to charges or inquiries, how certain arrangements are practically working, and what course may be most advisable with regard to them. The discourse is printed word for word as it was delivered.



Behold--to Obey is better than Sacrifice.

THERE are times, when one duty may seem to conflict with another, or, may really be overruled by another; and it may be a question to our minds, which of the two must yield precedence. The question may be occasionally an anxious one, and is always an important one; for our own preferences are apt to tempt us to partial judgment in such matters, and therefore there is the greater need for studious thought and care. And to set aside, or overrule a real obligation, or a clear propriety, even for good cause, should involve a solemn and religious regret: for our Lord's commands are always to be treated reverently: and, even when he gives us only His intimations, they are not to be counted as matters indifferent, by the soul solicitous to do His will. Thus sacrifice, take it in the sense of religious service or offering, or in the spiritualized sense of painful self-sacrifice, and the renunciation of our own will, for the glory of God and His kingdom, and the benefit or gratification of others--sacrifice, I say, is a high duty: when properly rendered, acceptable to God and to man, and to our own consciences; and, however embarrassing, or painful in certain respects, accompanied with peculiar satisfaction, or resulting in it. But there are occasions when prudence may [3/4] advise the omission of the offering, or charity may forbid it. Gladly would the tender parent endure the work or the penalty, rather than require it of the beloved child: but both wisdom, and the Divine will expressed, may deny the parent the luxury of the self-sacrifice, and exact the payment punctually from the child.

Sacrifice is good--but Obedience is, in the text, pronounced to be better. How comfortable a thing it must be then, my brethren, when the two have not to be contrasted nor compared, but when both combine--when the very sacrifice is obedience, and the very obedience is sacrifice: when the sacred or useful service is a duty, and the duty well fulfilled is an acceptable offering; and the dutiful offering is presented with a free and happy choice, or freely in the spirit of faith and self-sacrifice, and with the renunciation of natural preference and personal self-will.

Such, I take it, is the character of the regular offices on which you, my dear young friends, are expected to attend, here within the walls of your Seminary Home. This subject of attendance, I was requested by a resolution of the Faculty to bring before you. I first thought of doing it in a mere business and academical way. But, upon reflection, it seemed to me to accord so well with our Religious Lecture plan, and to fall so naturally under the religious temper and rule, that I preferred doing it thus--even if I took the license of a more familiar range of topic and expression, yet bringing to bear upon it the reflection of a spiritual light--making our common household life pass before us, with the light of the higher world ever and anon darting in upon it, and illuminating it. Pardon it therefore, brethren, if this Lenten Lecture be too much of the character of a free and familiar academic talk; and if the quasi official remarks be too much of the character of the Lenten Lecture; and if the general expression be occasionally superseded by the "Ego" of personal experience or persuasion.

The rule of the Seminary statutes is this: "there shall be two daily recitations in each class, neither of them to exceed an hour and a half." "The morning and evening services of the [4/5] Church shall be used daily in the Chapel." On the Lord's day, &c., there shall be a sermon at the morning service." On all these religious services, except that of the Lord's day evening, each student, unless specially excused by the Dean, shall be required to attend. "The students are charged, besides all proper private exercises of piety, to be "regular in attendance on the religious services at the Chapel." The Dean shall be the Chaplain of the Seminary, and the Professors shall assist the Chaplain in the duty of preaching and conducting the services of the Chapel. The students, by the very fact that they are the members of the Institution, are under the general obligation to promote its peace, order, and prosperity, to keep up its tone and spirit, and to observe its laws--and this obligation is expressed in the specific declaration, subscribed by the students when they matriculate. Thus, a double responsibility is created; the students have their duties, and the Faculty have also the duty of seeing to it, that the law and order of the Institution are reasonably maintained, and thus, in the language of the Statute, "securing the due exercise of Discipline."

I. I will begin with the SUNDAY MORNING ATTENDANCE. The Trustees deemed it advisable to establish the Sunday services of the Chapel. When I entered the Seminary as Professor, attendance was required morning and evening, and a sermon was delivered by a Professor on each occasion. 1 was myself instrumental in procuring for the students the liberty of having the Sunday at their own sacred disposal, after the morning service and sermon. And I thought the liberty thus secured, of going to whatever church they pleased on the afternoon and evening, would make all the more cheerfully disposed to meet together in their own Chapel, and to hear the discourse from one of their own Professors--a discourse, not unfrequently having more bearing upon, or connection with, the sacred duties, and doctrinal statements of the profession for which they were preparing, than they could find in the ordinary discourses, addressed to mingled multitudes.

[6] From this slight obligation there were particular dispensations given. It was understood, that if Sunday-school teaching were made a ground of dispensation, we might as well give up the entire attendance at once. So the rule was adopted to give dispensation only where persons lived in Brooklyn or Williamsburgh, or at a distance plainly inconvenient; and also where the student could secure some material aid for his support by assisting in church music, or in religious teaching; and if any very special or exacting cause was urged, we were always indulgent to excuse. And at no time was a servile obedience required; no person was suspiciously watched, or held rigidly to the observance; but students were dealt with as sons, whose spirit of obedience was confided in, and who were not held as offenders for an occasional exercise of liberty beyond the rules.

I do not know whether we were wise in our rule of dispensation; for it is the fact, that with our present small number of students, a very large proportion of them are actually excused. I inquired of the Seniors present at my recitation the other day; and all then present, almost the entire class, declared themselves to be acting under leave of absence. Thus you see that the Faculty, or rather the Dean and the acting Dean, have allowed arrangements which go far to annul the Trustees' positive law, deliberately and purposely enacted, after an earnest debate. Under these circumstances may I not charge you all affectionately, to be exact as far as you can in carrying out the Rule which binds us both. You who are dispensed, improve all chance opportunities of attendance which you can secure. You who are not, be more exact to your engagements; and be present in your place, except under some very peculiar and pressing motive, such as you may be sure we should be willing you should yield to. A Sunday or two ago, I listened here to a most affecting and interesting discourse, the chief burden of which was, "the spiritual and selfdenying duties of persons in training for the ministry,"--and only nine students were present. A few more absences, and [6/7] that discourse would have been delivered (if delivered at all) to two or three females and several boys: and in such cases of very slender attendance, while perhaps those who might be present, and should be present, are enjoying themselves elsewhere under high vaulted or open roof, and amid the swell of modern and fashionable music; the Professor and the few students present, looking over the vacant seats, may feel spiritually chilled and sad. Ought you, for mere choice and pleasure, to permit such a result, or avoid your sacrifice as combined with your obedience? Let me, whether as preacher or listener, again request you to do all you reasonably can to help the Sunday Chapel service under such adverse circumstances, and to lend us the comfort and cheer of your friendly countenance. What shall your Dean report to the Trustees to be assembled in June next? What their decision will be, time only can show.

II. THE DAILY SERVICES of the Chapel .are not liable to many interferences. There are some few dispensations from attending; some, both morning and evening, and some from the morning, and one at least for the evening. These services came into the place of our family prayer, which of old used to be held in the Chapel. It was thought that in a Religious House like this, where students were all devoted to sacred work, a something more than the ordinary rule of Christian households seemed requisite: therefore the Daily Service was introduced. But while almost all are expected and exhorted to attend, the service has never been exacted in any heartless or servile way. Your teachers have felt that religious service should be the free and cordial offering of the devout. Still, just as the Lord calls his people to his courts to a willing service on the Lord's day, and the rule is both good and binding, and should be freely observed, yet when the congregation is delinquent, they receive admonition from the faithful pastor; as you yourselves expect to warn your people, among whom you hope to minister, when they attend not to their spiritual observances, neglecting the family altar or the temple [7/8] service:--so let it not be thought alien to the generous spirit of devotion, if I, your pastor, remind you of this your duty. For it is the opinion of us all, that by some of you the daily services are needlessly neglected, or attended to without any reasonable proportion. And is it not the fact, that many a graceless clerk, who happens to have pious parents, attends some sacred family service at home; while most of those who do not attend here, though candidates for Holy Orders, have no family prayer at all. Most of you are graduates of colleges, and you well know the colleges have daily prayers, and the secular lads attend them regularly; and shall not you much rather, preparing for the sacred ministry? I leave it to your own conscious judgment, whether there is not an unhandsomeness and want of religious propriety in the contrary supposition. Some of us are in the bosom of our families; some of us reside with Christian families, and these meet at the family altar-- but most of you have no such opportunity. And yet in a year or two, all of us expect to be urging the Christian families under our pastoral care or visitation, to cultivate family devotion, as well as private devotion. How much more strongly does the subject present itself to our minds, when we remember that this service is both sacrifice, and falls under the expression "to obey" as well. And even, brethren, if on any account the duty is in some few respects distasteful, (it cannot be supposed to be so in many respects without injustice to your religious character), why then, in these few respects, it falls under the idea of sacrifice also, as a personal sacrifice of your own choice, will, and taste at the shrine of higher spiritual duty--a sacrifice peculiarly imposed upon us all in this season of Lenten self-denial. Indeed, in every view of the subject, those services are so appropriate to the larger devotions in Lent, that they are attended numerously by persons engaged in merely common life.

I know that excuses are ready at hand or easily framed. But while admitting that you are under no servile system, exacting, inquisitive, and ungenerous; and so occasional absences may be looked for as matters of course, and not even [8/9] noted; yet ordinary excuses should be carefully and spiritually Considered, when appointed duty is under our review. We are infirm, and our student work presses, but we know it is not always pressing. And often, the change to the Chapel, and the various devotions there, is really even physically a rest and a refreshment. We often in our closet are too much disposed to let our devotions run in one favorite line; our religion becomes too subjective, too much occupied with dissecting ourselves instead of magnifying God, and exulting before Him even in the furnace of affliction and the dense atmosphere of our sinfulness. But when we join in the Psalmist's exulting song, mingled even with his plaintive mournings, we feel that there are better things than confessions and self-accusings, and greater Beings than ourselves; and we are lifted into the atmosphere of a higher Presence and a higher world. What music--what elevation--what delight in such sentence of the inspired Psalmist as the following: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart hath trusted in him and I am helped; therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise Him."

Among sundry excuses, I sometimes hear this: that a person stays away from Chapel, because he does not like the music or the tune. But, my dear hearer, when you come to have the charge of a worshipping congregation, do you not know that amid the varying musical ideas and practices, this complaint will be regularly made by not a few, and will frequently meet your ears; and will any one then recognize it as a sufficient cause for failing to unite spiritually in all the parts of the service, the singing included, or at all as an apology for absence? I have had large experience and observation on this very matter; and I assure you, the differences between musical persons are immense and well nigh irreconcileable; knowledge and skill only increasing the difficulty, and making each one more wedded to his own idea and practice: and that this difficulty can only be met practically and in a Christian manner, by each person's letting his spiritual worship ascend humbly yet cordially to God, whatever the style of music be, each [9/10] doing his part as best he can in voice as well as heart in uniting in the sacrifice and service. Though I have no skill in music, I contrive myself to make and have sacred music in my thoughts and feelings, under every chant tune and under none. In my modesty, I give you all credit for an equal ability at least, if not greater; and as your chaplain, I wish to hold you to the accomplishment.

It has been the custom hitherto in the Seminary for the officiating clergyman to say whether he was willing the Psalter should be chanted; and the Te Deum and Benedicite: bu it has not hitherto been the usage to pronounce to what particular tunes the shorter Psalms should be chanted or sung That has been freely left to the organist and leader of the music; and the chants have, during the six years that I have been here, varied according to the preferences of the leader: and it would seem but just for you not to attempt to abridge that liberty, although we, the officiating ministers, might be appealed to as having the matter under our control in case of necessary interference. These organists and leaders have been our own students; they have been indulged all along in their preferences; and now that we have in that office a distinguished clergyman, one selected by the Trustees of the Institution to be your instructor in music, it would seem to me to be ungracious for you to oppose in his case a privilege which you ever took comfortably and without question to yourselves. [More strictly, by the Standing Committee of the Seminary, under a Resolution of the Trustees; still "quod facit per alium," &c.] The chant tune, which some do not like, is quick; it does not consume our time in vain repetitions; it is animating; it is simple and easy; it claims ecclesiastical origin and sanction; it does not seem to me to differ from former tunes more than they differed from each other;--and withal, I cannot at any rate enter into it, that this mere variation, and the adoption of so simple a tune, should excite much feeling among you. Under all these circumstances, is it not best all around, that the old rule should prevail; and the leader of the music [10/11] be left undisturbed by you at least, in the exercise of his discretion?

The worship of God is a serious subject; and it breathes of peace, and should be reverently and seriously approached; nor should we allow our mere natural tastes to interfere in the way of disparagement or desecration, or exhausting controversy. And especially here, where religious service is in view, should we avoid everything like intense excitement or agitation. This often renders persons discontented, who of themselves would never have been so; and it is not anything to be glad of, that we have introduced restlessness and uneasiness into a brother's peaceful bosom. I have passed through schools, college, and this very Seminary; and the remembrance of the way in which such agitation was pressed forward by some who had this talent, always compels me to make great abatement as to any reckoning of lists of names and votes, whenever any temporary excitement comes up in an institution like our own. The talent for agitation is a gift from God given for honorable and useful purpose. Saul of Tarsus had it, and how busily, actively, extensively, inexorably, and unhappily he exercised it, we all know. St. Paul the Apostle had it, and how gloriously he agitated, and with what a noble and magnanimous spirit, you know as well. Be careful, beloved, where God has imparted this talent, to use it in strengthening and making effective and happy the Institution, or Parish, or Diocese, or Church you dwell in, and never the contrary. So shall a dangerous talent become a very special grace and endowment, and a blessing to others and yourself.

Then whatever difference of tastes there may be, or whatever controversy there has been; let me exhort you in your own language, which I am proud to make my own, "to attend the services of the Chapel, and to the best of our ability, join in such music as may there be provided, singing lustily and with a good courage, without reference to the abstract merits of the particular style of music in which we may be called on to take part."[From a paper signed by twenty-two students of the Seminary.]

[12] In such matter of excuse from appointed duty, there is a double sacred responsibility. Rulers have their obligations as well as subjects. And if unlawful excuses are adopted and acted upon, we shall, with all the solicitude of anxious affection, endeavor to protect the excited or morbid mind from such cruel self-injury, and from injuring also THE GREAT CAUSE we both are interested in, and wish to serve. Who can doubt that the voices of Professor, Dean, Trustee, Society member, Standing Committee, or Right Reverend Father, will unite in pronouncing, that whatever indulgences may be allowed, Law and Duty must not be repudiated!

III. One subject still remains untouched--ATTENDANCE ON THE RECITATIONS in class:--and we must all confess, that college life and Seminary life are very much alike in this respect; and that the recitations cannot be slenderly and irregularly attended, without involving loss to the student, and impairing the moral discipline and habit of the Institution. We sometimes hear it said and lamented, that there is a want of esprit de corps and of general interest in the Institution; that we need a stricter order and a higher tone. Now, if anything is calculated to produce or perpetuate that want, it is irregularity generally in attendance, and especially upon the daily recitations. Am I wrong in the supposition, that the present generation of students has fallen off greatly in regularity from the habits of students of the generation past? I know of my own past--pardon me if I mention it. I went for six years to the classical school of the blind teacher, Joseph Nelson ' in those six years, I was absent but three times. I went through the four years of Columbia College: I was absent but twice during that period. I went through the three Seminary years, and my memory carefully taxed, recalls not a single absence. from recitation, except that once in New-Haven, a sudden faintness came upon me in mid-lecture, and I asked leave to retire of my beloved Professor, now my associate here present. And why should it not be so now with you? why should you [12/13] ever be away? why not faithfully and sternly discipline yourselves to the punctual observance of the duty?

Yet, brethren, I will not judge severely. I know difficulties are far greater now than they were of old. Our own duties are more numerous, and perhaps more severe. Then we had no Morning or Evening Prayer except in the family or the closet; and so had an hour or two more at our disposal. The city was not so wide by many a mile, nor the stir of life near so great, nor the rush of life near so overwhelming. I do not look for an exact and regular course, such as students preparing for the ministry ought to have, until that day, which necessity will one day bring on, and which my mind foresees afar in pleasant vision, when the Seminary shall bid farewell to the noisy city and its multitude, with their million of exactions: and the green grass shall be far and wide everywhere around it, and the green trees about it, and the hills shall enclose it, and peaceful waters, undisturbed save by nature itself, shall flow near it. Then the very exercises of the Seminary will become welcome breaks and pleasing entertainments. Then there will be time to cultivate better the spirit of devotion and the real student life. The great Missionary cause will flourish, and multiply its willing soldiers of the Cross. Then [13/14] shall we hear of the "magna fides et grandis audacia" of Christ's servants venturing forth unto the rescue. Then shall sacrifice and obedience be united and accomplish their more perfect work.

Meanwhile, do you, beloved, be in earnest now to do your best; and may God grant you largely His grace and His blessing!

[The advantages of the great City--and also of County seclusion are many and unquestionable. An intelligent student of our own, who had been busily engaged in some instruction and missionary work for the Rev. Dr. Tyng, remarked to me the other day, that the City life and labors were very beneficial; they educated the mind--they exercised perpetually the observation, the judgment, the practical ability--they created energy, and gave a knowledge of mankind--they cultivated presence of mind, and improved the general bearing--that even the walks along the streets were a study and a lesson;--the Seminary duties did suffer, but the man, the minister, was built up. This may be all true. But sure experience testifies that the Seminary studies can be far more successfully prosecuted, both by Professors, generally, and by students most certainly, in a less engrossing and exacting sphere. Whether the advantages counterbalance the disadvantages, is a question on which there will ever be much difference of opinion. The same person, in different moods, and under different inflictions, will be apt to decide differently. The country is certainly far the most economical, and there all the perplexities of life are more effectually avoided. In the judgment of the writer, the choice would lie between the Metropolis and the real country.]

Project Canterbury