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The Christian Athlete

The Address to the Students of the General Theological Seminary
of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States,
at the Annual Matriculation on Ember Tuesday, December, 1847.

By John D. Ogilby, D.D.,
St. Mark's Church in the Bowery--Professor of Ecclesiastical History.

Published by request of the Students.

New-York: Daniel Dana, Jr., 1847.


THIS Address was written without any thought of publication, for the benefit of those only, to whom it was delivered. The writer therefore, spoke with freedom whatever seemed to him likely, not only to incite his hearers to the diligent performance of duty, but also to guard them against perils to which they might be exposed; as it behoved one who is invested in part with the pastoral care of them. Had he looked only to the present state of things within the Seminary, he might have deemed the advice given in regard to devotional books unnecessary; but, as a caution against obvious dangers, he thought it not irrelevant. The Address is now published at the desire of those for whom it was prepared, in the hope that it may be blessed as an instrument of good.


"If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." 2 Timothy, II. 5.

I HAVE selected, my brethren, as the ground-work of the practical counsels which I am about to offer for your consideration, one of those great principles of spiritual discipline, which the inspired Apostle prescribed to St. Timothy, for his guidance in the work committed to him. And, although some of these principles, or rather of the rules that embody them, are primarily and properly applicable to the exercise of that high office, which was conferred on the first Bishop of Ephesus, as a chief Pastor of the Church; others, again, have reference to the conduct and training of those who have been admitted, or are destined to be admitted, to the lower grades of the Ministry. The text, indeed, will bear more general application to all Christians, whose right and duty it is to strive for that "crown of life which the Loan hath promised to them that love him." It is, nevertheless, more directly and strictly appropriate to their case, who are engaged in, or arc preparing for, the work of the Ministry; for, besides that the context suggests this, it is to be observed, that in every passage of the New Testament, (except that just quoted,) where a "crown," whether "of life," or "of glory," or "of righteousness," is held forth as a prize, it is tendered to, or claimed for those, whose office it is, under CHRIST, to "turn many to righteousness." And, although the rule, which the Apostle lays down in the text, is one to which the conduct of all CHRIST'S Ministers, from the chiefest of the Apostles down to the humblest Deacon, must be conformed; it has, also, peculiar significance in reference to those, who are in the relation which you occupy, as Candidates for Holy Orders. For the term "lawfully," refers not only "to the rules according to which the wrestlers contended," but also "to the previous rules of exercise enforced by the trainers."

You all know the strict character of that preparatory discipline, to which all who aspired to be crowned at the Grecian games willingly submitted. You remember how carefully it regulated, during the period of probation, the whole life and conduct of the future athlete. How strictly it prescribed, not only the things to be done, but also the things to be avoided by him. How it prohibited every thing that might hinder the development of the greatest bodily strength and agility, and of the highest courage and most complete self-control. And how it prescribed and enforced all those exercises that tend to strengthen the body, to nerve the spirit, and to brace the whole man for heroic and victorious effort in the "strife for masteries." You know, too, how entire and unreserved was the obedience rendered by the pupils to the directions given them; how complete their renunciation of self-will; how severe their self-denial; how diligent their performance of duty. Wise, indeed, were they in their generation! And, although the contest for which they prepared was brief, the issue unimportant, and the crown of victory fading and worthless; their example should the more provoke, or (if need be) shame, to a holy emulation of their self-denial, devotion and diligence, those who "strive for masteries" in that great contest with the world, the flesh, and the devil, which shall last while time endures, whose issues shall flow on into eternity, and in which the prize of victory shall be "a crown of glory that fadeth not away," a crown of priceless and inestimable value!

You, dear brethren, are preparing, (if GOD will,) to be leaders in that great contest. You, too, have been subjected by competent authority, with your own consent, to a preparatory discipline. Your future success and your final victory will mainly depend, under GOD, upon your dutiful, faithful, and zealous conformity to the laws of that discipline. Suffer me then to "stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance," and to call your attention to some of the more important of those laws, which you are pledged to obey, and which you may not disobey, save at the peril of your own souls, and of the souls of others.

I. The first, obviously, of these laws, and that on which all the others rest, is that you cultivate personal holiness. "Without holiness, no man shall see the LORD." This, then, is incumbent on every Christian, Layman or Clergyman, whose first duty is "to work out his own salvation." But it is doubly incumbent on those who aspire to the holy Ministry; for one of the chief duties of a Minister of CHRIST towards others, and a chief instrument in his hands, under GOD, of converting sinners, is "in all things to show himself a pattern of good works;" to "be an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." If "a Pastor should never undertake to teach a virtue which he has never practised himself," (as a holy Bishop of our Mother Church, who realized this standard in his conduct, has said,) how large a field of labor is opened to you, and how weighty a responsibility is imposed upon you, by this first law, which binds you to cultivate personal holiness. [Bishop Wilson.] Doubtless, much of the failure of "the Ministry of reconciliation" to prevail with sinners, is owing to our falling in practice so much below the standard which we set up in our preaching. For, though the unworthiness of the Minister does not make void the Word, or Sacraments, or ordinances of GOD; it nevertheless sadly hinders the attainment of their great object, viz., the salvation of souls. For, remember, GOD sends the Minister, as well as gives the Word, and ordains the Sacrament. The Ministry is a Divine ordinance, designed to promote directly the salvation of souls, and the edification of the Church, through the sanctified sympathies of our regenerate nature. In truth, the generality of men, in spite of all distinctions and denials, will see Christianity, (I had almost said CHRIST,) in its Ministers; will estimate its character by their conduct, and will feel its power through the influence of their lives. No marvel then, that, in view of the awful truth, that the Ministers of CHRIST "watch for souls as they that must give account," St. Chrysostom exclaims, "It is a wonder if any ruler in the Church be saved!"

And yet, you must not so interpret this, as if CHRIST confers the grace of ordination, in order to his perdition on whom it is conferred. Far from it. It is, indeed, a "grace," which, rightly esteemed, and duly improved, will insure us hereafter "a crown of glory." But, if lightly esteemed, or perfunctorily used, will surely prove a curse and a shame! And, as before said, the first step towards qualifying yourselves to esteem and use it, as CHRIST would have you, is to cultivate personal holiness. He, who has striven by self-examination, by self-humiliation, by self-denial, by constant and fervent prayer, by diligent use of all the means of grace, to "work out his own salvation," will have acquired, through GOD'S grace, a lively sense, both of the soul's inestimable value, and of the trials and toils he must encounter, who would rescue it from the dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil. He will thus be prepared to sympathize with, and to succor others, in the fearful conflict with sin and Satan, even as our "merciful and faithful High Priest" "Himself hath suffered, being tempted," that he might be "able to succor them that are tempted."

And let me in this connexion caution you against one of (Satan's wiles, whereby he often doubtless hinders the growth in grace of those who minister in holy things, as well as of those who are preparing for that Ministry. Since most of our daily studies and pursuits have some bearing on the work of the Ministry, there is danger of our being tempted half unconsciously to ascribe to them a sort of sacramental character, and to substitute them, in greater or less degree, for those positive religious observances and devotional exercises, which others cannot evade on this plea. And yet a little reflection will show the fallacy of such a notion; for there is danger on the other hand, that the constant regularity of our ordinary duties in the work of the Ministry, or in preparing for it, will cause us to contract a mechanical habit in their performance, and to go through them as a mere matter of routine. This, indeed, will certainly be the case, unless we try our spirit and motives by constant self-examination, and unless we quicken our minds and animate our hearts by continual prayer to GOD; so that we shall feel in the performance of every daily duty, that we are standing and acting in His presence, and under His eye, whose honored agents and stewards we either are, or aim to be; and to whom we must soon render, before men and angels, an account of our stewardship.

Your obligation and responsibility in this behalf, dear brethren, are enhanced by the consideration, that through the favor of GOD, and the provident care of His Church, you are in the enjoyment of singular opportunities and advantages for the cultivation of personal holiness. Beware lest you fail to see and own this fact. There is no position or situation in this world that has not some drawback or difficulty. Such, no doubt, may be found here. But surely, dear brethren, it is your fault, and will be your folly and crime, if you fail to discover and thankfully to acknowledge your singularly great and almost unequalled privileges. Retired from the din and bustle of the world, released from the burden of its cares, set apart to sacred study and devotion, your path of duty marked out for you by the Church, guides provided to aid you in pursuing it, GOD'S blessing invoked by her each night and morning on your daily course, her watchful and anxious eye ever on you to warn and to incite; if you fail to grow in grace and in personal fitness for the holy office to which you aspire, you may not plead your want of opportunity in bar of judgment. The fulness of your privileges will, in that case, be a grievous aggravation of your fault, and of your punishment. See to it, then, dear brethren, as you value your own souls, as well as those that may hereafter be committed to you, that you neither disparage nor neglect the means and helps here provided, to aid you in the cultivation of personal holiness.

II. The second great law of all spiritual discipline, is one that is doubly binding upon you as Candidates for Holy Orders, viz: the law of humility and of submission to just authority. This was the very first law to which He, whose disciples you are, and whose Ministers you aspire to become, paid voluntary obedience. The law of personal holiness He could not otherwise than obey, seeing that, by virtue both of His Divine nature and of the Divine conception of His humanity, he was absolutely "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." But He, who "thought it not robbery to be equal with GOD," when He entered upon His mysterious work of love, voluntarily "humbled Himself" by "taking upon Him the form of a servant," and in that capacity He chose to submit His will to the will of His FATHER, who sent Him. "Lo! I come to do Thy will, O God!" And herein He has left us an "example that we should follow His steps."

Nor is it enough for us to follow only what we take to be GOD'S will. This indeed would be too often to follow our own will, substituted, at the suggestion of Satan or of our own deceitful hearts, for GOD'S will. Our blessed LORD could not mistake His FATHER'S will, for "He and the FATHER were One." His submission was therefore perfect and entire, He Himself being the interpreter of the Father's will. But submission is so alien to our nature, which, while yet untainted, fell through pride, that to secure our humility and submission, we must, in many cases, give heed to some less prejudiced and more competent interpreter of GOD'S will than our own minds and consciences can be. Not indeed so that our minds shall be slack in the attempt to study and to understand His will; or our consciences dull or slow to apply to the regulation of our lives, whatever we surely discover of GOD'S will, by the aid of His Word and SPIRIT; but so that, in all doubtful cases, we may submit cheerfully to the arbitrament of the Church, or of those whom she has set over us; and that in all cases, where she has plainly spoken, we shall promptly and dutifully obey, at the sacrifice, if need be, of our own inclinations, feelings, and opinions. Thus shall we have a sure test of our readiness to follow our LORD, in His example of humbling Himself, and of submitting His will to His Father's.

This law of humility and submission, from which no Christian, of whatever office or grade in the Church, is exempt, is especially binding, dear brethren, upon you, who are placed by the Church, with your own consent, in a state of pupilage, under teachers and governors, for the very purpose, among others, of testing and maturing your humility, docility, and submission. To this end the Church has made you, in the first place, subject to the paternal discretion of the Bishops to whose jurisdiction you severally belong, and has recognized in them the right to receive you as Candidates or not, at their option, and to sever that relation whenever they see fit. This she does, not merely in recognition of their vested rights, but for your spiritual advantage, that you may be taught the lesson of dependence upon, and submission to, a will other than your own. And then, since your Bishops cannot be always with you to conduct your training themselves, she has provided for that purpose this Seminary, in which, with your Bishop's consent, you are placed under the guidance of teachers whom she appoints, and are required to pursue a course of study, and to submit to a discipline which she has marked out. She has thus made adequate provision for hedging in your wills, and for preventing your minds and hearts from running riot, to the injury of yourselves, and others of her children.

It is true that a perverse and stubborn will may break, or slip off, the easy yoke which CHRIST and His Church impose for its restraint, and that the mind and heart of those whom such a will impels, will reject the mild checks which her maternal discipline lays on them. But to such, I speak not: thanks to GOD'S grace, I speak in the assurance that there are none such here. You own, I know, the obligation of the law I am discussing: I only seek to help you to perceive its full scope, and to move you herein "to be strong in the grace that is in CHRIST JESUS."

Permit me, before leaving this topic, to suggest, by way of illustration, two or three particulars, in regard to which your humility and submission may be put to the test. It is your duty, for instance, to frequent Daily Public Prayers, unless necessarily hindered. It might at first sight seem to be a matter of little moment, where you join in the Church's worship, provided you do join in it somewhere. At least it might so seem to one whose submission was imperfect, and who was disposed to follow his own fancy, or judgment, or will, rather than the authority of those set over him by the Church. They, of course, by providing that the Church's Prayers shall be said in this place, each morning and evening, by this religious household, have, in effect, said to each of you, "pray here, not elsewhere." And to the humble and submissive, this intimation would be law, even though it were not sanctioned by that other law of sacred association and brotherhood, which makes it unnatural and culpable to stray needlessly from this our common place of prayer.

Again, in your private devotions you have need of books, or manuals, to help and guide you. The Church, and those in authority over you, have here wisely left an ample margin for the exercise of discretion, but not of indiscretion. It by no means follows, that because the aids and guides you may discreetly use, have not been specified, that your liberty is therefore unrestrained, and that in this respect no call is made upon your humility and submission. For the Church, having prescribed a liturgy for Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, reasonably takes it for granted, that the spirit of that sacred Manual will pervade all the devotions of her dutiful children. That they will instinctively reject whatever may be out of harmony with, much more whatever may be contradictory to, the tone and tenor, of that .volume, which, next to Holy Scripture, has the strongest claim upon the Churchman's head and heart. She does, therefore, limit us in this particular, (I apprehend,) to the Book of Common Prayer, and to those Manuals of Devotion, which have been prepared upon it as their basis, or, which are confessedly in harmony with it, both in spirit and doctrine. If, in regard to any particular work, you have a doubt, whether it fall within the suggested limit, humbly heed the doubt, and turn to another of unequivocal character.

I am the more explicit, dear brethren, on this point, because I think it is one at which you are peculiarly exposed. It has become the fashion with not a few, (who it may be feared know not the value of the helps accessible to us at home,) to magnify the worth of the manuals of devotion current in foreign and hostile communions; although those manuals contain, with much that is common truth, no slight infusion of grievous error, which is so blended with the other matter, that it cannot often be disengaged and separated from it, even by the most careful and skilful analyst. A devout and ingenuous mind, attempting to use a manual of this sort, puts itself, in its most unguarded hour, in the power and at the mercy of a spiritual guide, who, if he dared be honest, would probably tell him, that the Spiritual Mother, through whom he was born again to GOD, is no better than a harlot, and would prescribe, as the subject matter of his first penitential exercise, his past conformity to her doctrine and worship. Can such, my brethren, be safe spiritual guides for us? Can we follow them, even though with unequal steps, without committing a contempt against our mother Church, in whose communion and nurture we have attained our present measure of grace, and may still be sure of growing in grace, even to the stature of perfect men in CHRIST, if we lovingly trust her guidance, and reverently obey her counsels? Nay, is not the adoption of such helps to devotion, a step towards, if not an overt act of treason against her authority? At the least, dear brethren, it would be, on the part of any one of you, an act of great presumption, utterly at variance with the humility and submission to authority that so well befit you, to seek out such guides, when the Church, both in her liturgy, and in the devotional manuals prepared by her pious sons, has so amply provided for all your wants. Show me the man who has exhausted the devotional aliment supplied by holy Bishop Andrews' Private Devotions, or the saintly Bishop Wilson's Sacra Privata, or Bishop Jeremy Taylor's unsurpassed Manual, the Holy Living and Dying, and who has risen to the devotional level of those venerable Fathers, and then I will show you one, who may, if he will, go beyond the green pastures and still waters, that are, alas! too little frequented, within the enclosure of our own Church, to satisfy his spiritual hunger and thirst out of other fountains and in other fields. But take heed to yourselves, lest, like the prodigal, dissatisfied with your appointed lot, you stray abroad, only to feed on husks, and to return at last, impoverished and penitent, to the home you despised!

What I have said in regard to books of devotion, will apply, in a great measure, to all books of study, and to your line of study in general. The Church here has marked out a course, which it is incumbent on you to follow diligently and faithfully. And, as to the terra incognita that lies beyond and around it, she has given you instructors to advise and direct you. You are placed here, for the first time perhaps, within reach of many books of every grade of merit; many of which embody errors of various kinds, in different proportions. In choosing your books, (which are in some sort your teachers,) follow the same rule upon which you have acted in selecting your instructors; that is to say, let the Church choose for you. Otherwise, you take your case out of the hands of Providence into your own hands; you follow self-will and private judgment, in contempt of humility and submission; and you must expect the fortune and the penalty of those who are wise in their own conceit, viz., to prove themselves fools at the last. Remember, dear brethren, your position; that you are Candidates for Holy Orders in the Church; admitted thereto and to this Institution, on the profession of attachment to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Church. By this profession, you are shut up to the observance of that wise counsel of Tertullian: "Let us 'seek,' (or inquire,) therefore in our own, and from our own, and concerning our own: and that only, which can be brought into question without touching the rule of faith." If you depart from this rule of conduct, the probability is, that you will be led by those who are themselves groping in the dark, according to that which the same Father has said: "Thou, therefore, who art likewise seeking, looking to those who are themselves also seeking, thyself in doubt being led by those who are in doubt, thyself unassured by those who are unassured, thyself blind by those who are blind, must needs be led into the ditch." [De Praescript Haeret. § xii. § xvi.]

Let the later folly of this same Father confirm the caution of his earlier wisdom. You know how grievously he himself departed from his own rule; how he gave heed to the lying prophecies of Montanism, and suffered himself to be seduced from his allegiance to the Church's doctrine and discipline, by its affectation of greater strictness and holiness than obtained in the Church; and by its pretensions to such prophetic inspiration, as might warrant it in elevating to the rank of Catholic truths, or articles of the faith, opinions that were either novel, uncertain, or false. Thus did this great Doctor, (who had no superior, if any equal, in point of learning and ability, in Western Christendom, before St. Augustine,) through impatience and want of humility, violate the rules of conduct so clearly laid down by himself, until at length he forsook the communion of the Church for that of a sect, which, however plausible its pretensions at the first, is distinguished in history chiefly for its wild fanaticism and shameless hypocrisy! In this sad example behold the folly of human wisdom, and learn by contrast the security and wisdom of humility and submission. For, while the want of these qualities left the great Divine and Doctor of his age at the mercy of a heretical schism, the possession of them kept the lowly and unlearned believers, whom he had taught, steadfast in the Faith and Communion of the Church, notwithstanding his defection. "Of such is the kingdom of GOD!"

If it be asked, "are we to read no books whatever, that want the impress of the Church's approval?" "Are we, too, to have our Index Expurgatorius?" I answer, that you may safely read such books as you are referred to by competent authority. It is part of your duty to know the errors, both of the present and of the past. But it is equally your duty and wisdom too, not to seek to encounter them rashly, lest you fall a victim to their wiles. A book that you may not safely read now, you may read with propriety hereafter, when you have become qualified to estimate it aright. And a book that you may at any time safely read, under competent direction, and for a laudable object, you may at no time read without danger, in obedience to the suggestions of self-will, or of vain curiosity. Had David put himself forward through pride, his sling and stone had not availed him against the arts and armor of the Philistine.

Nor fear, dear brethren, that the rule suggested will restrain your inquiries and study within narrow limits, or subject your minds and hearts to intellectual and spiritual bondage. For first of all, you have the Holy Scriptures, in whose study, (though familiar to him from his youth,) St. Paul bids Timothy "continue," seeing that they are "able to make wise unto salvation;" of which the truly great St. Athanasius, (who did not slight either Councils, or Fathers, or secular learning,) also says, " These are the fountains of salvation, from which every one that is thirsty may drink and be satisfied. In these alone is set forth the School of the true Faith." [S. Athanasii, Opera II. p. 39.]

Were your studies, indeed, confined to the Bible, and its best expositor the Book of Common Prayer, you would still have ample and varied scope for the employment of all your time and all your faculties. But you have also free range in the writings of the orthodox and Catholic Fathers of the Primitive Church, who (though individually, of course, not to be implicitly followed in matters of opinion,) are the most competent uninspired witnesses to the doctrine and discipline of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church. And this field again would employ all your time, even to survey it. Then there is open to you besides, the Theology of the Mother Church, among whose sons and Fathers not a few may be named who are worthy to take rank with the Primitive Fathers, whose writings they so faithfully explored and studied. If any Candidate for Orders in the Church is not satisfied with this measure of freedom, (though I mean not to imply that all beyond these limits is absolutely forbidden,) it must be because he disdains the "law of liberty," to which GOD'S providence and grace have made him subject, and covets that license which will naturally and fitly lead him into a bondage, whose yoke will not be easy, nor its burden light.

Let me beseech you then, dear brethren, in every part of your conduct, to see to it well, that you " walk humbly with your GOD," in dutiful submission to the powers and authorities ordained by Him, and in the ordering of His providence set over you. You will then find strength " in quietness and confidence;" and you will experience, through GOD'S grace, the truth of that sure promise of His Blessed SON, "Whosoever willeth to do the will of GOD, shall know of the doctrine whether it be true."

III. Finally, dear brethren, "be strong in the grace that is in CHRIST JESUS." Strive to obey heartily, in your whole life and conduct, the law of self-devotion and self-sacrifice, which our blessed LORD and Saviour so wondrously exemplified. Remember that "ye are not your own;" that you have not only been "bought with a price," and become thereby another's servants; but that, by voluntary enlistment, you have made yourselves "soldiers of CHRIST," and that you are now in course of training, that you may become officers and leaders in the sacramental host of GOD'S elect, whose vocation it is "manfully to fight under His banner, against sin, the world, and the devil."

With what emphasis, then, does the Apostle speak to each of you, through St. Timothy: " Thou, therefore, endure hardness, as a good soldier of JESUS CHRIST." How reverently should you heed that other counsel: " No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." If the soldier of this world renounces all other cares, that he may make it his one care to obey, even at the cost of life, his military superior, how should they, who are soldiers of a heavenly kingdom, give themselves wholly to this one service, at whatever cost or sacrifice; that they may so follow "the Captain of our salvation," in the present warfare with the powers of darkness, as to be entitled, through His grace, to share in the glory of that hour of triumph, when "He shall have put all His enemies under His feet;" and to receive, severally, from His gracious hand, the promised " crown of glory," with the approving sentence, " Well done, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy LORD!"

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