Project Canterbury Holiness: A Note of the Church
By the Reverend J.G.H. Barry
New York: Gorham, 1915
THE HOLINESS OF THE PRIESTHOOD All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore--
In the preceding lectures we have thought of the Church as the embodiment of the holy life our Incarnate Lord, to participate in, and to express which, the individual Christian is called. Beside such individual expression of the holy life in the experience of the members of the Body, there is what we may, perhaps, call a functional expression of it. That is to say, the inherent holiness of the Body functions through certain organs whose meaning is that they minister to the development of the holiness of the Body in all its members. Such organs of the Body are called in our ordinary phraseology "channels of grace": that phrase fixes attention upon the results which they achieve: my purpose is rather to fix attention upon the organ itself, not as a means of transmission, but as a means of expression of the Body's Life.
The function of the Body which we are to consider now is the function of Priesthood. Our Lord is the One and Only Priest, having assumed the entire significance of priesthood to Himself when He entered upon the mediatorial work of the Incarnation. The symbolic priesthood of the preceding dispensation was fulfilled in His actual priesthood, and the typical sacrifices, having fulfilled their use, were superseded by the actual sacrifice of the Incarnate Life. This, of course, does not and cannot mean that priesthood and sacrifice have passed away; but that the imperfect and typical sacrifices and priesthood are fulfilled in a permanent and abiding sacrifice and priesthood, the perfection of which renders other priesthood and sacrifice impossible. Our Lord did not assume a temporary priesthood to offer a passing sacrifice, the purposes of which being fulfilled it could be laid aside: both priesthood and sacrifice are aspects of mediation, and are needed as long as mediation is needed. Our Lord abides a priest forever, and, as a priest, has somewhat to offer, because of the constant need of humanity to approach God through him. We cannot approach God through memory of, or faith in, a past act. We approach through a door in heaven which is presently held open by the mediatorial action of our Lord. It is the mark of a mistaken and incompetent religion that it strives to center our thought on the past. All the acts of our Lord's Incarnate Life are preparatory for, and have reference to, His present action. That He was once offered, as a sacrifice for sin upon the Cross, is preparatory to His present action upon sinners whom by that lifting up He is drawing to Himself. His state, both as priest and sacrifice, is an eternal state: He is a priest forever, and offers one sacrifice forever, because both priesthood and sacrifice are forever the needs of those who approach God through Him. Every sin that is committed needs the absolution of an existing priest through the application of an existing sacrifice to its forgiveness. Our Lord's sacrifice is one and incapable of repetition because it is incapable of cessation: but it is capable of application to each new sin of man. That is the consolation of sinners, that there is a living way into the Holy Place through the perpetually offered sacrifice of the humanity of Christ.
The reason for the Second Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity taking upon Himself our Humanity was that He might permanently unite that Humanity to Himself. As we have noted, the Body of the Incarnation is a growing Body, growing by the constant addition of the human beings who are incorporated into Him by the action of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of baptism. And it is through the Mystical Body so constituted, that the Incarnate action of our Lord, to-day and ever, is mediated to His members. His Incarnate powers are, so to say, lodged in, and committed to, the Body as such: they are the powers of the Body. But in their exercise they are distributed through functions which are specially created for this end. The office of mediation belongs to the Body of Christ as such: but its exercise is through a special organ of the Body created to that end, the Priesthood. The Body of Christ has a priestly character, and the several members of it partake of that priestly character; but the exercise of priestly powers is through its appropriate organ, the priesthood of the Body, or Church.
We may express this truth in this way: Jesus Christ instituted the Priesthood for the purpose of carrying on in the world the work which He began in His Incarnation and continues through the extension of His Incarnation which is His Body, the Church. It was not that He was going away into a distant heaven, and was leaving behind Him means of spiritual helpfulness for men: He was not going away at all, essentially. In the Priesthood He was providing the means by which He being still present would work. He sends His Priests to the work of manifesting and propagating the Holiness of the Body, but He does not send them as a man sends a servant, away from Himself; but He sends them rather as a king sends an ambassador: the majesty and authority and inviolability of the king being in his ambassador. Christ is in His priest, and speaks and acts by him. The priest's acts are Christ's acts. The priest has not some shadowy and reflected priesthood; his priesthood is Christ's priesthood: there are not many priests, but only One. In every priestly act, it is the One priest Who acts. The priest does not absolve, Christ absolves. The priest does not sacrifice, Christ sacrifices.
Therefore those who have received the gift of priesthood have been raised to a new condition, endued with a new character. The priesthood is not an office that can be assumed and laid down. Just as the baptized man is not the same as the natural man, but has a special character which can never be laid aside or lost, has been made a member of Christ and a partaker of the divine nature, so a priest is not merely a Christian man of special training and bearing a special office, but has passed into a new spiritual condition. He is now united with Christ in priesthood; and yet so that there are not two priesthoods, a real and a representative, but one priesthood, the priesthood of Incarnate God.
I dwell upon these things, not because they are new or unfamiliar, but just because they are not. You who are gathered in this Seminary, are gathered as those who seek priesthood; you will shortly claim that you are called to the priesthood by the voice of God the Holy Ghost. It is the old and familiar things which you are in danger of losing grip on. And the first step to being a holy priest, is the realization of what is involved in being priests at all. We cannot have too high a conception of our priesthood ; but the result must be that the higher our conception, the deeper our sense of our own imperfection in it. That is what we need to develop, the sense of our own un-worthiness as the priests of God. People have been at all times prone to talk of priestcraft and sacerdotalism, having, no doubt, but vague notions of these as things which they do not like; butunfortunately there have always been conceptions of priesthood which have given ground for the talk. In the dawn of the Church an Apostle had to warn priests that their function was not to be lords over God's heritage, but ensamples to the flock. It seems to me that such an attitude toward the flock is born of too mean, and not too high a conception of the priesthood: it is born of a conception which fundamentally separates the priest from Christ. The priest conceives himself as endued with an independent authority, an irresponsible power, not as presenting to men in his priesthood, Christ Himself. Priesthood which does not start from the side of authority, but which conceives itself as presenting to men, not the power but the character of Christ, will stir no opposition. It is inconceivable that any one who has felt the true dignity of priesthood should be guilty of the offences which stir men's wrath against sacerdotalism. The meekness and gentleness of Christ will frighten no one. But there is nothing of Christ or His commission to us in a self-assertion which tyrannizes over others who, after all, may be our superiors in character, as they cannot but feel; in that arrogance of rule which rides rough-shod over the rights and privileges of others; in that contempt for others' feelings and prejudices which wantonly destroys the peace of many a parish and the usefulness of many a priest. One often thinks that there is no such position of spiritual danger as that of a priest or bishop of the American Church. I once asked a woman to dedicate her boy to the priesthood, and her answer was: "God forbid; I know of no such dangerous place in life." She had known many priests and she had seen their danger--the danger of a position without control. We have no discipline; there is no adequate definition of rights and duties; we are subject to no healthy criticism. We go where we will and we do what we will, and if we do not get on in one place there is always another open. It is no one's business to tell us plainly what we are like. And the position of a bishop is worse than that of a priest.
The only thing which can protect us from this stupid and disastrous conception of priesthood as unbridled authority, is a deep and humble conception of priesthood as the showing forth of the character of Christ. If we start there we start well. For it is our fundamental conceptions which will determine our character and work. Our conception of ourselves will determine the conception formed of us by those to whom we are sent. And further, the conception we permit men to form of us will affect their conception of Him in whose Name we assume to speak.
Let us take one or two of the titles by which priesthood is described, and see if we can draw from them any helpful thoughts about the nature of our priesthood. In the first place, we are called ambassadors. On Christ's behalf then are we ambassadors, as though God were beseeching you by us. That is St. Paul's way of stating the fact. An ambassador is one who is sent to represent his sovereign. But just because of this intimacy of relation, because he bears in himself the personality of his state, he on his part must be careful to maintain the dignity, the character of his state. He is not to be a machine through which business is done, or messages are transmitted, so that one man as well as another might fulfil the office; but there is need of his intelligence and will. He must be in thorough sympathy with the policy of his country. He must, if one may so express it, think the thoughts of his sovereign. Much is necessarily left to his activity, his intelligence, his insight; in emergencies he has to take action which will commit his government. His position is one of responsibility, trust, rather than authority. Indeed, it is not the authority of his state which he is sent to represent, but its mind.
Now all that is true in a higher degree of priesthood. We are to represent, not the authority, but the mind of Christ. There is too much "shirt-sleeve" diplomacy in the priesthood. Priests sometimes act as though the personality of Christ were merged in them, and not their personality in Christ. But it is the mind of Christ which we are making known. And like the ambassador we can only do that if we are sympathetic \vith it, if we recognize the aims of God and make them our own. Only as we do this can we escape the special dangers of priesthood; that flaunting egotism which often writes itself large over the priest's actions; that crass officialism which the word ecclesiastic so often connotes; that ill-bred audacity by which men assume that they can do what they please because of their office. This not to represent Christ, one of the noteworthy things of whose life is the delicate sympathy with which it touches other lives. And the representative of Christ must cultivate just that delicate sympathy which is in Christ. To be able to rule is, in the first place, to be able to understand. To impose one's will, irrespective of circumstances and conditions, is mere tyranny. Our Lord's dealing with men was founded upon complete knowledge of human nature. He knew -what was in man. Practically, at any rate, we base our trust in His sympathy upon our conviction of the completeness of His human experience. And we can go no way toward winning people to Christ by any road other than that of sympathetic knowledge. For again, it is characteristic of the action of God that He respects human freedom. He does not compel men into obedience. He does not do things because He can. His method of dealing with human souls is the method of attraction. He draws men by the appeal to that which is best in them; by setting before them an ideal of life. It is not God's power, but God's character, as revealed in Christ, which is the constructive force in religion. Force is the most futile of things; the compulsion of the ideal is the one compulsion which is effective. God does not even resort to the intellectual compulsion of proof; he insists that we act, if we act at all, on faith. In other words, intellectual, divorced from moral, conviction, is valueless. // they believe not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe though one rose from thif dead. It is the things that are pure and honest and of good report which by their intrinsic attractiveness determine advance in life. Priests and bishops, therefore, are not satraps set to rule over provinces of God's Kingdom, but ambassadors sent to interpret the character of their King. It is as though God were beseeching men by us. That God beseeches men is a very wonderful and pregnant conception, and a conception that the ecclesiastic, more than most men, is liable to miss. It was excusable in an Elijah to miss the point of the divine method; it is inexcusable under the Gospel. The priest's power is the power of his character, and the power of his character is the degree in which it reflects the character of Christ. That cannot be insisted on too strongly. We are continually lapsing back into a theory which implies that we are going to forward the work of God by machinery. That what we want is proof of Christianity. Philosophical and theological books; demonstrations of the possibility of the miracles of the Gospel; all the intellectual baggage of an aggressive campaign; these are good and necessary in their way and place; but the Gospel did not conquer the Roman Empire by such means, nor has it ever conquered anything by them. It won its victories in the first place, because Christianity presented a certain life. It was not even the miracles of Christ which won His influence, but the character of Christ. And it has not been the intellectual tradition, but the character tradition which has kept Christianity a living force in the world. Each Christian generation has set before the world a type of character jwhich nothing but Christianity has been able to produce, and by that it has lived. In the last analysis intellectual error is disastrous because it leads to error in life; to misconceive the character of God is to misrepresent the character of God.
It behooves the priest, then, to see to it that he is representing the character of Christ rightly. The conversion of souls depends on that. In all our work that, ultimately, is our dependence. Brilliant preaching, executive ability, activity, social qualities, may make a parish successful; they will never make it Christian. A successful parish is by no necessity a converted parish. A converted parish starts from a converted priest.
Let us notice another title by which priests are called--Stewards. I suppose the point about stewards is that they are the administrators of that which is not their own. The aspect under which we have to view them, then, is that of responsibility.
There are thoughts which are familiar thoughts, and which, nevertheless, come to us at times with fresh vividness, and overwhelm us by the greatness of their implications. Such a thought to me is that of the dependence of God upon man: the extent to which the work of God waits upon its human instruments. The progress of the Kingdom of God seems to be conditioned absolutely upon human activity. When men have set themselves in a spirit of devotion and sacrifice to that work it has prospered; otherwise not. Whatever may be our theories, we cannot but feel that it makes an immense difference to a soul whether it dies Christian or no. Although we may feel no doubt of the salvation of such heathen as have lived by whatever light and guidance God gave them, still there is a vast difference between a heathen, even the best, and a Christian. Heathen salvation and Christian salvation are two things. But God has made the Christian salvation of the heathen depend upon the activity of the Christian Church, that is, upon the activity of the priesthood, for we must not shirk our responsibility. And what a spectacle history unrolls before us. With our usual tendency to a baseless optimism, we are wont to dwell on the triumphs of missions, the long roll of saints and martyrs who have splendidly and heroically dedicated themselves to God in this work. That, set by itself is, no doubt, magnificent; our admiration is well spent on a Xavier or a Patteson. But put where it belongs in relation to the opportunities and resources of the Church--is it splendid? God gives the resources; God creates the opportunities; and He has given in lavish abundance. Opportunities and resources, however, are nothing without use. And who can deny that on the whole the history of Christianity is a history of misuse and incomprehension. As missions are not my theme, but only a passing illustration of it, I will not dwell on details--but what comparison is there between the resources of Anglo-Saxon Christianity and, not its accomplishment, but its effort? And the same thing is true in every department of work: the gulf between resource and effort is tremendous.
It is not that we come short of the ideal ; humanity may always be expected to do that; but that we have failed pitifully. We have wasted and we still every day waste our Lord's goods. Look at the phenomena of waste in the lives of priests. I shall not speak at length of the intellectual life of the priest, but for the moment look at the waste of it. Think, if you will, of what a man of average intellect may accomplish. With the opportunities of intellectual training he has in school and college and seminary; with his opportunities afterward in active priestly life when he first begins to see the needs of special work, we might expect that priests would be exceptionally informed, at least: that they should be experts in their trade: that the special tools of their calling would be ready at hand, and that the hand would be trained to use them. A¥e would as soon think of a surgeon holding his knife awkwardly and cutting in the wrong place, as a priest unskilled in giving moral advice. We should think scorn of a lawyer ignorant of law--we are rather surprised if a priest show more than an elementary knowledge of theology. We go contemptuously asleep under a prosy lecturer who bungles his subject; but we are expected to keep awake through what impossible sermons! And this is not, I would insist, because the average priest is below par intellectually; it is purely a phenomenon of waste. God has given him a mind which he has not cared to use, has given him opportunities which he has not seized. One consequence of this is the spread of error in the uncultivated fields.
The power of error lies not in its own persuasiveness. It were absurd to suppose error more persuasive than truth. And the danger that assails the Church, and which it is a part of the duty of the priesthood to keep away, is not a danger which comes from the outside. The Church has never been endangered from without, but always from within. Our fortress is impregnable; but only in the sense in which any fortress is impregnable, if it be adequately defended. And it is the function of the priesthood to defend it. We are pledged to "banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word." Surely one aspect of the Holiness of the Body of Christ is the purity of its doctrines; and that the doctrines may remain pure, there must be a priesthood skilled in sacred studies, and filled with holy zeal for the deposit of truth which they are called to administer. We so easily miss the importance of being at our best, and consequently miss the opportunity and obligation of our Stewardship.
I would press this obligation of the Steward as being in the first place an obligation of self-administration. What God has confided to me to be administered for Him is in the first place my own life with all the gifts and endowments that that implies. My first duty as steward is, not to view myself with complacency as one who has attained to a position of dignity and honor; but to view myself with humility and fear, as one set in a place of immense danger and responsibility. In that position we have to deal with questions which are of eternal importance. There is something even terrifying in the position of the young priest who finds himself placed in the charge of a parish with cure of souls, and compelled whether he will or no, to deal with problems which neither age nor experience nor training has fitted him to deal with. If ever there was a man driven to cast himself utterly on God it is that man. He has lived for years in an academic world where the questions he asked were answered apart from the friction of real life which gives them their only vitality. The sense of responsibility for souls did not enter as one of the factors of his decisions. And now he is plunged into a world where the problems are problems of life and death, a world where men and women struggle at death grips with fierce passions, or are hopelessly entangled in intellectual problems the issue of which is too often spiritual disaster, It is sad to know that there are priests to whom this darkling world of spiritual distress is as unknown as the back of the moon. And they are men who have failed in the stewardship of their lives; failed at all to understand that priesthood means stewardship ; that the powers which they are permitting to lie unused are precisely the powers of which God will demand an account. The correspondence columns of church newspapers are a pitiful display of clerical incompetence and triviality of interest--of men dreaming in the presence of a decaying civilization, and living in a non-existent and impossible world; endlessly discussing questions which time has long ago decided and tossed into its dust-bin. It is required before all things that a steward be found faithful--faithful in the cultivation of himself to deal, with the obligations of his time. To realize myself to my highest potency is my duty to the God who has made me His steward.
I shift the emphasis of the problem when I attempt to realize myself for myself; when the world or the Church becomes the field of my self-advancement. The priest is bound to the ascetic life. For essentially asceticism, if I understand it, is a realization of life for God and not for self. Asceticism is not the disuse of this or that. Still less the ultimately Manichaean attitude toward the world as being an evil thing, or the body as being an hindrance to the spirit; but asceticism is the putting of this world in its proper place as the instrument of the spirit. The ascetic sits loose to the world, dominating and controlling it, and making it his servant for spiritual ends. To the Christian, asceticism is a means to an end. If he limits his use of the world it is not because he regards the world as evil, but because he will keep control over his own life. And no man can keep control over his own life, except he discipline himself by denial, except as he discover that he can dispense with anything which the world has to offer. He is careful not to entangle himself in the affairs of this world. His self-denial is the evidence of his self-control and the means of his self-oblation. The ascetic is therefore able to place the total energy of his life at the disposal of God. He is absorbing nothing selfishly. There is a temper which is curiously opposite to all that. As the Roman tax-farmer was placed in charge of a district with the sole obligation of paying to the state a fixed revenue, and had himself the enjoyment of what beyond that he could collect, so we find men taking an analogous attitude toward the service of God. They owe God stated and limited service. Beyond that all is theirs. They are free to make self-appropriation of much of life. They have the right to this or that for themselves. It is not that they belong to God, but a certain limited revenue from them. This, as I understand it, is the explanation of the worldly priest. He pays tariff on his priesthood. He does his work, he tells himself; as though his work were the allotted labor of a slave. And his work done he throws himself into the enjoyment of life. Within certain limits of decency he is free of the world. Now the steward of God is not free of the world at all. He is bound to consecrate his whole energy. Even his amusements must come within this rule. He is not free to take amusement because a certain amount of life belongs to him; but he is bound to take relaxation because the health of his life requires it--because without it he would be a less fit or serviceable instrument of God. It is a necessary part of his self-development, and therefore falls within the administration of his office and not without it. But that at the same time governs and limits the nature of his amusement; it must be such as to render him a better steward.
There is one more title of the priest which I want to notice: the priest is called Watchman. And I will ask you to think of this in the same subjective way in which we have been treating the other aspects of priesthood, with a view to emphasizing it as a function of the holy life of the Body of Christ. I will ask you to think of the priest's duty as watchman as primarily a duty to watch over himself. That is to say, it is still a question of self-realization for the end of greater serviceableness. The qualification of the watchman is not first that he watch, but that he be fit to watch.
The sphere of this watchfulness, it seems to me, is in the first place over one's ideals. There is nothing which we are more liable to lose. It is the usual experience that we start well. We go out to our work with high ideals of what the priestly life is and involves. Those ideals may be mistaken in certain particulars; they may need discipline and purification; they may be modified through experience; but at bottom they were good ideals, and we wanted more than anything else to be good priests. We had zeal and enthusiasm and hope. We had plans and anticipations over which now, perhaps, we smile a little sadly when they have come to dust mostly. We had courage to meet difficulty and even failure, which it is good for us if we have retained. Well, all that is far behind us, and the world which revealed itself sun-flushed to our eager vision looks gray enough now in the retrospect. That, too, does not matter much. What does matter is the ideal--has that too faded with the fading of the dawn? Do we look back at that too with a smile that is half sadness and self-pity as a thing belonging to that world which vanished with the breaking of our dreams? The weariness of high ideals is a constant experience everywhere; but woe to the priest who once yields to it. Our dream of reality and our experience of reality are vastly different, but nevertheless if we have been sustained through the difficulty of our ministry it was the dream that sustained us. It is the existence of the ideal which makes the real tolerable.
The ideal is that which, being as yet un-attained, seems to us attainable. It is the most desirable thing of its order. It is the element of desire; therefore, that is important. Many have ideals which they never attempt to realize. Many more see ideals and admire them from a distance. But their admiration is languid and effortless. The desire of the ideal is energizing and stimulant. It matters little that we do not actually attain it: the effort to attain will carry us far. The sculptor or the painter finds that the material through which he must work seriously limits the expression of his thought. He conceives a form which is perfect; but when he turns from his work with the confession that he can do no more, the vision of his imagination still has a beauty which his creation lacks. The musician sits at the organ and calls forth melodies which are so subtle that they pass over the too gross senses and speak directly to the soul; but over the soul of the musician there are ever more stealing melodies which refuse to be translated; which are as the voices of angels singing as they go upon their errands of mercy, which are echoes of the far-off heavenly music of the harpers harping with their harps. But musician and artist alike do what they do by virtue of their vision; and if they had never conceived the to them impossible they never would have risen to the level of their actual attainment.
It is the ideal which sustains and stimulates. Much of life is weary drudgery, if you view it by itself. If our eyes were fixed on present attainment, which most often means present imperfection and failure, how long should we be able to keep ourselves to our work? Work for work's sake lands us in impossible plodding. Work for the vision's sake is the only hopeful work. We smile over the child's crude drawing; but is it not merely of a piece with all life--an attempt, faulty and bungling, to render the ideal? The important thing is that the child has an ideal to render, not that he bungles it in the rendering. We bungle life sadly in any case; our attainment falls how far below our conception. The perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, is that which we have to translate into the terms of an actual priestly experience: and how does our translation differ much from the child's crude sketch? But there is the intention behind them both, and it is the intention which counts.
But the ideal makes us uncomfortable. Our constant failure saddens and perplexes; the unsuccessful struggle ends perhaps in clisheartenment. There come times when far from being stimulated, life grows very somber under the pressure of the unattained. Then is the time when the watchman needs all his watchfulness, for then the enemies of the soul throng about its very gates. Then is the time of the very special temptation--what good? Why not adjust oneself to life? The world is a very good place, and life can be made a very tolerable thing by a little compromise. Why insist on impossible standards and put oneself out of sympathy with the world? Why insist on being different?
Are we to meet this state of things by a change of ideals? By getting rid of our vision? Are we going to stop watching and set our people the example of a perfectly commonplace and easy Christianity, which they will regard as sensible because it puts no strain upon them? That is the choice which is offered to every priest sooner or later: Make these stones bread. What is the good of being uncomfortable in the wilderness? And then it comes out what one's conception of priesthood is. Then it comes out whether one has been watching over those ideals of the priestly life with which one started, or whether they have faded insensibly and vanished without our notice. Then it comes out whether the pursuit of the ideal life of the priest is all in all to us, or whether it has become a mere theory, which we stow away in our intellectual lumber room, while our actual working theory is to get on with this world.
And the thought of the temptation of the comfort of low ideals suggests this further thought: in what does lie the essential significance of the priest's life? What is its last word? And surely if that life be the presentation of the Christ-life--if the Christ is in the priest, so that the priest can be called Alter Christus, there can be but one answer. The priest's life finds its completest expression in that which is the antithesis of compromise--sacrifice. The priest's life is the expression of the priestly life of our Lord, of which the essence is sacrifice. Our influence on others is the influence of our lives as sacrificed. Influence, be it noted, in the broadest sense; not transient influence over this or that person or community, but abiding influence in the kingdom of God. The influence of a personality we are apt to narrow down too much with our limited notions of the practical. We are all more or less tainted with materialism. But when I speak of the total influence of a personality, I am disposed to take an account of a man's prayers as well as his guilds; and the number of the Eucharists that he offers, as well as of the calls he makes. And I would start from the degree of his sacrifice. The influence of the saints is an abiding influence in the Kingdom of God no matter what particular type of the saintly character they displayed, whether active or contemplative. In either case they attained saintliness through sacrifice. The practical question is, Do we believe that, and are we aiming at saintliness through sacrifice? We are fond of quoting that "the blood of the martyrs is seed of the church"; but I doubt whether we really believe it. We do not believe that a man may profit the church more by his death than by his life; or what is involved in the saying, by his failure than his success. From the practical point of view the martyrs were certainly failures: they were cut off in the attempt to do something, and left it undone. If a man attempts to convert a heathen village and meets martyrdom there, he may be a hero, but he has failed in what he undertook, as much as an American priest who undertakes to convert a Protestant parish and is driven out. What is needed is that we enlarge our view of the man's life in either case. What essentially the man is doing is offering his life to God. His life is the matter of sacrifice. The conditions of its acceptance, whether through success or failure, are for the divine determination. But that, apart from that one is more important than the other is not true. The priestly character finds its completest expression through sacrifice. Not merely the external sacrifice of things and opportunities; but the internal sacrifice of self. For all sacrifice is ultimately self-sacrifice. Christ offers Himself, and His work as the expression of Himself. The priest "ought to offer himself for an oblation to his divine Master, in body, soul, and spirit, with all his faculties, powers and affections, in life and unto death."
It would seem that this identification of himself with the sacrificial life of Christ through the offering of his will is the consummation of the priest's union with his Master. We must certainly look upon the priest's union with our blessed Lord as something over and above the union of the believer with Christ, which is the basis of. the spiritual life. The priest is joined in the sacrificial work of Christ; is taken up into a closer intimacy. One approaches the thought with a feeling of awe. But it is a false humility to put away such thought as involving a conception of oneself of which one is not worthy. If we are rightly priests, it is because God has chosen us to be such, because our Lord has raised us to the life of union with Him in His priesthood, because the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts of ministry. We might well shrink if we had thrust ourselves into the priest's office for a morsel of meat; but the word of God to us is, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you. We may not shrink, then, but rather face the fact of our priesthood in all its tremendous implications; and above all, face it in the sense of this self-responsibility, which I have been endeavoring to emphasize.
There is one word which sums up pretty well the priest's attitude of response toward our blessed Lord, and that is the word Purity. The priest's life must be a life of progressive purity. As I understand it, that means the gradual disentanglement from all things that soil or tarnish the soul. Not simply actual sin, as we count sin, but the unworthy motive, the rebellious thought, the unruly imagination. We are pulled down sadly at times by things which are hardly sins. There are moments when what we have sacrificed for the priesthood comes over us: Behold, we have left all and followed Thee. The thought of the houses and lands which we might have won in the marketplace of the world; the visions of quiet homes which might have been ours; the savor of the luxuries we have sacrificed. The temptation of these things is none the less keen because we have never had them; possibly might have missed them altogether if we had aimed at them. At least others have them, the friends of our youth; we see them now in lives of quiet contentment; and we have been brought of God out into the wilderness, and in the place of the pleasant food of Egypt we eat this manna, and at moments our soul loatheth this light bread. We thought in the eagerness of our youth, in the first enthusiasm of our vocation, that we were going straight to Canaan, with its milk and honey, its corn and wine. And we are here in the wilderness, with Canaan a distant vision caught from mountain peaks, and perhaps only in the moment of death.
"Poor Moses, thou too sawest undulating in the distance the ravishing hills of the Promised Land, and it was thy fate nevertheless to lay thy weary bones in a grave dug in the desert! Which of us has not his promised land, his day of ecstasy, and his death in exile?" But it presses the lesson that if we want happiness we are to look up for it, to seek it not in the creature, but in the Creator, to seek it in deeper realization of our union with God in Christ. Our souls are ever restless and unsatisfied here. "The bosom of the Creator is the creature's home." We find it hard to give up our toys. We find it hard to understand that if we attain God, that is enough. But that is the simple truth. "There is but one thing needful--to possess God. All our senses, all our powers of mind or soul, all our external resources, are so many ways of approaching the divinity, so many modes of tasting and adoring God. We must learn to detach ourselves from all that is capable of being lost, to bind ourselves only to that which is absolute and eternal."
For our relation to the world is changing and passing; but our relation to our Lord is an eternal relation. We are priests forever. We can never lose that character which was conferred upon us at our ordination. We may be lost priests, but priests we shall be still. "Whether in the light of glory or in the outer darkness we shall be priests, accepted or cast out eternally."
And to insist perhaps over much, priests raised to the participation of the Eternal priesthood of our Lord that we may manifest to men the Holy Life of His Body: proofs, we may say, of the continual operation of that Holy Life. Men, therefore, whose chief characteristic ought to be a passionate devotion to the Person of our Lord. That passionate loyalty, that sense of identification with our Master, that responsibility for His honor which counts fidelity more than death, that is the intimate quality of a priest's devotion, that constitutes his heroism. "Heroism that is the brilliant triumph of the soul over the flesh--that is to say, over fear; fear of poverty, of suffering, of calumny, of sickness, of isolation, and of death. There is no serious priestly life without such heroism.
That was the Apostle's view: I count all things but loss that I may win Christ, win to deep knowledge and love of Him, win to understand the meaning of the union wrought with Him by my priesthood. The priesthood is to-day what it was then; it becomes us to live it as men lived it then. We are to seek in our own priesthood what the saints found in theirs; and if we seek as they sought we shall find as they found. And finding, we shall exemplify and commend that Holiness which is the outpouring of the Divine Life of the Incarnate through all the channels of His Body.