IN TRINITY CHURCH, NEW-YORK
On the second of October 1810,
AND PUBLISHED AT THEIR REQUEST.
BY THE REV. WILLIAM HARRIS, A. M.
Rector of St. Mark's, Bowery, New-York.
1 THESSALONIANS ii. 10, 11, 12.
Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe; as ye know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, (as a father doth his children) that ye should walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
HAVING planted a Church at Thessalonia, being now absent from his converts, and uncertain whether he should have the satisfaction to see them again, the inspired Apostle wrote the Epistle before us, containing many things necessary both for their instruction and consolation. To remind the Thessalonians of the faithfulness with which both himself and others had discharged their duty as ministers of Christ, the holy Apostle, not by way of boasting or ostentation, but to make the deepest impression upon their minds, solemnly appeals to them, as to their fidelity, disinterestedness, and affection. "For [3/4] yourselves, brethren, know our entrance among you, that it was not false and deceitful." Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor in guile, but as we were "allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts." To show the disinterestedness of their views, the Apostle proceeds, "For neither at any time came we with flattering speech, as ye know, neither with a cloak for covetousness; God is witness." And, further, to prove that vain glory, ostentation, and views of ambition were not the motives by which they were influenced, he adds, "Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others." When we might have been burthen-some, as the Apostles of Christ, so far were we from oppressing you, that we chose rather to labour day and night, being gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children, "warming them in her bosom, and feeding them with her milk." Thus affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For the truth of this representation of their views and conduct, the Apostle, in the words of the text, makes a most solemn appeal, first to themselves, and then to God--"Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe; [4/5] as ye know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, (as a father doth his children) that ye should walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory."
In further discoursing from these words, it is my intention to consider the nature and importance of the several things here mentioned, as characteristic of a faithful minister of Jesus Christ; and then, for our consolation and encouragement, to contemplate the happiness of those ministers, who, at the conclusion of their ministry, can conscientiously make to God and to the people of their charge, the solemn appeal in the text.
We are first to consider the nature and importance of the several things mentioned in the text, as characteristic of a faithful minister of Jesus Christ.
The three graces of the Christian life, holiness, justice, and unblameableness, are here particularly named. The first of these refers more immediately to things sacred and divine, and is expressive of that part of practical religion which relates to the worship and ordinances of God. As God is holy, so he requires his ministering servants to be holy. "Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." "Holiness becometh the house of the Lord for ever." "God will be had in reverence by all them that draw near unto him, and without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
 To behave holily, may therefore intend, the exercise of that sacred awe and reverence for God, his name, his worship, his ordinances and commandments, which he has a just right to demand from us, and which, it is our duty to practise.
The second of these virtues refers more immediately to our conduct with our fellow men. It requires, agreeably to the command of our Saviour, that we should do unto others as we would that they should do unto us; that in our intercourse with men, we should speak and act in a strict and conscientious conformity to the laws of equity and righteousness; that we should live in the exercise of truth, faithfulness, and charity. Like the man whom the Psalmist calls upon us to mark for imitation, we are to be perfect and upright, neither omitting to do that which in justice we are bound to perform, nor doing that, upon any consideration, which an enlightened conscience and the law of God forbid.
The third thing mentioned in the text is unblameableness. This is yet more general and extensive in its signification than either of the former. It refers to our whole temper, character, and conduct, both towards God and towards man. If considered as a negative virtue, it must be acknowledged to be such a negative, as supposes, and implies every positive qualification essential to the character of a good man; and though perhaps it may [6/7] be justly distinguished, yet it never can with propriety be separated from holiness and righteousness.
To behave unblameably, may therefore intend the same which the Apostle expresses, when he says, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man." It is to aspire after the nearest conformity to that part of our blessed Lord's example, wherein he is said to be holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
When, therefore, the Apostle says, "Ye are witnesses, how unblameably we behaved ourselves among you," he must be supposed to intend, not only such a holy and righteous conduct and conversation, as exempted them from the censures of the world, but also such an unblameable behaviour, as gave no just cause of offence to the most tender conscience: that by a wise, prudent, discreet behaviour, and by a conversation conformable to their holy profession, they had approved themselves blameless and harmless, the children of God, without rebuke, in all things showing the consistency of their practice with the doctrines they had taught.
From this brief representation of the nature of the virtues mentioned in the text, it evidently appears how highly important they are to the character of the Christian. Holiness, justice, and unblameableness in our behaviour and conversation, are [7/8] expressive of the essentials of practical religion. The greater our attainments in these virtues, the more shall we adorn the Christian character, and the doctrine of God our Saviour,--the more shall we walk worthy of God, who hath called us to his kingdom and glory. It is to be attributed to the want of a close imitation of the Apostle in the text; to the want of a sacred regard to holiness and righteousness; and to the neglect of that watchfulness and circumspection necessary to an unblameable conversation, that religion is so often dishonoured by its professors, and that Christ is so frequently reproached and wounded in the house of his friends.
But if these graces and virtues are of such importance to Christians in general, of how much greater importance are they to the character of those who are set for the defence of the Gospel! If a practical regard to the precepts of our holy religion be necessary for others, how much more, my brethren, for us! Christians, in a private capacity, may reflect dishonour upon religion by a life inconsistent with their profession; but much greater will be the dishonour, and much more fatal its influence, if justly chargeable upon us.
A regard to the honour of our blessed Master, and to the interest of the souls committed to our charge, should therefore suggest to us the propriety of the greatest vigilance and circumspection, not [8/9] only that we may do nothing whereby our usefulness may be obstructed, but that on all occasions our deportment may be such, as to give weight and energy to the truths we deliver. It is expected of those who are set for the defence of the Gospel, that they should be examples to the flock, in holiness, justice, and charity, in faith, in spirit, in purity, and in every good word and work.
It is true indeed, the virtues mentioned in the text, are not the only qualifications required in the pious and faithful ministers of Jesus Christ. Other things are essentially necessary, both to the character and to the work of a faithful Pastor.
To preach the word of life, the Gospel of our salvation; to explain and inculcate the important doctrines of our holy religion; to represent man's unhappy condition by a departure from God, and the necessity that all acts of evangelical obedience should flow from a renewed nature; to state the terms of reconciliation, as published in the Gospel; to testify to all of every age and character, repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; to represent the grace of God for the redemption of sinners, as freely offered to all; to persuade men to comply with the gracious offers of the Gospel, both by the mercies of God, and by the terrors of the Lord; to point out, explain and enforce the commands of Christ, and the precepts of the [9/10] Gospel; to show men their duty, and urge them to the practice of it, by motives and arguments derived both from reason and Scripture; with the Apostle in the text, to exhort sinners to repentance, and saints to perseverance; to speak a word in season to the disconsolate, to comfort the sorrowful and afflicted, with the consolations of the Gospel; to charge every one with all faithfulness, earnestness, and compassion, as a father doth his children, to flee from the wrath to come, and to fly for refuge to the hope set before them in Christ, and to walk worthy of God, who has called us to his kingdom and glory; in fine, to declare the whole counsel of God, and to keep back nothing that may be profitable to his people--These, my brethren, are some of the essential duties of a minister of Christ; duties peculiar to his office and character; duties, which unless they are faithfully discharged, we can never be said with fidelity to have fulfilled the ministry we have received of the Lord.
Destitute of these qualifications and of those mentioned in the text, the greatest attainments in human learning, or Scriptural knowledge, will little avail to render the labours of a minister either useful to his people, or acceptable to God.
Experience confirms the fact, that an irreligious fife will destroy the vital efficacy of the best instructions. Such may with great propriety be reproved [10/11] in the severe language of the Apostle; "Thou therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?" This, my brethren, is the truth, and what, the Lord hath spoken: "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified."
The greatest gifts, the most eminent qualifications, the most extensive knowledge, the most profound learning, the most engaging eloquence, the most pleasing address, and the most fervent zeal, may all, not only be lost, but rendered worse than useless, in the clergyman who is destitute of the holy, just, and unblameable character mentioned in the text.
In short, by an awful reverence for the Majesty of heaven, and a sacred regard to the honour of the God whom we adore; by a conscientious conformity to the laws of equity and righteousness in our intercourse with men; and by a watchful, discreet, and unblameable conversation; the minister of Christ, in the most expressive language, declares the reality of his own faith in the truth he preaches to others; shows that the great doctrines and duties of the Gospel have made the deepest impression upon his [11/12] heart, and have had the most effectual influence upon his life.
I have been thus particular in insisting on the qualifications mentioned in the text, in order that what I have further to offer on this head may not be misunderstood. It has, I trust, been made to appear, that an irreligious and immoral man, however well in other respects he may be qualified for the office of the ministry, can never with propriety be set for the defence of the Gospel. But here it seems necessary to observe, that neither piety, nor a righteous and unblameable life, essential as they are to the character and usefulness of a minister of Christ, are sufficient of themselves to qualify a person for the important office of an instructor in the Church. Experience confirms the fact, that there may be piety and an unblameable life, where there is neither aptness to teach, nor a capacity to defend the truths of the Gospel. God, indeed, may work by what instruments he pleases. He is not limited as to the use of means; neither may we undertake to limit his Almighty power. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings he can ordain praise to himself; but because this is possible with God, will it therefore follow that it is also expedient? [*Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus Inciderit--] In the ordinary course of things, we surely are not to expect that [12/13] the duties of so important an office as that of a Christian pastor can be discharged to God's glory, and the edification of his Church, by persons whose capacities are inadequate to so arduous an undertaking.
We perceive, therefore, the propriety of joining to the qualifications which have already been mentioned, a good capacity; and to a good capacity, it may be of importance to add knowledge.
The best capacity, unless improved by education, is of little worth. Like the talent laid in the napkin, it does but little honour to its glorious author, and is of little advantage to its possessor. We read that for "the soul to be without knowledge, it is not good, and the priest's lips should especially keep knowledge, because the people are to seek the law at his mouth."
Were this an age of miracles; did the laying on of the hands of the Bishop, confer those extraordinary qualifications, which in the infancy of the Church were so common, and so necessary; it must then be granted, that the candidate for the ministry, who could procure satisfactory testimonials as to his piety and morals, would come sufficiently recommended for ordination. But the canon of Scripture being now complete, and the Church firmly planted in the world, it has pleased God to change his method of procedure. Those miraculous powers, by which the foolish and weak things [13/14] of the world were made to confound the "wise and the mighty," have long since been withdrawn. The knowledge of tongues is not at present to be expected as a supernatural gift, but to be acquired in the ordinary way, by diligent and painful application. The means for acquiring useful knowledge, human and divine, are to be diligently used; and if men are too indolent to make the requisite application, let them at least have the modesty to remain hearers in the Church, and not presume to suppose themselves qualified to be teachers of that word, which, when called upon to defend, they are utterly unable to explain. It is owing to the neglect of these usual means of acquiring knowledge, that ignorance and fanaticism are now at work, undermining, as I conceive, more effectually than infidel writers have ever been able to do, the foundations of all rational piety and true religion.
When such men who need to be taught what be the first principles of the oracles of God, undertake to be teachers of others, there is great reason to fear that religion, and the Church of Christ, will soon feel the fatal effects of their rashness and folly.
On this head I have only further to observe, that learning and ignorance are alike capable of being injurious to the cause of truth and virtue. There may be learning where there is neither principle nor piety, and a clergyman of this description never fails to injure the cause which he is set to defend. [14/15] It is bad to handle the word of God ignorantly; it is still worse, by metaphysical subtleties, and false criticism, to handle it deceitfully. But since it is possible, notwithstanding all that enthusiasts have said, that piety and principle, soundness in the faith, aptness to teach, fidelity in the discharge of ministerial duties, and a heart deeply impressed with a sense of religion, may be united with sound literature, it surely must then be admitted, (wherever these qualifications are combined) that learning is of the greatest use and importance, and an eminent qualification for the work of the ministry. It has been justly observed, that "an intimate acquaintance with ancient languages and manners, has expounded the meaning of many passages of Scripture which have been misunderstood and misrepresented; and sacred criticism, proceeding on sound principles, and conducted by men of erudition and information, has in numberless instances rescued the Scriptures from the charge of absurdity and inconsistency, and has demonstrated the effectual care with which providence has preserved the oracles that were first given by inspiration of God, from destruction or from gross corruptions. The different interpretations which the same texts had received, in the eagerness of controversy, have corrected one another, and the diligence and acuteness, with which theological writers have sifted the opinions of their adversaries, [15/16] have assisted candid minds in apprehending the truth." [* Hill's Sermon]
It must, therefore, be admitted, that to the qualifications mentioned in the text, and already explained, considerable attainments in human literature are to be added, in order to constitute a scribe, well instructed in the kingdom of God.
It remains, in the second place, to consider the happiness of those ministers, who, at the conclusion of their ministry, can conscientiously make to God, and to the people of their charge, the solemn appeal in the text.
However great, my brethren, our anxiety might have been, when entering upon the work of the ministry; it is presumed, that as years have passed over our heads, that anxiety has not been diminished. With some of us the day is far spent, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord, draweth near to its close. Soon the curtain of mortality shall fall, and the scenes of a world untried and unknown, shall open to our view. The contemplation of this serious hour, is interesting to every Christian, but more especially is it so to us, who have been appointed "messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord," and whose duty it has been to teach and premonish, "to feed and provide for the Lord's family." If through our neglect it [16/17] has happened that any member thereof has taken any hurt or hindrance, we know the greatness of the fault, "and the justly merited punishment that must ensue." Who that is duly sensible of his own insufficiency, and of the arduous duty to which he is called, can think of the weighty charge he has received, and the solemn account he is shortly to give to the chief Shepherd, and not tremble for himself? Who can lay his hand on his heart, and say, In nothing have I given offence; on my account the ministry cannot be blamed; in all things I have approved myself a faithful minister of Jesus Christ? Alas! my brethren, like other men we are compounded of flesh and spirit; desires and weaknesses dwell in our mortal bodies. We have enemies within and without; and how often when we would do good, is evil present with us! None have ever attained to that degree of perfection, after which, it is the duty of all to aspire. Few, I am persuaded, can conscientiously make the appeal in our text, and call God and the people of their charge to witness, that in all respects, and on every occasion, they have behaved themselves holily, justly and unblameably.
Let it comfort us in our arduous' work, to have made this our constant aim. Consciousness of the sincerity of our intentions, and of the fidelity of our endeavours, is, my brethren, what I trust we all [17/18] possess; and, blessed be God! possessed of this, we have a source of satisfaction, which the world can neither give nor take away.
On a review of the past, to be able to reflect that our time and our talents have been in sincerity and with fidelity improved in our Master's service; that, in the discharge of our trust, the honour of God, the interest of religion, the peace and prosperity of the Church, and, as intimately connected therewith, the salvation of precious and immortal souls, have been our chief concern; to look back upon such a course of ministerial duties, in which, love to the Redeemer, and a supreme regard to the eternal welfare of our people, has been the governing principle; cannot fail to fill our minds with the most rational joy and satisfaction. Blessed and happy is the state of such a Pastor! he surely may be allowed to indulge the most encouraging hopes. The prospect before him is full of joy and comfort, and the nearer he approaches the conclusion of his work, the more abundant is his joy; for with the Apostle he may say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die gain."
But if, on the contrary, we have been unmindful of our most solemn vows; if our own hearts have never been deeply impressed with a sense of religion; if we have engaged in the duties of our holy office without the fear of God, and with a view only to our temporal interest; if, through the vain desire [18/19] of applause, we have preached ourselves, and not Christ Jesus the Lord, neglecting to hold up to the view of our hearers the leading truths of the Gospel, the depravity of man, the doctrine of the atonement, and the necessity of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit; if, instead of an unblameable life and conversation, our study has been to promote discord, division, and strife; how deplorable is our state, and how dreadful must be our prospect at the close of our labours! The fearful and horrible punishment that must ensue, may well alarm the careless watchman; for assuredly as God is true, unless awakened to seasonable repentance, the Lord of that servant will come at an hour when he looks not for him, and will cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with hypocrites and unbelievers.
Let what has been said remind us, my brethren, of our obligations to be faithful in the trust committed to our charge. Do we hope at the conclusion of our ministry, if not to make the appeal in the text, yet at least to call God and our people to witness, that we have been sincere in our endeavours to promote his glory, and their salvation? How necessary is it then, that, before the day shall arrive which is to terminate our labours, we should inquire seriously of ourselves, how we have discharged the duties of our sacred office!
Have we endeavoured, by a diligent study of the [19/20] Holy Scriptures, to store our minds with religious knowledge, to enrich our hearts with pious affections, and to furnish ourselves for every good work? Have we taught in the simplicity of the Gospel, endeavouring to approve ourselves workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, consulting the state of our respective flocks, and giving to every one his portion in due season? Have our discourses been judiciously composed, expressive of the great doctrines and duties of the Gospel, and in language best calculated for the edification of our hearers?
Have we, with the most tender solicitude for their recovery to holiness and happiness, warned sinners of their danger, and besought them in Christ's name to be reconciled to God, suffering neither the hope of their favour, nor the fear of their displeasure, at any time to deter us from consulting their salvation? Knowing the necessities of our respective flocks, have we, like the faithful Shepherd, watched over them in love, comforting the weak, visiting the sick, consoling the afflicted, and restoring the penitent? Have we "contended earnestly for the faith, and been ready with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church, all erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's word?" As our duty requires, have we been frequent and earnest in our prayers to God, that the dispensation of [20/21] his word might be accompanied with the dew of his heavenly grace, and prosper in the thing whereunto it is sent?
Have we been discreet and prudent in the management of the affairs of Christ's kingdom? Have all our measures been wisely adapted for the establishment of Christian concord? Has no root of bitterness sprung up to trouble us? Studying the things which make for peace, are we careful to mortify, and to guard against those corrupt passions which tend to kindle the flame of contention, such as pride, selfishness, inordinate ambition, anger, envy, the spirit of party, jealousy and prejudice? Does it appear that the influence of a pious example has been united with our religious instructions, that so, with the fairest prospect of success, we may exhort, and comfort, and charge every one to walk worthy of God, who has called us to his kingdom and glory?
These are questions, my brethren, which it concerns us seriously to ask ourselves, and accordingly as we can answer them, may we hope to be either approved or condemned by our Judge.
If, therefore, on an impartial review of our labours and conduct, we find that conscience accuses us of neglect and unfaithfulness in our duty, let us remember that God is greater than our hearts, and will condemn us also; but if our hearts condemn us not, then may we have confidence towards God.
 Herein then let us exercise ourselves, to have always a conscience void of offence. Perfection is not expected of us more than others, in this imperfect state; but sincerity and fidelity are expressly required at our hands.
How greatly does it concern us to take heed to ourselves! How careful should we be to ascertain that our hearts are right with God; and that we are savingly impressed with the truths, that we cultivate the graces, and exemplify the virtues we enjoin upon others! A regard to his own interest should therefore induce every one who is set for the defence of the Gospel, to be especially watchful over himself in these respects, lest after having preached to others, he should himself become a cast-away.
In the execution of our important and arduous work, difficulties and trials are before us. At one time we are exposed to the passions of unprincipled men, who are ever on the watch, and always prepared to improve every circumstance that may offer to our disadvantage. At another, a trivial error, or an expression which had fallen from our lips in a social hour, may be magnified into a crime. It is not unlikely that the faithful Pastor may have enemies, and those perhaps of all his enemies the most malicious, for no other cause than that he has been faithful to his God. This was the crime of Daniel, and since his day it has been the only crime of many [22/23] a faithful Pastor, whom the popular cry has loaded with reproach and calumny. The unsuccessfulness of his labours, is another source of anxiety to the zealous and faithful minister of Jesus Christ. It afflicts him to behold some altogether careless and indifferent as to their everlasting concerns, upon whom, neither the most friendly exhortations, nor the most affectionate entreaties, appear to have any salutary effect; hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, like Gallio "they care for none of these things." It is a subject of still greater affliction to behold others unmindful of their most solemn obligations, who, while they profess themselves Christians, blaspheme by their unholy lives, that worthy name by which they are called. Nor are these the only sources of regret which the faithful Pastor has occasion to lament. Notwithstanding his best endeavours to prepare a word in season for his hearers, he has often the mortification to be heard with indifference; and so little does he see of the fruit of his cares, that he is almost tempted to say, that he has laboured in vain, and spent his strength for naught.
These, my brethren, are a few of the many difficulties and trials that are before us. But let none of these things move us, neither let us account our lives dear unto ourselves, so that we may finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord. Let us look forward to the [23/24] time when we shall stand or fall, not by man's judgement, but by his, who trieth the heart, and will render to every one according to his works. On that all decisive day, presenting to his Lord the seals of his ministry, with what joy and triumph will the faithful shepherd hear the approving voice of his Judge, "Well done good and faithful servant! thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"
Animated by the hope of so glorious a recompense, and encouraged by the promise of all needful assistance, let us, my brethren, with still increasing zeal and activity, labour in the work of the Lord.
And may he from whom all blessing comes, enable us so faithfully to discharge our respective duties to him, to each other, and to the people of our charge, that at the conclusion of our ministry, adopting the language of the Apostle, we may in truth and sincerity say, "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe; as ye know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, (as a father doth his children) that ye should walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory."