27th of January, A.D. 1828.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York, and
Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pulpit Eloquence in the
General Theological Seminary, &c.
No. 127 Broadway.
THE remarks which I design to make on this occasion cannot be better introduced than in the exhortation of the Apostle—"Young men likewise exhort to be sober-minded." It is addressed to young men of all descriptions. But I shall confine it to those young men who in this Seminary are engaged in the high, honourable, and responsible duty of preparing for the Gospel Ministry in the Protestant Episcopal Church.
The word in the original translated "sober-minded," denotes the possession of sound mental faculties; and also the sound and correct exercise of them in respect to the temper and conduct. In this passage, the former signification being supposed, the word is used more especially in the latter, and enforces a prudent, modest, dignified, and correct behaviour, arising from a well regulated mind.
The exhortation evidently enforces on young men correct dispositions, and the correct exercise of them in the deportment and conduct with reference to the particular situation in which they are placed.
The theological students then who are here present will, I hope, indulge me in a few brief remarks with respect to the temper and conduct which it is their duty to cherish and observe with reference to their character as theological students of the Protestant Episcopal Church; to the Professors of the institution; to their situation as associated in this building; and to their intercourse with the world. The remarks, of course, will not embrace all the sentiments that might be urged. I shall briefly suggest only some of those which appear the most important.
In reference to your character as theological students, my young friends, your first object should be, the preservation and increase of personal piety.
I take it for granted, that this personal piety, in its general principles and exercises, is deeply seated in your minds, imbuing all your thoughts, desires, affections, and actions with its holy influence; that translated by the sacramental rite into Christ's Church, into the exalted relations of "children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of Heaven," the obligations then imposed as the condition of these privileges have been assumed; and that under the agency of the Divine Spirit, dead to sin, and crucifying the flesh, the new man has been raised up in all godliness, and righteousness, and truth. Unless this spiritual change has been effected, I need scarcely say, you have no claim to the privileges of Christians—you have no business with that sacred office, the object of which is to rescue men from that spiritual bondage by the fetters of which you are still bound. And surely it will be tremendous guilt in you to say that you are "moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you the ministry," when you are strangers to his sanctifying influence on your tempers and conduct. I take it for granted then, that you have realized in your own souls all those great truths which respect man's fallen and sinful state, and the mode of deliverance through the merits and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the "new man," (it is the impressive analogy of the Apostle-it is the beautiful exhortation of our Church in her baptismal offices) must be "renewed day by day," must "grow into a perfect man, to the stature of the fulness of Christ," must "daily increase in all virtue and godliness." This progressive piety is indispensable to you as Christians. It is especially necessary for you, as candidates for the sacred office, in whom now must begin to shine with brighter lustre than in ordinary Christians, examples as you should be to them, all the graces of the Spirit. Happily removed as you are from many of the temptations to which secular pursuits expose men, you should still exercise constant watchfulness. For temptations of a peculiar nature, and more formidable from the imposing garb which they assume, cast their snares around your retirement. The vigorous and devoted pursuit of knowledge, even theological knowledge, purifying as is its divine influence, may gradually encroach on the time that should be devoted to the exercises of practical piety, and ultimately weaken the fervour with which the soul cherishes the great truths of her redemption, and communes with her God and Saviour.
Let then your supreme vigilance be directed against the temptations to which even your theological studies expose you. I will not for a moment suppose that you do not engage with sincerity, with devotedness, and with fervour in those services of God's temple, by which, while we "draw near to him" in confession, supplication, and praise, he "draws near to us" with the enlivening influence of his pardon, and the refreshing communications of his grace. But in addition to these, and to those daily social devotions which you here offer to the God of your salvation, I trust that your private rooms are the seats of your intercourse with the Father of your spirits, of your devout meditations on his perfections, especially on the manifestation of them in the great mystery of redemption, and on your Christian duties and privileges. I trust that some time is daily devoted to the reading of the sacred volume, not only as scholars and as critics to settle doubtful constructions, to unravel difficulties, to illustrate beauties and excellencies, but in all humility and solicitude as sinners, to find there the light that is to lighten your spiritual darkness, the mercy that is to appease your guilty consciences, the grace that is to renew your disordered souls, the divine promises which are to refresh the path of your pilgrimage, and to conduct you to the fulness of joy in the heavenly mansions of your God. And especially let me hope, that your hearts are often raised from the critical or instructive page, from the walks of relaxation, or of business, from the scenes of innocent social enjoyment, to your God and Redeemer; celebrating in silent homage their perfections; imploring in secret supplication their pardon, succour, and direction; and fixing your thoughts, desires, and aspirations on that heavenly home, to which the journey of life is to conduct you, and which will shine with the perfection of divine knowledge, and be filled with the fulness of divine bliss.
Devout attendance on the public means of grace, pious reading, meditation, and prayer, are the great, and, by God's blessing, the all-sufficient instruments by which your personal piety will be preserved and increased.
But you are also constantly to bear in mind the relation which, as theological students, you sustain to the Protestant Episcopal Church.
In that sacred ministry for which you are preparing in that Church, the solemn vow will be upon you to "conform to its doctrine and worship," and "always so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same, according to the commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your cure and charge with all diligence, to keep and observe the same." Here then your duty is marked out with the utmost clearness and precision. You are to serve God for the promoting of his glory and the edifying of his people, by conforming to the worship of the Church of which you are ministers, and by ministering the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ as that Church hath received the same, under the solemn conviction that she hath received them according to the commandments of God. And if she hath thus received them, what motive can there be to depart from them? What but violation of solemn obligations—what but confusion and disorder—what but the weakening and endangering of her worship, and of those doctrines, sacraments, and discipline which the Lord hath commanded—and what but imminent hazard to that divine plan which God hath constituted for the promoting of his glory and the salvation of the souls of men, can ensue from any departure from her worship, any admixture of other systems or other institutions with those which she holds as agreeable to divine command. The doctrine, the sacraments including the essentials of worship, the discipline connected with that ministry "the honour of which no man taketh to himself," were prescribed by Christ and his Apostles. Any other supposition would be as absurd as it is contrary to the best attested facts. Our Church sets forth the doctrine, sacraments, worship, discipline, and ministry, which in all essential points were constituted by God's Providence and Holy Spirit, or which are agreeable to divine command. These, and these alone, her clergy are to inculcate and administer—these, and these alone, her people arc to observe and keep—to inculcate and administer, and to observe and keep with unvarying, undismayed fidelity; but with the utmost deference to the consciences and rights of others, the most sincere respect for their piety, the most marked kindness for their persons. Thus acting we shall save our own souls—we shall do the best for the salvation of the souls of others. The issue we must leave with him, to whom we may render an account with humble joy, the Divine Master who hath commissioned us, and whose kingdom we have sought to advance only by those moans which he and his Apostles prescribed, or which are agreeable to his commands.
Cherish therefore, my young friends, I beseech you, the determination to set up the Church of which you expect to be ministers, in her doctrine, sacraments, discipline, ministry, and worship, as the bright and safe pole-star that is to guide you in your future labours, for the glory of God and the salvation of the souls of men, amidst the numerous and, I fear, not diminishing temptations which the misguided zeal and popular practices of the age in which we live will present to seduce you into other courses. Settle now in your minds, if it be not already settled, the deeply important question—whether the doctrine and prescriptions of our Church be agreeable to the commands of God. If, unfortunately, they appear to you not of this character, instantly relinquish your intention of entering her ministry. We shall lament your defection, but revere your honesty. If hereafter, when clothed with her commission, this should become your conviction, remove yourself from her fold. We shall then lament your defection, but revere your honesty. But with what far different emotions must the conduct of those persons be viewed who enter the ministry of our Church determined to inculcate and to countenance, or having assumed her ministry, do inculcate or countenance, doctrines and practices alien to her pure and primitive system, and calculated to subvert it.
Faithfully adhering to your Church, and devoting yourself exclusively to her advancement as the only mode by which, agreeably to your ordination vows, you are to "serve God for the promoting of his glory and the edifying of his people," you will enjoy the testimony of an approving conscience, and the humble hope of the final approbation of the Master whose divine commission you bear, and whose kingdom you seek to advance. And be assured with this light within, bright, serene, and inextinguishable, you will not be dismayed by the darkness that may be without you, in any opposition to your unvarying course of duty, or in any misconception or perversion of your principles, your views, or your motives. "Woe be to you when all men speak well of you," is a declaration, my young friends, which you cannot too frequently bear in mind, in order to fortify yourselves against the most powerful and dangerous enemies that will assail you in your ministerial course, the love of general popularity, and the fear of popular odium. And yet a faithful and consistent adherence to the principles of your Church will secure to you the zealous support of her considerate and enlightened friends, and even the secret if not avowed commendation of the honest and virtuous of every Christian community. But after all, "What is man, whose breath is in his nostrils? Wherein is his praise or his censure to be accounted of?"
I pass on to some remarks which suggest themselves in reference to the relation which you sustain to the Professors of the Seminary—the two-fold relation of friends and of pupils.
In the former capacity, it is our high gratification at all times to recognise you—-friends by a closer than worldly tie, the fellowship of the Gospel—friends by the more sacred anticipated tie of servants of the same divine Lord—friends, as future associates in the same glorious object of promoting the glory of God, and the salvation of the souls of men—friends, we hope and pray, in an eternal relationship, to be sealed by the approving sentence of our Master at the great day of our account—"Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord." A friendship of so exalted a nature it is our wish should be cherished, by that familiar and kind intercourse, that unreserved exchange of opinions and of feeling, which smoothe the brow of care, relax the wasting intensity of thought, buoy up the depressed spirits, and brighten the flame of devotion.
Our confidence in your good sense assures us that the endearing character of friends will not interfere with the duties of the other important relation which you sustain—that of pupils, to us as your instructors—pupils and instructors too of a higher than worldly character—in that knowledge before which all human science, bright as are her beams, fades in lustre, and to which her most resplendent lights should be made tributary. The knowledge, which we are to endeavour to present to you, and which you are to receive, respects the volume of inspiration and the languages in which its truths are promulgated; its cogent evidences; the criticism and interpretation of its sacred text; the arrangement, statement, and proof of its infinitely momentous doctrines; the exhibition of the varying condition of that Church of which it records the divine establishment; the explanation and enforcement of the nature and duties of that ministry which traces its origin to the divine promise—"As my Father sent me, even so send I you; lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world;" and the cultivation of that sacred eloquence by which the truths and precepts of the word of God are to be impressed on the mind and the conscience. Who is sufficient for the duties of instructors arid of pupils, where such is the knowledge which the one are to communicate and the other to acquired Let. us look higher than to human power to direct and to bless us in the communication and acquisition of this extensive circle of divine science, by which the man of God is to be thoroughly furnished. You, my young friends, we are satisfied.. will not be deficient in that diligence which the magnitude of the task before you requires; in that punctual attendance on your Professors which respect to them and duty to yourselves exact; in that deference to their opinions which not leading to a servile reception of them prevents the prejudiced or hasty rejection of them; and in that "ready mind and will" to obey all the discipline which may be necessary for the maintenance of order and the successful prosecution of your studies.
I am thus lead to consider you as associated in this building, and your consequent duties.
We lament that the liberality of Episcopalians has not enabled the Trustees of the Seminary to erect but the third part of an edifice which in its original design is not of large magnitude. Much do we owe to the Trustee who devoted to the superintendence of its erection a large portion of his time and attention. It furnishes accommodations which, we hope, are an earnest of better things to come. [Jacob Lorillard, Esq. who has also advanced his own funds to complete the building. Much also is the Seminary indebted to the active zeal of Henry McFarlan, Esq.]
As the exclusive seat of sacred science, most interesting is its character. No fount of Helicon indeed sends forth its inspiring current; but here is opened the well-spring of salvation, from which will issue, we trust, the perennial and increasing streams that will fertilize the Zion of our Israel, and make glad the city of our God. The torch of truth, brighter than that which illumined the porch sacred to Heathen wisdom, is here lighted at the altar of Heaven, and sheds undecaying and celestial radiance. Here traverse not the selfish, the stern, or the sensual votaries of Pagan safes, but the disinterested, the cheerful, the pure disciples of him who spake as never man spake; and who seek to learn from the volume which his inspiration indited, the lessons with which they are to illume, to purify, to save, a benighted, corrupt, and ruined world.
Sacred then be this mansion. Never let it resound with the notes of boisterous merriment; hushed in it be the sound of discord; far removed the hand and the foot that would rudely desecrate it. Placid and benign as divine wisdom be the spirit that reigns here; blessing the sacred hours of devotion and study, uniting all its inmates in the fellowship of love and peace; making it the emblem of that abode where truth shines forth in unclouded lustre, and love and peace dispense unmingled, ineffable, and eternal joy.
From this delightful seat of study and devotion, my young friends, you will sometimes go forth into the world.
You ought indeed to mix with the world: for to no class of men will the adage more appositely apply than to those whose lives are to be devoted to the service of their fellow men—
"The proper study of mankind is man."
The knowledge of mankind is not to be obtained but by close and constant observation of them in their daily conduct. Their diversified characters render necessary a different style of conversation and address in order to influence and control them. The varying forms of human customs and manners must be known, and as far as innocence admits, we must adapt ourselves to them, in order to render ourselves respected, influential, and useful. The various principles and motives that direct human conduct can only also be learned from the study of human nature as laid open in the scenes of life. A certain mixture with the world, therefore, must appear of vast importance in reference to your future respectability, usefulness, and influence, as ministers of Christ. The purposes of necessary relaxation, the courtesies and innocent joys of life still further require that the student of theology should sometimes leave, what certainly should be the place in which he most delights, his study, to join the social and domestic circle.
For the scenes of corrupting merriment and pleasure, it ought not to be supposed that, occupied as his mind and heart must be with the highest pursuits of human intellect, and the infinitely important topics of divine science, he can have any relish or any desire. Yet he will never in his intercourse with the world excite disgust against the religion which he professes and which he is to teach by the frown of austerity, by the rigid manners of pharasaical piety, or by the unkind and harsh denunciations of the spiritual censor. By the smile of a cheerful countenance, by the charm of manners bland and gentle, by the interest of conversation affable and familiar, and when opportunity offers, pious and spiritual, he will render himself, his religion, and his profession respected and esteemed. Yet he will bring into the most innocent scenes of social intercourse the recollection of his high obligations and hopes as a Christian, of the elevation of the office for which he is aspiring. And thus he will use the world as not abusing it—he will soar above its joys, to the pure and celestial pleasures of which he is heir; and he will move through its scenes of business and enjoyment dignified, humble, and chastened, yet cheerful and happy; always keeping in view the great object to which he is to be devoted, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and regulating by this paramount consideration his conversation and his conduct.
This is the sentiment, my young friends, which in conclusion I would impress upon you. The exalted dignity, the everlasting importance, the awful responsibility of the ministry for which you are preparing, should ever be present to your minds. These are the considerations which will give diligence and perseverance to your studies, constancy and fervour to your devotions, strength and permanency to your holy resolutions, dignity and propriety to all your deportment and your actions. With these sentiments impressed on your minds, and strengthened by God's grace, the world will in vain seduce you into levity, into frivolity, into its corrupt indulgences. You will indeed regard it as the scene of your duties, and of many of your virtuous enjoyments; but you will look down upon it with a holy superiority, when you recollect that your exalted office it will be to bring men from this evil world into the fold of salvation, and to prepare them for that new world wherein dwelleth perfect and everlasting righteousness, and where shine forth in full splendour the perfections and glory of the living God, dispensing light, life, and bliss ineffable and eternal.
Oh! how ardent, and supreme, and devoted our concern that we may attain this state of blessedness, and that, like our Divine Master, through the agency of his Spirit, we may bring many sons unto this glory. How fervent our prayers, how devoted our diligence, how unwearied our exertions, that we fail not in a work for which we are commissioned by the Son of God, in which we are co-workers with him, where success is the salvation of immortal souls, where failure is perdition to others and to ourselves. How supremely should you value, how zealously and devotedly improve the means which, in these walls, you enjoy for acquiring the extensive, varied, and profound knowledge, and the holy, self-denying, and ardent virtues that will fit you, by God's. blessing, for that ministry which is appointed for the salvation of mankind. Our best efforts will aid you—our fervent prayers will ever be with you. Vain will be all but by God's grace, which you must "invoke by frequent prayer." Ample will be our reward, exalted our gratification, should we hereafter see you the faithful and successful heralds of the cross, the devoted and zealous ministers of that Church which professes the faith once delivered to the saints, the ministry which has the seal of divine authority, the worship which sets forth evangelical doctrine, and glows with the purest and most sublime spirit of devotion—that Church in all these respects fitted to train souls for Heaven.
The ties that here bind us as instructors and as pupils will soon be dissolved; to be re-placed by the bonds of the common ministry of our Divine Master. In that ministry, if found faithful, the ties that connect us will never be severed. They will unite us before the throne of our glorified Lord, through whose merits and grace we have saved our own souls, and brought to him he redeemed whom he had committed to our charge.
To him then, the divine Saviour, and Head, and Ruler of the Church, which is his body, which he loved, and for which he gave himself—to the blessed Spirit which he purchased for his Church to sanctify and to cleanse it—to the eternal Father, who gave his only-begotten Son, and sent his Holy Spirit—three persons and one God, be ascribed all power, majesty, and dominion, now and for ever.