The Lowliness of the Episcopate:
RIGHT REV. GEORGE BURGESS, D.D.
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF MAINE.
S. HANMER & CO.--CALENDAR PRESS.
St. Luke, Chap. xxii. V. 26, 27. "HE THAT IS GREATEST AMONG YOU, LET HIM BE AS THE YOUNGER; AND HE THAT IS CHIEF AS HE THAT DOTH SERVE. FOR, WHETHER IS GREATER, HE THAT SITTETH AT MEAT, OR HE THAT SERVETH? IS NOT HE THAT SITTETH AT MEAT? BUT I AM AMONG YOU AS HE THAT SERVETH."
WHEN the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls was about to lay down His earthly ministry, He gave to those whom He sent forth as He had been sent forth by the Father, an expressive and affecting symbol. Rising from the table, from the highest place, He girded himself in the manner of a servant, and performed for them the lowliest office which could ever be rendered by the most affectionate host to the most honored guest, by the most submissive disciple to the most venerable teacher, or by the meanest menial to the most exalted master. He washed their feet; and when He had taken His garments and was set down again, He told them the meaning of that touching action. "Know ye," He said, "what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am. If I, then, your Lord [3/4] and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."
That which our Saviour thus spoke by so significant an act, He spoke also in the words of the text, on the same subduing occasion of His last Paschal Feast and His first Sacramental Supper. They had been, in substance, uttered before, when the mother of James and John had asked for her sons the chief places in His kingdom; and they were now repeated when, in that holiest of hours, and in that holiest of companies, a strife arose, which apostle should be accounted the greatest. With awe-struck hearts, like voyagers on a tempestuous sea, and close upon a rocky shore, strewed with old wrecks and new, we think of much which the omniscient foreknowledge of the Redeemer beheld in that moment. He prayed not for those alone who heard Him, but for all who should believe on Him through their word; and all His ministers to the end of time may have the blessing of this admonition by word and sign, this appeal to His supreme authority and His meek humiliation.
He saw a day, not then remote, when, in each of the most renowned cities of the ancient world, the persecuted pastor and the persecuting magistrate should seem to stand at the head of parties scarcely unequal. He saw, after another and a shorter interval, the pastor at the side of the magistrate, the prelate in the councils of his sovereign. He saw the development of all that gradation of ecclesiastical dignity which had its summits in the patriarchal thrones of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome. He saw the "Man of Sin" "sitting in the temple of God," [4/5] "with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish." He saw, under the overshadowing iniquity of that gigantic imposture, men dedicated by every holy vow to His own cause and precepts, yet aspiring to the highest places of the Church, and then making these the highest places of the world; winning their way upward, by every device, and, when the height was attained, clothing themselves in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day; uniting in themselves at times the statesman, the prince, and even the warrior; laying up vast treasures upon earth; and accumulation domains and powers and privileges, which, once acquired, were to be guarded from encroachment from without or alienation from within by the dread of the doom of sacrilege.
It was from such a spectacle, my brethren, that some of the Reformers recoiled; taking refuge in the theory of a simple equality amongst pastors. Forbidden by their spiritual rulers to preach the truth as it is in Jesus; denied the right of appeal to the Scripture and to the judgment and conscience of its readers; compelled to witness and sustain a ceremonial involving all which is involved in idolatry; anathematized and sentenced to the flames by those "lords over God's heritage" who were to them the only representatives of the ancient episcopate of their land; we must regret, but we cannot much wonder, that they should have reconciled themselves to systems which promised to allow less room for the growth of worldliness, power and pride. Separation increased aversion; and when Scriptural countenance was wanting, and all antiquity was to be opposed, [5/6] the association between superior functions and the arrogance with which they had been exercised and abused was, after all, the mightiest argument of the heart against the primitive order; and such it is to this day.
A sentiment so natural, a fear so just, is not at all confined to those with whom it triumphs over feelings as natural, and over every other fear. Do I speak something unknown to my brethren in any order of the ministry, when I say that there is at times a sensation like pain in the consciousness of being clothed with special authority as well as with special responsibility? Have we never felt that we could choose, were we left to our own choice, that there should be not even the slenderest barrier between ourselves and the residue of the household of God? When those who are called to a still more responsible supervision behold around them their brethren, often older, wiser, holier than themselves, it is no proof of extreme humility if they would gladly forego all which they are at liberty to lay aside, and if they love to say, with St. Peter, "the elders which are amongst you I exhort, whom am also an elder." Doubtless, the respect and confidence which are implied in the summons to so sacred a trust, can never be unwelcome. Doubtless we all are mournfully open to that temptation which made even apostles contend for eminence in dignity and influence. Doubtless, the sense of a superior charge does often inspire a boldness and an energy which puts to flight the wish for a more private sphere. But all who feel aright under elevated responsibilities, and the purest most, and most in their purest moments, will be afraid of lofty thoughts; and will say in their hearts that, if it might please [6/7] God, they would find their happiness in standing in the embattled phalanx, with equal companions on either hand, rather than in leading and guiding the assault.
He who knew what was in man could overlook none of these perils or these apprehensions. But he knew also the necessities of all society; the strength which harmony receives from order; the difficulty of order without subordination; the variety of human capabilities; the natural tendency to reverence; the benefits of a diversity and gradation of tribunals; the certainty that too great deference would be yielded to mere power of intellect or energy of will, unless it were sometimes balanced by the deference for official authority; the dangers of perpetual strife and schism, should no minister, no congregation and no believer recognize any voice or judgment as possessing the smallest claim to be heard, beyond its own intrinsic weight or eloquence. In view of all which would come after, He established a distinction amongst His ministers; a distinction which, as He plainly foresaw, would administer, and which already at His last Supper, did administer occasion for pride and for ambition. He chose the twelve, and He appointed the seventy. He "set some in the Church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers." He "gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of th efaith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Nor is here any suggestion of perils inherent in the very existence [7/8] of the episcopal office, however reasonable in appearance, however sustained by facts, or however influential in moving many to dislike or reject it, which may not be applied with the very same force to the separation of the apostles themselves for their peculiar dignity and service. If, indeed, we regard only our divided nature, the snare to which they were exposed was as much more threatening than any which awaits the bishops of the flock of Christ, as the office, the powers and the gifts of an apostle, exceeded those of uninspired men who have not seen the Lord.
It was not by forbearing to institute the diversity of ecclesiastical offices that the Head of the Church saw fit to disarm the temptation. It was by giving the offices themselves, in every one of their degrees, and most, were it possible, in the more advanced degrees, the character of a ministry and a service to our brethren, not of an eminence and a dominion. It was by establishing, as deeply as it could be fixed by His own words, the entire difference between those worldly dignities which the ambitious covet, and those solemn trusts which He would lay upon the poor in spirit. He wrote, as a kind of motto, over the commission of His apostles and of all other ministers, "remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord." When His disciples came with the question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven," He took a little child and set him in the midst of them, and said, "Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven." How often was that saying upon His lips, "Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall [8/9] be exalted!" Not like the teachers of the Jews, were His ministers to seek the titles of submission. "Be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren." Not like the rulers of the Gentiles were they to regard their office as consisting in the right of control and the majesty of station. "Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you, but whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be the servant of all." By rules and principles like these, the Christian minister, and pre-eminently the Christian bishop, is to walk unharmed amidst the pestilential vapors which, unlike those in the natural world, avoid the valleys, and hover around all loftier places.
The application of these rules and of these principles is to be henceforth the business of that life which, from this day, is consecrated to the highest of pastoral duties; and let it still engage the thoughts of us all for a few solemn moments. There is no inconsistency between all which we have thus been taught by our Redeemer, and the just, grave and exact discharge of the trust of one who is to preside and even to rule in the house of God. For, it is the charge of the apostle, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account"; and though this is spoken of all pastors, it is a bishop who is commanded to "reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all authority", as well as "with long-suffering and doctrine"; and to him it is said emphatically, [9/10] "let no man despise thee." However humbly the authority should be borne, the very nature of the office is to confer authority on him who bears it, and to make him the channel of authority to others. He is not at liberty to forget with what stewardship he is entrusted; what vows are upon him; and to whom and for what peculiar duty he must answer. His trust cannot be assigned into other hands, even though they were willing and worthy; nor can he permit himself to yield to those feelings, however amiable, which might tempt him to release himself from stern tasks; tasks which some one must perform, and for the performance of which he was set apart, when he was invested with a corresponding claim to respect and reverence. There are times, too, when all the weight of that authority which dwells in his office, whether by virtue of its very institution, or through the established laws of the Church, must be thrown into that severe admonition by which wickedness may be checked in its career, and souls snatched from the snare of the fowler. When a bad man has found his way into the ministry, and, in defiance of God and men, attempts to maintain his place; when "scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, neither go in themselves into the kingdom of heaven, nor suffer them that are entering to go in"; when "erroneous and strange doctrines" come in disguise or openly to steal from the flock of Christ its blessed hope of peace and justification by faith in His blood, or to rob it of the liberty wherewith He hath made it free; then should the courage, the confidence and the authority of Paul and of Jude speak in the humblest of those to whom any portion of their trust has been transmitted.
 Even at such times, however, the exercise of authority will be tempered by the spirit of this rule, "he that is chief among you, let him be as he that doth serve"; if the nature of all government, as in the sight of God, be duly remembered. The principles, that the authority of the magistrate is from above, and that he is at the same time the servant of his fellow-citizens, are alike true, and stand in perfect harmony. Whatever be the channel by which it is derived, the power that is, is the ordinance of God; but it exists chiefly for the sake of those to whom He designed that it should be an instrument of blessing. To employ it otherwise than in their service, is simple abuse and tyranny. If such be the nature of all authority, they are the last to be held exceptions, who are the followers of the Lord of glory, not as He reigns in Heaven, but as He came, "not to be ministered unto, but to minister." With us, as in the primitive Church, as in the very assembly in which Matthias was chosen for the apostleship, they are reminded by the manner of their selection that they represent and serve their brethren. No popular choice, indeed, can give the consecrated character which is imparted by the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, in the name and under the commission of the Lord Jesus. But the right to perform any acts under that character amongst any portion of our fellow-Christians, and especially to exercise over them a pastoral supervision, can come to us only through their consent. We are "their servants for Jesus' sake." But it would be just as true, even though they had no part in naming us for our office, even though we had received from the very mouth of our Saviour the command to go into a certain portion of [11/12] the world, and there preach the Gospel, and administer the sacraments, and preside over those who should believe in His name, it would be just as true that the only spirit in which this could be done according to His will, would be the spirit of His example; a spirit, meek and lowly.
It follows, too, from His charge, that all our authority and influence should be essentially fraternal. I know that both natural respect and ancient usage bestow upon the bishops of the Church the title of fathers in God; and a title so beautifully expressive has also a sufficient and more than sufficient sanction in the language of those apostles, who, again and again, address those to whom they write as their beloved children in the Gospel. But I know also that there is a sense in which our Lord has said, "call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in Heaven"; "all ye are brethren." He signified thus that the relation of absolute dependence for spiritual nourishment, guidance and safety is one which must not subsist between man and man. As the infant reclines on the parental breast, as the young boy drinks in with unquestioning reliance every syllable of his father, so completely may we trust to the word of God, but to the word of God only. There is sometimes a disposition to have it otherwise. Men have rushed into the arms of known and evident falsehood, when it only promised to relieve them from all responsibility for their own souls. That power which "exalts itself above all that is called God or that is worshipped," invites by such promises the unstable, the slothful, the fearful and the hypocrite. Such sometimes ask from our own Church that kind of dominion which she only refers them to her Lord; and such would sometimes rejoice to see her chief ministers assume a tone which they do not and dare not assume. They "have no dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy." Nor are there many sounds which are more repulsive to the ear or one who knows his office and himself, than the unmeaning or deceiving professions of subserviency, which seem to refuse all choice and judgment but his own. He is not prepared to do well the good work of a bishop, who has not been an upright layman and minister. In his former characters, he will have felt that it was perfectly consistent with submission to all godly admonitions, to listen also to his own convictions and conscience. In his present character, he will wish to be encompassed by those who can unite duties so little at variance. Every thing like that imperiousness of mind, which none but the servile admire, will be absent from the purpose of him who has learned from the Lord Jesus Christ, that he that is chief amongst those whom the Lord calls brethren, should be as he that doth serve.
Such lowliness must receive perpetual renewal from that continual communion with the first, great truths of salvation, in which all Christian ministers, each in his order, are bound to have their being. These they study; these they preach; by these they must live and die. Every one of these inspires humility; such humility as drew from him who was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles, such words as these: "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." A world deep in sin; the unutterably tremendous consequences of sin; [13/14] the unapproachable glory of God; the depth and length and breadth and height of His love; the condescension of the incarnate Son; His humiliation, even to the form of a servant, to the manger, and to the cross; the everlasting praises of the Lamb that was slain; the coming of the Comforter, whose chosen image is the dove; the work of the Spirit, to reprove the world of sin, or righteousness and of judgment; the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness; the return of the Lord in His glory; the account for every talent and every idle word; the unending woe of the slothful servant; the starry crown of them that turn many to righteousness; these are the themes of our daily meditation and our continual discourse; and there is not one of them, which does not bid us take freely the humblest place and character amongst the redeemed. On what spot in all the sphere of revealed truth can the commissioned servant of Christ plant himself, where any sentiment at variance with this can become his calling? His very hope, is, from the first a hope of pardon through simple mercy. His final summary of all his toils, as it is taught him by his Lord, is, that he is an unprofitable servant. The reward which is set before him, is one to which he would not dare to lift his eyes, so overwhelming is its splendor, did he not know that it is of inexhaustible grace alone. The danger lest, having preached to others, he should be a castaway, drives him continually back to the place and thoughts of a ransomed sinner, not yet in heaven. Every step in Christian knowledge, all study of the Scriptures, every exhortation to repentance which he utters, every baptism for the remission of sins, every sacramental remembrance [14/15] of Christ crucified, every imposition of hands with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, forbids anew the indulgence of lofty imaginations; and that pride and arrogance which in any disciple would be a grievous blemish, and in any teacher a monstrous blot, becomes in every teacher of teachers a horrible sentence of his own condemnation.
When the bishop of our Church recurs to the instructions and the promises of his consecration, and when, in conformity with these, he strives from day to day to execute his ministry, the language which will ever rise in his heart will still be this language of our Lord. The words in which his office is described by an apostle, declare that "a bishop must be blameless, apt to teach, patient, not a brawler, not a novice, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil." In the example of the same apostle, he is taught that "in all humility of mind," "so laboring he ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Then, he is reminded that he is a shepherd of the sheep, under the Chief Shepherd; and that, when the Lord breathed upon His apostles and bade them receive the Holy Ghost, it was with the blessing of peace; sending them, as He was sent, to "preach peace to them which were far off, and to them that were nigh." Then, the prayer which was lifted up for him was, that he might be "adorned," not with the gift to command, but "with innocency of life." He has promised to strive for ability to "withstand and convince the gainsayers"; but he was to seek it by "faithfully exercising himself in the Holy Scriptures, [15/16] and calling upon God for the true understanding of the same," not through the accumulation of influence and power around his person. He has promised to strive "that the adversary may be ashamed," but it is not by aweing him into silence, but by "shewing himself in all things an example of good works unto others." He has promised, while he "diligently exercises such discipline as, by the authority of God's Word and by the order of this Church, is committed to him," "to maintain also, and set forward, as much as shall lie in him, quietness, love and peace among all men." He has promised to "shew himself gentle and be merciful for Christ's sake to poor and needy people, and to all strangers destitute of help"; a promise which, as if to shew that he that is chief should be as he that doth serve, is required of neither priest nor deacon, but of the bishop alone. The solemn prayer which immediately preceded his consecration, was, that he might "use the authority given him, not to destruction, but to salvation; not to hurt, but to help"; in the very act of the imposition of hands, he was reminded that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and soberness"; and before he rose from his knees, he was charged to "be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf; to feed them, and devout them not; to hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost; to be so merciful that he should not be too remiss; and so to minister discipline, that he should not forget mercy." The fulfilment of these promises and these instructions leads along the lowly way of prayer, of brotherly kindness, of forbearance, of charity, and of a constant leaning towards the side of the poor, the [16/17] suffering, the oppressed and the penitent. It is the very path which is every where marked by the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. His Church and His Gospel will most prevail through the labors of His chief ministers, when their doctrine and example shall most discourage that pride of authority, that pride of character, that pride of ecclesiastical privileges, that pride of bearing, and that pride of spirit which brought from Him so solemn and bitter a woe even upon those who sat in the seat of Moses.
Would that it were possible, as we close these meditations, to hold up before ourselves the distinct picture of a Christian bishop, such as so many now in Paradise have been in their earthly days, or rather such as they would have been in days like ours! All gifts are not assigned to all saints: we could not well have in union the manifold talents and graces, which have separately burned and shone over so many generations. Yet, whether we dwell on the sober moderation of Cranmer or the austere uprightness of Hooper; the venerable plainness of Latimer or the zealous energy of Ridley; the learning and fervor of Jewel of the pleading tenderness of Hall; on Usher and his mighty studies, or Taylor and his consecrated chambers of imagery; on the massy thought of Pearson, the seraphic flow of Leighton, the meek firmness of Ken, the pastoral diligence of Burnet, the primitive holiness of Beveridge, the direct wisdom of Secker, the gentle glow of Horne, or the warm, rich heart and imagination of Heber, the common likeness passes and predominates through all. It is the likeness of Christ, and, each in our station, and according to our gifts, we may bear it still. It has been borne in our land and in our sight, as truly as in the days that were nearest to the apostles. It may be not least clear in such as, without leaving works of renown or names long perpetuated, go [17/18] down to their graves amidst the tears and love of those who, when the think of heaven, think also of them, "considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and to-day and forever." By such an one, the oversight of the flock of Christ has been taken, not sought; and taken simply because it was assigned by Him who rules all things in heaven and on earth; taken with deep awe but with willing devotion and humble thankfulness, wherever his work might lie, and whatever might be the nature of its joys or trials. He has surveyed it with all the clearness and comprehensiveness of view with which he was endued; and has given to those whom he is to serve his honest and steadfast affections. By study and by prayer he is prepared to bring forth out of his treasure things new and old; to pour from the various riches of the word of God, in every form which is adapted to the wants of the household, that wisdom which makes wise to salvation. Wise, therefore, are his instructions, wise, and matured, and sober; and yet copious and fervent and full of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Bold in Christ, and faithful to every conviction of his own heart, he is yet mindful of his oath of conformity to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church; and the freedom which this Church allows to its members he has no wish to restrain, except as their minds may by the force of truth become assimilated. But in the impartiality of the bishop, he has not lost the frankness of the man, nor the godly sincerity of the believer. While he has no desire to establish a servile unity and uniformity in every feature of thought, he is as far from unjust and frivolous efforts to hold all opposite tendencies in the even balances of a lukewarm and indifferent spirit. The rights of all are sacred in his eyes [18/19] and he would not if he could, assume to himself the task which the Head of the Church has divided amongst his brethren in the priesthood. He is their chosen counsellor, not merely from any sense of official propriety, but because they know that they shall find with him experience and moderation, sympathy and truth. He shuns no difficulty which his station demands that he should meet; he courts no controversy which his duty permits him to avoid. If the pastor of a parish, if the head of a seminary, he is not such the less, in heart or in effort, because he has wider cares; or, if these cares exempt him from the narrower charge, it is still his joy to preach the word in season and out of season; to guide the student of divine truth; and, as he has opportunity, to be amongst the sick and the poor, and in the house of mourning. His home is the abode of a sober hospitality, a grave cheerfulness, a gentle, affectionate discipline, and a sweet domestic devotion. His daily walk is that of one whose mind is willing to be interested in all which is human, but whose heart finds no resting-please except in heaven, and whose work it is to conduct and to accompany many souls to the gates of glory. The laborious summer of his years is fruitful in those judicious counsels, and those works of love, which often, like the promised blessing of God upon those who keep his commandments, though directed but towards individuals, or beginning in a limited sphere, yet spread themselves over thousands, and cease not in generations to come. Perhaps his days are prolonged till the dignity of the hoary head is added o every other claim on reverential regard; and his holy exhortations fall like the benedictions of the patriarchs, like legacies of a past age, like voices from a sphere somewhat nearer in time to the Lord in His earthly [19/20] pilgrimage, as well as in spirit to His heavenly kingdom. There remains only the peaceful death, the honored grave, and the name written in the Lamb's book of life, of one content in that day when the last shall be first, to have his inheritance with the humblest whom he served below.
The circumstances which surround you, my reverend and dear brother, all concur to write upon your heart the vows of an active and willing as well as lowly consecration. This now ancient Diocese, with a singular unanimity, which would scarcely permit you to doubt the finger of Providence, has called you to relieve the labors, and, in God's good time, to take up the mantle, of its revered father. Long may it be, if it please God, before you shall be called upon to deliberate and to act alone! Till then, your comparative youth will welcome the task of active toil, while so much of the heavier weight of care is shared by the wisdom of long experience, and while such aid, advice and example are ever at your side. This occasion seems to bring us so near to those when adulation or disguise is possible no longer; it is so much like the close of one stewardship and the commencement of another, that I may be permitted to speak what is in the hearts of all, and to bless God for the paternal kindness, the impartial justice, the forbearing prudence, and the large and anticipating benevolence of plan and work, which have already such a recompense in the prosperity and the grateful veneration of a hundred churches. But you, my dear brother, I may welcome in the name of my brethren, the Clergy of this Diocese, as I would have done had it been still my lot to be numbered amongst its favored presbyters. The collective Church also bids you welcome; as one who has done worthily the work [20/21] of a parish minister; as one who has watched successfully over a noble seat of Christian education; as one who has not shrunk from the defence of the truth in the hour of its betrayal; and as one, above all, who, we trust and believe, however enriched by human learning, however delighting in the sanction of names illustrious in the Church, will be content with no other wisdom but that which is from above, and which is given liberally to all who ask; that wisdom which "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." May your path be all which we dare to hope! May it shine more and more, till it shine as the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever!--And if, as may well be feared, the besetting sin of our age, and country, and communion, is one or another form of boastful pride, oh, may you never bring upon that pride any other humiliation than that which it receives from the rebuke of a meek and lowly example!